Who are they, and how did they get there?
If you were listening carefully to today’s psalm, you will have noticed a sudden jump. One moment we were addressing a bride who is about to be married to a King. The next, we were told: “They are escorted amid gladness and joy; they pass within the palace of the King.”
Sometimes, when we are given edited highlights of a text from Scripture, we miss the bigger story. If we look at the full text of the psalm, we find that it starts with verses of praise for a King associated with God’s throne. Such a King could have been a ruler of ancient Israel, but the text also applies very well to Christ. Then we are told that the King is perfumed with certain spices: their names are familiar to us as the same aloes and myrrh brought to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.
“On your right stands the queen in gold of Ophir” – the poet suddenly shifts focus from the King, to the bride standing beside him in the place of greatest honour. The following verses speak of the honour and status heaped upon this royal bride; then we are told that she has ‘virgin companions’ following her. These form the mysterious crowd escorted joyfully within the palace of the King.
It’s easy to see why the Church has chosen this psalm to mark the Assumption. We have a King whose perfume is the spices of the tomb, with a royal bride led to his side – it’s no great leap of the imagination to find a layer of spiritual meaning pointing to Our Blessed Lady entering heaven and taking up a place of honor alongside the buried, risen and ascended Saviour. And this is a psalm which gives us great encouragement, for it hints that the Assumption of Mary is not merely a fact to be noted, but also a source of great hope for us.
Would you like to be one of the companions of Mary, escorted within the palace of the King? There is an implicit promise in this psalm that those who attend upon the Mother of God will find an easy entrance into heaven. Not only do they enter the royal palace, but their path is easy, for they are escorted there!
Christians have been turning to the Blessed Mother as their patroness and escort since the earliest days of the Church. The oldest prayer to Mary for which we have evidence is from the third century – a scrap of papyrus written around the year 250 was discovered in Egypt containing this prayer:
Under thy protection we seek refuge, O Holy Mother of God;
In our needs, despise not our petitions,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.
The prayer is often known under its Latin name, Sub Tuum Praesidium – ‘under your protection’. Within 200 years of her Assumption into heaven, Christians were addressing petitions to the Mother of God, and asking for her protection. In contrast, we have no firm evidence that the Hail Mary had taken shape and become a common prayer until hundreds of years later.
Today’s celebration of the Assumption is therefore a reminder for us that, to ease our spiritual journey, we are invited to become companions of Mary.
- We keep Mary company when we meditate on her life and relationship with God, and an excellent way to do this is through the Rosary.
- We keep Mary company when we declare her to be ‘blessed among women’ or sing her praises through the Salve Regina and Regina Caeli.
- We keep Mary company when we ask her to pray for our needs – in the second half of the Hail Mary and through devotions such as the Miraculous Medal.
- We keep Mary company, following the example of the early church, when we ask for her protection from known and unknown dangers in our daily life.
So remember! “They are escorted amid gladness and joy; they pass within the palace of the king.”
Who are they? They are the companions of Mary.
How did they get there? They entered heaven aided by Mary’s prayers and protection from spiritual dangers.
One question remains, and it’s the most important of all. It’s this: Are you among them?