Click here to advertise on

The Father William Most Collection

How the Redemption Operated

Introduction: There is some confusion today on how the redemption produces its effect. It is not enough to say that Jesus redeemed us by dying, or even that He was obedient. These are of course true. But we must penetrate much more deeply.

Part of the trouble comes from the metaphor used by St. Paul in 1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23 about the "price" of redemption. If a price was paid, to whom was it paid? It would seem at first it should go to the captor - but the captor was satan. We cannot imagine the blood of Christ being paid to satan. Nor was it paid to the Father, for He was not the captor. So what is the answer?

Distinctions are needed at the outset, between objective and subjective redemption. The objective redemption is the work of once-for-all earning a claim to all forgiveness and grace. The subjective redemption is the process of giving out that forgiveness and grace through all subsequent ages, including our own.

Since we will add data on Our Lady's cooperation, we notice that she cooperated in both objective and subjective redemption. But as to the objective redemption: was her cooperation remote (furnishing the humanity in which He could die) or also immediate (some sort of share in the great sacrifice itself). After that we would add a third question: If she did share in the great sacrifice, what was the nature of the sharing?

Three aspects or modes: The objective redemption is a rich reality. So there are three ways of looking at it:

a) Sacrifice: We can gather the nature of sacrifice from Isaiah 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." We see there are two elements: the outward sign, and the interior dispositions. The outward sign is there to express and perhaps even promote the interior dispositions. But without the interior, it is worthless as we see in Isaiah. We see from Romans 5:19 that the essential interior disposition is obedience: "Just as by the disobedience of the one man (first Adam) the many were made sinners, so by the obedience of the one man (new Adam) the many will be constituted just." Lumen gentium §3 agrees: "By His obedience He brought about redemption." Without obedience, the death of Christ would have been a tragedy, but not a redemption. It was obedience that gave it its value.

We are still left with a question: Why did obedience to the Father call for something so tremendously difficult and painful?

b) New Covenant: In a covenant, each party pledges something. The things should be of at least approximately equal value. Since the price of redemption was of infinite worth, that to which the Father obligated Himself would be similarly infinite, i.e., an inexhaustible treasury of forgiveness and grace. G. Philips of Louvain, one of the chief drafters of Lumen gentium, in his commentary on LG §§ 61-62 has noticed that graces are not like jewels: one cannot put them in a box. So what this really means is a claim to grace and forgiveness, to be given out at the suitable times.

This claim is not only inexhaustible for our race as a whole, but as Gal 2:20 shows, there is an infinite objective title for each individual human being: "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." The fact that this is true not only of St. Paul -a special person - but of all of us is brought out in Gaudium et spes §22: "... each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." So there is an infinite objective title for each individual human being, generated by His obedience. (This does not imply one could have a spree of sin, and plan to pull up in time. No, such a plan would fail for two reasons: 1)since the change at the end was preplanned, it would not be a real change or repentance, which is change of heart; 2) a spree of sin is apt to cause hardness, which prevents graces offered by God from getting in). But the question still remains: Why did obedience call for something so immense?

c) Rebalance or restoration of the objective order: The answer to the question begins to appear now. Pope Paul VI, in the doctrinal introduction to the constitution on indulgences of Jan 1, 1967, began by pointing out (AAS 59. 5): "For the correct understanding of this doctrine... it is necessary that we recall certain truths which the universal Church, illumined by the word of God, has always believed." This is a significant statement. Paul VI tell us that what he is about to present is part of the universal belief of the Church. But that belief is infallible (cf. LG 12).

On p. 6. 2: "As we are taught by divine revelation, penalties follow on sin, inflicted by the divine Holiness and justice...." It is important to note that Holiness is put in the first place. The old theory of St. Anselm on the redemption unfortunately said God had to provide satisfaction for sin. Of course not! God does not have to do anything. Further, Anselm focused on the justice of God. Now that is not wrong, but the more basic consideration is His holiness, put in first place by the text of Paul VI. For if we center our thought on justice, some objectors may say: "When someone offends me, I do not always demand full justice. Why cannot God just be nice about it?" The answer is, that even though He could do that way, His love of what is objectively right urges Him to provide that rebalance.

So Paul VI continues:"For every sin brings with it a disturbance of the universal order, which God arranged in unspeakable wisdom and infinite love." In other words, God being Holiness itself, loves everything that is right. This was a striking idea when it first broke on the world. For the gods of Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome were not just immoral but amoral - they acted as if there were no morality at all. But Psalm 11:7 told the world: "God is sadiq [morally righteous] and He loves the things that are morally right." Hence the notion that sin is a debt which the Holiness of God wants paid.

Against this background Paul VI continued (p. 7): "Therefore it is necessary for the full remission and reparation of sins... not only that by a sincere conversion of mind friendship with God be restored, and that the offenses against His wisdom and goodness be expiated, but also that all the goods, both personal and social, which pertain to the universal order itself, which were diminished or destroyed by sin, be fully restored, either through voluntary reparation... or through enduring penalties established by the just and most holy Wisdom of God."

Since the chief topic of this constitution was that of indulgences, which depend on the "treasury of the Church" Paul VI put the redemption into that background. He said the "treasury of the Church is the infinite and inexhaustible price which the expiations and merits of Christ the Lord has before God...."

Simeon ben Eleazar, a Rabbi writing about 170 A.D. (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1. 14), and claiming to base himself on Rabbi Meir from earlier in the same century, gives us a striking comparison which helps to illustrate the text of Paul VI: "He [meaning "anyone"] has committed a transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world."

The image is a two-pan scales. The sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to have. The scale is out of balance. The Holiness of God wants it righted. How do that? If he stole some property, he begins to rebalance by giving it back. If he stole a pleasure, he begins to rebalance by giving up some pleasure of similar weight.

But we kept saying "begins". For the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite, an Infinite Person is offended. So if the Father wanted a full rebalance - He did not have to - the only way to achieve it would be to send a divine Person to become man. That Person could produce an infinite value. Paul VI put the redemption into this framework.

All sinners of all times took an immense weight from the two-pan scales. But Jesus gave up far more than they had stolen, in His terrible passion.

So this is the price of redemption, the rebalancing of the objective order, which the Holiness of God willed. Rom 5:8 said,"God proved His love." Yes, if someone desires the well-being of another, and starts out to procure it, but then runs into an obstacle - if a small obstacle will stop him, the love is small. If it takes a great obstacle, the love is great. But if that love could overcome even the immense obstacle of the terrible death of Jesus, that love is immense, beyond measure. It was not only the physical pain, but the rejection by those whom He loved that hurt Him. The pain of rejection can be measured by two things: 1) how severe is the form of the rejection; 2) how great is the love for the one who is rejecting. If someone jostles me in a crowd, that is a small thing. But if he wanted to kill me, that is far worse, and if he means to do it in the most hideous way possible - then the rejection is at the peak . And what is His love?: Inasmuch as He is a Divine Person, the love is infinite; in as much as we consider the love of His human will, able to overcome such a measureless obstacle - the love is beyond measure.

In the garden He foresaw all sins of all times, and suffered from that vision. Let us recall all that we saw in commenting on NC §§471-74 on His foreknowledge and life-long anxiety, resulting from the vision His soul saw from the first instant of conception, and which He let us see briefly in Lk. 12:50 and John 12:27. In line with this, Pius XI, wrote in his Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (AAS 20. 174): "Now if the soul of Christ [in Gethsemani] was made sorrowful even to death on account of our sins, which were yet to come, but which were foreseen, there is no doubt that He received some consolation from our reparation, likewise foreseen."

So now we see why obedience called for something so tremendous. Yes, even the least thing done by an Infinite Person could rebalance. In fact, the Father could have accepted an incomplete rebalance, from any religious act He might order to be done by an ordinary human. He could have been content with the incarnation in a palace since, again, any act of an Infinite Person is infinite in value. But the Father wanted not only to be able to forgive, but to forgive lavishly. (The priest in giving absolution, can wipe out even a lifetime of dreadful sins in a moment: "I absolve you.") So He went beyond the incarnation in a palace, to the stable, beyond an incarnation with only a prayer, to the horrible death of the cross. The first thing Jesus had to say to His Apostles when He first came after His resurrection was "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them." He had just paid a terrible price for that forgiveness. He could hardly wait, we might say, to make that concretely possible.

Our Lady's Cooperation in the Redemption: So immense was the love of the Father and the Son that as long as there was any way to make things more rich for our race, and more rich for objective goodness, it seems He would not stop short of using it. He could have, as we said, used any religious act done by any ordinary person for the whole of redemption, though it would be finite. But it is as if He, after going to infinity beyond infinity (for an incarnation in a palace would have been infinite) He recalled that, and decided to add the less than infinite, yet immense, value of the sufferings of the Mother of the Redeemer.

a) Remote Cooperation: This consists in furnishing, in faith the flesh by means of which He could die. This entailed suffering even from the annunciation on. To say that her Son would be son of the Most High would not tell her much, for any devout Jew could be called a son of God. But as soon as

Gabriel told her her Son would "reign over the house of Jacob forever" then, not just the one full of grace, but any ordinary Jew would grasp it: she could not help knowing He was to be the Messiah, for only He was to reign forever. Then all the messianic prophecies would come to mind, if not at once, surely while pondering in her heart. She would know He was to be born at Bethlehem, that He was to be called wonderful counsellor, God the mighty, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace. But she would also know, even before the prophecy of the sword from Simeon, that He would have to suffer terribly and die, from Isaiah 53. The Jews, probably a bit later, distorted that text since they could not believe the Messiah would suffer - for they knew it referred to the Messiah. But she would not distort it. She knew the prophecy which He Himself recited on the cross: They have pierced my hands and my feet. . they have cast lots for my garments. All this would come to mind as well as the strange line of Zechariah 12:10: "They shall look upon me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son.

Someone may object: Many prominent scholars today are uncertain about the sense of these prophecies, and even say they can be understood only by seeing them fulfilled in Christ. But we know the ancient Jews did better than our Catholic scholars, thanks to the Targums - ancient Aramaic versions, very free for the most part, and with fill-ins showing how the Jews understood them. They did all this without seeing them fulfilled in Christ -whom they hated. Further, a great Jewish Scholar today, Jacob Neusner, in his book, Messiah in Context, reviewed every piece of Jewish writing from after 70 A.D. until the Babylonian Talmud, 500-600 A.D. He found up to that Talmud, no interest any more in the Messiah. In the Talmud interest returns, but speaks of only one classic point, He is to come from the line of David. Hardly could the Targum interpretations have been written in literally centuries when there was no interest. So the Targums, at least in oral form, must have been around before 70 A.D. Some think the beginnings are in the time of Ezra in the 5th century B.C.

Had Our Lady heard the Targums? Yes, they were always given in the synagogue right after the reading of the Hebrew text. All the above texts except Zechariah and Psalm 21 were marked as messianic by the Targums. But even if she had not heard them: if the stiff-necked Jews could see so much , what would the one who was full of grace see!

And there are more, especially Genesis 49:10: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes." The same Jewish Neusner quotes this text on p. 242 and asks how the text could be seen as anything other than messianic!. Yet so many Catholic scholars cannot see what even a Jew can see! So our Lady surely saw that the time for the Messiah was at hand, for in her day for the first time, a ruler from the tribe of Judah was lacking: the Romans imposed Herod on them instead.

So it was not easy to be the mother of the Redeemer!

b) Immediate cooperation: We distinguish two questions here: 1) Did she in some way cooperate in the great sacrifice itself? Definitely yes. There are 17 texts from Popes and Vatican II, every Pope from Leo XIII including John Paul II which clearly state that. 2) In what did that cooperation consist? Vatican II in LG §54 said it did not intend to settle debates in Mariology. Yet there is strong reason to believe it did more than it realized. Such a thing is possible. In LG §55 it made clear that it was not sure that the human writers of Genesis 3:15 and of Isaiah 7:14 saw all the Church now sees in those texts. The prophecy of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-33 is so worded that most likely Jeremiah thought the required obedience was to be that of the people - as it had been at Sinai. Yet really it refers to the obedience of Christ. Also, St. Irenaeus compared all sin to a complex knot, said to untie it we take the end of the rope back through every turn taken in tying it: then it is untied. After that it added a line cited by Vatican II in LG § 56: "thus then the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary." But the untying was not done until the great sacrifice, even though St. Irenaeus seems to be thinking just of the annunciation. So he seems to have written more than he realized, as a Father of the Church writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

What were the chief debates at the start of Vatican II on her cooperation in the objective redemption?. Two positions: 1) The Germans want to say her role was only "active receptivity", as if I put out my hand, that is active, then take up something I had no share in producing. So that is all she could do, really contributing nothing to the immediate objective redemption. 2) Her obedience joined to His, to form the covenant condition, obedience, the element without which His death would have been only a tragedy, not a redemption. We saw the words of LG §56 on the knot, untied by obedience. In the sentence just before that in LG §56 the Council quoted St. Irenaeus: "By obeying, she became a cause of salvation for herself and for the human race." Finally , in LG § 61: "In suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience , faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls." So three times the Council said her cooperation was by way of obedience. But that, as we said, was taking part in the covenant condition, in that which gave all the value to His sacrifice.

The difficulty of this obedience for her was immense. John Paul II, in Mater Redemptoris §§ 18-19 explained that her "obedience of faith" then was heroic, part of the greatest self-emptying in history. For any soul, when it knows what God positively wills, should positively will the same. She knew that it was the positive will of the Father - and of her Son - that He should die, die then, die so horribly. So, in spite of her love, she was called on to positively will that He die, die then, die so horribly. What was her love? We know that holiness and love are interchangeable terms. But Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus, said that even at the start of her life, her holiness was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and only God can comprehend it." Then not even the highest Seraphim can understand her love. But she had to will His death in spite of a literally incomprehensible love! This is indeed cooperation in redeeming us, at what a price!. Really this was all a continuation of her fiat to the will of the Father, first expressed at the annunciation, extending even to such an incomprehensible length.

Why did the Father employ her? In willing the incarnation, He necessarily had to provide a Mother - Our Lady, but He did not really have to use her for anything else. Yet the Church shows that He did so decide.

Why? Our Father loves everything that is good, and as St. Thomas says (I. 19. 5. c) He loves to have one thing in place to provide a reason or title for doing or giving the next thing. For this reason He wanted to make the titles for redemption as full as possible. Yes, the work of Christ is infinite, and in mathematics infinity plus a finite quantity does not grow. But this is no the low ground of mathematics, but the high realm of divine generosity, which will not stop without making everything as full as possible. So He decided to use her in the objective redemption, as we explained above.

Similarly the fullest titles are more beneficial for us, and He always keeps together the two goals, what is objectively good, and what is beneficial for our race.

Her role in the subjective redemption:

a) Mediatrix: From the fact that she shared with Him in earning all graces, it is clear that at least in that sense, she has a share in distributing them all. We said above that there are 17 documents form Popes and Vatican II telling that she cooperated immediately in the objective redemption. And we saw that it was essentially by way of a most costly obedience. There are even more official texts speaking of her as the Mediatrix.

Many of the texts add the words "of all graces" or an equivalent. Vatican II itself did not add those words, yet in a footnote on LG §62 it referred us to some of the many earlier texts that do say that. The reason at Vatican II was that Protestant observers had threatened to break off dialogue if the Council went far.

b) Her role in the Mass:John Paul II tells us she shares in every Mass. In his address to the crowds in St. Peter's square on Sunday Feb. 12, 1984 he said (English Osservatore Romano Feb. 20, 1984, p. 10): "Today I wish to dwell with you on the Blessed Virgin's presence in the celebration of the liturgy.... Every liturgical action... is an occasion of communion... and in a particular way with Mary. Because the Liturgy is the action of Christ and of the Church... she is inseparable from one and the other.... Mary is present in the memorial - the liturgical action - because she was present at the saving event... She is at every altar where the memorial of the Passion and Resurrection is celebrated, because she was present, faithful with her whole being, to the Father's plan, at the historic salvific occasion of Christ's death."

Let us fill this in. In the Mass as in every sacrifice, there are two elements, the outward sign, and the interior dispositions. She shared in the outward sign since the flesh and blood on the altar came from her. She shares in the interior which is obedience, because even now in Heaven, her will is still united with His and the Father's, as we saw above in speaking of the time of His death. So the more closely one is united to Christ, the more closely to her, and the more closely to her, the more closely to Christ in the Mass.

Again, the reason for the Mass in general is what we explained above: The Father is pleased to have titles as rich as possible. So too in the Mass. Really, all forgiveness and grace was earned on Calvary. Nothing further would be strictly required. Yet in His love of good order it pleases Him to have a title for giving out those graces: that title is the Mass.

Other Saints in the subjective redemption: Only Our Lady took part in the objective redemption, and did it "in an altogether singular way" as LG §61 said. But again, just as the Father is pleased to add her to make all the titles as full as possible, for the sake of objective goodness, and for our sake, similarly it pleases Him to add the role of the other Saints in the work of giving out all graces.

Our participation in the subjective redemption:

The Mass is the center of all. In the Mass, the essential participation is interior. To answer the prayers etc. is good, but if the interior is not added, God will say again what He said through Isaiah 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." The interior participation of the people lies in two things, according to Pius XII, Mediator Dei:

1) The people offer in as much as the priest who acts in persona Christi also represents in this way them, who are His members;

2) They should unite their interior dispositions to His, especially their obedience to the will of the Father in acting, and in accepting the hardships that come with their daily life. Vatican II, LG §34, calls these things, "spiritual sacrifices."

Everything but sin can be turned into gold for eternity as a share in the sufferings of Christ. Romans 8:28: "For those who love God, all things work together for good." Even worry can be made part of this, for Christ worried all His life long. His human soul saw the vision of God from conception, and it showed Him everything He had to suffer. That was as it were eating on Him, and He let us see inside in Lk 12:50 and John 12:27.

If we love Him, we will want to make reparation for offenses against Him, by ourselves, and by others.

Some think that at Mass they should not think of Our Lady. Yet, as we saw above with the help of John Paul II, she is involved in every Mass. Therefore, objectively the more closely we are united with her, the more closely with Him, and vice versa. This does not say that all are obliged to cultivate so full a Marian form of devotion - there is a lawful diversity of spiritual attractions. (Cf. for example St. Francis de Sales, a polished gentleman, compared to St. Benedict Joseph Labre -- who lived like a tramp. Both followed the same basic rules of spirituality. Yet what a difference on the secondary level)!


Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on

Recent Catholic Commentary

Making Moral Progress? July 3
Vatican statement clarifies duties of Catholic faithful after Obergefell decision July 2
Political battles vs. sacrificial service: The Brooks paradox revisited July 2
A Baptist leader with a message the Synod of Bishops should hear June 30
'Helpful' advice for social conservatives: ignore causes, deal with effects June 30

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Pope approves process for holding bishops accountable in abuse cases CWN - June 10
Pope Francis’ 2nd encyclical released (includes link to full text) CWN - June 18
US Supreme Court rules all states must recognize same-sex marriage CWN - June 26
Archbishop Nienstedt, auxiliary bishop resign CWN - June 15