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The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life

"Chapter IV: Mary on Calvary"


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THE PAPAL TEXTS of the preceding chapter make it dear that Mary really did co-operate immediately as the New Eve in the great sacrifice of Calvary. It remains for us to try to penetrate more deeply into the meaning of this great truth.

We must refer once again to the fall of our first parents. Scarcely had the fall taken place when God promised a Redeemer to come. God could have lowered the human race to the merely natural level, forever cutting off all hope of heaven; the truth is, however, that He wished to restore to us the opportunity for a supernatural reward. In general, three ways were open to God to provide this opportunity for us, aside from the possibility that He might have forgiven the sin without exacting any reparation (a thing He did not do).1 He could have demanded strict payment of the debt; He could have accepted an inadequate payment; or He could have arranged that both an adequate and an inadequate payment be made together.

For any adequate payment of the debt, the incarnation of a divine person was strictly necessary; for sin has a sort of infinity about it, from the fact that the person offended is infinite. But only one who is an infinite person-i.e., divine-could pay an infinite debt; and only one who is at the same time human could pay it in such a way that it would profit the human race. Had God wished to accept an inadequate reparation, He could have designated some holy person to offer a sacrifice, or perform some other prescribed action; such a reparation would have been insufficient to pay the debt, but God, nonetheless, could have chosen to accept it.

The truth is that God wished to combine both adequate and inadequate reparation in order to exercise better His infinite mercy. That is, He freely decreed that what He would accept as the price of the Redemption was the joint work of two: the one, a divine person, who alone could really pay the debt, and whose work by itself would be fully adequate; the other, the greatest of all mere creatures, whose work would not add anything to the intrinsic value of the infinite reparation of the God-man, but whose labors, nonetheless, were ordained by the Father to be accepted with, through, and subordinate to those of the great Redeemer. The fall had come about through two: Adam, the head of the race, who alone was able to ruin all his posterity; and Eve, who alone could not bring on original sin, but who could and did co-operate in her own subordinate way in effecting the disaster of original sin.

It was fitting, therefore, that the restoration should follow the pattern of the fall. In the beautiful hymn, the Pange lingua gloriosi, which the Church sings on Good Friday, we kind the parallel of the fall and the restoration extended even to the wood of the cross.2 Despite its poetic form, this ancient hymn most fittingly expresses the truth of this parallel.

De parentis protoplasti

Fraude, Factor condolers

Quando pomi noxialis

In necem morsu ruit:

Ipse lignum tune notavit

Damna ligni ut solveret.

Hoc opus nostrae salutis

Ordo depoposcerat;

Multiformis proditoris

Ars ut artem falleret,

Et medelam ferret inde

Hostis unde laeserat.

Our Maker, grieving

Over the deception of our first parent

When, by the bite of the baneful fruit

He fell to death:

Marked then the wood,

To repair the damage done by the wood.

Order had called for

This work of our salvation,

That wisdom might undo cunning

And find a remedy

In the means

By which the enemy had inflicted harm.

And so it appears that the debt had been contracted by two in co-operation; and that it would be paid by a parallel co-operation. Adam had been, as we have said, the first head of the race; Christ was to be, as St. Paul tells us3 (see chap. I), the New Adam, the new head of the race, for if He were not the head of the race, humanity as a whole would not have a claim on His merits and reparation. It was through Mary that Christ became the head of the human race, for, as St. Thomas observes: " ... at the Annunciation, the Virgin was asked to give her consent in the name of the whole human race."4

Mary, then, in giving flesh to the future Victim of Calvary, acted as the representative of mankind as a whole. Pope Pius XII, in the encyclical on the Mystical Body, made this interpretation his own, quoting from St. Thomas:

... and she consented "in the name of the whole human race," so that "a sort of spiritual marriage exists between the Son of God and human nature." She it was who in a marvelous way gave birth to Christ the Lord, the font of all heavenly life, who had already been adorned in her virginal womb with the dignity of Head of the Church....5

Hence it is entirely clear that Christ became the New Adam, the new head of the human race, from the fact that He received human flesh from the womb of the Virgin.

The heavenly Father could have accepted the least action of the life of Christ in reparation, for, since Our Lord is divine, even His least acts have an infinite dignity; but, to show better the love of God for man, it was decreed that the reparation should consist primarily in a sacrifice. Hence our next task is to make sure that we understand the true nature of sacrifice.

St. Augustine points out that there are two components in a sacrifice: "The visible sacrifice is, then, the sacrament, that is, the sacred sign of the invisible sacrifice."6 Thus a sacrifice belongs to the general class of things that we call signs. The function of a sign is to show something outwardly. According to St. Augustine's statement, the external sacrifice is the outward sign of what he calls an invisible sacrifice.

The invisible sacrifice is the more essential of the two. It is the internal disposition of the heart which loves and adores God, expresses its sorrow and desire for reparation, its thanks, its petition for help. The victim offered in a sacrifice serves as a sign of the internal dispositions. In the sacrifices of the Old Law, the animal sacrificed was, by virtue of its immolation, removed from the use of men, and that very fact signified that it was being given to God. But the idea was not merely to give an animal to God: otherwise He might speak as He is poetically represented as speaking in Psalm 49:

Hear, O my people, and I will speak: ... I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices: and thy burnt offerings are always in my sight. I will not take calves out of thy house: nor he goats out of thy flocks. For all the beasts of the woods are mine: the cattle on the hills, and the oxen.... If I should be hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. Shall I eat the flesh of bullocks? or shall I drink the blood of goats? Offer to God the sacrifice of praise....

A real gift should represent the giver: the animal given to God is worthless unless it represents the gifts of the heart and the whole being of the giver, who acknowledges the absolute rights of God over him. The external offering in a sacrifice must be a sign of the internal sacrifice, of the inner dispositions of love, adoration, contrition, thanks, petition, on the part of the one who offers.7

Now we turn to the scene on Calvary. There we see a ewe sacrifice being accomplished. The New Adam, Christ Himself, is both priest and victim. The outward sign is His painful death. The inward dispositions of His Heart toward His Father-dispositions of love, adoration, reparation, thanksgiving, petition- are wonderfully expressed by this outward sign. With Him8 is the New Eve, in what Saint Pius X called a "common sharing of will and suffering" with Him. In what precisely does this "common sharing" of hers consist? In many things. First of all, it was through her, as we have seen, that Christ became the New Adam, the new head of mankind. It was through her that He had flesh in which to suffer and die: she had literally provided the Victim, for Christ as God could not suffer and die. She herself is obviously suffering profoundly at this sight. Such is her co-operation in the outward sign.

Her union with the inner dispositions of Christ is most perfect: she joined inwardly in offering Him. As Pope Benedict XV expressed it:

With her suffering and dying Son, Mary endured suffering and almost death. She gave up her Mother's rights over her Son in order 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.9

Or, as Saint Pius X stated it:

"... there stood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother." not merely occupied in looking at the dreadful sight, but even rejoicing that "her only Son was being offered for the salvation of the human race: and so did she suffer with Him, that, if it had been possible, she would have much more gladly suffered herself all the torments which her Son underwent."10

And, let us remember, she does this not as a private person, but as the New Eve, as the one officially marked by the Father to co-operate in this way with the Son, so that the Father regards the sufferings of both as forming but one offering, for her suffering is offered only through and with His. We recall the words of Pope Pius XII:

She it was who, free of 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....11

We note in the last two passages that both Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XII spoke of Mary's surrender of her "maternal rights" over her Son.

At this point someone may object that once a son reaches legal age, his mother has a right to be heard respectfully, but that no real consent on her part is required for his actions. Mary's position, however, was not just that of an ordinary mother, and the redeeming sacrifice was not in the line of the ordinary relations of son and mother. Just as, in accordance with the positive decree of God the Father, the Incarnation was not to take place without the consent of Mary, the representative of all mankind, so also the culmination of the Redemption, to which the Incarnation was directed, was not to take place without the consent of Mary. This consent of hers to the sacrifice of Calvary was both a continuation of the [at of Nazareth and a silent but loving renewal of that original consent. In this spirit she united most intimately with the dispositions of the heart of her dying Son, so as to join with Him in a "common sharing of will and suffering."12 She offered Him as something of herself: she would have greatly preferred to die in His stead.13

The prophet Jeremias spoke these words of lament over the desolation of Jerusalem:

To what shall I compare thee: or to what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? to what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Sion? for great as the sea is thy destruction: who shall heal thee?14

In the Office of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows, the Church applies these words to Mary. As St. Alphonsus points out,15 it is very fitting to compare her grief to the sea, for the sea is vast in extent and all bitter to the taste: there is not a drop of sweet water in it. The words "who shall heal thee?" are yet more expressive: when the martyrs suffered, they were often given relief by God, so that some of them seemed not to feel any pain. But God did not mitigate the pain of Mary. The thought of the passion of Christ consoled the martyrs; but for Mary the very passion was the cause of her suffering. Their love for God was a solace to the martyrs; but for Mary her very love for her Son, more boundless than the sea, was the measure of her bitter compassion.

Many were scandalized at the passion of Christ St. Paul says it was foolishness to the Gentiles, and a scandal to the Jews.16 Similarly, some, when they are first brought face to face with the fact of the co-redemptive role of Mary, are shocked at the thought that a mere creature, however pure, could share in redeeming us. But the same love of God that spared not His Only Son is also the reason for the co-redemption: of herself, Mary could do nothing to save us.17 It is only the incomprehensible love and generosity of God that contrived such a method as this, in which:

Order had called for

This work of our salvation

That wisdom might undo cunning

And find a remedy In the means

By which the enemy hat inflicted harm.

Hoc opus nostrae salutis

Ordo depoposcerat;

Multiformis proditoris

Ars ut artem falleret,

Et medelam ferret inde

Hostis unde laeserat.18


1 See ST, III, q.1, a.2, esp. ad 2; and III, q.46, a.2, esp. ad 3.
2 There is even a legend that the cross was made from a tree descended from the original forbidden tree—pretty, but impossible to prove.
3 See, for example, Rom. 5:12.
4 ST, III, q.30, a.l.
5 AAS 35:247.
6 City of God X, v. See ST, III, q.22, a.2,c.
7 We may profitably make an application of these principles to the Mass. The Mass represents Calvary, but in an unbloody way. On Calvary, the bloody death of Christ expressed the perfect dispositions of His Heart. In the Mass, the mystical separation of Body and Blood by the two consecrations expresses the same dispositions of His Heart. Those who assist at Mass may unite both with the external rite and with the interior dispositions of the Heart of Christ. It is obvious that the interior is the more essential of the two phases of their union. For further details, see chap. XVI.
8 Christ accomplished our salvation in four modes: by way of merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, and redemption. Mary, the Mother of God and the New Eve, by offering up her Son, abdicating her Mother's rights, and joining to this her own sufferings, co-operated in all four modes: 1. Merit: "She merited congruously, as they say, what Christ merited condignly" (Pope Pius X); 2. Satisfaction: "To appease the divine justice, she as much as she could, immolated her Son" (Pope Benedict XV); 3. Sacrifice: "She ... most intimately united ... offered Him on Golgotha" (Pope Pius XII), 4. Redemption: "One can truly affirm that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race" (Pope Benedict XV). See AER, 125:1-6, 120-29, 196-207.
9 AAS 10:182.
10 ASS 36:453.
11 AAS 35 :247.
12 Mary had not only an extrinsic deputation for her role on Calvary. God also provided for a special intrinsic worth to her actions by giving her the dignity of the Mother of God who is full of grace. Of course, all the value of her acts depended ultimately on the positive decree of God and on the merits of her Son.
13 Such is the thought of St. Bonaventure, quoted by Saint Pope Pius X in ASS 36:453. See the text in Appendix III, B, 3.
14 Lamentations (of Jeremias) 2:13.
15 St. Alphonsus Liguori, "Sermon on the Dolors of Mary," The Complete Works of St. Alphonsus (4th ed., Brooklyn, 1931), vote. VII-VIII, 482-92.
16 See I Cor. 1:23.
17 It is helpful to compare the role of Mary on Calvary to that of a layman who devoutly assists at Mass, and who, in addition, through a Mass offering, provides the bread and wine for the sacrifice. In providing the material for Mass, the layman in a faintly similar way imitates the fact that Mary provided the Victim. The layman also tries to join in the dispositions of the Victim being immolated on the altar. Mary joined in the dispositions of Christ, but in a much more perfect way. The differences between Mary and the layman thus far are great. But there is a more striking difference: the position of the layman is not unique and official, as Mary's was. For she was the New Eve. In addition, the layman is taking part in the re-presentation of Calvary, in the means of the distribution of the fruits of Calvary. But Mary took part in the original Calvary, in the once-for-all earning of those fruits. She on Calvary was sharing in the objective redemption; the layman is sharing in the subjective redemption. Of her, and her alone, could it be truly said: "She merited congruously, as they say, what Christ merited condignly. Of her alone could it be said that "Through Him, with Him, and subordinate to Him, Mary is Queen ... by right of conquest."
18 From the Pange lingua.