The MOST Theological Collection: Our Father's Plan: God's Arrangements and Our Response

"Chapter 8: Offertory of the Great Sacrifice"


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The Incarnation alone, from the very start, would have been enough to redeem us abundantly, as St. Athanasius explained (chapter 7). Yet, as we saw in chapter 3, the Father wanted to choose the richest, most abundant means of redemption, out of love of the objective order (chapter 4) and out of love for us. Further, it was not enough just to provide a means by which we could be saved. Strangely, it was also necessary to move us to accept His favors. Hence He determined to leave nothing undone that could be done.

We may be sure that as soon as possible after the birth of Jesus in a stable, St. Joseph found more suitable lodging. St. Matthew (2:11) tells us that later, when the Magi came, they found the child in a house. But that must have been some months after His birth, perhaps even more than a year, for Herod thought it necessary to kill all boys up to the age of two years.

Long before the arrival of the Magi, forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took the Child to the Temple in Jerusalem, which was about five miles north of Bethlehem. The law of Moses (Lev 12) commanded that the mother of a boy come to the Temple to be purified. The boy was not, strictly speaking "purified," though St. Luke uses the word purification broadly of both Mother and Son. The boy was redeemed at a price of five shekels (Ex 13:1, 12-15). This redemption could have been carried out by giving the ransom to any priest anywhere in Israel. But Mary and Joseph preferred to come to the Temple for it.

Mary could have rightly said that no purification was needed for the birth of the Holy One of Israel, and that He, her Son, did not need to be bought back, redeemed, from the service of God-He came precisely to do the will of the Father, to redeem the world.

Later, when John the Baptist was reluctant to baptize Him, Jesus said (Mt 3:15): "Let it be, for thus it is right for us to fulfill everything that is right."

But even more, in the Temple, He wanted to offer Himself for the great sacrifice to come later. And His Mother willingly joined in that offering, even though she knew all too well, as we saw in chapter 7, what she was consenting to: His death.

The Epistle to the Hebrews pictures the attitude of His heart at the first moment of His conception (Heb 10:5-7). It was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. For that reason, when entering into the world He said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. Holocausts and sin offerings did not please you. Then I said: Behold, I come-at the head of the Book it is written about me-to do your will, O God."

The Epistle to the Hebrews seems to be in the literary pattern of preaching, sermons, in which there may be fanciful things. But according to the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, there is nothing fanciful here. In his great Encyclical on the Mystical Body, Pope Pius XII wrote:

But the most loving knowledge of this kind, with which the divine Redeemer pursued us from the first moment of the Incarnation surpasses the diligent grasp of any human mind. For, by that blessed vision which He enjoyed when just received in the womb of the Mother of God, He has1 all the members of the Mystical Body continuously and perpetually present to Him, and embraces them with saving love. In the manger, on the cross, in the eternal glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church before Him, and joined to Him far more clearly and far more lovingly than a mother has a son on her lap, or than each one knows and loves himself.2

The Pope said that He knew and knows us all, individually, by means of "the blessed vision." The Pope means that the human soul of Jesus, from the very first instant of its existence, had the direct vision of God, in which all knowledge is available.

We need to note that the Pope speaks of the human soul of Jesus as knowing. Those who attribute ignorance to Jesus, are really speaking loosely, and when questioned they readily admit it. They do not mean that He, a Divine Person, failed to know anything. They mean that a given thing did not, as it were, register on His human mind or soul. But Pope Pius XII assures us that it really did register, that His human soul knew us from the first instant of His conception.

From the teaching of the Church we know the fact of His knowledge. But it is something else to explain just how this happened and happens. Here the Church supplies us with some facts, but we have to work a bit further on our own. It is fascinating to try it.

We need to examine separately two sets of data, and then to put the two together.

First, we look at what is required for the beatific vision, the direct vision of God, in any soul, not just the human soul of Jesus. We already saw (chapter 2) that this vision is so direct that there is not even an image involved. In seeing persons or things in daily life, we do not take the person or thing within us, we take instead an image. That works well enough with creatures; for an image is finite but so are the creatures we want to know. But Pope Benedict XII defined3 that there is no image involved in the beatific vision of God. It is really obvious: no image, since an image is finite, could show us Him who is infinite. So, St. Thomas Aquinas drew the inescapable inference that the divinity must join itself directly to the human mind or soul, with no image in between.4 This, then, is one requirement. The second requisite for the vision follows readily: since this vision is so lofty, so far above the possibilities of any conceivable creature, then the power of the creature to know must be elevated. Of course, this is done by grace, which transforms the soul, and makes it, as we saw, partly divine.

The second set of data we look at concerns the structure, as it were, of Christ Himself. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A. D. defined that He has two natures divine and human, but that He is only one Person. A person is the center to whom we attribute things, e. g. we say that he this man, John Smith, knows these things, experiences these things, does these things etc. If there were two persons in Jesus, then we could not say that a Divine Person redeemed us: the passion would pertain only to the human person in Christ, and so would not be of infinite worth.

But a problem arises: Apollinaris was an early writer of the Church who defended the true teaching of the Council of Nicea, that Jesus is divine. Apollinaris did not intend to found a heresy, but yet he did, Apollinarism. Apollinaris saw something quite true: that if we take two natures and put them together, if each is complete, there will be no union. For a crude comparison, if I put steel balls and glass marbles into a bucket, no matter how much I shake them, there is no union of the two. So, reasoned Apollinaris, if two natures, divine and human, are each complete, they cannot form a union.

Apollinaris was correct so far. He was also correct in saying: therefore there must be something missing in one of the two natures to let them join. But he went wrong when he tried to find what was missing: he said Jesus had no human rational soul. That was error, and the Church condemned that error as heresy.

But, as we said, Apollinaris was right in seeing something had to be lacking. Of course it could not be lacking in the divinity, so it had to be lacking in the humanity. What was lacking? It is not too hard to find out: The Church tells us that in Jesus there is only one Person. Now, a human nature made up of body and soul would normally be a person, automatically as it were. In the case of Jesus, His humanity did not become a human person. So it is human person that is lacking. Why? Because that humanity was "assumed," that is, taken over by the Divine Person. The humanity did not exist separately, it existed only in the Divine Person. So it did not become a human person: personhood was supplied by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

But this fact shows us a union so close that there is nothing really parallel to it anywhere: the two natures are united in the unity of one Person, a Divine Person. (We call this the hypostatic union.) The whole humanity was in most immediate contact with the divinity, since together there was but one Person.

Now at last we can find the answer we have been seeking. Let us recall the requirements for the beatific vision in any soul: (1) elevation of its power to know by grace, and (2) immediate contact of the human soul and the divinity, with no image in between. We apply this to the case of Jesus. (1) His human soul was, of course, full of grace, with an absolute fulness.5 (2) His human soul was in contact with the divinity, not just in the way an ordinary soul could be, but because that human soul-in fact, not just the soul, but the whole humanity-was in most immediate contact, or rather union, with the divinity, in a most unique union, so close that the two natures, human and divine, made up just one Person, a Divine Person.

Now we can see that it is not just by a special grant from the Father, not just by a fitting favor, that the human soul of Jesus saw the vision of God from the first instant: it is something strictly inevitable, from the very nature of His structure, if we may use that word. His human soul and mind was incapable of not seeing the divine nature, directly, without any image in between. As a result, He had before the eyes of His soul the infinity of the knowledge of God Himself. Of course, even His human soul was finite, and as such could not contain infinite knowledge all at one instant. But it did possess knowledge far beyond our ability to grasp, and certainly included, among other things, everything conceivable that pertained to His saving mission.6

So we can see now how Pope Pius XII could teach that the human soul of Jesus knew each member of His mystical Body individually, from the first instant. It was strictly inevitable.

Similarly, on the day of His presentation in the Temple, His human soul or Heart offered itself most fully, in the offertory of the great sacrifice. His Heart renewed and continued its dedication, of which the Epistle to the Hebrews told us: "Behold I come to do your will, O God."

To His, "Behold I come," Mary's fiat at the annunciation corresponded: "Be it done to me according to your word." This day in the Temple she renewed and continued that dedication to Him, to the will of His Father, though that cost her dearly, for already on the day of the annunciation she knew He was to suffer and be rejected, "the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."

She was most painfully reminded of this when the saintly old man Simeon approached. Some scholars think he was the son of the great teacher Hillel7 who expected the Messiah to come imminently. Be that as it may, it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah, the anointed one of the Lord. The same Spirit revealed at this moment to Simeon that indeed He was at hand. With tears of gratitude welling up, Simeon prayed (Lk 2:29-32):

Now you can dismiss your servant, Lord, according to your word in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to remove the veil from the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.8

Then Simeon blessed them, and spoke directly to Mary His Mother (Lk 2:34-35): "Behold, He is set for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be contradicted. And your own soul a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."

Mary had known already about that sword, but this inspired reminder must have addded to the pain. Her pain was the greater, of course, in proportion to her love for her Son. As we saw above, Pius IX taught 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."9 Now of course, holiness and love of God are interchangeable expressions. So her love of God was so great that no creature could understand it-only God could. But that immense love was, if we may say it, increased by the natural love of a Mother for her Son. But her Son was and is God, so the natural intensified the supernatural and the supernatural greatly multiplied the natural: our ability to calculate, to picture it, is simply exhausted. So we say with Pope Pius IX, "Only God can comprehend it."

On that day there was fulfilled what God had promised through Haggai the prophet (2:7-9): "I will fill this house with glory. . . . Great will be the glory of this later house, more than that of the first." The material splendor of the Temple of the day of Haggai was far from surpassing that of Solomon's Temple-and so people should have been able to see that much more was to come in the future, as St. Augustine later observed.10

Then too began the fulfillment of the great prophecy of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets (3:1): "Behold, I send my messenger,11 and he will prepare the way before me; and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in." The first messenger spoken of was John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way for God Himself, Jesus, the "messenger of the covenant." On this day of the presentation, God did suddenly come to His own Temple in Jesus. Jesus came unexpectedly, unknown to all save His parents, Simeon and Anna. "He came into His own, and His own received Him not." And even later, when He came with the brilliance of miracles, He was to be not accepted, but instead, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. That prospect, and death, He now accepted in His tiny heart. The Immaculate Heart of His Mother was at one with His Heart in that offering. As Vatican II put it: "She endured her union with her Son even to the Cross." For to carry out her fiat, her union with the future Victim, was hard beyond all our ability to calculate, as we shall see in chapter 10.12


1 We note the Pope uses the present has to indicate the eternity of His mind inasmuch as He was a Divine Person.
2 Pius XII, On the Mystical Body, June 29, 1943. DS 3812. On the teaching of the Magisterium on His human knowldge, cf. W. Most, The Consciousness of Christ, Christendom College, Front Royal, 1980, chapter 7. The chief objections raised to His knowledge were answered already in the Patristic age (cf. chapter 6 of Consciousness of Christ). Lk 2:52 says that when young He advanced "in wisdom and age before God and men." St. Athanasius saw the answer: "Gradually, as the body grew and the Word manifested itself in it, He is acknowledged first by Peter, then by all." (Oration 3 Against the Arians. PG 26.436). St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote: "How then was He said to advance? [It happened] when the Word of God . . . measured out the manifestation of the divine gifts which were in Him, according to the growth and age of His body" (Thesaurus 28. PG 75.428). As to Mk 13:32 where He Himself said He did not know the day of the end: Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote that Jesus knew the day "in His humanity, but not from His humanity" (Epistle to Eulogius DS 475-76).
3 DS 1000.
4 St. Thomas Summa Suppl. 92.1.c. and Contra Gentiles 3.52.
5 Mary had a relative fulness of grace, i.e., her human soul contained, as it were, all grace it could hold at a given point. Yet she could and did grow, since her capacity could increase.
6 Even though at conception His physical or bodily brain was not yet formed, yet His human soul, by contact with the divinity, could and did have this knowledge. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa III.10.2.c.
7 On the view that Simeon may have been the son of Hillel, see Juan Leal, Evangelio de San Lucas, La Sagrada Escritura, Madrid, 1973, p. 92.
8 Lk 2:33 says His parents marvelled at this. This need not imply previous ignorance. To marvel is an emotional reaction, which one may have even at a sunset after seeing many of them. Similarly Jesus marvelled at the faith of the centurion. Lk 2:50 similarly says they did not understand His reply when found in the Temple: they could know His divinity, yet be surprised at this sudden shift in His pattern-He had never left without notice before.
9 Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.
10 St. Augustine, City of God 18.45. PL 41.606.
11 Cf. note 17 on chapter 7.
12 Vatican II, On the Church #58; "endured" in Latin is sustinuit.