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The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

14. THE DEATH OF THE HOLY VIRGIN.




[On the afternoon of August 14 ^th Catherine Emmerich said to the writer: Now I will tell of the death of the Blessed Virgin if only I am not disturbed by visits. Tell my little niece not to interrupt me but to wait patiently in the other room for a time.' The writer, having done this and returned, said to her, Now tell', whereupon she answered, gazing before her with a fixed stare: Where am I, then? Is it morning or evening?' The writer: You are going to tell of the death of the Blessed Virgin.' Well, there they are, the Apostles, ask them yourself, you are much more learned than I am, you can ask them better than I can. They are following the Way of the Cross and are preparing the grave of the Mother of God.' When she said this, she was already seeing what happened after Mary's death. After a pause she continued, marking on her fingers the figures she mentioned: See this number, a stroke I and then a V, does not this make four? Then again V and three strokes, does not that make eight? This is not properly written out; but I see them as separate figures because I do not understand big sums in Roman letters. It means that the year 48 after Christ's Birth is the year of the Blessed Virgin's death. Then I see X and III and then two full moons as they are shown in the calendar, that means that the Blessed Virgin died thirteen years and two months after Christ's Ascension into Heaven. This is not the month in which she died--I think I already saw this vision several months ago. Ah, her death was full of sorrow and full of joy.' In this continued state of fervor she then recounted the following:]

Yesterday at midday I saw that there was already great grief and mourning in the Blessed Virgin's house. Her maidservant was in the utmost distress, throwing herself on her knees and praying with outstretched arms, sometimes in corners of the house and sometimes outside in front of it. The Blessed Virgin lay still and as though near death in her little cell. She was completely enveloped in a white sleeping coverlet, even her arms being wrapped in it. It was like the one I described when she went to bed in Elizabeth's house at the Visitation. The veil over her head was arranged in folds across her forehead; when speaking with men she lowered it over her face. Even her hands were covered except when she was alone. In the last days of her life I never saw her take any nourishment except now and then a spoonful of juice which her maidservant pressed from a bunch of yellow berries like grapes into a bowl near her couch. Towards evening the Blessed Virgin realized that her end was approaching and therefore signified her desire, in accordance with Jesus' will, to bless and say farewell to the Apostles, disciples and women who were present. Her sleeping cell was opened on all sides, and she sat upright on her couch, shining white as if suffused with light. The Blessed Virgin, after praying, blessed each one by laying her crossed hands on their foreheads. She then, once more, spoke to them all, doing everything that Jesus had commanded her at Bethany. When Peter went up to her, I saw that he had a scroll of writing in his hand. She told John what was to be done with her body, and bade him divide her clothes between her maidservant and another poor girl from the neighborhood who sometimes came to help. The Blessed Virgin in saying this pointed to the cupboard standing opposite her sleeping cell, and I saw her maidservant go and open the cupboard and then shut it again. So I saw all the Blessed Virgin's garments and will describe them later. After the Apostles, the disciples who were present approached the Blessed Virgin's couch and received the same blessing. The men then went back into the front part of the house and prepared for the service, while the women who were present came up to the Blessed Virgin's couch, knelt down and received her blessing. I saw that one of them bent right down over Mary and was embraced by her.

In the meantime the altar was set up and the Apostles vested themselves for the service in their long white robes and broad girdles with letters on them. Five of them who assisted in offering the Holy Sacrifice (just as I had seen done when Peter first officiated in the new church at the pool of Bethsaida after the Ascension) put on the big, rich, priestly vestments. Peter, who was the celebrant, wore a robe which was very long at the back but did not trail on the ground. [Please refer to Figure 24.] There must have been some sort of stiffening round its hem, for I see it standing out all round.

They were still engaged in putting on their vestments when James the Greater arrived with three companions. He came with Timon the deacon from Spain, and after passing through Rome had met with Eremenzear and still another. The Apostles already present, who were just going up to the altar, greeted him with grave solemnity, telling him in few words to go to the Blessed Virgin. He and his companions, after having had their feet washed and after arranging their garments, went in their traveling dress to the Blessed Virgin's room. She gave her blessing first to James alone, and then to his three companions together, after which James went to join in the service. The latter had been going on for some time when Philip arrived from Egypt with a companion. He at once went to the Mother of Our Lord, and wept bitterly as he received her blessing.

In the meantime Peter had completed the Holy Sacrifice. He had performed the act of consecration, had received the Body of the Lord, and had given Communion to the Apostles and disciples. The Blessed Virgin could not see the altar from her bed, but during the Holy Sacrifice she sat upright on her couch in deep devotion. Peter, after he and the other Apostles had received Communion, brought the Blessed Virgin the Blessed Sacrament and administered extreme unction to her. The Apostles accompanied him in a solemn procession. Thaddeus went first with a smoking censer. Peter bore the Blessed Sacrament in the cruciform vessel of which I have spoken, and John followed him, carrying a dish on which rested the Chalice with the Precious blood and some small boxes. The Chalice was small, white, and thick as though of cast metal; its stem was so short that it could only be held with two or three fingers. It had a lid, and was of the same shape as the Chalice at the Last Supper. A little altar had been set up by the Apostles in the alcove beside the Blessed Virgin's couch. The maidservant had brought a table which she covered with red and white cloths. Lights (I think both tapers and lamps) were burning on it. The Blessed Virgin lay back on her pillows pale and still. Her gaze was directed intently upwards; she said no word to anyone and seemed in a state of perpetual ecstasy. She was radiant with longing; I could feel this longing, which was bearing her upwards--ah, my heart was longing to ascend with hers to God!

Figure 24. Peter in rich, priestly vestments.

Peter approached her and gave her extreme unction, much in the way in which it is administered now. From the boxes which John held he anointed her with holy oil on her face, hands, and feet, and on her side, where there was an opening in her dress so that she was in no way uncovered. While this was being done the Apostles were reciting prayers as if in choir. Peter then gave her Holy Communion. She raised herself to receive it, without supporting herself, and then sank back again. The Apostles prayed for a while, and then, raising herself rather less, she received the Chalice from John. As she received the Blessed Sacrament I saw a radiance pass into Mary, who sank back as though in ecstasy, and spoke no more. The Apostles then returned to the altar in the front part of the house in a solemn procession with the sacred vessels and continued the service. St. Philip now also received Holy Communion. Only a few women remained with the Blessed Virgin.

Afterwards I saw the Apostles and disciples once more standing round the Blessed Virgin's bed and praying. Mary's face was radiant with smiles as in her youth. Her eyes were raised towards heaven in holy joy. Then I saw a wonderfully moving vision. The ceiling of the Blessed Virgin's room disappeared, the lamp hung in the open air, and I saw through the sky into the heavenly Jerusalem. Two radiant clouds of light sank down, out of which appeared the faces of many angels. Between these clouds a path of light poured down upon Mary, and I saw a shining mountain leading up from her into the heavenly Jerusalem. She stretched out her arms towards it in infinite longing, and I saw her body, all wrapped up, rise so high above her couch that one could see right under it. I saw her soul leave her body like a little figure of infinitely pure light, soaring with outstretched arms up the shining mountain to heaven. The two angel-choirs in the clouds met beneath her soul and separated it from her holy body, which in the moment of separation sank back on the couch with arms crossed on the breast. [195] My gaze followed her soul and saw it enter the heavenly Jerusalem by that shining path and go up to the throne of the most Holy Trinity. I saw many souls coming forward to meet her in joy and reverence; amongst them I recognized many patriarchs, as well as Joachim, Anna, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist. The Blessed Virgin soared through them all to the Throne of God and of her Son, whose wounds shone with a light transcending even the light irradiating His whole Presence. He received her with His Divine Love, and placed in her hands a scepter with a gesture towards the earth as though indicating the power which He gave her. Seeing her thus entered into the glory of heaven, I forgot the whole scene round her body on the earth. Some of the Apostles, Peter and John for example, must have seen this too, for their faces were raised to heaven, while the others knelt, most of them bowed down low to the earth. Everywhere was light and radiance, as at Christ's Ascension. To my great joy I saw that Mary's soul, as it entered heaven, was followed by a great number of souls released from purgatory; and again today, on the anniversary, I saw many poor souls entering heaven, amongst them some whom I knew. I was given the comforting assurance that every year, on the day of the Blessed Virgin's death, many souls of those who have venerated her receive this reward.

When I once more looked down to earth, I saw the Blessed Virgin's body lying on the couch. It was shining; her face was radiant; her eyes were closed, and her arms, crossed on her breast. The Apostles, disciples, and women knelt round it praying. As I saw all this there was a beautiful ringing in the air and a movement throughout the whole of nature like the one I had perceived on Christmas night. The Blessed Virgin died after the ninth hour, at the same time as Our Lord.

The women now laid a covering over the holy body, and the Apostles and disciples betook themselves to the front part of the house. The fire on the hearth was covered, and all the household utensils put aside and covered up. The women wrapped and veiled themselves and, sitting on the ground in the room in front of the house, they began to lament for the dead, kneeling and sitting in turns. The men muffled their heads in the piece of stuff which they wore round their necks and held a mourning service. There were always two praying at the head and foot of the holy body. Matthew and Andrew followed the Blessed Virgin's Way of the Cross till the last Station, the cave which represented Christ's sepulcher. They had tools with them with which to enlarge the tomb, for it was here that the Blessed Virgin's body was to rest. The cave was not as spacious as Christ's and hardly high enough for a man to enter it upright. The floor sank at the entrance, and then one saw the burial-place before one like a narrow altar with the rock-wall projecting over it. The two Apostles did a good deal of work in it, and also arranged a door to close the entrance to the tomb. In the burial-place a hollow had been made in the shape of a wrapped-up body, slightly raised at the head. In front of the cave there was a little garden with a wooden fence round it, as there had been in front of Christ's sepulcher. Not far away was the Station of Calvary on a hill. There was no standing cross there, but only one cut into a stone. It must have been half an hour's journey from Mary's house to the tomb.

Four times did I see the Apostles relieve each other in watching and praying by the holy body. Today I saw a number of women, among whom I remember a daughter of Veronica and the mother of John Mark, coming to prepare the body for burial. They brought with them cloths, as well as spices to embalm the body after the Jewish fashion. They all carried little pots of fresh herbs. The house was closed and they worked by lamplight. The Apostles were praying in the front part of the house as though they were in choir. The women took the Blessed Virgin's body from her death-bed in its wrappings, and laid it in a long basket which was so piled up with thick, roughly woven coverings or mats that the body lay high above it. Two women then held a broad cloth stretched above the body, while two others removed the head-covering and wrappings under this cloth, leaving the body clothed only in the long woolen robe. They cut off the Blessed Virgin's beautiful locks of hair to be kept in remembrance of her. Then I saw that these two women washed the holy body; they had something crinkled in their hands, probably sponges. The long robe covering the body was severed. They carried out their task with great respect and reverence, washing the body with their hands without looking at it, for the cloth which was held over it hid it from their eyes. Every place touched by the sponge was covered up again at once; the middle of the body remained wrapped up and nothing whatever was exposed. A fifth woman wrung out the sponges in a bowl and then dipped them into fresh water; three times I saw the basin emptied into a hollow outside the house and fresh water being brought. The holy body was dressed in a new robe, open in front, and reverently lifted, by means of cloths passed under it, onto a table where the grave-clothes and swaddling-bands had been arranged for convenient use. They wound them tightly round the body from the ankles to below the breast, leaving the head, breast, hands, and feet free.

In the meantime the Apostles had assisted at the Holy Sacrifice offered by Peter and received Communion with him, after which I saw Peter and John, still in great bishops' cloaks, going from the front part of the house to the death chamber. John carried a vessel with ointment, and Peter, dipping the finger of his right hand into it, anointed the breast, hands, and feet of the Blessed Virgin, praying as he did so. (This was not extreme unction; she had received that while still alive.) He touched her hands and feet with ointment, marking forehead and breast with the sign of the cross. I think that this was done as a mark of respect for the holy body, as at the burial of Our Lord. After the Apostles had gone away, the women continued their preparation of the body for burial. They Lid bunches of myrrh in the arm-pits and bosom, and filled with it the spaces between the shoulders and round the neck, chin, and checks; the feet, too, were completely embedded in bunches of herbs. Then they crossed the arms on the breast, wrapped the holy body in a great grave-cloth, and wound it round with a band fastened under one arm so that it looked like a child in swaddling clothes. A transparent handkerchief was folded back from the face, which shone white between the bunches of herbs. They then placed the holy body in the coffin which stood near; it was like a bed or a long basket. It was a kind of board with a low edge and a slightly arched lid. On the breast was laid a wreath of white, red, and sky-blue flowers as a token of virginity. The Apostles, disciples, and all others present then came in to see the beloved face once more before it was covered up. They knelt quietly, shedding many tears, round the Blessed Virgin's body, touching Mary's hands wrapped up on her breast in farewell, and then went. The holy women, after making their farewells, covered the holy face and placed the lid on the coffin, which they fastened round with gray bands at each end and in the middle. Then I saw the coffin lifted onto a bier and carried out of the house on the shoulders of Peter and John. They must have changed places, for later on I saw six of the Apostles acting as bearers--at the head, James the Greater and James the Less; in the center, Bartholomew and Andrew; and behind, Thaddeus and Matthew. There must have been a mat or piece of leather attached to the carrying-poles, for I saw the coffin hanging between them as if in a cradle. Some of the Apostles and disciples went on ahead, others followed with the women. It was already dusk, and four lights were carried on poles round the coffin.











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