For two thousand years now, scholars, theologians, and poets have attempted to plumb the depths of a certain human being in order to gain a better understanding and appreciation of God’s love for suffering humanity. They have studied the doctrines concerning her, wondered at her privileges and prerogatives, and praised her beauty of body and soul. In the end, the wisest of these seekers admits that, at best, he has sketched a mere outline of this woman’s greatness and glory. This person is none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
When Bl. Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854, he observed the following:
From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for His only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, He would be born into this world (Ineffabilis Deus).
Were this the only document concerning the Virgin Mary that had survived into the future, men of good will would still find in these words a lifetime’s worth of grist for their theological and intellectual mills. Mary was chosen and prepared for her Divine Maternity from the very beginning, and before time began. The words are far too easy to say for creatures limited by time and space. Grasping their import is another matter, and they ought to be approached with humility and awe.
The history of creation is divided into two parts. Our calendar refers to these parts as “B.C.” (Before Christ) and “A.D.” (Anno Domini — the years after the birth of Jesus Christ). The great primeval event in the history of mankind was the Fall of Adam, an event that forever changed men and women. But, by the mercy of God, that primeval event looked ahead to the turning point in human history — the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and the redemption won for humanity by God Incarnate. From that point on, nothing would or could ever be the same again:
The hillock of Calvary is really and truly (if the metaphor may be allowed) the watershed of the world’s history. The human race moves on down to Calvary and from Calvary onwards, dividing at the foot of the Cross, according as men accept or reject the Divinity of Him Who died there on the first Good Friday (Rev. Denis Fahey, The Kingship of Christ According to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas).
Of the infinite number of ways in which God could have redeemed the human race, He chose the death and resurrection of His Only-begotten Son, Jesus. God becoming man, suffering, dying and rising again, was to become the sole equation through which grace would flood the earth and man would once again enjoy the friendship of his Creator. The Blessed Virgin was the pivot upon which all of salvation history rested. Her selfless fiat to the Angel Gabriel during the Annunciation set into motion the chain of events for which the world had been waiting in sorrow since Adam and Eve broke faith with their Lord in Eden.
To pretend that Mary is merely another “good” person from Scripture is to deny God’s justice, as well as His beneficence and generosity. The Woman chosen “from the very beginning” to bear God in her immaculate womb, to impart her own flesh and blood to the eternal Creator, and to rear the Lamb of God for the supreme sacrifice on Calvary — if she is not a prodigy, then no one is. For, how would God prepare a mother for His Only-begotten Son? What treasures of grace would He not bestow upon her? What detail would He not spare in making her a masterpiece of the created world, and a fitting recipient for the Divine Maternity? Pope Pius IX wrote of the marvelous degree to which Mary was endowed as the consequence of her election as Theotokos (“God-Bearer” or Mother of God):
Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of His divinity that this Mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and anctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully (Ineffabilis Deus).
. . . that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity . . . no mind can succeed in comprehending fully. Such grace inhabited the soul of the Mother of Jesus that her every thought was turned to Him, her every desire directed towards His pleasure and glory. In fact, St. Augustine compared Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary to a pair of mystical harps. “What is sounded on one,” he said, “is sounded on the other though no one has touched it. When Jesus is in sorrow, Mary is in sorrow; when Jesus was crucified, Mary was crucified.”
Like two mystical harps, the Hearts of Jesus and Mary beat in time and in perfect harmony. Harmony is “a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts.” Objects in harmony create a congruous whole. They are in agreement; they correspond to one another. St. Augustine’s observation about the “mystical harps” is borne out in the sacred scriptures, for we never encounter Mary unless she is figured in relation to her Divine Son.
We first encounter the Mother of God shrouded in the first prophecy ever uttered in the world, the Protoevangelium (“Proto” or First gospel) recorded in Chapter 3 of Genesis:
And the Lord God said to the serpent . . . I will put enmities between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed: She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel (Gen. 3:14-15).
Here, at the very dawn of creation, the Divine Maternity is already being foretold. The Mother of the Redeemer will be an active participant in the battle against the serpent (the dragon of chapter 12 of the Apocalypse), through her Immaculate Conception, through her Divine Maternity, through her role of co-redemptrix on Calvary, and through her ongoing labors on behalf of the Church as the mediatrix of all graces.
Again, we find the Divine Maternity foretold in the famous prophecy of Isaias: “Behold a virgin [in Hebrew, almah] shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (7:14). The Christological and Mariological dimensions of this verse have been attacked by those who wish to cast doubt on the virgin birth of Jesus. They contend that the Hebrew word almah signifies merely a “young lady,” not necessarily a virgin, and that the Hebrew word betulah, the precise word for “virgin,” would have been used had the prophet intended to indicate a virgin.
This reasoning ignores the fact that almah (young woman) is used as a synonym for betulah (virgin) in the Scriptures. In Genesis 24:43, Rebecca is called almah prior to her meeting with Isaac but, in verse 16, she is called betulah. Also, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), the Hebrew word almah is translated as the Greek parthenos (virgin). How would this have happened had the ancient Jewish scholars not considered almah (young lady) to be a synonym for betulah (virgin)?
In addition to the linguistic evidence, we find that St. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Ghost, observed the following, which puts to rest any quibbling over the ultimate import of Isaias’ prophecy:
But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Mt. 1:20-23).
In these prophetic texts, we find Mary and Jesus together, the Redeemer and the Mother of the Redeemer in harmony with God’s plan of salvation. In fact, we do not find them apart for the simple reason that these veiled glimpses into the future point to God-made–man. The restoration of the human race to the life of grace was made possible solely through the second divine Person clothed in the flesh given to Him by His Mother. Thus, the inspired books are extremely careful to place the reality of the Incarnation at the very center of the prophecies of hope. This means, quite simply, Mary at the side of Jesus — as she was in the divine intellect “from the very beginning,” and as she will be for eternity.
The two “mystical harps,” Jesus and Mary, continued to play in time and perfect harmony after the birth of the Redeemer. The gospels bear this out again and again. At the annunciation, our Lady said to the Angel Gabriel, “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1:34) Even before the arrival of the heavenly messenger, Mary had consecrated herself, body and soul, to the service of her Lord. Her vow of perpetual virginity was but an echo of the words her Divine Son would someday utter to His Father: “Not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Mary’s Immaculate Heart generated the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). The Sacred Heart of Jesus would one day also prompt Him to say, “And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause I came unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name” (Jn. 12:27-28).
The visitation narrative presents the perfect image of Mary carrying Jesus to a waiting world. It is because she carried Him to the home of St. Elizabeth that the infant St. John the Baptist was able to become sanctified in the womb. During that visit, Mary sang in her Magnificat:
Because he hath regarded the humility of his Handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name (Luke 1:48-49).
These words need to be pondered carefully. Yes, the Divine Maternity was a “great thing.” But, like any natural maternity, the bond between mother and child is not terminated at birth. An aspect of that “great thing” which we call Mary’s Divine Maternity is her place in the economy of salvation. Carrying the infant Jesus to the home of Elizabeth was just the beginning, for she also would become the one chosen to inaugurate His earthly mission, when the Redeemer performed His first public miracle at Cana — at her request. There was no rebuff intended when Jesus, after being told by Mary that the wine had run out at the wedding feast, replied to His Mother, “Woman, what is that to me and to thee? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). On the contrary, St. John tells us that, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (2:11). God does not manifest His glory in a grudging manner. Far from there being any animosity between the Redeemer and the Mother of the Redeemer, the story of Cana teaches us that Jesus was well-pleased to submit Himself humbly to Mary’s intercession.
Even the incidents recorded in the Gospels, which appear, on the surface level, to distance Mary from Jesus, are examples of their intimate union. Many Protestants refer to the following Gospel verses in an effort to undermine Catholic Marian devotion:
And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it (Luke 11:27-28).
As he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him. And one said unto him: Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee. But he answering him that told him, said: Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples, he said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12:46-50).
In the first quotation, it should be noted that Jesus does not deny that His Mother’s womb is “blessed.” What He says is, Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it. When the Blessed Virgin visited St. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, the latter was inspired by the Holy Ghost to cry out to Mary: “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb . . . And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord” (Luke 1:42,45).
First, the Holy Ghost, speaking through St. Elizabeth, calls Mary “blessed” and praises her for her unshaken faith in God’s word. Then, Jesus praises those who hear the word of God and keep it, as well as those who do the will of My Father, that is in heaven. These phrases describe Mary, the handmaid of the Lord. Unless God is truly schizophrenic, how can Jesus and the Holy Ghost use the same phrases to both praise and condemn the Blessed Virgin? Cardinal John Henry Newman once wrote:
Few Protestants have any real perception of the doctrine of God and man in one Person. They speak in a dreamy, shadowy way of Christ’s divinity; but, when their meaning is sifted, you will find them very slow to commit themselves to any statement sufficient to express the Catholic dogma (Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations).
Regarding the Blessed Virgin, the Protestant will tend to view Jesus as either (1) the wrathful God who seethes at the thought of sharing His glory with Mary, or (2) the petty Son who rages over the honor given to His Mother. Such a narrow view completely ignores the promptings and lessons of Scripture, of both the Old and New Testaments. One need not read the Gospels with theological expertise or an overzealous scrutiny to find therein the beautiful harmony between Jesus and Mary. It is open and plain for anyone with good will to see. And the Mother who held the infant Savior on the night of His birth is the same Mother who held Him on the day of His death. Mary’s presence on Calvary was by divine decree:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, He saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. Afterwards, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst (John 19:25-28).
“All things” were not accomplished until Jesus Christ announced to the world Mary’s spiritual motherhood of the Church. Just as He had come into the world to become the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, so did Mary come into the world to bear the Lamb and to become the Mother of all those redeemed by His Precious Blood.
Congruous elements are those which are in agreement or correspondence, things which conform to the circumstances or requirements of a situation. It is interesting to note that, while harmony is described as “a congruent arrangement of parts,” theology also finds a congruous relationship between the Redeemer and His Mother. The Church teaches clearly that, because of our Lady’s unique union with the Redeemer in His redemptive sufferings, she merited for us de congruo (in a fitting and appropriate manner or degree) what Jesus Christ merited for us de condigno (in the order of justice):
Moreover it was not only the prerogative of the Most Holy Mother to have furnished the material of His flesh to the Only Son of God, Who was to be born with human members, of which material should be prepared the Victim for the salvation of men; but hers was also the office of tending and nourishing that Victim, and, at the appointed time, presenting Him for the sacrifice. Hence that uninterrupted community of life and labors of the Son and the Mother, so that of both might have been uttered the words of the Psalmist “My life is consumed in sorrow and my years in groans.”
When the supreme hour of the Son came, beside the Cross of Jesus there stood Mary His Mother, not merely occupied in contemplating the cruel spectacle, but rejoicing that her Only Son was offered for the salvation of mankind, and so entirely participating in His Passion, that if it had been possible she would have gladly borne all the torments that her Son bore. And from this community of will and suffering between Christ and Mary she merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world and Dispensatrix of all the gifts that Our Savior purchased for us by His Death and by His Blood (Pope St. Pius X, Ad diem illum).
In “condign merit,” there is an equality between the meritorious action and its reward, thus our Redemption can only have been obtained by Jesus Christ because of His Divine nature. “Congruous merit” is based on a sense of fittingness and depends on the generosity of the giver; this merit is attributed to Mary because of her “com-passion” united to Christ’s Passion, and the generosity of God the Father in rewarding her, in accord with St. Paul’s words to the Romans concerning the just judgment of God, who will “render to every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). The lifelong intimacy and unbroken union between the Immaculate Heart of the Mother and the Sacred Heart of the Son made Mary’s sorrows on Calvary conform and correspond to Jesus’ to a degree unattainable for any other person. Hence, Mary’s theologically sound title of Co-redemptrix.
St. John has canonized, if you will, the title Co-redemptrix in his Apocalypse:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered (Apoc. 12:1-2).
This is both a figure of the Catholic Church in its trials and persecutions, and a figure of the Virgin Mary. If anything, we must give the pride of place to Mary, for she is both the Mother of the Church and the Mother of the Head of the Church. At Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus without any pain or travails, yet St. John depicts her as “travailing in birth.” This was Mary on Calvary. These were her sufferings beneath the Cross, united to the salvific sufferings of Jesus. These were the birth pangs experienced by the Mother of the Church, the travails that attended the birth of the Church in blood and water from the side of the Redeemer.
And Mary’s sufferings also are the basis of her title, Mediatrix of All Graces:
We are then, it will be seen, very far from attributing to the Mother of God a productive power of grace — a power which belongs to God alone. Yet, since Mary carries it over all in holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and has been associated by Jesus Christ in the work of redemption, she merits for us de congruo, in the language of theologians, what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno, and she is the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces. Jesus “sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.” Mary sitteth at the right hand of her Son — a refuge so secure and a help so trusty against all dangers that we have nothing to fear or to despair of under her guidance, her patronage, her protection (Ad diem illum).
The Hearts of Jesus and Mary beating in perfect time and sympathy . . . The epic tale of a harmony that dwarfs that of the spheres or of earthly music . . . This is the story of our redemption. It is the story of God becoming man, of a young woman who gave her fiat to the turning point of history. St. Louis de Montfort spoke truly when he observed that “it would be easier to separate light from the sun, and heat from the fire,” than to separate Jesus from Mary.
To attempt to override Mary, as though she counted for naught, is the height of presumption. It also is the height of folly, for she is truly the “Fifth Gospel,” given to men by our Lord as a gift, a pledge, and a support:
Who could, better than His Mother, have an open knowledge of the admirable mysteries of the birth and childhood of Christ and, above all, of the mystery of the Incarnation, which is the beginning and the foundation of faith? Mary not only preserved and meditated on the events of Bethlehem, and the facts which took place in Jerusalem in the Temple of the Lord, but sharing, as she did, the thoughts and the secret wishes of Christ, she may be said to have lived the very life of her Son. Hence, nobody ever knew Christ so profoundly as she did, and nobody can ever be more competent as a guide and teacher of the knowledge of Christ (Ad diem illum).