By Mark Miravalle
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, MARCH 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
“The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.”
These words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux bespeak the historical, global, and eternal significance of the response of a 15-year-old virgin for the salvation of the entire world. The price of our salvation is indeed offered to her, and her “yes” will set us free, because it will set the Redeemer free.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that Mary’s fiat is a “yes” which is uttered in the name of humanity in general: a willingness of human beings to use their free will to cooperate with God in the saving of souls, beginning with our own.
From the ancient Church of the second century, St. Irenaeus tells us that the obedient Virgin of Nazareth becomes the “cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.” A contemporary version of the same truth is found in the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “Of course Mary is the co-redemptrix. She gave Jesus his body, and the offering of his body is what saved us.” The Letter to the Hebrews confirms both the early Apostolic Father and the modern Apostle to the Poor: “We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). From whom does Jesus receive his body, the instrument of his redemption?
Any erroneous idea that Mary was simply a “physical channel” and not a free, moral cooperator in this event of salvation does harm to the authentic revelation and image of an infinitely loving Father, a God who does not use people or their bodies against their will. Mary was a free, personal, and feminine cooperator in God’s plan of salvation. It was not a Pope, nor a bishop, nor a priest, nor a layman who joined the New Adam in redeeming the world by her fiat and consequent lifetime of fiats. It was a woman who became a mother. This was neither an accident nor accidental to divine providence. It was God’s perfect will to grace the human race with a new “Eva” or mother of the living.
The Immaculate Virgin’s fiat was indeed a lifetime yes to cooperating with Jesus in the Father’s mission of Redemption. Gabriel does not re-appear at Calvary, offering the same Virgin a second invitation of being spared from the climax of the cross of her vocation, which was to share in the horrific immolation and redeeming death of the victim born of her (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 58). Mary’s yes to the greatest human suffering along with her Son was already given some 33 years earlier.
Is this not the same for many of us, who have given our “fiats” to a priestly vocation, to perpetual vows of religious life, to an indissoluble bond of matrimony many years ago? When “personally historic” parish conflicts, community divisions, or dark nights of marriage enter our lives, we should not expect (and in fact must be most wary) of any apparent “second option” which might appear to spare us the great suffering that always comes with a lifetime vocation of working intimately with the Redeemer.
Jesus always abundantly blesses and sustains those who work and suffer intimately with him. He does so most of all by his accentuated presence for those who give him more time in prayer during times of great vocational trial, especially during times of Eucharistic adoration, where we can all directly experience the fruit of Mary’s yes in the Incarnate Jesus present in the Eucharist. As we strive to persevere with Christian faith and hope in our lifetime vocations, Jesus floods the soul with daily graces and eternal merits far beyond our needs and our imaginings to remain steadfast in our life vocations.
And he did nothing less in daily grace and eternal merit for his mother in her lifetime vocation as the co-redemptrix with him.
“Is the Annunciation a ‘Jesus’ feast or a ‘Mary’ feast?” This well-intentioned question recently posed by a caller on a live radio program nonetheless reflects a false dichotomy. Perhaps the more compelling question is how could either Jesus or Mary be left out of this solemnity?
John Paul II reminds us in “Redemptoris Mater” that there are two inseparable Christian mysteries: the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, and the Divine Motherhood of Mary. St. John Eudes confirms that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are so completely united in love, will, and purpose that one could rightly speak of “one single heart” between the two. St. Bridget of Sweden records the following words of Jesus in her Church approved and lauded Revelations: “My Mother and I saved man as with one heart only, I by suffering in My Heart and my flesh; she by the sorrow and love of her heart.”
Jesus, uncreated grace and source of all grace; Mary, the mysterious mediatrix. The sublime Annunciation solemnity must celebrate both, as these two lovers of humanity cooperate like none other in bringing saving graces to a world of sinners, of whom we all are all members.
Benedict XVI reflects this essential Catholic doctrine in his most recent March 21, 2010 Sunday Angelus: “Dear friends, let us learn from the Lord Jesus not to judge and not to condemn our neighbor. Let us learn to be intransigent with sin — beginning with our own! — and indulgent with people. May we be helped in this by the Holy Mother of God, who, free of every fault, is the mediatrix of grace for every contrite sinner.”
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Mark Miravalle is a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Author of more than a dozen books on Mariology, and editor of “Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons,” he wrote “The Seven Sorrows of China” in 2007. He is married and has eight children.