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

"Chapter 10: Infinitely Beyond Infinity"


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We have not yet seen an important aspect of the great sacrifice of Calvary. We saw in chapter 3 that our Father had many options open to Him when He decided to restore our race. First, He could have forgiven without any rebalancing of the objective order, but His Holiness wanted that rebalance; second, He could have arranged for an inadequate reparation, one offered by some mere human; third, He could have sent His Son to make a full restoration of the universal objective order by just being born in a palace and never dying at all. So He quite literally went beyond infinity in deciding to go from the palace to the stable and to the cross.

We noticed in all this that His policy seemed to be this: He would never be content with anything less, if more could be added. But something more, though finite, could be added to infinity beyond infinity. Just as He could have made the entire redemption consist in the second option, in having some mere human perform some act of religion, so, obviously, He could add Mary's contribution to the great sacrifice.

Did He actually do that? Vatican II, speaking of her on Calvary, wrote:

. . . in suffering with her Son as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, 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.1

This is an extremely rich statement. We need to look at it a bit at a time. First, we see that "she cooperated in the work of the Savior," which was "to restore supernatural life to souls." That clearly means she shared in some way in the redemption.

In what way? Even without the help of Vatican II we would see that she contributed by the mere fact of being the Mother from whom He received a human nature, which made His death possible. But Vatican II, following several previous Popes, goes beyond that, and teaches that she shared on Calvary itself: "In suffering with her Son as He died on the cross." In what way did she share? "In an altogether singular way." This clause is needed to tell us that her sharing was entirely unique. For Pius XI in an address to young people engaged in Catholic Action had urged them to become "co-redeemers."2 He meant this only in the broad sense that we can further the work of applying the fruits of the redemption. He was not speaking of the previous stage of the work of acquiring once for all, in the first place, that infinite treasury, on Calvary. But the Council, to prevent anyone from taking its words about her cooperation only in a loose sense, insisted that her sharing was "in an altogether singular way."

Now Jesus, as we saw in the last chapter, redeemed us precisely though His obedience: "By His obedience He brought about redemption," Vatican II had said.3 Now the Council teaches that Mary shared in His work precisely by obedience, along with faith, hope and burning love, which are other aspects or parts of the interior disposition of His Heart in the great sacrifice.

The Council places special stress on this point of obedience. A few paragraphs earlier, it had written about her:

Rightly then do the Holy Fathers teach that Mary was employed by God not just in a passive way [in the incarnation] but she cooperated in human salvation in free faith and obedience. For she, as St. Irenaeus said, "By obeying became a cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." Hence not a few ancient Fathers in their preaching assert with pleasure with him: "The knot of the disobedience of Eve was loosed through the obedience of Mary."4

We notice too that the Council is making use of the New Eve theme-that Mary, the New Eve, by her obedience undid the disobedience of the old Eve, just as Christ, the New Adam, by His obedience, undid the disobedience of the old Adam.5

The Council also expressed the idea of her obedience by saying:

In faith she endured her union with her Son even to the cross, where she stood in accordance 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.6

In saying she consented, the Council means that her will was in accord with the will of the Father, and of the Son-they willed that He die then, so horribly. So her union with the will of the Father and Son required that she not only refrain from protesting, but that she even will what they willed-will His death, in that dreadful way, at that time.

Benedict XV had taught the same thing:

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 . . . so much as she could, immolated her Son, so that one can truly affirm that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race.7

All these statements belong, of course, to the framework of the covenant, which Vatican II stresses so much. In the old covenant of Sinai, a people of God was created, to get favor on condition of obedience. Similarly, in the new covenant the people of God is to get favor on condition of obedience.

The basic, infinite obedience was that of Jesus. Yet as St. Paul makes clear so many times, we are to do everything syn Christo, with Christ-we suffer with Him, we die with Him, are buried with Him, rise with Him, ascend with Him (cf. Rom 6:1-5; Col. 3:1). In fact, we are saved precisely to the extent that we are not only members of His, but are like Him-and of course, like Him especially in this most essential feature of His work, obedience. For without it, His death would have been only a tragedy, not a redemption (cf. Rom 5:19). Vatican II underscored this when it also said, "By His obedience He brought about redemption."8

So she shared with Him precisely in the covenant condition, obedience, in that which gave the value to His redemptive death.

The Father had even made her especially fitted for this work, in advance, by the Immaculate Conception.

Now, could we imagine that the Father would make her apt for the role, call on her to do so difficult a thing as to will the death of her Son in so horrible a way, in obedience, the covenant condition, and then not accept it as part of the covenant, that is, of the redemption? Of course not. He had even, as we noted above, put her on Calvary not just as a private person, but as one officially appointed to cooperate; she was there, as the Council said, "in accordance with the plan of Divine Providence."9

Pope Pius XII, in the solemn Constitution defining the Assumption, gave us important added light on her cooperation as the New Eve. First he laid the groundwork:

We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been presented by the Holy Fathers as the New Eve, who, although subject to the New Adam, was most closely associated with Him in that struggle against the infernal enemy which, as foretold in the Protoevangelium, was to result in that most complete victory over sin and death.10

The Protoevangelium is, of course, the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 of enmity between the serpent and the woman, whose Offspring is to overcome the serpent. So the Pope reminds us that the Fathers, virtually all of them, do speak of Mary as the New Eve, sharing the struggle against Satan.

Then Pius XII went on to show that just as she shared in the "struggle" of Calvary with Jesus, so also she would share in His glorification by her Assumption: "Wherefore, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and final sign of this victory, so also that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son had to be closed by the 'glorification' of her virginal body."

The force of the Pope's reasoning is remarkable: she shared with Him in the struggle of Calvary so fully that it could be called a work in common, common to both of them. And that word common is not taken in some loose sense. It is most strict, for it is precisely because Calvary was a work in common that a common cause had to have a common effect, namely, glorification.

The Pope was chiefly speaking of the Assumption. But in seeking a basis for it in the souces of revelation, he found it precisely in her cooperation in the redemption-and that cooperation had to be so strictly true that in the fullest sense the great sacrifice could be called a work in common, without, of course, denying her subordination to Him, which the Pope had expressed in the first part of this passage.

The very idea that any creature could join, in any way, in redeeming us is so striking, that we naturally want to see more fully just how this could be. Pius XII assured us it was true, in so strong a sense that there was a work in common. Vatican II used the same word "obedience" to describe both the heart of His redemptive work, and her cooperation with Him.

One way to examine the how is by way of the concept of sacrifice. As we know, a sacrifice includes an external sign, and the interior dispositions, which the sign expresses and even promotes, of obedience-love, and adoration. Now she obviously shared in the external sign, not indeed by putting Him to death-He Himself did not do that either-but in that she, as we said, furnished the very body which made that death possible. What of the interior element? the chief part of it was, of course, obedience-love, as we saw. She shared in it by obeying, that is, by accepting the will of the Father that He die.

How dearly did this cost her? The pain of a Mother at the death of her Son would be measured by two things: by how much He suffered, and by her love for Him. How much did He suffer? We already tried to fathom it, and found it measureless. Yet our realization of it is poor and weak compared to hers, for it was right in front of her very eyes, it was mercilessly vivid-the sword foretold by Simeon in its most pitiless thrust. That was multiplied by her love for Him, a love which was, as Pius IX already told us, so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."11

Yet, just as as He suffered for each one-for Vatican II tells us, "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me,"12-so too did she willingly, though painfully, give Him for each one of us.

He, in the very midst of His pain, said: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." She was asked to "give up her Mother's rights over her Son," as Pope Benedict XV said, to "consent" as Vatican II said. And she too forgave us at the same time as He did, in the same way. Such was His will; such was her love for us, such her mercy.

We can also consider her cooperation with Him by looking further within the framework of the new covenant, in which, on Calvary, He carried out the obedience He had pledged in the Cenacle. Now Vatican II tells us that the Mass is the renewal of the new covenant.13 A renewal, of course, presupposes a making of the covenant in the first place. But that making was done in the Cenacle, and on Calvary. But we need to recall something about that renewal of the new covenant which is the Mass. The Church insists that we are to join in it especially by uniting our interior dispositions with those of the Divine Victim, who renews His offering of obedience to the Father, using the very same dramatized form of acceptance of the Father's will that He had used in the Cenacle, namely, the seeming separation of body and blood in the separate bread and wine.

So we can see that in the Mass, the renewal, there is a twofold offering of obedience that melts as it were into one-the obedience of Christ, and our obedience to the Father, which we bring to join with His, so that there is an offering of the obedience of the whole Christ, Head and Members.

But now we seem to make a remarkable discovery: if the Mass is, as the Council insists, the renewal, and if the renewal really renews or repeats, and does not instead change or modify the original, and if there is a twofold offering of obedience in the Mass, the renewal, there must have been a twofold offering of obedience in that which the renewal repeats, namely, Calvary. This obviously means that just as our obedience melts into one with His on the altar, so did her obedience fuse into one with His on Calvary. So we can see more fully the import of the words of Vatican II: "In suffering with her Son as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior . . . by obedience. . . ."14

Vatican II explicitly said it did not intend to settle existing controversies in Mariology.15 Yet a Council is an instrument in the hands of Divine Providence. When St. Irenaeus wrote the words that Vatican II quoted about her becoming by obedience a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race, he was, as the context shows, thinking of the day of the Annunciation rather than Calvary. But St. Irenaeus also, in a quote used by Vatican II, compared all sin to a knot. But a knot is untied only when we have taken the rope backwards through every twist and turn used in tying it. So, when St. Irenaeus said in the line quoted by the Council that Mary untied what Eve had tied, there was objectively-even though St. Irenaeus may not have seen it-an implication that Mary's cooperation in the redemption extended even to Calvary. In a similar way, Vatican II may not have realized all the richness of its words, but the Holy Spirit who guided it did not miss the full content. And it seems that the full content is what we have just gathered, namely, that her obedience formed with His one price of redemption, to use St. Paul's expression from 1 Cor. 6:20.16

Some have suggested that Mary's cooperation on Calvary consisted only in receiving not in actively sharing in earning. But we notice the Council used the same word, obedience, to describe her role as it did for His role. There is nothing to indicate the Council meant a radically different sense of the word in the two cases, hers and His. So it would seem that her role should also be of the same general nature as His (with due subordination and dependence of course). He actively won salvation by obeying. So she did not merely receive-not even if we say "actively receiving," like one putting out a hand. No, obeying is a fully active response. It is not just receiving what someone else alone obtains; it was part of the very covenant condition, of that which gave the redemptive value to His death.

We recall of course also the text of Pius XII in the solemn document defining the Assumption, in which he spoke of Calvary as a work in "common" to Him and to her. Again, that would not leave room for a radical difference such as the objectors propose.

Let us also think of a parallel: When God sends us an actual grace, to lead and enable us to do a particular good thing here and now, there are two steps. First, He gives us an ability to do the thing; then, we are both moved by His grace, and simultaneously moving ourselves actively by the power currently coming from that grace. So the Council of Trent even defined17 that we are not just passive under that grace. Similarly, in a greater sphere, Mary should not do less than we do: she did receive from her Son the very means of cooperating, but then, she actively joined with Him, actively obeyed, and so actively had a role in winning that which He was winning, salvation for us all.

Important added light can come from recalling that in looking at the old covenant, we found there were two levels. On the basic level, the reason God gave His favors was simply unmerited, unmeritable generosity; on the secondary level, the reason was that His people fulfilled the covenant condition or law (when they did so). We find the same situation with the new covenant. The basic reason why the Father grants grace and forgiveness is still simply His own generosity; even the work of Christ comes on the secondary level.

When we first think of this, it may seem strange. But we need to notice that the Father was not moved to lay aside anger and to love us again because Christ came-rather, Christ came because the Father always loved us. Hence His generosity-love is more basic than even the coming of Christ. St. Augustine puts it well: "We were reconciled to the One who already loved us."18 So the Father did not have to be moved-in fact, since He is unchangeable, He cannot be moved.

Now this helps us to understand how Mary could cooperate in the redemption. If the redemption had to move the Father, of course, she could not have done anything towards it. But when it was instead a matter of providing an objective title for redemption (we recall chapter 4) on a secondary level, that is within the power of a creature if God chooses to give such power and role.19 The Father gave her the means that were apt by their very nature-obedience within covenant-to serve as a secondary title within the covenant. Why would He give a means naturally apt, and then not intend to accept it?

Of course all this does not mean she was on the same plane as her Divine Son-her very ability to cooperate came from Him. Hence Vatican II wrote:

No creature can ever be counted [as if on the same plane] with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer . . . [but] just as the one goodness of God is really poured forth in creatures in various manners, so also the one mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude, but [rather] produces among creatures a participated cooperation, from the one sole font.20

In fact, that Holiness and love of the objective order, which we saw in chapter 4 and in the old covenant, willed to add also the titles created by lesser Saints, besides Mary, to make everything as rich as possible. Their role has a part, of course, in the distribution of the fruits of Calvary, not in the once-for-all acquisition of those fruits. Hence the Church does teach the value and help to be found in invoking their intercession. Thus the title for granting favors is not only in Christ the Head and in Mary, but in the whole Mystical Christ. Further, the promise to hear prayer, "Ask and you shall receive" belongs also in this picture. The Father in His love of us, and in His love of objective order and goodness, willed even to bind Himself to grant prayers, made properly.

From the fact that she shared in acquiring or earning all graces on Calvary, it is obviously logical that she should share similarly in distributing all graces. In this role she is called Mediatrix of all graces.

We quoted Vatican II early in this chapter, and after describing her cooperation on Calvary, the Council added: "As a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace."21 A mother in the natural order has two chief functions, to share in producing a new life, and to take care of that life so long as there is need, and so long as she is able. Mary shared in winning new life, the life of grace, divine life, for us on Calvary. And she takes care of us so long as we have need, which is until we arrive safely at our Father's house, for not before that will our need of grace and care cease. Earthly mothers are sometimes not willing to care-not so Mary. And earthly mothers are sometimes unable to help-not so Mary, whose every prayer to the Father through her Son is heard.

Vatican II, after noting that this role of hers really is a continuation of her fiat on the day of the Annunciation, added:

After being assumed into heaven, she has not put aside this saving role, but by her manifold intercession she continues, in winning the gifts of eternal salvation for us. With motherly love she takes care of the brothers of her Son who are still in pilgrimage [cf. Heb 13:14] and involved in dangers and difficulties, until they are brought to the happy fatherland. For this reason, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix.22

Some have noted that the Council simply said "Mediatrix", and did not add "of all graces." Yet the Council did teach that truth, in two ways. First, it added a footnote referring us to teachings of Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XII, who did teach she was Mediatrix of all graces.23 Second, in section 25 of the same Constitution on the Church, it insisted that all such papal teachings, even those that are not defined, require even our internal belief, and not just external compliance. Thereby it reaffirmed-not that it was necessary-all the teachings of such great Marian Popes as St. Pius X and Pius XII. Actually, there are twelve papal texts speaking of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces.

Indeed, the very fact that she shared in earning all graces means that absolutely every grace that is actually given comes in that way through her role. In addition, she actually intercedes, asks for each grace for us, and she knows all our needs. We her children are very numerous-but not too numerous for her to see in the infinite vision of God, with a soul illumined by such a light of grace, that is in proportion to her fulness of grace, so great, as we saw that, as Pius IX told us, "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one except God can comprehend it."

Actually, the sweep of the Marian teaching of Vatican II is magnificent. It tells us she was eternally united with Him in the decree for the Incarnation, and then goes through every one of the mysteries of His life and mission, and shows her association at each point, even on Calvary. After that, she "was taken up, body and soul, to heavenly glory, and was exalted as Queen of the universe . . . so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords."24

So from eternity before time began, to eternity after the end of time, and in every mystery of His in between, she is His Mother and inseparable associate!

The Council rightly drew the logical conclusion from this breathtaking doctrinal picture of her constant union with Jesus. It admonished all "that they should cultivate devotion, especially liturgical devotion, towards the Blessed Virgin, and that they should consider of great importance the practices and devotions toward her that were recommended by the Magisterium over the course of centuries."25 In fact, Vatican II went farther in teaching about her, and in urging devotion than all previous councils combined. So it could rightly be called the Marian Council.26

Yet all this greatness of hers is the Father's gift, in His love of us, and His love of the universal order, for He is Holiness-Love. He has gone infinitely beyond infinity: for the Incarnation in a palace, without death, would have been infinite. He went beyond that to the stable and the cross, and then even further, in adding the role of Mary.


1 Vatican II, On the Church # 61.
2 Cited in G. Roschini, De Corredemptrice, Marianum 17 (1939) p. 35.
3 Vatican II, On the Church #3.
4 Ibid #56.
5 It does not mean that Jesus undid only the work of Adam: both Jesus and Mary shared in one work, undoing all sin.
6 Vatican II, On the Church #58.
7 Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia, May 22, 1918. AAS 20.182. 8.
8 Vatican II, On Church #3.
9 Ibid. #58 and #61.
10 Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, Nov. 1, 1950. AAS 42.786.
11 Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.
12 Vatican II, Church in Modern World #22.
13 Vatican II, On Liturgy #10.
14 Vatican II, On the Church #61.
15 Ibid. # 54.
16 Cf. chapter 7, note 6, and 1 Cor 6:20; Col 2.14. Jeremiah in 31.31ff also hardly saw that the obedience of the new covenant would be that of Christ. But the principal author, the Holy Spirit, saw and intended that meaning. Jeremiah was His instrument.
17 DS 1554. See also chapter 18.
18 St. Augustine, On John 110.5. PL 35. 1924.
19 The Father gave her the means apt in themselves-obedience, a part of the covenant condition, which He could have given as the whole of redemption to any mere creature, as we saw in Chapter 4-and He also gave her "a dignity second only to God . . . a sort of infinite dignity," as Pius XI said (Lux veritatis. AAS 23.513, citing St. Thomas Summa I.25.6. ad 4) which made her intrinsically apt for such a role. Why would the Father give such means, apt in themselves, and then refuse to accept them? Further, Vatican II says she was there in an official role, not as a private person: On the Church 58, "not without the divine plan" and 61, "by plan of Divine Providence . . . she cooperated." And she was in the role of the New Eve.
20 Vatican II, On the Church #62.
21 Vatican II, On the Church #61.
22 Ibid. #62.
23 The reason the Council did not itself add the words "of all graces" was concern for Protestant observers. Father Balic, a chief drafter of the Marian chapter 8, tells us: "The protestants [observers at the Council] were waiting to see if there would be mention of Mary as Mediatrix or not. In case of an affirmative answer, the dialogue would be closed."-C. Balic, "El Capitulo VIII de la Constitucion 'Lumen gentium' comparado con el Primer Esquema de La B. Virgen Madre de la Iglesia" in Estudios Marianos 27 (1966), p. 174.
24 Vatican II, On the Church #59.
25 Ibid. #67.
26 Cf. W. Most, Vatican II, Marian Council, St. Paul Publications, Athlone (Ireland), 1972.