The MOST Theological Collection: Vatican II: Marian Council
"Chapter 2 - Marian Council"
"She became a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race."1 Really, that is almost a shocking statement. Could a mere creature do that much? Could a being made out of nothing actually contribute to moving the Father to grant forgiveness and grace? Once we begin to realize the implications of saying that Mary shared in redeeming us, we are quite naturally inclined to say. of course it cannot really mean that. There must be some exaggeration. Probably it is just a bit of rhetorical praise.
Yet, St. Irenaeus did say that she "became a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race." And what is far more important, not only do the other Fathers of the Church,2 with virtual unanimity, concur, but Vatican II quotes these words of St. Irenaeus for us, with obvious approval.
Now of course, St. Irenaeus, if we read the full passage, clearly had in mind the scene of the Annunciation. Seen in that context, his words could mean merely that by providing the Divine Redeemer with the flesh without which He could not have died, she did contribute to our salvation That, of course, would obviously be a real co-operation In the work of salvation. She certainly did that. Yet, as we saw, St. Irenaeus compared Redemption to the untying of a tangled knot, the knot of sin, and Mary shared in that work of untying the knot. Now, as we know, the knot was not undone at the Annunciation: that work called for the great sacrifice itself. So, did she really have something to contribute there too? We need to press further in our study of the teaching of Vatican II on this point.
Shortly after the statement we have already seen from the Council, in the very next paragraph, we find this:3 "This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation, is evident, from the time of the virginal conception of Christ, even to His death."
This is a sweeping statement. It not only asserts she was joined with Him in the work of salvation: it adds that this union was continuous, and that it lasted "even to His death." This could hardly mean anything other than that she did share in the work of Redemption even on Calvary. But there is more.
In the very next paragraph the Council becomes more explicit:4 "In faith she bore with her union with her Son"; of course, she by no means wanted anything other than to be united with him. Yet, to be joined to a suffering Messiah is to be pierced with a sword, as Simeon had prophesied. Hence the Council said she "bore with" or endured this union. But to complete the text: "In faith she bore with her union with her Son, even to the cross, where she stood, in accord with the divine plan, greatly grieved with her Only-begotten, and joined herself to His sacrifice with a Motherly heart, consenting to the immolation of the victim that had been born of her." We can see now why the Council used that word that at first sounded so strange, "she bore with her union." We can also begin to see in what her role on Calvary consisted: it was one of suffering with him, one of joining herself to His sacrifice, one of consenting that the Victim, who was her Son, be immolated.
Rightly could she have cried out that it was all the most incredible outrage: that Innocence itself should be condemned, that the giver of life should die, that He who was precisely then taking away the guilt of the world should be shamed as if guilty Himself. But she knew that such was His will, such was the will of the Father. At the Annunciation, she had willingly said: Fiat: be it done to me according to your word. Now she would not take it back, she would live out, bitterly, the last dread implication of those words.
A bit farther on, in a section dealing with the relation of Our Lady to the Church, of which she is the model or type, the Council adds a further precision to what it had already said:5 "In conceiving Christ, in bringing Him forth, in nourishing Him, in presenting Him to the Father in the Temple, in suffering with her Son as He died on the Cross, she cooperated in the work of the Saviour in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope, and burning love to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result, she is our mother in the order of grace."
Rich is the content of this Conciliar teaching. We note first that she cooperated precisely in the heart of the Redemption itself, that is, "she cooperated in the work of the Saviour" which was "to restore supernatural life to souls." But further, and this is very important; the Council says that she cooperated in the work of the Saviour "in an altogether singular way." Why say her cooperation was altogether singular? Because for long we have been taught that each of us cooperates in his own salvation, by working with grace. In fact, Pope Pius XI, in an exhortation to young people engaged in Catholic Action, urged them to become6 "co-redeemers." But the Council wanted to say that, legitimate as these expressions are, it meant something quite different when it spoke of Mary's cooperation in the Redemption. Therefore it called her role "altogether singular" that is, one quite different from the cooperation of all others.
How was her role singular? We might say there are two phases to the work of Redemption. The first, which is often called the objective Redemption, consists in the acquisition or earning of the inexhaustible treasury of forgiveness and grace for all men; the second, called subjective Redemption, is the application of those graces to men in all times, the giving out of the riches of the once-for-all acquired treasury. Mary, sharing as she did even on Calvary, had a part even in the once-for-all acquisition of the great treasury.
In just what way did she cooperate? The Council says it was "by obedience, faith, hope, and burning love." Actually, as we will see later on, these four almost merge into one thing. But for now we want to focus our attention on the fact that an essential pan, the very heart of her cooperation was her obedience. We noted in our first chapter that the Council began its teaching on Mary's cooperation by speaking of her obedience. It had said still earlier of her Son that7 "by His obedience He brought about Redemption." Now, in explaining the how of her cooperation in redeeming us, the Council again stresses obedience. Obedience is hardly a popular topic today. It is something that even the best of Catholics do not find easy or to their liking. Yet it was an essential means of Redemption itself. At the Annunciation Mary had obeyed, willingly saying her Fiat.
That Fiat had, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, been really an echo of the first reaction of the heart of the Incarnate Christ:8 "On entering into the world he said: A sacrifice and offering you did not wish, but you provided a body for me. You did not take pleasure in holocausts for sins. Then I said: Behold, I come. At the head of the book it is written concerning me: I come to do your will, O God." Both He and she had pledged obedience at the outset. Now both were carrying it out: He in His own blood, being obedient even to death,9 even to death on a cross; she, as the Council said "consenting to the immolation of the victim that had been born of her."
St. Paul wrote to the Romans:10 "Just as by the disobedience of the one man", the old Adam, "the many", a Hebraism11 for the numerous all, "were made sinners, so by the obedience of the one man", the New Adam, "the many will be made just." St. Irenaeus completed the canvas begun by St. Paul. Just as there was a New Adam to undo the disobedience of the Old Adam, so too there was a New Eve:12 "Just as she ... being disobedient, became a cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary being obedient, became a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race."
Who now will dare to say: "If I do it because I am told, It is no good?" Who will be even bolder, and attribute his error to Vatican II?
St. Pius X had written of Mary:13 " ... since ... she was associated by Christ with Himself in the work of human redemption, she merited for us congruously, as they say, what Christ merited condignly ... " Pope Benedict XV had added:14 "With her suffering and dying Son Mary endured suffering and almost death. She gave up her Mother's rights over her Son to procure the salvation of mankind, and, to appease the divine justice, she, as much as she could, immolated her Son, so that one can truly affirm that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race. The great Pope of Mary, Pius XII had said:15 "She It was who, free from all sin, original and personal, and always most intimately united with her Son, as the New Eve, offered Him on Golgotha, together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and love..." Vatican II went precisely as far as the great Popes of the past, even as far as the great Pius XII in its Marian doctrine. Both the Popes an the Council taught that she shared in redeeming us, not only by being the Mother of the Redeemer, but even by her altogether singular cooperation in the great sacrifice itself, on Calvary.
What irony! What a reversal and perversion of the truth! Vatican II went farther than any Council in the entire history of the Church in its Marian teachings. It even equalled the great Marian Pope Pius XII in its teaching on her. Yet some have dared to assert that Vatican II gave the signal for downgrading Mary. In fact, one noted ecumenist, who was present at the Council-we will withhold his name, out of charity-dared to write in March, 1964, after the Council had drafted the chapter from which we have quoted:16 "... the two doctrinal positions of Mary's co-redemption and her universal mediation . . have ... largeIy lost their relevance ... If ... the redemptive sacrifice ... includes His resurrection ... then the question of any other person sharing in its execution does not really make sense."
Really, even if Vatican II had not written so much as one line of the passages we have quoted, it still reaffirmed the Marian teaching of the previous Popes by just one sweeping statement, found in § 25 of the same document, the Constitution on the Church: "... religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra [defining] that is [it must be shown] in such a way that ... the statements pronounced by him are sincerely adhered to."
So there is really no need to ask whether or not we can still hold to the great teachings of previous Popes on Mary. We not only may. Vatican II says we must. In fact, if any Council in all the centuries of the Church deserves the title, Vatican II could be rightly called: The Marian Council. No other Council went so far, spoke so extensively of her as it did.