REDEMPTORIS MATER ET MINISTRA
In the Light of
Rev. Bertrand de Margerie, S.J.
Translated by Salwa Hamati, Ph.D.
Fr. de Margerie is a member of the
French and American Societies of Marian Studies, the International Society of
Patristic Studies and the Pontifical Roman Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas at
Rome. Fr. de Margerie is also a freqent
contributor to L’Osserva Romano.
My intent here is
to offer a few thoughts, in the light of the Fathers, concerning the unique and
privileged association of the Virgin Mary with the redemptive work of her Son,
and to show how the Fathers, without the contemporary adjustments of a theology
that has become more technical, have prepared, although living long ago (in
history) yet close to our thinking, today's doctrine of the Catholic Church
such as it has emerged during Vatican Council II.
I have already presented, in various
articles and books, the theme of Mary's cooperation in the mystery of
Redemption, in a slightly different approach - that of spiritual motherhood -
but identical in substance. I will use, here, but in a more synthetical way,
these previous works, while at the same time attempting to illuminate them in
other ways, old as well as new. Except for some occasional passing references
to Mary's role in the distribution of the Redeemer's gifts, I will concentrate
mostly on the privileged participation of the new Eve in the sacrifice of the
Redeemer, the new Adam.
Here is the itinerary I plan to follow:
- I will evoke, in the first place,
witnesses close to the Apostolic Tradition, for whom Mary, redeemed, saves us
as she saves herself, in order to help us become a Church increasingly more
- Secondly, I will evoke the more
remote witnesses, post-Nicaean, to this same mystery, especially in the
liturgical prayer of the various Churches within the Church, without failing to
mention some medieval or modern references.
- Finally I will examine the relations
between these recent and older testimonies on the one hand, and the Apostolic
Tradition on the other.
It will thus be shown that the very
ancient, yet always new, current doctrine of the Church on the Virgin, the
pre-eminent associate of the Redeemer, could contribute, by means of new
homogeneous clarifications, to a renewal of the whole Church and each of its
members at the service of its fundamental vocation: the coredemptive activity
in view of the increasingly greater triumph of the unique Redemptive act of
Christ, until his return. The star of Mary coredemptrix will shine all the more
so she will be better seen, from her very first appearance, in dependence upon
the unique Redeemer, constantly urging all the other coredeemers in their
dependence upon Him: Virgo corredemptrix corredemptorum omnium ad
majorem gloriam unici Redemptoris. The Fathers will help us react against a
disastrous isolation of the Virgin within the economy of Salvation.
For the Fathers, if the Virgin is
Coredemptrix in a unique and powerful manner because she alone is the Mother of
God, Mary is not the only, but the first coredemptrix, so that all may be
faithful to a similar vocation, though inferior in dignity, of coredeemers.
This coredemptive vocation, however,
transcends, in the supernatural order, the vocation of the human person in the
natural order and highlights the sublime dignity of the ecclesiastical and
supernatural destiny of all human persons.
Witnesses near to the Apostolic Tradition
The Fathers of the second century speak
inseparably of the Incarnation and of the Passion of the Son of God. For them
to evoke the former is to include the latter also. Important consequences
result from this view in order to understand correctly, without diminution or
curtailment, their presentation of the mystery of Mary and her cooperation in
Thus the affirmation of Ignatius of
Antioch to the Ephesians (XIX, 1) is indeed heavy with meaning: "The
prince of this world ignored the virginity of Mary, her childbirth, and the
death of the Lord, three resounding mysteries that were accomplished in the
silence of God."
As Father Camelot says so well: the
devil "could not have ignored the facts of the life of Jesus," but
their soteriological meaning
"remained hidden to him." This meaning Ignatius holds from Saint Paul. Our text
constitutes not only "the first
testimony of Christian faith to the virginal motherhood of Mary," after Saint
Luke, but also a clear insinuation of the link between this virginity and the
Cross of Jesus. Virginity, birth and death of our Lord are presented as three
mysteries interlinked, three mysteries which, in a sense, are but one. The link
seems to be, not only that of the orientation of the Incarnation of the Son of
God towards His death on the Cross for our salvation, but also that of a
privileged participation to this salvific death on the part of His Virgin
Mother, Mary, by her virginity itself. The dying Lord, acting in the silence of
the Father, is the Son who caused the virginity of Mary. The resounding
mystery, "proclaimed everywhere," of the virginal motherhood of Mary, seems to be not
only a condition willed by the Father and the Son, of the saving death of the Lord
on the Cross, but also a free cooperation with it, and even a privileged and
unique cooperation in His redeeming death.
This interpretation of the quoted
passage is all the more convincing as it immediately followed this other
affirmation (XVIII, 2) : "Jesus Christ, carried in Mary's womb, is
born.... to purify the water by his passion": in other words, is born to
die in view of our baptism, in view of constituting his Church as sacrament of
salvation. We are here quite close to the Pauline text which undoubtedly
Ignatius is thinking about: Jesus is born of a woman to enable us to be adopted
as sons (Gal 4,4). Hence for the bishop of Antioch everything indicates that
the virginal motherhood with regards to the crucified Lord was equivalent to a
very intimate and unique cooperation in His salvific action. Unique, since the
human existence of the Lord, implied by his death, was itself conditioned by
the free virginal motherhood of Mary. In bearing Jesus Christ in her womb, Mary
already bore, in some way, his passion and death in her heart.
One of the beautiful texts of Saint
Melito of Sardis leads us to a similar understanding: "He is the voiceless
lamb himself, the lamb who was slain, born of Mary the kind ewe lamb,....he
rose from the dead and raised man from the depth of the grave" (On Easter,
As O. Perler notes, "The metaphor
of the lamb implies the twofold idea of sacrifice and virginal purity." Let us
develop the quote more precisely: by renouncing the licit practice of
sexuality, virginity itself implies sacrifice. Here, the parallel between Mary
and Jesus, the Lamb, is obvious. Just as was the case with Ignatius of Antioch,
Melito's thought seems to be: the kind and (good) ewe lamb gave birth to the
Lamb so that He might raise us up spiritually by rising bodily from the grave.
In order to be able to give birth to the Lamb, Mary chose to conserve her
virginity. She is the ewe lamb precisely because she wants to be virgin in
order to give birth to the Lamb, himself virgin, in favor of humanity. In
Melito's wonderful poem, Mary alone is called the ewe lamb, and for a good
reason: she, alone, brought forth the unique Lamb of God. Here again is the
explicit text: "He is the slain Lamb, born of Mary, the kind ewe
lamb." He alone "raised up man from the depth of the grave."
We can thus see that in these few words
Melito of Sardis gathered a very rich doctrine that involves Mary's unique and
privileged cooperation in the economy of salvation.
Following Ignatius of Antioch and
Melito of Sardis comes the testimony of a bishop, a contemporary more or less
of the latter: St. Irenaeus of Lyons. We will now examine his thoughts at
length. If we understand to what extent, with him, the mystery of the Cross is
already included in that of the Incarnation -- as we will soon show -- we will
discern, more accurately than many authors do, the coredemptive dimension of
his Marian affirmations.
For Irenaeus, the Incarnation without
the Passion would not have saved humanity. He is quite explicit in this:
"Abraham was a prophet. He saw by the Spirit the day of the coming of the
Lord and the economy of his Passion by means of which he himself and all those
who, like him, believed in God would be saved" (AH IV, 5, 5). Irenaeus
expresses himself even more clearly elsewhere in his writings. "By his
passion, the Lord destroyed death, dispelled error, annihilated corruption,
dissipated ignorance" (II, 20,3). "The mighty Word and true
man," this Son "redeemed us by his own blood" (V.1.1).
With these statements as background, we
can better understand the relation between Jesus Christ and his Mother that the
Bishop of Lyons is presenting to us (in III, 22. and V.19, 1 and 2).
For Irenaeus, Mary is in no way
excluded from those who believe in the Word Incarnate, are redeemed by His
Blood, saved by Him. He says clearly that Mary, no less than Abraham, is a
prophetess (AH III, 10, 2), and what he says about Abraham illuminates what he
writes about Mary in the same work:
We who have faith in Abraham, take
up our cross, just as Isaac took up the wood, and follow the Word. For in
Abraham man had learned beforehand and had become accustomed to follow the Word
of God: Abraham, in fact, followed by faith the commandment of the Word of God,
relinquishing earnestly his only and beloved son in sacrifice to God, so that
God also accepted, on behalf of all his posterity, to give up his beloved and
only Son in sacrifice for our Redemption (AH IV, 5, 4).
Among those who "learnt
beforehand, in Abraham, to follow the Word of God," we must obviously
consider, in the first place, the Virgin Mary. Much more than Abraham, whose
son Isaac did not ultimately die, Mary has "relinquished earnestly her
only beloved Son in sacrifice to God...for our Redemption." If, in the
eyes of Irenaeus, "Abraham was a prophet and saw by the Spirit the economy
of the Passion of the Lord," (AH IV, 5, 5), it is permitted to infer that
he attributed the same anticipated vision -- in faith-- to the Virgin Mary,
prophetess also in his eyes.
It would be proper, therefore, not to
disregard the thought of Irenaeus on Abraham when interpreting the famous
passages on the recapitulation of Eve by Mary: AH III, 22,4 and V, 19, 1 and 2.
What is expressed about the virginal birth of the New Adam and the obedience of
Mary should not be cut off from the constant thought of Irenaeus on the
sacrifice of Jesus for the redemption of the world. The innumerable quotations
from St. John's Gospel (including Ch. XIX) in the writings of Irenaeus affirm
that the Bishop of Lyons, when referring to the scene of the Annunciation,
could neither ignore nor forget the presence of Mary at the foot of the Cross.
It is, precisely, what he tells us about Abraham and Isaac that allows us to
catch a glimpse of his thoughts on the link between the Virgin of Sorrows, her
crucified Son, and the merciful Father.
For Irenaeus, the new Eve is "human creature of the Word" (AH
III, 19, 3); the one who became "cause of salvation for herself and for
the whole human race" is inseparably the one who was saved by Christ and
more precisely by his Passion, like Abraham (AH IV, 5,4-5). Since "the One who would save existed
then" -- before and for all eternity -- "what was to be saved"
(Mary included) "had to come to existence as well, so that the Savior
would not be without a reason for being" (AH III, 22, 3): it is even
proper to say that, considering the role that Irenaeus assigns to Mary and to
her obedience in the effective realization of the salvation of the human race
(AH III, 22, 4), the salvation of Mary constituted, in his eyes, the main
reason for the coming of the Savior. Saved by her Son and because of Him, Mary
was able, by her obedience, to cooperate in her own salvation and that of the
whole human race: "Virgo obaudiens
et sibi et universo generi humano causa facta est salutis" (AH III, 22, 4).
We must underline, here, the importance
of the passage Irenaeus is alluding to in the Letter to the Hebrews (5,9), a
passage that has been universally acknowledged. For Irenaeus it signifies that
Mary participates in the salvific obedience of Christ on the cross and has
participated in it ever since the Annunciation, receiving from her Son the
grace of obedience -- obedience to Him -- in view of the salvation of the human
race. Let us recall the text: "He learnt to obey through suffering,...He
became for all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." The quote of Irenaeus, already mentioned in
III, 22, 4, links, therefore, the salvation of the human race not only to the
obedience of Christ on the cross but also to that of Mary to Christ her Savior.
Redeemed by Christ, she received from Him the power to contribute, in a unique
way, -- by consenting to become His mother -- to the salvation of the whole
For the object of the salvific
obedience of Mary -- and we must insist on this -- was the (virginal)
acceptance of Divine Motherhood. Even though this expression does not appear
explicitly in the writings of Irenaeus, the elements that compose it can be
established: Mary is certainly for him the Mother of Him whose divinity he
attests to and she alone
is that mother; she is, therefore, in a unique way, the cause of the salvation
of the whole human race, since her own salvation, no less unique, results
precisely from her consent to be the Mother of Christ. Let us notice, by the
way, how Irenaeus has very probably
received from Paul, "The woman who was led astray and fell into sin...she
will be saved by childbearing" (I Tim 2: 14-15), the origin of the
contrast between Eve and Mary, as the idea of affirming that Mary was saved by
accepting a Maternity, not totally human, but theandric.
This decisive contribution of the
Virgin to the salvation of the whole human race is presented by Irenaeus not --
as a large number of modern theologians might be inclined to express-- as a simple consent, but rather as an act of
virginal obedience, parallel to the act of obedience of Christ on the cross (AH
V, 19,1); in this paragraph alone, Mary's obedience is mentioned twice; by
resituating this act of obedience of the Virgin in the total Irenaean
soteriology, we see that, for the Bishop of Lyons, Mary by her obedience to the
Word through the Angel united herself to the obedience of the Word to His
Father; she thus participates in the obedience of Jesus even unto death. We can
then say that, for Irenaeus, Mary's obedience is not only salvific but also
coredemptive in her union with the future obedience of the Redeemer and, in
dependence of His obedience, reparatrix of the disobedience to which Eve --
through Adam -- had drawn the human race (cf. Rom 5:19).
Thus, the real meaning of this
astonishing expression appears once more: "Mary, Eve's advocate" (AH
V,19,1): it signifies, beyond a possible intercession of the second Eve in
favor of the first -- included in the praying
acceptance of the Incarnation through the answer given to the angel -- a contribution, by obedience to God, to Eve's
eternal salvation (denied by Tatien as Adam's) as is evident from the grandiose
affirmation: "universo generi humano
causa facta est salutis"; for from this universality even Eve herself,
obviously, is not excluded.
In the face of the extraordinary wealth
of these very dense texts, we can, therefore, with Irenaeus, speak of
"dispensatio Virginis," of an economy of the Virgin within a
dispensation and economy of the mystery of Christ (AH V,19,2 and 23,2). In the
same paragraph (AH V,19,2), we see that the "economy of the Virgin"
manifests "the economy of God." From this point of view, a much later
image is in no way foreign to Irenaeus' depth of thought: In order to save the
world, Christ has willed to associate the tears of his mother to the shedding
of his Blood. Irenaeus, once more, has drawn from Paul (Gal 4,4) this luminous
summation of his redemptive and coredemptive
christo-mariology: "He who is born of Mary has also suffered the
Passion" (AH III, 16,5).
"He who is born of Mary":
this expression is clearly a reference to Gal 4,4 especially if we recall that
this Pauline verse is quoted by Irenaeus five times in his Adversus haereses, that is to say, more often than most other
Among these five quotations, two of
them link the Pauline verse to the Proto-Evangelium. Thus Irenaeus thinks that the association of
the new Eve with the new Adam, so essential in his eyes for the salvation of
the world, was already prophesied and announced to our first parents (AH V, 21,
1, and 2).
It is, therefore, through the Apostle
Paul that Irenaeus relates his doctrine of the new Eve, advocate of the first
Eve, to the initial promise of salvation contained in Genesis. He offers, thus,
the apostolic testimony on the privileged association of Mary to the redeeming
work of Christ as it relates to the fulfillment of a promise, the promise of
God the Savior of the human race.
We can then conclude. The testimony of
Irenaeus in favor of a privileged, and even unique, Marian coredemption could
appear (and has appeared) more implicit than explicit, if we were to isolate,
in regard to the totality of his work, his most striking affirmations (AH III,
22, 4; V,19,1). If, on the other hand we clarify them by the total context of
his affirmations "Against heresies,"
no doubt is possible any longer as to the very thoughts of the Bishop of Lyons:
in full dependence upon Christ, Mary, by her obedience, was the cause of the
salvation of the whole human race by effecting her own salvation; the very act
by which she cooperated in her own salvation is also the same act by which she
cooperated in the salvation of us all.
Privileged Marian co-redemption: this
expression implies that we can still find in Irenaeus the elements -- at least
some of them -- of a coredemptive mission of the ordinary Christian and more so
of the Church as such, in dependence upon its very explicit doctrine, on Christ
the Savior of Mary, His associate in a unique way in his mission of salvation
of the whole human race.
Irenaeus, on the one hand, affirms that
"having disobeyed God, we have been reconciled to Him in the second Adam, becoming obedient even unto death"
(AH V, 16,3). The reference to the martyrs is quite obvious.
The Church, on the other hand, is
present, active and loving in the suffering and the witness of the martyrs:
"The Church everywhere, because of her love of God, is constantly sending
ahead of her a multitude of martyrs to the Father.... The Church, salt of the
earth, remains the upholder of the faith, confirming her children and sending
them ahead of her to their Father" (AH IV, 33,9 and 31,3).
In other words, the ecclesiastical
community, by its faith and love, is itself the coredemptive Church. By sending
her children to the Father, she is contributing to their salvation. Irenaeus,
however, does not specify what differentiates this role of the Church from the
roles, already different between them, of Jesus and Mary in the salvation of
the human race; we will have to wait, no doubt, for the technical developments
of modern theology (particularly the distinction between objective and
subjective redemption) to outline a more precise answer. If we examine his work
carefully, we could, nonetheless, catch a glimpse of how the Bishop of Lyons,
presiding over Eucharistic assemblies, would have expressed his thoughts
precisely: the prayer of the Church, mainly the Eucharistic prayer, procures
for the faithful the graces of faith and charity which lead them to martyrdom
and to heaven: the Eucharist is "oblation and pure sacrifice" (AH IV,
18, 4). It is, particularly, the sacrifice of all those who wish to be
"obedient unto death."
Drawing to a close our brief study of
the thought of Irenaeus, we can sum it up in this way: The Bishop of Lyons,
without intending to say new things, by developing the doctrine of the Apostle,
transmitted the faith of the Church, and believes with her that Christ, the
Creator and Redeemer, has willed to bring about the salvation of the human race
with the unique and privileged cooperation of Mary, His Mother, whom He created
and redeemed. Each aspect of this global affirmation can be justified by his
explicit writings. In a more implicit manner, Irenaeus presents the Church as
coredemptrix of the Christians, which implies that the baptized people are
coredeemers of each other. The Virgin appears in this light, already as the
coredemptrix of the coredeemers, for the glory of the only Redeemer of all.
It is in this manner that Irenaeus,
following Ignatius of Antioch and in the same period Melito of Sardis, prepares
the more precise testimonies of other successors of the Apostles, following
them further in time.
More remote (but more accurate)
witnesses of the Apostolic Tradition
Let us consider here, first of all, the
collective testimony of the Fathers assembled in Councils, then their
individual testimonies, in the East as well as in the West, and more especially
the convictions of their Churches, manifested in their liturgies.
We are aware of the decisive role that
Saint Cyril of Alexandria played in the ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431.
In this context, the prayer of Cyril in the presence of the Council could be
considered as a reflection of the thoughts of the bishops present. Here is an
invocation that expresses their conviction as to Mary's salvific role in
regards to the human race: "Hail, Mary, Mother of God,....by whom the
human race reaches the knowledge of the truth."
This text, as well as the other praises
of the Virgin contained in the same prayer, refers to the present Church and to
the distribution of graces whereof Mary is seen as the Mediatrix; however, this
mediation is itself based on the divine Motherhood. The "by whom" (di
ès) that follows immediately the mention of the Mother of God underlines the
deeply rooted Mediation of Mary in the mystery of the Incarnation. In another
homily given in the same context of the Council of Ephesus, Cyril insists, more
precisely still, on the salvific role of Mary: "Hail, Mary, Mother of God,
by whom all faithful souls are saved" (sozetai). In these two homilies this role is linked to the unique privilege of
divine Motherhood; thus Cyril points to the unique character of the Virgin's
cooperation in the economy of salvation.
A few years later, Saint Leo the Great
prepares, by his preaching, the
Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon. In the framework of a
beautiful explanation on the mystery of our salvation, Leo writes, on June 13,
449, to Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople: "an inviolate virginity
provided flesh (to the Savior): "inviolata virginitas carnis materiam
ministravit" (ch. 4, DS 294). We understand by this that: Mary, by the
willing acceptance of her physical virginity, has placed herself, as a
minister, in the service of the saving design of the Incarnation of the
Redeemer, fulfilling thus a salvific ministry.
The twenty-second sermon of the same Pope stated precisely in a magnificent
way: "nativitas nativitate reparatur"
that is to say: the birth in sinfulness (of the ordinary man) is repaired by
the extraordinary birth of God becoming man, "born human according to his
will and power” (Ch, IV and II: ML 54,197 C and 195 B).
We see here a reflection of the usual
vision of the Fathers: by accepting voluntarily her virginity, Mary was
prepared to accept her motherhood voluntarily too and it is by both her
virginity and her motherhood that she cooperated freely in the Incarnation of
the Word; far from being a purely passive instrument -- according to the
gnostic interpretation -- Mary wanted to be and indeed was the active
collaborator with the Creator in the mystery of salvation of the human race.
This is, precisely, the viewpoint that the Council of Chalcedon adhered to and
made its own; let us recall the famous definition:
Following the Holy Fathers, we,
unanimously, teach to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born
for us and for our salvation, according to the flesh, of the Virgin Mary,
mother of God.
If this definition is not cut off from
the patristic context that precedes it, we realize that Mary's freedom and her
will for our salvation are intimately connected with the human birth of the
Savior. The affirmation of Marian coredemption is as inherent in this dogmatic
definition as it is in the Pauline text of Gal 4,4. The Redeemer has willed to
come into this world, being freely willed as Redeemer by Mary his Mother;
because He is the Word, He has, by and with his Spirit, created this will in
Obviously, the individual writings of
the Latin and Greek Fathers are much more explicit. We will attempt here to
examine them in function of the general perspective of this study. Mary,
redeemed by Christ, has been associated, in a unique way, with Him in the
salvation of the human race, to the point of stirring in each one of us a coredemptive activity in
favor of the other.
Ambrose of Milan, clearly, presents us
Mary as redeemed by Christ in view of her cooperation in the salvation of all.
On the one hand, Ambrose says:
"Let us not be astonished that the Lord, who came to save the world, began
his work in Mary, so that she, by whom the salvation of all was being readied,
would be the first to receive from her own child its fruits" (In Lk. II,
17 ML 15,559). Ambrose is, therefore, presenting Mary as the first of all the
redeemed. The New Adam is, then, not only the Creator but also the Savior of
the New Eve. Better still: Mary is redeemed to prepare the salvation of all!
On the other hand, Ambrose writes:
"Mary was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her.
She was alone when she saved the world
-- operata est mundi salutem -- and
when she conceived the redemption of all -- concepit
redemptionem universorum --" (Epist. 49, 2; ML l6, 1154). He also writes:
"She engendered redemption for humanity, she was carrying, in her womb,
the remission of sins" (De Mysteriis III, 13; ML l6,393; De instit.Virginis 13,81; ML 16,325).
Just as previously in the eyes of
Irenaeus, the Incarnation is, for Ambrose, according to the auspicious formula
of E. Druwé, "redemption itself intrinsically begun. This flesh that the
Word receives from Mary is itself the host of his sacrifice, given by the human
race for this purpose...It was necessary that a virgin should make it possible
in the name of all mankind." This commentary evokes the beautiful thought in the
Latin Liturgy: "ad Crucem e Virginis sacrario intacta prodit victima"
(from the sanctuary of the Virgin springs forth intact, towards the Cross, the
victim of our redemption).
These various texts of Ambrose on how
Mary welcomed Redemption signify the following: by bringing forth the Redeemer
as such, because of a free and meritorious consent, the Virgin, implicitly,
consented to see Him give His life for her own salvation and that of all
mankind; she even consented, implicitly, to die for Him and with Him, for the
same intention of universal Redemption.
In the thought of the Doctor of Milan,
however, the Virgin Mother is not the only Coredemptrix; the bishop who insists
so strongly on the fact that Christ is the only Redeemer, in no way excludes, but affirms the coredemption of
all by all in the Church, and the coredemption of each individual by the
universal Church. This is what is emanating from the Ambrosian vision of
penance. The penitent is "redeemed from sin, washed by the tears and
weeping of all the people (fletibus
plebis redimitur a peccato) for Christ gave to His Church the power to
redeem one by all, to this Church who obtained the coming of the Lord Jesus so
that all might be redeemed by one"? Let us quote the original Latin; its
terseness makes it almost impossible to translate: "Donavit Christus Ecclesiae suae ut unum per omnes redimeret, quae
Domini Jesu meruit adventum, ut per unum omnes redimerentur."
Ambrose does not treat explicitly the
question of how to distinguish between the two roles of Mary and of the Church,
both subordinate roles in relation to the unique mission of Christ; how to
avoid bringing Marian coredemption to the level of the ecclesiastical
coredemption. Nevertheless, the Latin doctor provides us, implicitly, with the
answer: Mary -- unlike the Church -- cooperates in the salvation of the human
race by collaborating in the very generation of the Word incarnate; she humanizes the eternal Salvation; she collaborates in
what some, today, call objective Redemption, while the Church collaborates only
in the subjective Redemption, in the distribution of graces that Christ
acquired for us. However, Mary herself does not collaborate with Christ on an
equal footing, since she herself has been redeemed by Him. She has been saved
in a unique manner so that she might play an exceptional role: to be the only
mother of the only Redeemer.
In the same way, the Bishop of Milan
does not limit himself in invoking the coredemptive Church of every Christian;
he also shows us the coredemptive role of every baptized person within the Church (and with her help) in
relation to the other members: "the penitent is redeemed by the tears of
all the people of God" and thus by each member. Mary's unique contribution
to the salvation of all is itself therefore finalized by the individual role of
each one in the mystery of universal salvation. Mary places herself at the service
of the coredemptive vocation of each human being.
In fact, every human person, by his
concern for the salvation of others, effects his own salvation; to say that
Mary conceived, gave birth and brought about the salvation of all -- and that
is what Ambrose tells us -- is to say, equally, that by giving birth to Christ
she offered to each human being the concrete possibility of contributing to the
salvation of others, thus becoming the mediatrix of the coredemptive activity
of the universal Church and of each of its members. The transcendent Mother of the
Lord was transformed into the servant of the coredemptive vocation of every
Extending Ambrose's views, his
spiritual son Augustine of Hippo in turn states: "Christ received from us
his flesh in which he gave himself as sacrifice" (Enarr, in Ps 129,7; ML
37, 1701). All his theology on the article of the creed: "natus ex Maria Virgine" can be
summarized as follows: In the name of us all Mary gave from her flesh the host
for the sacrifice that regenerates us (Sermon ined.5, nn.5 and 6; ML 46, 832-833).
A few decades later, the Bishop of
Ravenna, Saint Peter Chrysologus, also doctor of the Church, will express
eloquently his firm belief in Mary's salvific role:
“Hail, full of grace”;... the Angel
offered her this grace. The Virgin received Salvation so that she may give it
back to the centuries: accepit Virgo
salutem saeculis redditura. Greater than the world, she, alone, received a
God that the world cannot contain...She gave birth to the One whose very child she was" (Sermon 140).
The German theologian Otto Semmelroth
has an excellent commentary on this text: "Mary is the cause of salvation
through a receptive welcome that comprised an active faith... Mary, personal
summit of humanity, by her yes, transformed it into the Church: she received
the Redeemer and his work with its fruits and transmitted them to the Church
precontained in her: accepit Virgo
salutem saeculis redditura."
In other words, the Virgin received the
salvation of all men as a precious deposit of trust; she received it in their
name so she could give it back to each one. The Bishop of Ravenna, elsewhere
(Sermon 140,6), specifies that the salvation of the world is a reward granted
to Mary: "a young maiden receives as a reward of the womb (Ps 126)
salvation for those who were lost: salutem
perditis pro ipsius uteri mercede." The concept of a coredemptive
merit is here hinted to the more strongly as this "unique young
maiden" is contrasted to the powerlessness of all creation ("una
puella...creatura non sustinet").
Cardinal Newman emphasized this point
when he quoted this text: "it is difficult to state more explicitly,
although rhetorically, that the Blessed Virgin has fulfilled a real meritorious
cooperation, a participation with the reversing of the fall as its price."
This meritorious cooperation had, in
the eyes of this Doctor who influenced the Council of Chalcedon, retroactive
consequences in the likeness of those of the Sacrifice of the Redeemer Himself:
"when did she not engender, she who bore the author of the centuries (genitrix quando non quae saeculorum
generavit auctorem)"? (Sermon 146). Here we find ourselves, in another
way, placed in the presence of the universal causality and salvific mediation
of Mary in favor of the whole human race, already affirmed by Irenaeus.
Saint Peter Chrysologus, while exalting
Mary's cooperation in the redemption, in no way forgets that she is a pure
creature of her Son, redeemed by Him: "God comes towards the virgin, that
is to say: the Operator towards His work, the Creator towards His
creature" (venit ad Virginem Deus,
hoc est ad opus suum opifex, creator ad creaturam suam: Sermon 143);
"O Virgin, as soon as you give Him birth, call upon the Savior and invoke
Him": Mox ut genueris, invoca
salvatorem (cf. Lk 1:31; Sermon
These are some of the considerations by
which the Western Fathers underscored the created role, dependent as well as
unique, of the Lord's Mother in the economy of redemption.
Let us now turn to the East, focusing
particularly on the teachings given by the Fathers of the fourth and fifth
The Syriac Doctor, Ephraem, combines
two compelling points: Mary is the only virgin chosen to be the instrument of
our salvation; and, in one of his hymns, the deacon of Edessa hears
this reflection of Mary's on the Incarnation: "I am maid and daughter
because of the blood and water, since you have redeemed and baptized me."
From the Greeks of the same period we
shall retain in particular the affirmations of Gregory of Nyssa and John
For the former, as with Irenaeus, "Eve brought in sin by means of a tree; Mary,
on the contrary, brought in Good by means of the tree of the Cross." This affirmation is found in a homily, probably
authentic, by Gregory. It points out
what we already have mentioned: for the Fathers, Mary, by accepting the
Incarnation, also accepted the Cross. The one included the other, since the
Incarnation was already seen as a paschal Incarnation. In a homily for Easter,
Chrysostom offers a very similar affirmation: the virgin, the wood and death
are symbols both of our ruin and our resurrection.
Let us now go on to the fifth century,
that of Ephesus and Chalcedon.
Proclus, Archbishop of Constantinople,
writes during the period between those two councils: "He, who in the womb
of the Virgin, had condemned me, assumed me, I who am subject to
condemnation." Here, too,
although the role of the Virgin and of her free consent seem not to be
stressed, the paschal and redemptive orientation of the Incarnation is
Proclus is more specific in a homily
discovered recently: commenting on Is 45:8, the preacher sees justice on earth,
for Mary has liberated Eve, by
becoming the help whom, in his
original plan, God designated for man, while the Emmanuel, coming down from
heaven to earth, by abolishing the empire of the devil, saved Adam. The
Colombian patrologist Roberto Caro notes: "The first transgression has
been repaired by the action of both Mary and Christ; it is a truly active, but
differentiated, causality; Mary and Christ are not two independent redeemers
who would have agreed together to accomplish a common work; the two different
verbs used by the orator indicate the distinction: On one hand the sin of Eve
vanishes (aneklithè) by Mary's action; on the other hand this sin is only
repaired (sesôstai) by the action of Christ alone."
According to Caro, we have here the
twofold affirmation of Mary's collaboration with Christ and of Christ's
transcendence over Mary within this same collaboration. Proclus however, does
not state precisely here what Mary's help consists of; nevertheless, his text
as a whole makes it clear that the bishop has in sight the collaboration of the
new Eve with the New Adam in the work of Salvation of the world.
Later on, Basil of Seleucia exclaims:
"Oh womb so holy that welcomed God, womb in which the writ of sin was torn
up." Here too, though vaguely, Mary is shown exercising a free and
voluntary consent in favor of God the Savior; this acceptance, especially,
stipulates the cancellation of every record of the debt we had to pay and
nailed it to the cross (Col 2:14). The author thus implies that Mary receives
the Lord in his very activity of Redeemer, Repairer of sin.
More than a century ago, J. H. Newman
already took notice of this impressive thought of Basil: "Mary shines
above the martyrs like the sun above the stars and she is Mediatrix between God
and men." For Basil,
Mary's mediation is a result of divine Motherhood, a unique privilege that
establishes her as Mediatrix between God and men. Basil justifies this view
point by a suggestive biblical reasoning: if Peter was proclaimed
"blessed" for having confessed Christ, if Paul has been qualified by
Him as "chosen instrument" for having preached His name to the
nations, what should we not think of Mary's great power, she who gave Him a
Caro notes: thus we find formulated,
for the first time in the fifth century, with Basil of Seleucia, one of the
most fecund principles of Mariology: the close link between Mary's motherhood
and the Word determines in her a fullness of grace by which she transcends in
merit all other creatures. To be convinced of the power of Mary suggests that
we have recourse to her help and her privileged intercession.
We can therefore see, in the reasoning
of Basil of Seleucia, a first outline of the Church's contemplation of the
three stages of the mystery of Marian coredemption: the consent to the
Incarnation already seen as paschal, foreseeing Jesus' death on the cross, and
explaining Mary's power in the distribution of graces, basis of our recourse to
We can thus say that, since the fourth
and especially the fifth century, the Greek Fathers, expounding the views of
Irenaeus, have become the clearer and more active witnesses of the unfathomable
mystery that constitutes the privileged and unique mission of the Virgin Mother
in the economy of Redemption. This role was magnificently summed up by the
fifth century Fathers in these statements: Mary is the Mother of the Economy (Theodosus of Ancyra, MG 77,393 C), the Mother of Salvation (Severien of Gabala,
MG 56,4) and the one who gives birth to
the Mystery (Proclus of
Constantinople, MG 65,792 C).
All these expressions signify that Mary
was, in dependence of the unique Savior and Redeemer, an active cause of our
redemption. In the eighth and ninth centuries, the more abundant testimony of
the Greek Fathers adds nothing essential. It will be enough here to quote Saint
Andrew of Crete: Mary is "the first reparation of the first fall of the first parents"(MG
It will not suffice, however, to
consider the individual testimonies of the Fathers during the first millennium
in order to get a clear idea of the doctrines acknowledged and held true by
their Churches; we should also, indeed especially, examine the collective
testimonies of their Churches in the liturgical prayers. This is what I shall
attempt to do in the following section.
Liturgical testimonies of the
Churches during the first millennium
Numerous liturgical prayers going back
to the first millennium, both in the East and the West, reveal the privileged
association of the Virgin Mary with Christ the Redeemer. This is a normal fact,
that is, a fact conforming to the doctrinal norm: if, as early as the second
century, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Melito of Sardis recognize and
acknowledge Mary as the New Eve, the Advocate of the human race, the Associate
of the Redeemer in His work of salvation, should not this doctrinal conviction
be bound to express itself, during the eucharistic celebration, in recognizing
her privileged role? Should not the rule of faith influence the rule of prayer?
The coming of the Word into humanity
and His victory of the Cross are perpetuated at Mass: how could the Church not
associate, during the celebration of the Central Act of its life, the mention,
memory and veneration of the name of Mary, associate with Jesus at the manger
in Bethlehem, and at the altar of the Cross?
Indeed, ever since the third century,
the liturgical texts, presently known, commemorate Mary. A primitive stage of
commemoration without invocation was followed in the fifth century, in the
Roman Canon, by the recourse to her intercession. We can say that beginning in
the fifth century, Mass has never been celebrated, neither by the Catholic
Church, nor during periods of schisms by the separated Churches, without
invoking or mentioning the name of the Mother of God.
The Church on earth knows that it owes
Jesus' sacrifice, which it perpetuates, to Mary's free and obedient consent.
Since the third century, the Roman Church, in the canon (then still optional)
of Hippolytus, mentions the Mother of Jesus ("Your inseparable Word...whom
you have sent from heaven to the womb of the Virgin...born of the Holy Spirit
and of the Virgin"). The total context (Cf. Martimort, L'Eglise en prière, Tournai, 1965,
p.276) constitutes an affirmation of the soteriological character of this
maternity of the Virgin; we can therefore recognize in this persistent
reference to the name of the Virgin (name repeated) a proclamation, though
still hidden, but already real, of her privileged role in the Mystery of
Then, as soon as the Church has
determined its anaphoras, it proceeds to a more explicit commemoration of its
Advocate, Mother of its Supreme Priest. The Church knows more clearly the close
and indissoluble link that unites Mary to the Savior and which will be later
evoked by Vatican Council II (LG 53); this link is the very link that unites
the Church to the Virgin; it is the link of divine motherhood. Therefore, all
indications are that for the Church, henceforth, it would be inconceivable to
celebrate the Eucharist of the Son without desiring, loving, recognizing,
verbalizing and invoking the presence of the Mother. It would be impossible to
celebrate the memorial of the Son without exalting the memory of the Mother. By
having His Mother be invited to the wedding at Cana, the Word signified that we
could not exclude Her from His nuptials with the Church consummated in the
Let us examine now in a detailed but
brief manner some testimonies of the Roman, Mozarabic, Byzantine and Ethiopian
liturgies, with the help of the divine-apostolic tradition in regard to Mary's
privileged participation in the redemptive mission of her only Son.
We owe it to Dom Botte and to M.
Chavasse, to know of the existence, in Rome in the sixth
century, of the very texts of a Marian Mass celebrated on January 1st. The
prayer super sindonem proclaims that
the merits of Mary "tore up the writ where our sins were recorded":
"ex cujus meritis deleantur nostra
chyrographa peccatorum." Daring words, says Dom G. Frénaud: By means
of a Pauline expression (cf. Eph 2,14), Marian coredemption in terms of merit
is affirmed -- as early as the sixth century. We can understand the meaning of
this prayer in this way: by consenting to the Incarnation, Mary, in the eyes of
the Father, has merited, in dependence upon the coming Christ and by Him, the
fruits of His sacrifice, the purpose and the very reason for His Incarnation
which began with her. We can further understand: deserving by a condign merit, the Incarnation
itself, Mary has, at the same time, earned its salvific fruits for the whole
human race (cf. St. Pius X, Ad Diem Illum,
The Preface of this Mass sings the
astonishment of Mary: "The grace she enjoys is twofold: she is overwhelmed
for having conceived while a virgin, she rejoices for having brought forth a
Redeemer ("laetatur quod dedit
Frénaud observes that Mary, by her very
maternity, considers herself intimately united in the work of salvation
accomplished by her Son. The Preface proclaims Mary coredemptrix by her
virginal conception and because she gave birth to the Redeemer. The Benedictine
monk adds: "Divine and virginal Motherhood, intercession, mediation and
coredemptive merit constitute the fundamental themes of this early Marian
liturgy" of the Roman Church, of this very first Roman Mass for January
In other words, the divine Motherhood
exalted since the beginnings of the Roman Church is clearly a salvific
motherhood. The Roman Mass of January 1st seems to confirm what we had already
seen with Irenaeus, Ambrose and Augustine: Tradition and liturgies (the plural
here anticipates our remarks regarding the Byzantine and Ethiopian liturgies)
saw in the consent to the Incarnation and divine Motherhood an implicit and
coredemptive acceptance of the Sacrifice of the Cross and of the compassion at
the foot of the cross.
At the same period or slightly
thereafter the Mozarabic liturgy of Spain used to celebrate a feast of the
"glorious and holy Virgin Mary." This feast established in 656 to be
observed on December 18th, aimed at exalting the Incarnation of the Word in the
womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world. This feast celebrated,
at least as much as the Roman liturgy, the spiritual, mediative, coredemptive
Motherhood of the Virgin. With a particular difference: the Mozarabic prayers
address the Virgin directly. Here is the first prayer of this feast: "Virgo genetrix et humani generis reparatrix;
implorantium preces auribus offer divinis" ("Virgin, who
generated Christ, reparatrix for the human race, present to the Divine
attention (ears) our prayers of supplication").
Dom Frénaud, precisely, notes in
connection with this text: "The expression humani generis reparatrix is evocative: we should, however, guard
against lending the Christians of the seventh century all the ideas that we are
able, today, to discover, hidden in these words." Undoubtedly. And yet, by
calling to mind Irenaeus, this expression seems to claim as real the belief in
a privileged participation in the Reparation of Christ.
This interpretation is confirmed in
another Mozarabic prayer stressing the role of the merits of Mary regarding our
salvation: "May her merits lead us to salvation" (nos ejus merita provehant ad salutem). A
third prayer insists: "May your Son deliver us from our sins by your
merit." A deeper examination would no doubt show that the Mozarabic
liturgy, when mentioning the merits of all the other saints, emphasizes,
however, the unique character of Mary's
merits, and their unique efficacy. For they alone are the merits of the Mother
We must here underline the fact that
these prayers are still in use today. The Latin liturgy of Spain expressed
already in the seventh century and continues to express the mediating
intercession and the coredemptive merits of the Virgin Mother with such an
emphasis that it encouraged the perfect filial love of Christians towards Mary:
that of Marian slavery, clearly indicated in a prayer of the feast of December
18: "O most holy Servant and Mother of the Word...honor (us) by the homage
to be your slaves...we are glad to enjoy the sweet burden of being your
slaves...May we all live as your slaves always." Incidentally, this prayer, according to Dom
L. Brou, OSB, is the personal composition of Saint Idelphonsus of Toledo (d.
Let us now proceed to examine two very
ancient liturgies, the Coptic and the Ethiopian liturgies, still in use in the
Monophysitic churches of Egypt and Ethiopia just as in the corresponding rites
of the Catholic Church.
The Coptic liturgy comprises thirty-two feasts in honor of Mary, still
invoked at each ceremony, each office and each canonical hour.
At the hour of nones, the office shares
in the grief and suffering of the Virgin standing at the foot of the Cross:
When the Mother of the Lamb and the
Good Shepherd saw the Redeemer of the world hanging on the cross, amid her
tears she said: the world is rejoicing because it has been saved, but my heart
is broken as I consider the crucifixion you suffered for all the human race, o
my Son and my God.
A moving text but less assertive, however, than this
other one: Mary is "the cause of our salvation." Both these texts
should be interpreted in the light of our preceding conclusions: Mary is the
cause of our salvation because she was the human origin of our Savior whose
Incarnation, from the very beginning, was redemptive, since it was oriented
towards the Cross.
The Coptic liturgy in the Preface still
implores: "By the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who for us bore the
Savior of the world, grant us, o Lord, the forgiveness of our sins."
The testimonies of the Alexandrine
liturgy, in regard to the mediating and coredemptive intercession of Mary, are
quite eloquent while at the same time very similar to those we already saw and
will later see in other liturgies.
The separated Churches of Ethiopia -- born of the Coptic Church -- have added to the
thirty-two Marian feasts in the Coptic liturgy an original one, glorifying the
merciful mediation of Mary: the feast of the Merciful Pact concluded between
Mary and the Savior. The Ethiopian
liturgy manifests, more magnificently
than any other liturgy, Mary's presence during Mass and her motherly
association to the sacrifice of her Son. Two anaphoras have a more accentuated
Marian character. In one of them, the Mass of Our Lady called "the
pleasant scent of holiness," which was composed in the fifteenth century
by an Ethiopian, Giyorgis, Mary is called "foundation of the world,
salvation of Adam, redemptrix of the whole world." In this Marian canon,
the celebrant addresses Mary, before and after the consecration: "You have
given birth to the victim of our religion." This canon was to celebrate
the sacrifice of the New Covenant, with Mary, in Mary.
These developments, obviously, happened
much later than the first millennium which is the range of our consideration of
the patristic and liturgical testimonies regarding Mary coredemptrix and
mediatrix. Nevertheless, they show us great convergence between the separated
Churches of the East and the Roman Church with respect to the mystery of Mary
within the economy of salvation. Certain statements of doctrine seem even excessive: Mary is not redemptrix,
but coredemptrix -- a point which will be stated more precisely in the
conclusion and which seems to sum up favorably the patristic tradition.
Let us complete our liturgical course
by examining the testimony of Byzantium. We are almost submerged by the wealth
of texts in favor of the maternal mediation of Mary, based on her divine
J. Ledit, in his book Marie dans la Liturgie de Byzance, offers us an
inventory. The community says to the Virgin, "the only mediatrix of
eternal riches": "You are the salvation of all men." Numerous
texts affirm that Mary "divinizes men."
The Byzantine liturgy possesses a rich
vocabulary of Marian mediation. This word often seems to signify: prayer (of
intercession). Does this liturgy set off prominently enough the Mediation of
Christ, the Priesthood of Christ the Man? In any case, Mary's association in
the passion of Jesus is magnificently emphasized. Let us quote:
Standing at the foot of the cross,
knowing that you are God and that you willingly endured death in the flesh for
the human race, your mother's heart was pierced by the sword and was crucified
as much by the torment and sufferings, but desiring the salvation of the human
race and the redemption of the world, she sings to you, praying and saying amid
her tears: Rise up and save those who, in faith, glorify your sufferings, O Son
who have shed for all, your Precious
We see here how nature and human suffering are
Let us also note, with Father C.
Dumont, O.P., a characteristic trait of the Byzantine liturgy: it
does not hesitate to implore the Virgin herself for salvation. The following
expression is often repeated in the liturgy: "Most Holy Mother of God,
save us," Surely; -- numerous texts express it -- if Mary can save us, it
is because of her intervention with her Son, the only Savior. But, precisely,
unlike the intercession of other saints, the foundation of Mary's efficient
intervention is the privilege of her Divine Motherhood, truth underscored
numerous times in the Byzantine liturgy. Even if this liturgy entreats other
saints to save us too, it would obviously not ask them to do it by invoking the
same reasons. This is sufficient to give us the right to affirm the unique
character of this petition, when addressed to Mary, and to see in that prayer a
glorification of her unique role in the economy of salvation, as well as her
privileged mediation with Christ and the Father.
In fact, notes Father Dumont, no
mention of salvation in the liturgical prayers is ever made without invoking
the intercession of the Virgin. Such frequency and insistence are not found to
the same degree in the course of the Mass in Western liturgies. Hence, there is
a spiritual and doctrinal atmosphere marking the Byzantine faithful with a deep
Serge Boulgakov has summed up perfectly the Byzantine theology of
the intercession of Mary: "Though she is in heaven, in her glorified
state, the Virgin still remains the mother of the human race for whom she prays
and intercedes. That is why the Church presents to her its supplications
beseeching her help. She enfolds the world within her veil, praying and weeping
over the sins of the world."
In the Byzantine liturgy, the recourse
to the mediating intercession of Mary reveals the faith of the Church in her
unique participation, through divine Motherhood, in the mystery of Redemption.
While exalting the powerful
intercession of the Mother of Christ, the Byzantine liturgy does not ignore the
created finitude of the Virgin. As proof, the astonishing prayer of the
Byzantine Church for Mary; linked, besides, to the recourse to her intercession:
We offer to You this reasonable
sacrifice for those who are asleep in faith...in particular for the most holy,
immaculate, blessed above all others and our glorious Queen, Mary, Mother of
God, ever virgin, and for all the saints: by their prayers, O God, protect us.
An impressive text, recited by the
priest immediately after the consecration, uniting harmoniously the prayer for
Mary and the saints in recourse to their intercession.
Saint Epiphanius, in the fourth
century, explains in this way the purpose of this prayer: "It is to set
apart the Lord Jesus Christ from the rest of mankind: the Lord cannot be compared
to any man: Christ God is in heaven, but man is on earth by what he has left
By praying for the saints, the Church
not only prays for them, in relation to them (as Jungmann used to think); but
rather, as some Armenian theologians of the fourteenth century saw it, since Angels and Saints (cf. Lk 15,7.10) rejoice in
the conversion of sinners, by praying for
the saints we ask for the grace to contribute to their accidental beatitude by
obtaining our own salvation and by being placed with them in heaven. The prayer
of the terrestrial Church for Mary and for the saints rejoins their prayer as we read it in the Book of
Revelation (8:3-4; 6:9-11).
The Byzantine liturgy, by praying for
Mary and for the saints, makes us participants in their prayer for our
salvation and that of the world, in order to bring their joy to its fullness.
That is to say: their joy, not the essential joy (the one that comes from the
possession of the Creator), but the accidental, resulting from other creatures.
In the context of our present study,
the interest of this prayer for Mary consists in stressing that the Virgin --
exalted to such an extent by the Byzantine liturgy -- remains in its view
purely a creature, a human being who needs to be fulfilled, in some way, by the
universal Church of which she never ceased to be mysteriously the daughter as
well as the mother.
To say it more precisely, since the
Church prays for Mary, it is obvious that she is not adored. Mary is not a
goddess, but a pure creature. In justifying this prayer, Epiphanius of Salamine
was therefore right to reject any idea of a sacrifice offered to Mary. Mass is
not a sacrifice offered to the Virgin, but to God alone, in honor of Mary.
Moreover, the prayer for Mary
demonstrates that the Byzantine liturgy did not fall into the Monophysitic
temptation, nor has it dehumanized the Blessed Virgin. It has even favored
compassion towards the Virgin and still more exalted her compassion towards her
Son, at the foot of the Cross, as we already stated. By praying for the Virgin,
no matter how glorified she may be, the Church affirms that Mary remains so
human that she always needs our happiness so that hers may be complete.
Mary, the most glorious member of the
body of Christ, continues to need the other members. Augustine said it
precisely: Mary is an excellent and super-eminent member of the Church; she,
however, is one member of the whole body (Sermo 25,7-8; ML 46,937; LG 53). If
Augustine had thought about the implication of this point, he might have
avoided considering the prayers for the martyrs as an insult to them (Sermo
Far from being the "height of
absurdity", -- as Renaudot the eighteenth century liturgist thought -- the
prayer for Mary does not mean, in the least, that the universal Church has ever
considered that the Mother of the Lord had not yet entered the plenitude of its
essential and final beatitude; what is meant, rather, is that the Church is
conscious of being able to contribute, until the end of time, until the
Parousia of Mary and of her Son in her, to the perfection of her accidental
beatitude. The Virgin's mediation in favor of the Church does
not exclude a certain mediation -- much more inferior in value -- of the Church
in favor of Mary. We say inferior, because if the Virgin gives to the Church,
by her mediation, its unique and perfect Mediator, the Church is not giving Him
to the Virgin, but is helping Mary to glorify Him.
From this very incomplete study of the
liturgies of the Eastern and Western Churches, we can draw some conclusions.
The Church has always understood that it is impossible to celebrate the Last
Supper of its sacrificial nuptials with the Lamb without inviting His Handmaid
and Mother there, without honoring her name, her presence and her action,
without offering her veneration above all other creatures. The dogmatic decree
of the second ecumenical council of Nicaea, in 787, would only state more
precisely and proclaim what the Church for centuries had lived and believed in
all its Eucharistic celebrations: "The Lord, the apostles and the prophets
have taught us that we must venerate in the first place the Holy Mother of God,
who is above all the heavenly powers." An anathema ended this declaration:
"If any one does not confess that the holy, ever virgin Mary, really and
truly the Mother of God, is higher than all creatures visible and invisible,
and does not implore, with a sincere faith, her intercession, given her
powerful access (parrhésia) to our
God born of her, let him be anathema" (Session IV; Mansi XIII, 346; J. E.
Bifet, De primordiis cultus mariani,
Roma, 1970, t.II, pp. 360-361).
This important, and no doubt little
known, declaration of an ecumenical council presupposes, implicitly but surely,
the acknowledgment of a privileged participation of Mary, as Mother of God
incarnate, in the work of our salvation: if Mary was not, pre-eminently, His
collaborator by her obedient consent to God's design of the redemptive and
sacrificial Incarnation, ever since she accepted it at the Annunciation, the
affirmations of the Council could not be justified.
This reference of Nicaea II to the
Apostles and the Prophets send us back most probably both to Paul (Gal. 4,4),
whose disciple is Luke, and to Is. 7 and the Protoevangelium, as well to Revelation (ch. 12). The liturgy
carries out this teaching of the Lord and the Apostles according to three
distinct types or models: Roman, Byzantine and Ethiopian.
type (rather than Latin) exalts the Mother of God in the Canon or Eucharistic
prayer, invoking her intercession without praying in her name. It does not
invoke her directly during Mass (with exception) and never during the Canon,
and it never offers incense to her image.
type joins harmoniously, during the anaphora, the praise of the Mother of God,
the prayer for her and the invocation for her intercession; it addresses her
directly (just as the Latin mozarabic rite does, perhaps influenced by the
Byzantine rite) even during the anaphora; it beseeches her to save us and it
offers incense to her icons.
type accentuates even more the Byzantine type by multiplying the prayers and
praises addressed to Mary, Mother of God, during the anaphora, without
prejudice however to the fact that the anaphora is always addressed to the
Father or (more seldom) to Christ.
In each of these three types the
prayers of the Church signify that it believes and knows the commemoration of
the Virgin, Mother of God incarnate, to be inseparable from the anamnesis of
her Son, and of His Paschal mystery. The practice of such prayers of the Church
indicates that it believes it to be impossible to obey the commandments of
Jesus: "Do this in memory of Me,”
celebrate my own commemoration rite (Lk 22:19) without exalting the
memory of His Mother and Associate, the incomparable Virgin.
These three types or models, different
as they may be, manifest, however, an impressive doctrinal convergence. For all
the rites emphasize both the divine motherhood and the holy virginity of Mary.
Louis Bouyer has offered a beautiful and profound explanation concerning these
two unified truths: "Mary was venerated both for her divine motherhood,
the supreme objective gift that God had granted her in Christ, and for her
Christian and contemplative virginity, so totally dedicated to the understanding
of the mystery by such a loving faith that all her life was a perfect
In other words, the Churches of the
first Christian millennium saw Mary's virginity not only as a preliminary and
concomitant disposition to divine Motherhood, but also as the perfect human
answer (influenced by grace) subsequent to this gift. The liturgies of the
period of the Fathers understood the Virginity of Mary in the context of their
general outlook: the consecrated celibacy appeared to them as a non-bloody
symbol of the bloody martyrdom, as a testimony of faith, hope and love,
regarding Christ the Redeemer. We find again here, with a new approach, what we
have already said: to proclaim Mary's Virginity before, during and after the
conception and birth of the Redeemer, was to confess her privileged association
and her indissoluble union with Christ the Savior of the human race. Such is
one of the meanings -- and not the least profound -- of the perpetual virginity
of the Mother of God.
From this point of view, incidentally,
the possible doctrinal deepening, by the living Magisterium, of the Marian
virginal coredemption would be a good opportunity to bring out, face to an
increasingly sensual world, the universal coredemptive reach of Christian
virginity lived in union with the Virgin of Virgins. It would also have other
consequences in terms of liturgical and ecumenical pastorship.
On one hand -- to the extent where the
law of faith directs the rule of prayer -- this deepening of doctrinal
knowledge would facilitate an evolution of the Latin liturgy towards a more
ritually adequate answer to the coredemptive Mediation of the Virgin, by means
of a more frequent, direct and immediate invocation of the Mother of the only
Mediator (are we accustomed to address His Mother only in an indirect way?),
during the celebration of the Lord's Last Supper. There would be no need to
modify the present texts: it would suffice, as it is often done nowadays during
the Sanctus, to insert among them
invocations to the Blessed Virgin. Incense would be presented to her images. To
the extent where it is true that the present Marian feasts, in the Latin rite,
when they fall on week days, have no profound influence on Catholic crowds, the
suggested adaptations (under the
influence of the Eastern rites) would allow the masses of the People of God to
become more deeply penetrated by the cult of Mary, in the same way this is
accomplished in the Eastern rites. The Holy See has recently granted about
fifty votive Masses -- with beautiful doctrinal prefaces -- in honor of Mary.
Such adaptations are already a step in the right direction, without, however,
bringing any change to the present situation regarding Sunday celebrations.
On the other hand, similar means could
help the Eastern Churches to better express, in their liturgical prayer, the
conviction that Mary's Mediation is totally dependent on the Mediation of Jesus
Christ, her Creator, Savior and Redeemer.
If one prefers, we could say that the
sure testimony given by the Eastern and Western liturgies to the truth of the praying Motherhood of the Virgin Mary
is, in both cases, open to improvement and progress in view of attaining a
higher degree of exactitude, of depth, and of balance. But, if we are willing
to consider especially their doctrinal foundation, these liturgies, together,
offer a testimony to this fundamental truth: Mary is the privileged
collaborator of Christ in the work of salvation of the world. She is His
collaborator, inseparably, both as His Mother and His creature whom He redeemed
for this purpose.
After giving this limited inventory of
these patristic liturgies during the first millennium, in regards to Mary
Coredemptrix and Mediatrix, it is proper, at this point, to ask oneself about
the doctrinal value these liturgies offer.
Let us first recall the famous words of
Pius XI: "The
liturgy is the most important instrument of the ordinary magisterium of the
Church." Reflecting the "sensus
fidelium" of all the people of God, the liturgy, at the same time, is
an eminent hierarchical work, by means of which the teaching Church, successors
of the Twelve Apostles under Peter's guidance, in a permanent catechesis raise
their indefectible voice. It is especially through the Liturgy that the
divine-apostolic Tradition is present and active in the Church.
Because it is a profession of Catholic
faith, the liturgy is a theological source. It has no other authority than the
episcopal or pontifical magisterium that approved it. This is quite normal: the
prayer of the Church expresses its faith and the authentic interpretation of
the sacred deposit of Revelation that has been entrusted exclusively to the
Roman Pontiff and to the bishops who are in full communion with him: to the
successors of the Twelve Apostles (Dei
From these principles, it follows that
the weakest theological value is that of the monastic liturgies and liturgies
of particular dioceses. Liturgies formed with the participation of several
dioceses or those of Eastern patriarchates are, if approved by the Holy See, of
greater doctrinal value. The Roman liturgy offers a special guarantee, not as a
result of being Latin, but by the fact that it expresses the belief of the
Mother and Authority of all Churches, and that it is organized within the
immediate responsibility of the sovereign Pontiffs, even if it does not always
involve the Pope as the supreme and infallible head of the Universal Church.
Liturgical prayers are, rightfully so,
accomplished in the name of the whole Church. Moreover, if this profession of
faith is, by tradition, repeated to the degree of becoming permanent, it
offers, then, all the characteristics which ensure to the ordinary Magisterium
that controls them, a total infallibility. Such a guarantee belongs, not only
to the symbols of faith recited during Mass, even if they have never been
officially promulgated, but also to the doctrinal contents common to all
Eucharistic anaphoras. The very infallibility of the Church is thus committed.
Most of the liturgies in certain
localities do not engage this infallibility. For too long they have been
developing without being effectively controlled, in all their details, by the
supreme Magisterium. Even when this control is, today, as an after effect of
the Council of Trent, carried out by the Roman instruments of the ordinary
Magisterium, it only constitutes an action in relation to a specific Church.
Consequently, it does not possess in itself this universality of character that
could entail infallibility.
The Church of Rome, whose Roman liturgy
contains the profession of faith, is thus considered to be preserved, by
special right, from any doctrinal deviation by reason of the prerogatives of
its Bishop. Moreover, the Roman liturgy possesses in fact, in the Church, a
morally universal extension. These conditions exclude, at least morally, all
possibilities of error in faith.
The doctrinal testimony of liturgies is
then not that of individual theologians, even if they were great doctors of the
Church, but the testimony of the Churches, or of the universal Church. If all the liturgies, whether Eastern
or Western, Orthodox or hetorodox, give unanimous testimony regarding a
doctrine, it has been proven that such a doctrine is of apostolic origin. Thus
unanimity -- according to Dom Cabrol's observation-- has the same value as the unanimity of the
Fathers teaching the same doctrine. For,
in case of error, the whole Church would be wrong, and that is impossible: the
powers of hell will not prevail against her. Universality is one of three
criteria (with antiquity and uniformity), that, as far back as the fifth
century, Prosper of Aquitaine set forth about the law of valid prayer as law of
faith. (De Vocatione Gentium, I, 12;
ML 51, 664).
From these principles ensue the
The unceasing and privileged
intercession of the Mother of God, at least implicitly (for the eternal
salvation of all the "journeying" humanity), is affirmed with accord
by the anaphoras and the Churches still partly separated from the first See,
and the Churches of all the Eastern and Western rites of the universal Church. The
infallibility of the Church is therefore bound in this affirmation. The
affirmation of this intercession, uniquely privileged, corresponds in substance
and in fact to that of the privileged mediation of the praying Virgin, in the
distribution of graces. The praying Mother and Virgin is the Advocate, not only
of Eve and Adam, "the restoration of the fallen Adam, the drying up of
Eve's tears" (Acathist hymn), but also of all men and all women of all
times, in the splendor of her Assumption, and in the course of all the
liturgies of all times until the return of Christ and her own maternal
We are here concerned with a dogma that
is not as yet defined, but that could possibly be; this intercession could not
be affirmed as it has been if it were not divinely revealed and contained, at
least implicitly, either in the Scripture or in the Apostolic
Tradition, or in both; a non-defined dogma, nevertheless, since its affirmation
does not go beyond the level of the ordinary and universal magisterium to reach
that of the extraordinary magisterium. Indeed, by affirming the necessity of
having recourse to Mary's intercession, Nicaea II did not proclaim the
invariability and universality of this perpetual intercession for all men of
In fact, this intercession of universal
scope is a mission intimately linked to that of a praying and salvific divine
motherhood. It is because Mary received the mission of engendering, according
to the flesh, the Son of God for the salvation of the whole world and gave her
prayerful consent (we already mentioned that), that she also received the
mission of praying with Him so that His Salvation may be accepted by each of
the redeemed and thus that each one may be effectively saved. Being herself
saved by her motherhood with respect to the Savior, she saves all those who
have recourse to her intercession, much more than Timothy could have saved
those who through him heard the word of Christ (cf. 1 Tim 2,15 and 4,16); for,
well before the Incarnation and since her Immaculate entry into a sinful world,
Mary, more than Paul, intercedes unceasingly so that all men may be saved and
may come to the knowledge of the truth, the Word (cf. 1 Tim 2,1-4).
By their emphasis on the constant and
universal intercession of Mary, the liturgies send us back to their other
affirmations, clearer and stronger still, regarding the salvific character of
the Motherhood of the Virgin Mary. A comparative study of the various liturgies
of the Annunciation, from the texts, would be indispensable at this time.
However, before we even engage in this study, and based on the points we have
evoked here, we can so far say this: the liturgical doctrine, according to
which Mary cooperated in a unique and privileged manner, as the new Eve, with
the new Adam, in the spiritual regeneration of the whole human race, is of an
apostolic origin (cf. Gal 4:4). All these thoughts are summed up in this
expression of the Armenian liturgy: "Mother of the Salvation of the human
race," exalting the "Advocate of the world."
The Relation between the
Testimonies and the Divine-Apostolic
The great interest in the recourse to
liturgies and their affirmation of Mary's divine Motherhood, Virginity and
Universal Mediation, consists in facilitating the perception of the
divine-apostolic origin of the truths in question. Indeed, as Cardinal Newman
keenly observed, "in a question of doctrine, we must have recourse to the
great doctrinal source, the Apostolic Tradition...an uninterrupted Tradition
since the Apostles." Precisely, the liturgical tradition has been
uninterrupted, it takes us back to the first centuries and all along them to
the testimony of the Fathers who were the immediate successors of the Apostles:
Irenaeus and Polycarp.
Newman adds that there are explicit and
there are implicit traditions. "An explicit tradition in doctrinal matters
lies in the letter of a transmitted proposition." For example:
the apostolic-divine Tradition reveals explicitly that Mary is the Virgin
Mother of Jesus virginally brought forth, the Savior of the world. "An
implicit tradition lies in the force and virtue, not in the letter of the
proposition." For example: Mary is the ever Virgin Mother of God the
Savior and she intercedes for the salvation of the world. This proposition is
implicitly contained in the preceding explicit proposition.
We could probe more deeply the
reasoning of the British Cardinal by observing that the implicit presence of
the privileged cooperation of Mary, Virgin and Mother, in the work of
salvation, in the apostolic Tradition should all the more be acknowledged as
this same Tradition asserts human freedom: she, whom Luke, Paul's disciple,
declares: "full of grace" was totally free in regard to sin, and was
therefore able to accept with unequaled plenitude the divine Covenant on behalf
of the human race. In order to grasp fully the Apostolic Tradition regarding
Mary, we should not separate Gal 4:4 from Lk 1-2: She to whom the Savior was
born is precisely that only person whom Scripture acknowledges as the one
uniquely favored of God (kekaritôménè).
In order to understand properly the
apostolic origin of the affirmation of Mary's privileged association with the
work of our salvation, we should also recall the importance, for Paul and for
the first generation of Christians, of Tradition, the Paradosis (I Cor 15,3-8; 11,2):
the proclamation, by the Apostles,
of the Mystery of Christ and of His present action; this founding and
fundamental Tradition concerns only what the Church has always believed and
practiced, without excluding a development, a passage from the implicit to the
explicit; it is perfectly obvious that from the apostolic
times, the Christian community has always proclaimed Mary's unique and
unparalleled role in the coming of Christ in this world; it has always
recognized, consequently, that it is impossible to separate the salvific work
of Christ and the exercise of our freedoms, and most of all that of the Virgin,
and that the salvific exercise by Mary of her freedom deserves our unique
gratitude. Such acknowledgment and gratitude were expressed not only in the
words of the successors of the Twelve Apostles, but also by means of a
constant, public and official prayer of all the communities they have founded.
The explicit mention of Mary in the
Eucharistic prayer of all the Masses of all the rites of the universal Church
is a doctrinal fact of the highest importance. The Church assures us that the
Most Holy Associate of the Son of God during His earthly life is also His
privileged Associate in His ecclesial life, in His Eucharistic and sacrificial
act. The miracle of the Transubstantiation, renewed daily, intimated at Cana,
clearly appears as the reason and the
deployment in space and time of the unique miracle of Mary's fecund virginity.
Through the liturgies, many of which date back to the patristic period, the
Fathers continue to give witness to this fundamental truth: Mary did
participate and continues to do so, in a unique and privileged manner, in the
Sacrifice of Redemption. It is now fitting to ask ourselves how they can help
us, today, to project and develop more precisely this same truth.
How to present to our age the Mystery of Marian Coredemption in harmony with the Fathers of the Church
We would like to conclude our study by
stating more precisely, by means of a series of synthetical notations, the
direction that an eventual dogmatic definition of Mary's privileged mission at
the service of the Redemption would take, if we were to be guided by the broad
lines of force of Patristic thought.
Even though this expression has
sometimes been used during the patristic period, we would carefully avoid
saying that Mary is redemptrix or redemption. Why? Cardinal Journet in 1950
said it so well: "The Mediation of Christ alone is redemptive. Alone it is
theandric, alone infinite strictly speaking, alone deserving in justice de condigno the salvation of all the
human race. The mediation of the Christians and of the Church can only be
coredemptive." The same holds true, but to a higher degree, of the
Virgin's mediation: she obtains for all men the graces derived from the unique
Redeemer and Mediator, Christ. "The Virgin is Coredemptrix for the
founding of the Church."
Many contemporary theologians
appropriately say: "We do not have a Coredeemer and a Coredemptrix, but a
Redeemer and a Coredemptrix." This coredemptrix has herself been redeemed and
saved by her Son: "Through the one person Jesus-Christ the abundance of
grace and the gift of justification caused everyone" -- but first of all
Mary -- "to be made righteous"; "by one man's obedience many
(and above all Mary) will be made righteous" (Rom 5:18-19).
It would then be fitting to say that
Mary is coredemptrix in so far as she is pre-redeemed, of a more sublime
redemption; she was coredeemed to become coredemptrix, in a privileged way in
the two cases.
It is by her whole meritorious life,
from her first to her last free act of her earthly life, that Mary, always
acting with the grace of the Holy Spirit, participates in the Sacrifice of
Redemption, specially by her virginal marriage and her perpetual virginity.
Always and everywhere she is the Virgin associated with the mission of the
unique Redeemer, in a unique way.
This association cannot and should not
be expressed only by means of the term coredemptrix, but also by a series of
other words: for example, by taking and updating a Pauline expression, we can
say that Mary is collaborator with God, cooperator with the Word incarnate, the
Associate and (in a very real sense) the Spouse of the Redeemer (language
already used by the Fathers). By her unique mission, Mary transcends all other
coredeemers, just as she is transcended by her only Redeemer and ours, and in
dependence upon Him in her very activity as coredemptrix.
Mary is coredemptrix, not only of each
of the other coredeemers, but also of the Church who is coredeemer also. By her
ascending coredemption, Mary makes her own the sacrifice of her Son on our
behalf; by her descending coredemption she intercedes for us so that the fruits
of the Redemption reach us. She has co-merited them for us, as it is emphasized
in the liturgy of the patristic period, and she joins in the satisfaction of
her Son who expiates our sins; thus she has become the Reparatrix of the human
Her constant participation in the
unique mission of the unique Redeemer is totally directed towards the full
achievement of her coredemptive mission of the unique and universal Church and
of each of its members. Mary is coredemptrix so that each one of us, because of
her merits and intercession, transforms his life in an offering of his state of
life (whether celibate or married) and
all his activities to the glory of the only Redeemer. It is for this purpose
that the eternal Word communicates to Mary a perpetual participation in His
mission: in all the stages of her conscious and voluntary life Mary has been,
is, remains and will be till the very last day of history the pre-eminent
Associate of the Savior.
Psychologically speaking, the term
Coredemptrix evokes mainly, for the imagination and the sensitivity of the
Christian masses, the sorrowful Mary standing at the foot of the Cross, her
tears of compassion, rather than the consent she has already given at the
Annunciation to the Paschal Incarnation of the Only Son. Similarly, the term
Redeemer sends us back mostly to the Cross of Jesus. We have also seen that the
presence of Mary at the foot of the Cross is also the object of a number of
liturgical and patristics references during the first millennium. Nothing would
prevent the Church, in an eventual definition, from asserting that the
doctrinal wealth of the first millennium, in its contemplation of the
Annunciation, is no less present in the pierced Heart of Mary at the foot of
The Augustinian contemplation of the
mystery of Mary's mortality would
facilitate a deeper vision of the coredemptive aspect of Mary's presence at the
foot of the Cross. Augustine presents us the Virgin mortalis, moritura, moriens: mortal, destined to die, dying. Because Mary is
mortal she can give Christ a nature capable of dying. Mediatrix of Christ's
mortality, Mary, according to Augustine's reasoning, died because of Adam's
sin; her death is a middle term between the death of the sinner Adam and the
redeeming death of Christ. The holy and sanctifying mortality of Mary
constitutes the range of perception in which is inscribed the redeeming death
of her Son, pulling away the sinful creation from the power of the one
Augustine calls the mediator of death, Satan. A mortal mother, Mary transmits to Christ her
mortality so that he might expiate Adam's sin; Mary is mortal so that the Son
of God might die for all men and especially for her in view of abolishing
death. The reality of Jesus' death is linked to His generation through Mary.
Augustine in similar terms says: "vera
mater vere mortua, vera caro et vera mors Filii, vera vulnera verae
Because of his polemic against the
Manicheans Augustine shows us better than anyone else to what degree the
redemptive death of the Son is already inscribed in the flesh of his conception
and of his birth ex Maria:
"mother of his humanity, she is the mother of the infirmity he assumed for
us" (mater humanitatis, mater
infirmitatis). Thus he grasps what Ephesus will later express:
divine maternity is maternity according to the flesh, it links humanity to God
by linking God to the weakness assumed voluntarily by the Almighty. A brilliant
word sums up the thought of the Bishop of Hippo: God clothed himself in death
in Mary's virginity ("se induit
morte in virginitate matrix").
In Augustinian terms (rooted in the
thought of the Apostle: Rom 8:29), Mary's predestined death is associated to
the death of her Predestinator and Savior, her Son. The Virgin Mary, preparing
herself, particularly at the foot of the Cross, to die, believed that her Son
saved her by his own death.
Mary's whole life is a sacrifice
offered in Christ for all humanity. At the foot of the Cross, in union with the
loving death of her only Son, Mary offers, in advance, her future death which
will result from her permanent contemplation of the death of Jesus on the
Cross. This offering of her future death, in dependence
upon the sacrifice of her Son, in an increasingly loving offering, is the
supreme point of the active and coredemptive compassion of the Virgin Mother
and of her participation in the objective Redemption of the human race. Mors Mariae, in Christo et cum Christo, vita
We could synthesize a fully elaborated
Augustinian theology of Mary's sacrificial and coredemptive death in these
terms: Virgo mortalis, mortua ex Adam
(propter peccatum Adae) et moriens ex caritate propter delenda peccata aliorum,
ut nasceretur Ecclesia, sic fit mater
In other words, we must distinguish,
but cannot separate, the historical fact and the revealed mystery of Mary's
death, the physical fact and the moral offering. It is freely that Christ
willed to associate His Mother to the offering of His own death: just as the
Lord freely willed to have need of Mary to be born, He no less freely willed to
receive her consent to die, and He wanted that Mary's consent to His death as
unique Redeemer be inseparable from the inclusion, in Him, of an acceptance of
her death as Mother. How could she have accepted and offered her own Son's
death without wanting to die with Him, like Him, for Him, and to complete in
her own death what was
"lacking in the death of her Son" (Col 1:23)? And how could not this
acceptance and this offering be first of all gifts of the Son?
All indications are thus far, that an
eventual definition of Marian coredemption will unavoidably restart in the
church the consideration of Mary's morally anticipated death at the Cross and
the role of that mission of dying a death of love in and for the salvation of
But indications are also that this same
eventuality, by inviting the Church to establish the principle of moral and
free association (on both sides) of the Mother of Jesus with her Son in the
work of universal salvation, would be regarded -- here too with the Fathers of
the Church -- within the fundamental principle of the total dependence of Mary
the creature on her Son the Creator (DS 536). In this regard, all coredemptions
will only be "subredemptions," including the case of Mary. Mother and
Associate of the Redeemer, Mary does not cease to be His Handmaid, His
Adoratrix who joins Her Son to adore, in Spirit and in Truth, the Father's
design: to redeem the human race to the point of linking each human being to
the redemption of the others.
Nevertheless, the analogy between the
coredemptive missions of each human being, of the Church and of the Virgin
Mother of God, is not the only one. By
contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity we are forced to recognize the
supreme and quite different coredemptive activity of each of the three divine
The tradition of the Fathers did not
ignore it. It recognized that the activity of the Three Divine Persons in the
world is a unique and common activity brought about by their unique nature.
Each of the Three is Creator, the Three are Cocreators, and yet are together
but one Creator. Similarly the Three Divine Coredeemers are but one God
Redeemer: The Father is the unengendered Redeemer, the Son is the engendered
Redeemer, the Spirit the spired Redeemer.
Such formulae are rooted in the profound analyses of Saint
Augustine (cf. De Trinitate,
V.10.11). The Athanasian symbol (in reality Western) tells of three coeternal
and coequal persons: the author of the text would not have seen any reason to
recoil from the expression of Three uncreated Coredeemers, one Creator only
(cf. DS 21).
It is important to emphasize the fact
that Mary is a created coredemptrix, finite, dependent, whose activity is a
participation in the Trinitarian coredemption, which means that she is
profoundly distinct from it. The whole Trinity inspires Mary her tears for the
sin of the world and her consentcreated by the transcendent redemptive initiative
that is the Trinity itself. Mary is unceasingly created in view of the
universal Redemption, by the Father Redeemer unengendered, by the Word Redeemer
engendered to whom the Father communicates constantly the will to save the
world, and by the Spirit Redeemer proceeding. The Trinity makes of Mary a
participant in its salvific and redemptive will. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the three
infinite Coredeemers who make of Mary a created and finite coredemptrix. The
Spirit Redeemer, eternal link between the unengendered Redeemer and the
engendered Redeemer, joins together all the coredemptive activities of the
Christians, of the Church and of the Mother of the only Son for the glory of
the only Father. Totalizing and unifying all these activities, He makes of
them, in a sense, an only total Redemption, identical to the total Christ, Head
and members, that Augustine celebrates.
The initiative of the reconciliatory
Redemption comes from the Father (2 Cor 5:18); the common and unique will of
the Father and the Son is the cause of Mary's reconciliatory role; Jesus and
Mary by the will of the Father and the gifts they received from Him, obtain for
us the gift of the reconciliatory Spirit; according to the words of Odo of
Morimon, Cistercian (1116-1161), "the Spirit, who at Nazareth allows Mary
to conceive the Son, fills her with strength on Calvary, and in heaven forms
the link that unites her to her Son," so that the Spirit inspires her the
prayers she addresses to her Son (and by Him to the Father). The devotion to
Mary reconciliatrix and coredemptrix leads us by the Spirit to the Son and the
Let us be more precise still. Mary
Coredemptrix leads us to Christ, Redeemer and at the same time Coredeemer:
Redeemer in so far as He is the Word Incarnate,
offering to the Father his blood as price for our redemption (Mk 10:45);
Coredeemer in so far as He is the Word,
with the Father and the Spirit equal Coredeemers, since all three together
inspire the Heart of the Lamb this offering. But Mary receives from the Three
Divine Coredeemers, through the mediation of Jesus the Man, the ransom for all
(1 Tim 2:2-4), the possibility itself and the will to be associated to the
At every Mass, Mary renews the offering
of her coredemptive compassion, her merits and satisfactions as Mother of God,
first associate in the mystery of Redemption. Thus she perpetuates her offering
and her standing at the foot of the Cross, for our total liberation.
Her merits and satisfactions, her
sacrifice as coredemptrix, are ours and indeed belong to us. Much more still
than these Christians of the Roman Empire during the centuries of persecution,
who approached the confessors and martyrs to take as their own their merits so
as to be reconciled with the Divine Mercy, it behooves us to approach the
Mother of Sorrows and accept with gratitude the gifts she unceasingly offers us
from her own merits and satisfactions as Coredemptrix, created, unique and
privileged, so that we may be able to exercise fully our mission and vocation
of coredeemers at the service of the only Redeemer and the Redeeming Trinity.
The merits of Mary are, in fact, after the merits of Christ and in dependence
upon them, the principal part of the Church's treasure.
Because of the Virgin, Mediatrix of our
vocation as coredeemers, we are able to fully do justice and a loving justice
to God the Savior, in favor of the souls in Purgatory and the conversion of a
Extending the Patristic thought, with
the same care in the contemplation of the Creator's justice and mercy, Saint
Bonaventure seems to be the Doctor who, in the past, has best presented the
mystery of Marian Coredemption, in a way most adapted to a balanced vision of
the whole Revelation and to the known needs of our time and the foreseen needs
of the future Church. In conclusion we
will quote him at length: It will also be a way to synthesize numerous elements
evoked so far.
Blessed Virgin, says the seraphic Doctor, is the price that allows us to obtain
the Kingdom of heaven. He is from her, that is drawn from her, paid and
possessed by her. Drawn from her at the Incarnation, paid by her in the
Redemption of the human race, and possessed by her in the glory of heaven.
price, she paid for it as the strong and devoted woman when Christ suffered on
the Cross... It was pleasing to the Virgin that the price drawn from her womb
be offered on the Cross for us.
except Christ, could render to God the honor that was taken away from Him. But
the Virgin participated in this act of reparation, consenting as mother that
Christ be offered in ransom.
Mary's sacrifice has value only in
passing through the hands of Christ. She cannot merit in justice, on her own,
the salvation of humanity. But it would be too little to say that she merits
their salvation by congruous merit, she merits it as her dignity (of Mother of
God) demands, by a title of excellence: meritum
As Mother of the Redeemer, Mary is the
Coredemptrix, privileged among all the coredeemers, for the glory of the only
Redeemer and, in Him, of the Coredeemers, the Father and the Spirit.