THE VIRGIN MARY'S ROLE IN SALVATION HISTORY
From the Annunciation to the Crucifixion of her Son, Mary can be seen as God's ultimate validation of free will. The Virgin Mary's obedience to the will of God as conveyed to her in the angel Gabriel's message was no less voluntary in its affirmation than the disobedience of the virgin Eve had been in its negation. In the 2nd century St. Irenaeus the Bishop of Lyon and a second generation disciple from the Apostle John wrote: "...so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. [...]. Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith." Against Heresies, 3.22.4, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons.
Mary, as the first human to kiss the face of God and the first to believe in Jesus as her Savior, took her place in Salvation History as the first Christian. She is also the one disciple of Jesus who didn't flee or doubt when all the others fled and doubted, but who stayed and accepted to the very end the burden of being under the Cross. Down through the ages the weeping Mary of the Cross witnessing her son's torture and death stands in solidarity with all believers who also suffer and live under the shadow of the Cross.
The gift of Mary to the Church was Jesus' last human act from the Cross. He placed His mother's care in the hands of the only apostle present at the cross, the Apostle John, "Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, this is your son.' Then to the disciple he said, 'This is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home." [John 19:26-27] This is one of only two scenes in which Mary is present in John's Gospel. The first is the narrative of the Wedding at Cana in chapter 2 of John's Gospel. These two scenes in which Mary is present have several things in common. First, Mary is addressed as "gunai" [from the Greek gune] or "dear Woman" by Jesus in both scenes; second, she is never called by name but only identified as "the mother of Jesus"; and third, in both cases a "new family" is formed: at Cana by the wedding itself and in the second scene in John chapter 19 a new family is formed by a kind of adoption in which "the beloved disciple" takes Mary as his mother and in the greater sense, as the mother of Christ's family, the Church--a role she continues to fill to this day.
It is Mary who bridges the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament records God's plan for man's salvation in His preparations to make the world ready for the Incarnation. Of all the tribes of the earth He chose a particular people to whom He reveals Himself. He nurtures and instructs them through His prophets in order for them to be able to recognize the Son of God when it was time for Him to come. In order to accomplish this He takes these people to Himself in a covenant bond, establishing worship based on sacrifice to prepare them to understand the ultimate sacrifice that the Son of God would offer for the salvation of man, for these people would be the conduit through which the message of the Son would be carried to the world. And when the time came, from among these people, He chooses a woman from a certain preordained family, the house of David. It was absolutely necessary that she be set apart in her purity and virtue so as not to make the Incarnation of the Son of God a sacrilege and so she is conceived without original sin and set apart in a holy state of purity and perpetual virginity.
This is Mary's role in Salvation History: ever virgin and yet fruitful mother. It is Mary, a daughter of the Old Covenant, who is not only the bearer of Christ in the Annunciation but Mary also "labors" in prayer in the Upper Room with the other disciples for the birth of the Church at Pentecost for the New Covenant believers will become her spiritual children. She stands as the Christian model, which we should all emulate. From her obedience at the Annunciation to the events of Christ's passion she illustrates for us a model of Christian virtue, faith and obedience as she remained true to Christ and His word. Her fidelity shows us that true faith can be preserved in one individual and down through history the Church has honored her for this by considering her the mother of the true remnant of Israel in the New Covenant Church. It has been as Mary prophesized, filled with the Holy Spirit, "Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed!"
After the descend of God the Holy Spirit at the second great Pentecost [the first was the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai], the Apostle John spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ first with Peter in Judea and later in Asia Minor, serving many years as the Bishop of Ephesus. According to tradition Mary accompanied John to Ephesus and lived there several years. Unfortunately the years after Christ's Resurrection were years of intense persecution for the early Church, first from the Jews and later from the Romans. Many documents written before Christianity was protected by the Edict of Milan [early 4th century] were destroyed. For example the great Church Father Origen wrote over 6,000 books of which only a few copies now survive. The great library at Caesarea in Palestine and the Church library at Alexandria, Egypt, which we know contained numerous works from the first centuries of the Church, were destroyed in the 7th century AD Moslem invasions just as the great libraries in Rome were destroyed by successive barbarian invasions in the 5th century AD. The result is that we do not have reliable information on Mary's later years. However, surviving works like The Protoevangelium of James [James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem and kinsman of Jesus] written sometime in the last of the 1st or early 2nd century and a several other documents do contain information about Mary's early life. Although rejected as non-canonical in the 6th century, The Protoevangelium of James provided the names of Mary's parents Anna and Joachim, [honored as saints by the Church] as well as material for many of the most important medieval legends, artistic representations and theological beliefs about Mary.
While Scripture reveals nothing about Mary's death, St. John Damascene [died 749] recorded a story reportedly shared at the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD that Mary had died in the presence of the Apostles but when the tomb was opened they found it empty, "wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven." From this testimony the Church has taught that Mary was assumed bodily and now tastes the Resurrection for which all Christians hope. This teaching is one of the four dogmas, or truths, of Mary held by the Church.
The Four Dogmas of the Virgin Mary
Each of these Marian dogmas were teachings within the Church from the very beginning of the Church's formation but became defined more fully as God the Holy Spirit expanded the Church's understanding of the revelation of Christ in Christian doctrine and theology through the centuries. For example the oldest canonical feast of Mary in the Church is the Feast of the Assumption which was already celebrated on its own feast day by the 5th century. The doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin is also part of the Tradition reflected in the writings of the early Church fathers even though Pius XII defined it as dogma in 1950. The same is true of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was formally defined by Pope Pius XI in 1854. Early Church hymns speak of "Mary conceived without sin" and the teaching is explicitly stated in the writings of Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Andrew of Crete, Germain of Constantinople and other Fathers of the Church. This teaching was also celebrated in the early Church liturgy. A feast commemorating the Immaculate Conception of Mary was celebrated by the seventh century in the East and was formally approved and given a standardized liturgy in the West by Pope Sixtus IV in 1475. It was extended as a feast to the world Church by St. Pius V in the 1568. Each of these dogmas are also consistent with Sacred Scripture. For example the Immaculate Conception is supported by Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:26-31 which have always been interpreted by the Church as implying the Virgin Mary's exemption from Original Sin [Gabriel's greeting to Mary using a perfect past participle concerning her condition of grace: "Hail has-been graced"]. If you wish to continue your study on Mary's role in the Church for a pleasant read please see Dr. Scott Hahn's, Hail Holy Queen, Doubleday publishers and Dr. Mark Miravalle's excellent book Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Queenship Publishing Company. I also recommend for a more scholarly read Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin in Patristic Thought by Ignatius Press, 1991. Arranged in chronological order this book begins with the Apostolic Age of Ignatius Bishop of Antioch [disciple of St. John, martyred c. 107] and ends with John of Damascus [8th century] providing brief introductions and quotes for each Church Father.
Mary's continuing role in Salvation History is that of the Mother of the King of Kings, in Hebrew the gebira or Queen Mother, a title given to the mothers of the Kings of Judah. The mothers of the Kings of Judah were persons of great prestige and power who sat at the right hand of their sons and who were regarded with reverence by his subjects [see 1 Kings 2:19; Jeremiah 13:18]. It is in her role as the gebira that John sees Mary in Revelation 12:1, clothed with the sun and standing on the moon with a crown of 12 stars; it is the same vision Juan Diego will have of the Virgin Mary at Tepiac Hill in Mexico in 1531. But her Son has also made her the Mother of all New Covenant believers [John 19:25-27]. In that role she continues to intercede for her children just as she interceded with her Son at the Wedding at Cana, and she continues to show her love and concern by giving us the same advice she gave the servants of the Bridegroom at Cana: "Do whatever He tells you" [John 2:5].
THE VIRGIN MARY AND THE VIRGIN EVE CONTRASTED
Genesis 3:15 contains the promise of the redemption of mankind after the Fall of Adam and Eve. The Incarnation of the Christ was the manifestation of the promise and it was fulfilled with Jesus Christ's sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. The New Testament portrays Jesus as the "Second Adam" whose obedience and sacrificial death on the cross undo Adam's disobedience [see Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49]. Jesus, the Second Adam, triumphed over the same temptations to which the first Adam fell into sin [compare Genesis 3:6 to Luke 4:1-13].
Just as there is a Second Adam there is also a Second Eve. Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ is the Second Eve. Just as the First Eve in the exercise of free will cooperated in the Fall of man so the Second Eve, in the exercise of her free will, cooperated in the redemption and salvation of the entire human race.
The two Eves contrasted:
|THE VIRGIN EVE||THE VIRGIN MARY|
|Daughter of the first Covenant||Daughter of the Sinai Covenant|
|Pledged obedience under the covenant||Pledged obedience under the covenant|
|Eve's disobedience resulted in the fall into sin of the entire human race. The result was death, physically and spiritually.||Mary's obedience to God resulted in the offer of the gift of salvation to the entire human race. The result was eternal life|
|Eve's name means the "mother of all living" and indeed all of humanity is descended through her.||Mary is the "mother of all who truly live" when, at the cross, Jesus gave His mother to the Church as the Mother of all who come to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord and therefore receive the gift of eternal life.|
From the Annunciation to the Crucifixion of her Son, Mary can be seen as God's ultimate validation of free will. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary's obedience to the will of God as conveyed to her in the angel Gabriel's message was no less voluntary in its affirmation than the disobedience of the virgin Eve had been in its negation.
From the first moment of the angel Gabriel's announcement that of all women born, she had been chosen to bear the "promised seed" [Luke 1:26-38], to Simeon's prophecy of her suffering [Luke 2:33-35], to witnessing her Son's Passion on the Cross [John 19:26], Mary submitted herself completely to God plan for her life. The Fathers of the Church saw her as the model Christian. St. Irenaeus praises her above all women when he writes, "Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. [...]. The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith." [St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.22.4]. And comparing her humility and obedience with Eve's rebellion and disobedience St. Jerome writes of her, "Death through Eve, life through Mary." [St. Jerome as quoted in the Catechism #494].
In addition to the title of the "new Eve" the Virgin Mary is also acknowledged by the titles "The Ark of the New Covenant," "The Mother of the Church," "The Lady of the Rosary," and "Our Mediatrix."
The Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant
In the Old Covenant the Holy Ark of the Covenant was God's presence with His Covenant people. In Mary's "yes" in humbly submitting herself to God's plan she became the Ark of the New Covenant (see the Chart The Virgin Mary - The Ark of the New Covenant), her womb became the first Eucharistic tabernacle, and her travels to visit Elizabeth her cousin and her journey to Bethlehem, became the first Eucharistic processions. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this dimension of Mary's meekness in her submission to God his homily on June 1, 2005: "In a certain way, we can say that her journey was and we are pleased to highlight this in the Year of the Eucharist, the first Eucharistic procession of history. Living tabernacle of God-made-flesh, Mary is the Ark of the Covenant in whom the Lord has visited and redeemed His people. Jesus' presence fills her with the Holy Spirit....Is not this too the joy of the Church, that incessantly welcomes Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and carries Him to the world with the testimony of assiduous charity permeated by faith and hope? Yes, to welcome Christ and to take Him to others is the true joy of Christians! Dear brothers and sisters let us carry on and imitate Mary, a deeply Eucharistic soul, and all our lives will become a Magnificat." Pope Benedict XVI, June 1, 2005
The Virgin Mary is the Church's inheritance from the cross of Jesus Christ. At the very end of His life Jesus entrusted His mother into the care of the "beloved disciple" and at the same time announced that the "beloved disciple" became a child of Mary, at this moment in salvation history, St. John became the representative of all the beloved disciples of Jesus' New Covenant Church. This is the birth of the Christian family at the foot of the cross. Jesus has given Mary the maternal care of John and all faithful disciples in her Son's Church. This is Mary's spiritual motherhood "in order of grace" according to Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 61,62). It is in this sense of her spiritual motherhood that the Church has continued to honor Mary from the earliest years of the Church. The sacramentary Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary contains 46 Masses, twelve of which first appeared during the Marian Year observed by the Church from Pentecost 1987, through the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1988. Three of these Masses are dedicated to "The Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church."
The following are some events of salvation history which are a prophetic reference Mary or show Mary's active participation in the redemption of mankind and which are a good summing up for us on this topic of Mary, Mother of the Church.
Queen of the Holy Rosary
This title was added to the Litany of Loreto in 1883. The rosary was the subject for 12 encyclicals and five apostolic letters by Pope Leo XIII from 1883-1898. The rosary encyclicals established the rosary as a public devotion. (The rosary had been officially approved by the Catholic Church since the 16th century). The rosary was no longer a devotion best suited to the illiterate and to individuals, but the rosary was officially encouraged as a public devotion of the Church and the month of October was designated for special devotions to Mary and the rosary.
The Virgin Mary: Mediatrix of all Graces and Advocate
St. Paul identifies Jesus Christ as the one Mediator between God and man in 1 Timothy 2:5. How can it then be theologically correct to refer to Mary as "our Mediatrix"? For the Church to give Mary the title 'Mediatrix" in no way denies Christ's role as the one Mediator for the New Covenant people of God. In 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 St. Paul wrote And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. In this passage, St. Paul identifies all Christians as participants in actively mediating between God and our brothers and sisters in the human family through spreading Jesus Gospel message of salvation. In this way, all Christians become mediators of the New Covenant. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in reference to 2 Corinthians 5:19: "Christ alone is the perfect mediator of God and men, inasmuch as, by his death, he reconciled the human race to God.... However, nothing hinders certain others from being called mediators, in some respect, between God and man, forasmuch as they cooperate in uniting men to God, dispositively or ministerially."
We do, after all, mediate for others when we pray to God on their behalf. This does not affect Christ being the sole Mediator because our small efforts are entirely dependent upon Him. In the same way when we ask Mary's intervention through prayer, she mediates on our behalf, praying for us in perfection within the Father's will for our lives. Her status as Mediatrix of all graces exists in a double sense:
Our Savior began His work of redemption at the instant of His conception in the womb of Mary. He accomplished the redemption of all mankind when He offered his sacrificial death on the cross. In His Passion on the cross He ransomed humanity from the objective guilt and debt of sin, and He reconciled a sinful humanity to the Father. He won for all humanity an infinite store of merit and grace when He paid a debt He didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay. In the sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist Christ unites the people of God to Himself-One Mystical Body in Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; and 1 Corthinans 12:12-27). And yet Mary's unique role cannot be ignored as she continues to cooperate in bring us to her Son. St. Bernard of Clairvaux defined Mary's role by the statement that the Virgin Mary is "the neck of the Body of Christ." She is without a doubt an important link between Christ and His Church as both model Christian and spiritual mother. St. Jerome (d. 420) wrote of Mary, By a woman the whole world was saved; St. Thomas Aquinas (died 1274) wrote of her, So full of grace was the Blessed Virgin that it overflows to all mankind (The Three Greatest Prayers); and St. Irenaeus (177-202 Bishop of Lyons) applauded her faith and obedience when he wrote, So Mary...was obedient and became to herself and to the whole human race a cause of salvation." (Against Heresies) and "As she (Eve) who had Adam as her husband, but was nevertheless a virgin, was disobedient, and thereby became the cause of death to herself and to the whole of mankind, so also Mary, who has a pre-ordained husband, and was still a virgin, by Her obedience became a cause of Her own salvation and the salvation of the whole human race." (Against Heresies, III 22,4).
If accepting Mary's role as Mediatrix of all graces is difficult for you, just remember, there is nothing in this doctrine that contradicts Jesus' role as the one Mediator. Mary's motherly mediation in no way adds to or takes away from her Son's unique mediation as the risen Lord in glory. His role as Mediator is not lessened because Mary has been allowed to assist Him. Mary's perfect fidelity to the Father's will, to the requirements of her Son's redemptive mission, and to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has made her the Christian's model of faith and love. Mary is the most excellent example and fulfillment of all that the Church herself is called to be and to give. Vatican II describes Mary's cooperation through obedience, faith, hope, and love in the redemptive activity of her Son from the beginning to the end of time in His role as Savior of the human race as "wholly singular." Since Mary consented uniquely and completely to her calling to be the "God bearer" and filled with grace from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception so as to be the worthy Mother of God, Mary was the necessary condition willed by the Father to make his Son and hers the one Mediator of redemption to the whole world. Even though Mary is redeemed as we are, although by a special preservative redemption making her the 'firstfruits' of Christ's victory over sin and death, no other person in salvation history has been given the same role as she in making our redemption possible. She continues that motherly role in our redemption by continuous intercession in heaven and by mediating her Son's saving graces to the pilgrim Church on earth. Vatican II does not hesitate to call her our "Mediatrix" as well as our "Advocate," 'Helper," and "Benefactress" (Lumen Gentium, 62). For further reference see CCC#967-970.
The Virgin Mary: Co-Redemptrix
The title co-Redemptrix is difficult because it is too easily misinterpreted as making Mary a fellow redeemer with Christ, which is, of course, a heresy. Jesus Christ is our sole Redeemer [1 Timothy 2:5]. It is for this reason that Vatican Council II did not see fit to encourage invoking Mary by the name or title of Co-Redemptrix. However, using this title for Mary does not suggest that she is equal to Christ in her role. The prefix "co" means "in cooperation with" or "to aid." This prefix does not convey the meaning "equal to." What this title has difficulty in conveying is Mary's role as one who both cooperates and who is completely dependent upon and subordinate to Christ as the sole Redeemer.
According to the doctrine of the divine economy of salvation, man is to cooperate in securing his salvation and the salvation of others. In Greek economy means plan or management. When applied to God the term refers to God's manifestations to the world of His universal gift of grace and His desire expressed in 1 Timothy 2:4 that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. A Christian participates in God's plan of redemption through prayer, sorrow for sin, penance, sacrifices, and submission to the will of God. In this participation we become co-redeemers with Christ and the degree of our holiness determines more or less the efficacy of our work of co-redemption.
Empowered by Christ we are all mutually responsible for one another's salvation and for reaching out to others who are not members of the Body of Christ but who are called along with us [Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Timothy 2:3-5]. Christ uses all His disciples as His ministers of grace. He works with us according to 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 in His desire to bring all men to salvation. It stands to reason then if we can participate as mediators in assisting Christ in bring other men and woman to salvation that we can also participate as co-redeemers with Christ. It follows then that Mary, as the first and most holy of Christians is the co-redeemer with special merit. From her fiat at the Annunciation, to the torturous path to Golgotha, to her vigil at the foot of the Cross, the Virgin Mother offered herself in suffering with her Son. She participated in our salvation then and she continues to participate through her mediation in the redemption of the human family, serving her Son as conduit of grace and merit.
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) wrote of Mary's unique role in the redemption of mankind when he offered "She renounced her mother's rights for the salvation of mankind and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may say that with Christ she redeemed mankind." And Pope John Paul II in his General audience of Wednesday, December 18, 1996 said: "Beginning with Simeon's prophesy, Mary intensely and mysteriously unites her life with Christ's sorrowful mission: she was to become her Son's faithful co-worker for the salvation of the human race." (L'Osservatore Romano, January 1, 1997). What Pope Benedict XV, Pope John Paul II and other theologians are saying is the Virgin Mary cooperated in our redemption under and subordinate to Christ and that God freely willed to associate the Blessed Mother in an intimate and direct way with her Son in the redemption of mankind.
Other quotations of Pope John Paul II expressing Mary's role as co-redemptrix:
The title co-Redemptrix for the Virgin Mary has not been officially approved by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, although there is an effort under way spearheaded by Catholic theologian Mark Miravalle to have this title approved. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to date has not supported this initiative.
Mary's Continuing Mission
Mary's true mission in the past and in the present is to lead us in obedience and faithfulness by her example to her Son, Christ Jesus. It is important to understand that Mary's motherly mediation in no way adds or takes away from her Son's unique mediation as the risen Lord in glory. Her true glory is ever to be entirely transparent to His and to lead us by her motherly love and compassion to her beloved Son and Savior.
On the altar of the Cross our Lord gave His Mother to the Apostle John and through him to the whole Church. When Scripture tells us from that hour the disciple took her into his home [John 19:27] our understanding is that John became not only the representative of the Church but also a representative of the whole human race. Therefore, the Virgin Mary becomes mankind's spiritual mother calling all men, as she did the servants at the wedding in the Gospel of John 2:5, to do whatever He tells you. The wedding at Cana was the beginning of Jesus' public ministry and it was also the beginning of Mary's role as intercessor for the human family.
Mary prayed in union with the Apostles and disciples in the Upper Room as the followers of Jesus the Messiah, in obedience to Jesus' command, prayed 9 days for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the 10th day the Holy Spirit came in fire to possess the New Covenant universal Church [Acts 1:13-14]. The book of Acts of Apostles records that the leaders of the infant Church along with the entire faith community were persevering in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and so the Church has done ever since. Then too, in the Church has been fulfilled the Scriptural prophecy uttered by the Virgin Mary by divine inspiration: Behold for henceforth all generations shall call me blessed [Luke 1:48]. Even though no human being can ever pay her an honor equal to that which God has given Mary in choosing her to be the Mother of our Savior, it is contrary to Holy Scripture as well as to all Christian tradition and history to neglect giving Mary the honor she deserves. Mary, as our Mother, is the loving gift from Jesus Christ to every man, woman, and child in the family of God.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2000, revised 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Suggested Readings and References:
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.