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The MOST Theological Collection: Vatican II: Marian Council

"Chapter 6 - All-pervading role"


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A picture of startling sweep develops before our eyes when we assemble the teachings of Vatican II on Mary. As we examined each individual facet of those teachings we found more than one remarkable truth. But the total picture is something that we would scarcely have expected to find.

The Council begins its painting by speaking of the eternal divine plans, formed before the beginning of creation:1 "The Blessed Virgin, planned for from eternity as the Mother of God along with the Incarnation of the divine Word was the loving Mother of the Redeemer on this earth, His generous associate, more than others, and the humble servant of the Lord (61) ... she is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise given our first parents of a victory over the serpent. Similarly, she is the Virgin who is to conceive and bear a Son, whose name is to be called Emmanuel (55)" as Isaiah the prophet foretold.2 "The Father of Mercies willed that the acceptance of the planned-for Mother should come before the Incarnation, so that in this way, just as a woman contributed to death,3 so also a woman should contribute to life (56)." "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. In the first place, it is evident when Mary, arising in haste to visit Elizabeth, is greeted as blessed by her, because of her faith in the salvation that was promised... [it is evident] when the Mother of God joyfully displayed her firstborn, who did not lessen but consecrated her virginal integrity, to the shepherds and the Magi. [It is evident] when she presented Him to the Lord in the temple. offering the gift of the poor, and when she heard Simeon foretelling that her Son would be a sign of contradiction. and that the sword would pierce her Mother's heart so that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed (57)... In the public life of Jesus, His Mother appears remarkably. [She does this] at the very beginning [of His public life] when, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, moved by pity, she obtained by her intercession the beginning of the miracles of Jesus the Messiah. During the course of His preaching, she received His words in which He, her Son, praised the Kingdom [of God] more than the ties of flesh and blood, proclaimed blessed those who heard the Word of God and kept it, as she herself was faithfully doing... 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 (58)." "... 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 (61)" "... before the day of Pentecost, we see the Apostles 'persevering with one heart in prayer with the women and with Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brothers,' and Mary too with her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who already at the Annunciation had overshadowed her. Finally the Immaculate Virgin ... having finished the course of her earthly life, was taken up, body and soul, to heavenly glory and was exalted as Queen of the universe by the Lord, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords and victor over sin and death (59)."

The key to the thought of the Council is in its insistence that the4 "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." Actually the Council extends this union in both directions. For it speaks of her as being "planned for from eternity" along with Him, and, of course, now that she has been "exalted as Queen of the universe... so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son the Lord of Lords", her union with Him will never cease. It stretches out without bound into the endless expanse of eternity. In between the two "eternities", if we may use such an expression, the Council carefully goes through each of the mysteries of the life and work of her divine Son for the salvation of men. In each case it points out that her union with Him is evident.

Really, we could picture the sweep of the conciliar thought best by a great graph, a graph on which there would be two lines. One would represent the life and mysteries of the divine Redeemer, from the eternal plans, throughout time, and back again into an unceasing eternity of glory. The other line would be inferior to His, but yet parallel, closely matching, at every point. That line would represent her union with Him. As the dogmatic Constitution on the Assumption said, she is "always sharing His lot."

Or, to make it still clearer, we could pick just one word to describe the place that the Father willed to give her in the entire economy of His dealings with us: her place is all-pervading. There is nowhere where she is not evident, evident in union with Her Son. The Father could have done everything without her: He needed no creature. Yet He freely willed to have her cooperation at every point. Strictly speaking, He could have arranged a Redemption without Him too, as we saw in chapter 3. For He could have forgiven all sin without any reparation. Or He could have accepted a finite, an inadequate reparation. And even supposing (what is true) that the Father willed a completely adequate satisfaction, that could have been had, and had infinitely, by the incarnation in a palace, with Redemption by a brief prayer, without the death of His Son. But the Father, as we saw, literally wanted to go beyond infinity, because His plans are measured, if we may speak of measure at all, not by mathematics, but by generosity. So He freely willed to have Mary take part in the entire work of salvation, bringing her activity in at all points.

Once we see this, a remarkable conclusion emerges. Since, as is evident, we can do nothing better than to imitate the ways of the Father, then, the ideal response we could make to His generosity would be to imitate His ways. He has given her an all-pervading role in all His dealings with us; we could, ideally, give her a similarly all-pervading place in our response to His generosity. That would mean a spiritual life permeated with the Marian element. Really, in its full form, it would be to make, and then really live out a consecration to her.

Did the Council really favour Marian consecration? The answer is: Yes. For two reasons. First, it told us:5 "Let the faithful remember that true devotion does not consist in sterile and passing emotion, not in a sort of empty gullibility, but that it proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to acknowledge the loftiness of the Mother of God, and are aroused to a filial love towards our Mother and to an imitation of her virtues."

We note especially the teaching that devotion must rest on and be grounded in true faith, that is, in solid doctrine. It is obvious from the picture we have assembled in this chapter from the very words of the Council that a full consecration is precisely what most logically flows from the conciliar teaching on the position God has assigned her.

But still further, the Council most explicitly said:6 "This most Holy Synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine [which it gave in the preceding parts of chapter 8 of the Constitution on the Church] and it admonishes all the sons of the Church that they should cultivate generously devotion, especially liturgical devotion, towards the Blessed Virgin, and that they should consider of great importance the practices and exercises of piety toward her that were recommended by the Magisterium over the course of centuries..." But, the Magisterium often had recommended consecration to her. In fact, on the very day on which this brilliant chapter 8 on Mary was promulgated at the Council, Pope Paul VI arose in the Council itself and said:7 "... our eyes turn to the whole world ... which our Predecessor Pius XII ... not without heavenly inspiration, solemnly consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary... We too entrust the whole human race, along with its difficulties and anxieties ... to the care of the heavenly Mother, to be protected. O Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Most August Mother of the Church, to You we commend the entire Church and the Ecumenical Council."

On May 13, 1967, on the occasion of his unprecedented personal pilgrimage to the great Marian sanctuary of Fatima, Paul VI issued an Apostolic Exhortation in which he recalled again how Pius XII, 25 years before, consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart8 "[a consecration] which we ourselves repeated on November 21, 1964 [at the Council]." And he added: "... we urge all the sons of the Church that they individually consecrate themselves again to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of the Church, and, by extending this outstanding sign of devotion into their lives, become more and more conformed to the divine will, and, devoutly imitating the examples of their heavenly Queen, they serve her as sons."

Of course, there are many degrees in the practice of Marian consecration. It is one thing to point out how brilliantly logical and ideal it is to live out a full consecration, as a means of imitating the ways of the Father Himself, who gave and gives her an all-pervading role. It is another thing to say that all are obliged to carry it out in the fullest way. Objectively, to do so is the best-the doctrinal picture given by Vatican II, on which it says real devotion should be grounded, makes that clear. But yet not all are given the same kind of graces, not all are equally adapted.

At least, it is clear from the Council that all should do something, even rather much. To try to ignore her, to call for the decline of interest in her and devotion to her would be not only to go contrary to Vatican II, it would be to fly in the face of the divine plans themselves.


1 The following passage consists of quotations from Chapter 8 of On the Church.
2 Is. 7,14.
3 This is the New Eve theme we sow in Chapter 1 above.
4 On the Church § 57.
5 Ibid. § 67.
6 Ibid. § 67.
7 Address of Nov. 21, 1964, as found in AAS 56,1017.
8 Paul VI, Signum magnum, May 13, 1967: AAS 59,475.

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