The MOST Theological Collection: Vatican II: Marian Council
"Chapter 19 - Mass with Mary"
Pope John XXIII made a very remarkable statement in a Radio message to the 16th Eucharistic Congress of Italy, on September 13, 1959. It seems to contain a wonderful theological implication which, strangely, has attracted no notice. After expressing the hope that all the people of Italy would be strengthened in their fervour and veneration for the Blessed Virgin, "the Mother of the Mystical Body, of which the Eucharist is the symbol and vital center." he continued:1 "We trust that they will imitate in her the most perfect model of union with Jesus, our Head; we trust that they will join Mary in the offering of the Divine Victim ..."
We naturally ask ourselves: To what offering of the Divine Victim is the Pope referring? Of course, he at least presupposes her union with him in the great sacrifice of Calvary.2 But we wonder if there is not something more. For the Pope was speaking to a Eucharistic Congress, and he referred to Mary, as we saw as "the Mother of the Mystical Body of which the Eucharist is the symbol and vital center." So it would, to say the least, not be straining his words to suppose he referred to her joining with her Son in the renewal of Calvary, the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Vatican II, in its constitution on the Divine Liturgy,3 called the Mass the renewal of the New Covenant. Centuries before, the Council of Trent had taught the same thing observing also that4 "only the mode of offering is different" between the Mass and Calvary, that is, the original was bloody. while the renewal is unbloody. Now if that be the only difference between the original and the renewal, then Mary should be united with the renewal too, just as she was in the original sacrifice.5 And that is likely to be what Pope John referred to when he urged the people of Italy to "join Mary in the offering of the Divine Victim." After all, he could not suggest joining with her in the past offering, the one she made on Calvary. So, he ought to mean the only offering in which they could join, the ever-present renewal of Calvary in the Mass.6
How could this be? We recall that there are two aspects to a sacrifice, that is, the external sign, and the interior dispositions which that outer sign expresses.
Mary has a very obvious union with both aspects of the Mass. First, the outward sign is the renewal of the death of her Son. But she is the one from whom He received the very flesh and blood that become present on our altars.
She is also united with the interior dispositions of her Son. Just as He, in the glory of Heaven, still renews the offering of His obedience,7 His willingness to die again, were the Father to ask that, so too she has not changed the dispositions of her heart. She once consented to His offering, at tremendous cost to herself. She has not withdrawn that consent. Her will is now not less aligned with the will of the Father and the will of her Son than when she was still upon this earth.
So, quite obviously, she still is most closely united with the Mass, both in its interior and in its exterior aspects. Rightly then could Pope John urge the people of Italy to join with her in the offering she makes in the Eucharist.
In a very real sense, it is impossible not to be united with Mary in the Mass. For if two persons are each most closely joined to a third, then, whether they realize it or not. they are joined to each other. So, if we are closely joined with Christ at Mass, and she too, obviously, is closely joined with Him: then the more closely we are joined with Him, the more closely we are joined with her too.
Of course, we should not be content with this as it were automatic union with her. As Pope John urges, we should consciously and deliberately capitalize on this union, and be gladly aware of our special closeness to her in the Mass.
Again, as we saw in chapter 3, all the members of Christ are called upon to join their obedient dispositions with His in the renewal of Calvary. We saw that this twofold offering, melting into one, is parallel to the twofold offering that took place in the original sacrifice, in which Mary was joined with Christ so closely that her offering fused with His into the one great price of Redemption. We now can add: the twofold offering of the Mass includes that of Christ the Head, that of Mary, and that of the ordinary members of Christ.
St. Augustine made a specially rich comment on the Mass. In it, he said,8 "the Church, since it is the body of this Head, learns through Him to offer herself." Christ became obedient even to the point of death, even to death on the Cross. When His members are tempted to say: It is too much that I am asked to do, they can and should recall how far He went. Through Him, through consideration of His generosity, they gradually learn to really offer themselves. The same thought applies in regard to Mary: her offering in the original sacrifice was no less than having to consent to the terrible death of the Son whom she loved with a love that was and is literally beyond human comprehension.9 We are not asked to go nearly as far as she was. But we should be ashamed to balk at things so much less.
We can recall too that "offering oneself" does not consist in holding a procession or in saying: "Lord, Lord, we offer Thee!" It consists rather in imitation of the offering of Mary and her Son. That offering was no mere ceremonial gesture, it was most real, most vital, most costly. It was simply a conformity to the will of the Father, and obedience, carried out at tremendous cost. That is what it means to offer oneself.
The offering of the Mass can be considered as a renewal of our baptismal consecration. By Baptism, says St. Paul, we were sealed.10 The image was that of the ancient system of marking things as one's own property by putting a seal on the property. Baptism is the seal that marks us as God's property. St. Paul expressed it aptly:11 "You do not belong to yourselves, for you were bought at a price," the price of the Redemption. Mary, as we saw, shared in paying that price of Redemption. Therefore, as Pope Pius XII put it, she can claim Queenly dominion12 "by right of conquest". He was using the familiar metaphor in which the Redemption is compared to reconquering the human race from the domain of Satan. Mary shared with her Son in that conquest. So we, in the words of St. Paul, do not belong to ourselves. We belong to our heavenly King and Queen. In the Mass we join with them in placing ourselves at the disposal of the Father, just as He and she by obeying the will of the Father, paid the price of Redemption.
So, in this light, our joining in the Mass with Mary is really a form of renewal of consecration to her.
The Eucharist is both sacrifice and sacrament. We do well to be specially united with her in the sacramental aspect too. We refer not only to the fact that she is the Mother from whom He received the Body and Blood we receive in the Eucharist, and to the fact that she shared with Him in earning every grace, even the graces we receive through the sacraments, but there is also another most important consideration.
We know that although the sacraments do produce grace by their own power,13 yet that grace is in proportion to our dispositions. We have all seen persons who have for many years received Holy Communion daily, but who yet show little if any signs of spiritual growth. Of course, we must be careful not to judge others, and we know that it is difficult to know the inner heart of any other man. Further, small faults, especially those that come from indeliberate actions, things in which a person is caught off guard. do not prove anything much about the spiritual state of the soul in whom they are found. Yet we can say for sure that it is at least theoretically possible for a person to receive Holy Communion daily for years and to make scant progress, simply because he or she does not mane the best use of the sacrament. In fact, it could happen that a person might grow too familiar, too accustomed to this great sacrament, and by that very fact, almost become unreceptive, unmoved. We are not, of course, speaking of mere emotion. As we saw in chapter 14, feelings are not the measure of religious response.
Pope John in the passage we considered at the start of this chapter spoke of her as "the most perfect model of union with Jesus our Head". Obviously, we do well to imitate her union at the time of Communion, and also to ask her help. She was the one who first welcomed Him on this earth. He had chosen for Himself all the worst conditions of His birth: the stable, cold, poverty, persecution by Herod. But He found in the warmth of her love an ample counterbalance. If we ask her to be with us during those precious moments, we will have a better welcome for Him. We can ask her to take our imperfect dispositions, to refine them, to join to our poor love the immense love of her Immaculate Heart.
This we can do not only during the rather brief period of thanksgiving that is now built into the Mass. It is entirely proper to prolong that time by staying a bit after the ceremonial dismissal. The public prayers have ended but there is no inconsistency in continuing our personal union with her Son. still present within us. In being united to Him, we are by that very fact united to her, for they are inseparable.14