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 Mary, Mother of God.

Our Lady’s Presence in the Mass in the Teaching of

Pope John Paul II


By Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins

Part 1

I.               Introduction


            The link between the celebration of the Eucharist and the commemoration of the Mother of God is one that is already found in the earliest Christian documents on the Eucharistic Liturgy and it is more than probable that the oral tradition antedates the written, with roots deriving from the era of the Apostles.[1]  The ancient practice is echoed in the sound instinct of the faithful that Mary cannot be separated from her Son, especially at the moment when his sacrifice is being renewed on the altar and is confirmed in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which explicitly states that

in celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, the holy Church venerates with special love the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, united by an inseparable bond with the saving work of her Son [In hoc annuo mysteriorum Christi circulo celebrando, Sancta Ecclesia Beatam Mariam Dei Genetricem cum peculiari amore veneratur, quæ indissolubili nexu cum Filii sui opere salutari coniungitur].[2]


In fact, this solemn statement reflects with accuracy the unique position accorded to Mary in the venerable Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) where she is commemorated in an altogether special way:  Communicantes, et memoriam venerantes, in primis gloriosæ semper Virginis Mariæ, Genetricis Dei et Domini nostri Iesu Christi.[3]

            To my knowledge, no Pope ever reflected upon and taught more authoritatively about the “inseparable bond” between Mary and the Eucharist than did Pope John Paul II.  While his crowning achievement in calling special attention to this bond is the sixth chapter of his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (§53-58) which he entitled “At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist’”, this was by no means his only contribution on this subject.  He gave regular and deliberate attention to this theme in the course of his long pontificate of over twenty-six years, even if this may have been more apparent from the time of the publication of Ecclesia de Eucharistia on 17 April 2003 until his death when he frequently referred to Mary as the “Woman of the Eucharist”.  In analyzing the many references hidden in numerous documents and addresses, I hope to draw out his magisterial teaching on Mary’s indissoluble link with the Eucharist and particularly her presence in the Mass, a teaching which he presented with consistency and conviction, a teaching which constitutes a precious patrimony for the entire Church.

II.            Mary’s Mediating Presence in the Mystery of Christ


            In §22 of his programmatic first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis of 4 March 1979 John Paul II had already sketched Mary’s presence in the mystery of the Redemption and in Christian life in broad strokes which were at the same time pregnant with meaning to be further developed, effectively insisting that her mediation is absolutely unique and that consequently she “must be on all the ways of the Church’s daily life”:


For if we feel a special need, in this difficult and responsible phase of the history of the Church and of mankind, to turn to Christ, who is Lord of the Church and Lord of man’s history on account of the mystery of the Redemption, we believe that nobody else can bring us as Mary can into the divine and human dimension of this mystery.  Nobody has been brought into it by God himself as Mary has.  It is in this that the exceptional character of the grace of the divine Motherhood consists.  Not only is the dignity of this Motherhood unique and unrepeatable in the history of the human race, but Mary’s participation, due to this Maternity, in God’s plan for man’s salvation through the mystery of the Redemption is also unique in profundity and range of action. [Nemo ut Maria eo introductus est ab ipso Deo.  In hoc quippe singularis indoles gratiæ maternitatis divinæ consistit.  Non solum est unica minimeque iterabilis huius maternitatis dignitas in humani generis historia, sed unica etiam – quod attinet ad eius profunditatem et ad amplitudinem eius actionis – participatio est, qua Maria, propter eandem maternitatem, consilio divino de salute humana communicavit per mysterium Redemptionis] …

  The special characteristic of the motherly love that the Mother of God inserts in the mystery of the Redemption and the life of the Church finds expression in its exceptional closeness to man and all that happens to him.  It is in this that the mystery of the Mother consists.  The Church, which looks to her with altogether special love and hope, wishes to make this mystery her own in an ever deeper manner.  For in this the Church also recognizes the way for her daily life, which is each person.

  The Father’s eternal love, which has been manifested in the history of mankind through the Son whom the Father gave, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”, comes close to each of us through this Mother and thus takes on tokens that are of more easy understanding and access by each person.  Consequently, Mary must be on all the ways for the Church’s daily life.  Through her maternal presence the Church acquires certainty that she is truly living the life of her Master and Lord and that she is living the mystery of the Redemption in all its life-giving profundity and fullness [Æternus Patris amor, qui in historia humani generis per Filium est manifestatus, quem Pater dedit, «ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam», nobis offertur per hanc Matrem atque hoc modo signa accipit ad intellegendum accommodatiora et faciliora ciuque homini.  Ita fit, ut Maria in omnibus viis contidianæ vitæ Ecclesiæ versetur oporteat.  Eo quod ut Mater præsens adest, Ecclesia certum habet se reapse vitam vivere Magistri sui et Domini, se e mysterio vivere Redemptionis cum tota eius vivificatoria plenitudine].[4]


While the Pope does not speak explicitly here of Mary’s relationship to the Sacraments and to the Eucharist, he lays a solid foundation for understanding it which I would summarize in the following points.  (1) In accord with the great tradition, he emphasizes the uniqueness of Our Lady’s divine maternity and her participation in the mystery of the Redemption.  (2) He declares that the eternal love of the Father, manifested through the Son, comes close to us through the Mother.  He presents it as axiomatic that “no one can bring us into the divine and human mystery of the Redemption as Mary can” precisely because “nobody has been brought into it by God himself as Mary has”.  Although he would draw out the nature of this maternal mediation and its mode of operation at much greater length in the third part of his Marian Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (§38-47) and in many other places[5], the foundation already appears here:  “Mary’s participation … in God’s plan for man’s salvation … is … unique in profundity and range of action”.  (3) Thus he concludes that Mary must be on all the ways of the Church’s daily life.

            In §9 of his next Encyclical, Dives in Misericordia of 30 November 1980, the Pope presented Mary as the Mother of Mercy, underscoring that she was uniquely called to bring people close to the mystery of mercy:

Mary is also the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has.  At the same time, still in an exceptional way, she made possible with the sacrifice of her heart her own sharing in revealing God’s mercy.  This sacrifice is intimately linked with the cross of her Son, at the foot of which she was to stand on Calvary.  Her sacrifice is a unique sharing in the revelation of mercy, that is, a sharing in the absolute fidelity of God to His own love, to the covenant that He willed from eternity and that He entered into in time with man, with the people, with humanity; it is a sharing in that revelation that was definitively fulfilled through the cross.  No one has experienced, to the same degree as the Mother of the crucified One, the mystery of the cross, the overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that “kiss” given by mercy to justice.  No one has received into his heart, as much as Mary did, that mystery, that truly divine dimension of the redemption effected on Calvary by means of the death of the Son, together with the sacrifice of her maternal heart, together with her definitive “fiat” [Maria insuper est, quæ singulari prorsus extraordinarioque pacto – sicut alius nemo – misericordiam cognovit et eodem tempore item eximio perquam modo consecuta est cordis sui sacrificio, ut propria evenire posset participatio sua ipsius revelationis divinæ misericordiæ.  Quod sacrificium proxime cohæret cum eius Filii cruce, sub qua etiam ille in Calvariæ loco adstitit.  Ipsius proinde sacrificium hoc peculiaris omnino communicatio est in patefacienda misericordia; nempe communicatio est absolutæ Dei fidelitatis erga proprium amorem ad fœdus, quod inde ab ævo sempiterno voluit quodque in tempore pepigit cum homine, cum populo, cum genere humano; participatio est revelationis illius, quæ semel est in æternum per crucem transacta.  Similis Mariæ, Crucifixi Matris, nemo mysterium crucis est expertus, hoc est iustitiæ transcendentis divinæ cum amore consternantem congressionem:  «osculum» illud iustitiæ impertitum a misericordia.  Similis Mariæ hoc mysterium animo nemo suscepit:  eam rationem vere divinam redemptionis, quæ per Filii mortem in Calvariæ monte acta est una cum materni cordis eius sacrificio et cum decretoria ipsius «fiat»].

  Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy.  She knows its price, she knows how great it is [Ergo Maria ea quidem est quæ divinæ misericordiæ interius percipit mysterium; cuius præterea novit pretium intellegitque ipsum quam sit magnificum].  In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy:  Our Lady of mercy, or Mother of divine mercy; in each one of these titles there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every individual and of the whole of humanity, that mercy of which “from generation to generation” people become sharers according to the eternal design of the most Holy Trinity.

  The above titles which we attribute to the Mother of God speak of her principally, however, as the Mother of the crucified and risen One; as the One who, having obtained mercy in an exceptional way, in an equally exceptional way “merits” that mercy throughout her earthly life and, particularly, at the foot of the cross of her Son; and finally as the one who, through her hidden and at the same time incomparable sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, was called in a special way to bring close to people that love which He had come to reveal [de illa nempe, quæ more extraordinario misericordiam experta «meretur» æquabili modo talem misericordiam progrediente omni sua vita terrestri ac præsertim infra Filii crucem; ac de ea tandem, quæ absconditam incomparabilemque simul per communionem messianici Filii sui muneris destinata peculiari ratione est ad hominibus illum apportandum amorem, quem ipse revelatum venerat].[6]


With a few bold strokes the Pope sketches once again the mystery of Mary and her unique role in the work of our redemption.  (1) He begins by stating that she “obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has”, thus alluding to the preservative redemption of her Immaculate Conception.  (2)  Then he states that “the sacrifice of her heart” … “is a unique sharing in the revelation of mercy”, thus alluding to her intimate union with Jesus in the offering of his perfect sacrifice on Calvary.[7]  (3)  “No one” he insists “has experienced, to the same degree as the Mother of the crucified One, the mystery of the cross,” hence “she knows its price”.[8]  (4) “Having obtained mercy in an exceptional way, in an equally exceptional way” the Mother of mercy “‘merits’ [«meretur»] that mercy throughout her earthly life and, particularly, at the foot of the cross of her Son.”[9]  (5)  Thus Mary “was called in a special way” to bring to people that love which Jesus “had come to reveal”.[10]

III.  The Profound Link between the Eucharist and Mary

            Since “no one can bring us into the divine and human mystery of the Redemption as Mary can” because of her own unique participation in that mystery, then she must be involved par excellence in the privileged moment when the Church draws her life from the Eucharist. In fact, in §44 of his Marian Encyclical Redemptoris Mater of 25 March 1987 John Paul II provided an important confirmation of the fundamental link between Mary and the Eucharist:

Her motherhood is particularly noted and experienced by the Christian people at the Sacred Banquet – the liturgical celebration of the mystery of the Redemption – at which Christ, his true body born of the Virgin Mary, becomes present.

  The piety of the Christian people has always very rightly sensed a profound link between devotion to the Blessed Virgin and worship of the Eucharist [Merito ergo populus christianus pro pietate sua semper arctum nexum inter devotionis officia erga Beatam Mariam Virginem et cultum eucharisticum conspexit]:  this is a fact that can be seen in the liturgy of both the West and the East, in the traditions of the Religious Families, in the modern movements of spirituality, including those for youth, and in the pastoral practice of the Marian Shrines. Mary guides the faithful to the Eucharist [Maria fideles ad Eucharistiam deducit].[11]


Here the Pope does not so much analyze this “profound link” as simply call our attention to it as a fundamental datum, a “given” of the Catholic tradition which he had already commented upon in Redemptor Hominis and Dives in Misericordia. He summarizes it thus:  “Mary guides the faithful to the Eucharist”.

            In his homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on 2 June 1988 he cited the Second Vatican Council’s teaching in Lumen Gentium §58 on Mary’s presence on Calvary and then stated

The reality of the Sacrifice – res Sacramenti – and the Mother’s Heart pierced with the sword of sorrow under the Cross!  The Church has always seen this profound link and has wanted the Mother of God near her on the ways of her Eucharistic pilgrimage through faith.  This faith unites each of us with Christ and takes us into the very centre of his redemptive love.  Who is closer to this center, who is more united with the Redeemer, if not the Mother, the Heart of the Mother?[12]

Here he resorts to the symbolic language of the heart, which he had amply developed in other places[13], in order to emphasize “this profound link” which the Church has always recognized between Mary and the Eucharist.  Finally, in his last Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, dated 13 March 2005 from Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic, he stated once again that:

The relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist is a very close one, as I pointed out in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (cf. nn. 53-58).  In its own sober liturgical language, every Eucharistic Prayer brings this out. Thus in the Roman Canon we say: “In union with the whole Church we honour Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God”.  In the other Eucharistic Prayers, honour leads to petition, as for example in Prayer II:  “Make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary, the virgin Mother of God.”[14]


IV.  Caro Christi, Caro Mariæ


            The unique bond between Mary and the Eucharist was further specified by the Pope, in an Angelus address which he gave in Seville, Spain on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1993:

Ave verum corpus natum ex Maria Virgine!

  At this hour of the Angelus, when the People of God recall the annunciation to the Virgin Mary of the mystery of the incarnation, the Church’s faith and piety are centred today on Christ, Son of the Virgin Mary, Light of the nations, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist offered to the Father as the glorious victim of reconciliation in the sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant and given to us as the Bread of Life.

  St. John wished to combine in his Gospel the revelation of the Eucharistic mystery and a mention of the incarnation.  Jesus is the living Bread come down from heaven for the life of the world (cf. Jn. 6:51).  The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.  This leads us to the annunciation, when the Angel of the Lord told Mary the great news and by her free and loving consent, she conceived the Word in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  Thus there is a very close bond between the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary, which medieval piety summarized in the expression “caro Christi, caro Mariæ”:  the flesh of Christ in the Eucharist is sacramentally the flesh he assumed from the Virgin Mary.  Therefore, I wanted to emphasize in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater that “Mary guides the faithful to the Eucharist” (n. 44).[15]


By the very use of the Latin citations the Holy Father indicates that he is recapitulating here an insight on the bond between the Eucharist and Mary which has been a part of the Church’s patrimony of faith from its earliest days.  Ave verum corpus natum ex Maria Virgine! [16] Hail, true Body born of the Virgin Mary!  Caro Christi, caro Mariæ.[17]  The flesh of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist is truly the flesh which he received from Mary.[18]  Thus the Holy Father reasons in Ecclesia de Eucharistia §55:

In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word. The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood.

  As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” (Lk. 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.[19]


            In an even more evocative and poetic way, the Holy Father drew out the implications of this reality in a marvelous Angelus address which he gave on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 5 June 1983 and which I consider a real gem of Eucharistic-Marian spirituality:

Ave, verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine”!

  Hail, true Body born of the Virgin Mary!

  On the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, our grateful thanks is raised to the Father, who has given us the Divine Word, the living Bread come down from heaven, and our thanks is joyfully raised to the Virgin, who offered the Lord his innocent Flesh and his precious Blood which we receive at the altar.  “Ave, verum Corpus”:  true Body, truly conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit, borne in the womb with ineffable love (Preface II of Advent), born for us of the Virgin Mary:  “natum de Maria Virgine”.

  That divine Body and Blood, which after the consecration is present on the altar, is offered to the Father, and becomes Communion of love for everyone, by consolidating us in the unity of the Spirit in order to found the Church, preserves its maternal origin from Mary.  She prepared that Body and Blood before offering them to the Word as a gift from the whole human family that he might be clothed in them in becoming our Redeemer, High Priest and Victim.

  At the root of the Eucharist, therefore, there is the virginal and maternal life of Mary, her overflowing experience of God, her journey of faith and love, which through the work of the Holy Spirit made her flesh a temple and her heart an altar:  because she conceived not according to nature, but through faith, with a free and conscious act:  an act of obedience.  And if the Body that we eat and the Blood that we drink is the inestimable gift of the Risen Lord, to us travellers, it still has in itself, as fragrant Bread, the taste and aroma of the Virgin Mother.[20]


            In the passage of this Angelus address just cited, the emphasis is clearly on Mary’s collaboration in the Incarnation.  The Pope points out that just as we should thank the Father for the gift of the Divine Word, the living Bread come down from heaven, so also we should thank the Virgin “who offered the Lord his innocent Flesh and his precious Blood which we receive at the altar”.  He then reinforces this reason for our gratitude to Mary by stating that the Body and Blood of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist “preserves its maternal origin from Mary”.  By taking on our human nature from her, the Holy Father points out, Jesus became the perfect Mediator between God and man and therefore our High Priest as well as the perfect victim.  This is another datum profoundly imbedded in the great tradition.[21]  Indeed, in the concrete, the Incarnation can never be separated from its goal, the Redemption.  By virtue of supplying the matter for the sacrifice, Mary is already related to the Redemption, a concept beautifully developed in St. Pius X’s great Marian Encyclical Ad Diem Illum.[22]

            What I believe to be a particularly evocative contribution to the discourse on the link between Mary and the Eucharist made by John Paul II is the graceful assertion that “At the root of the Eucharist, therefore, there is the virginal and maternal life of Mary” [Alla radice dell’Eucaristia c’è dunque la vita verginale e materna di Maria] and that, thus, as the food for pilgrims, the Eucharist “still has in itself, as fragrant Bread, the taste and aroma of the Virgin Mother” [esso porta ancora in sé, come Pane fragrante, il sapore e il profumo della Vergine Madre].

V.  Mary’s Involvement in the Offering of the Sacrifice of the Cross

            What we have been considering up to now has served as prelude to another profound truth of faith.  Let us now return to the next section of that truly remarkable Angelus address of Corpus Christi 1983:

Vere passum, immolatum in Cruce pro homine”.  That Body truly suffered and was immolated on the Cross for man.

  Born of the Virgin to be a pure, holy and immaculate oblation, Christ offered on the Cross the one perfect Sacrifice which every Mass, in an unbloody manner, renews and makes present.  In that one Sacrifice, Mary, the first redeemed, the Mother of the Church, had an active part.  She stood near the Crucified, suffering deeply with her Firstborn; with a motherly heart she associated herself with his Sacrifice; with love she consented to his immolation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 58; Marialis Cultus, 20):  she offered him and she offered herself to the Father.[23]


In an eminently succinct way and with absolute theological precision John Paul II at once restated very clearly the truth of Mary’s active participation in the work of our redemption as presented in Lumen Gentium §56-58 and 61 and the papal magisterium while also advancing his own unparalleled teaching on Mary’s presence in the Mass.  Let us analyze the components of this very synthetic presentation.

            1.  The Pope summarizes even more incisively what he had already said above:  Jesus was “born of the Virgin to be a pure, holy and immaculate oblation” [Nato dalla Vergine per essere oblazione pura, santa e immacolata].  Not only does this statement imply the salvific purpose of the Incarnation, but it also implies Mary’s Immaculate Conception and, more remotely, the virginal conception and the virginal birth of Christ – all of this so that Christ could be for us the pure victim, the holy victim, the immaculate victim [hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam] as he is correctly described in the orginal Latin of the Roman Canon, poorly rendered in the present English translation as “this holy and perfect sacrifice”.

            2.  Next, with explicit reference to the teaching on Marian coredemption in Lumen Gentium §58 and in Paul VI’s Marialis Cultus §20, he declares that Mary offered Christ

to the Father [lo offrì … al Padre].  While the principal and primary offering to the Father was that made by Christ himself, the Church’s magisterium is also very clear that Mary also offered him to the Father:  the “New Eve” consciously and deliberately offered the “New Adam” to the Father for the redemption of the world.  Here are two instances of this teaching by previous Popes.

            Pope Benedict XV, in his Letter Inter Sodalicia of 22 May 1918, speaking of Our Lady’s presence on Calvary (Jn. 19:25-27) which he says was “not without divine design”[24] stated that

            Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother’s rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind [Scilicet ita cum Filio patiente et moriente passa est et pæne commortua, sic materna in Filium jura pro hominum salute abdicavit placandæque Dei justitiæ, quantum ad se pertinebat, Filium immolavit, ut dici merito queat, Ipsam cum Christo humanum genus redemisse].[25]


Lest anyone think that Benedict is speaking here in hyperbolic idiom, let it be noted that his language is carefully measured.  He says that Mary “offered her Son to placate divine justice to the extent that it pertained to her to do so” – quantum ad se pertinebat.  Hence her offering, while it is not on the same level as that of her divine Son, is nonetheless united with that of Jesus.

            The Servant of God Pius XII also gave this teaching classic expression in his Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis of 29 June 1943:

            She [Mary] it was who, immune from all sin, personal or inherited, and ever most closely united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and motherly love, like a new Eve, for all the children of Adam contaminated through this unhappy fall ... [Ipsa fuit, quæ vel propriæ, vel hereditariæ labis expers, arctissime semper cum Filio suo coniuncta, eundem in Golgotha, una cum maternorum iurium maternique amoris sui holocausto, nova veluti Eva, pro omnibus Adæ filiis, miserando eius lapsu foedatis, Æterno Patri obtulit].[26]


            I would like to summarize what I have just presented with the marvelously concise comments which Pope John Paul II made on Saint Joseph’s Day in 1995 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Castelpetroso:

            Dear brothers and sisters, may you also offer the Lord your daily joys and labors in communion with Christ and through the intercession of his Mother venerated here as she offers to the Father the Son who sacrificed himself for our salvation [Carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle, sappiate anche voi offrire al Signore le gioie e le fatiche quotidiane, in communione con Cristo e per intercessione della Madre sua, qui venerata mentre presenta al Padre il Figlio immolato per la nostra salvezza].[27]


Note here the Pope’s theological precision:  he speaks of Mary offering the Son to the Father, but further qualifies the Son as he “who sacrificed himself for our salvation”.  Mary’s offering of Christ always implies first his own offering of himself.

            3.  Now let us consider the next part of the assertion which John Paul II made in the Angelus address of 5 June 1983, namely that “Mary offered herself to the Father” [si offrì al Padre].  We might say that this, too, is contained implicitly in Mary’s fiat spoken on the momentous day of the Annunciation.  The “yes” which came from her heart on Golgotha in offering her Son to the Father to satisfy for the sins of the world cannot really be separated from her total abandonment to the Father’s will which is the offering of herself.  Indeed, it is necessary to distinguish between Mary’s offering of her Son and her offering of herself to the Father – and this distinction is certainly made by the magisterium because it involves the offering of two distinct persons, one divine and one human.  Nonetheless, these two offerings, while not on the same level, were simultaneous and united.

            We have already weighed the famous text of Benedict XV’s Inter Sodalicia from the viewpoint of Mary’s offering of Christ, now let us examine that text from the perspective of Mary’s self-offering and of her “paying the price of mankind’s redemption” along with Christ.

            Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother’s rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind [Scilicet ita cum Filio patiente et moriente passa est et pæne commortua, sic materna in Filium jura pro hominum salute abdicavit placandæque Dei justitiæ, quantum ad se pertinebat, Filium immolavit, ut dici merito queat, Ipsam cum Christo humanum genus redemisse].[28]


It should be noted that this statement takes nothing away from the fact that Jesus’ merits were all-sufficient or that Mary, as a human creature, could never make an offering that would equal that of her divine Son.  Rather what Benedict XV does is to underscore Mary’s active participation by her own suffering in the redemption wrought on Calvary.  As if by way of commentary, two years later, in his homily at the canonization of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, he said that “the sufferings of Jesus cannot be separated from the sorrows of Mary”.[29]  True, they can be logically distinguished, yet they are indissolubly united.

            The union of Jesus’ and Mary’s sufferings for our salvation is brought out beautifully by the Servant of God Pius XII in his great Sacred Heart Encyclical of 15 May 1956, Haurietis Aquas:

            By the will of God, the most Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably joined with Christ in accomplishing the work of man’s redemption, so that our salvation flows from the love of Jesus Christ and His sufferings intimately united with the love and sorrows of His Mother [Cum enim ex Dei voluntate in humanæ Redemptionis peragendo opere Beatissima Virgo Maria cum Christo fuerit indivulse coniuncta, adeo ut ex Iesu Christi caritate eiusque cruciatibus cum amore doloribusque ipsius Matris intime consociatis sit nostra salus profecta].[30]


In this classic passage every word is carefully weighed and measured in order to make a declaration on the redemption and Mary’s role in it which remains a classic for its clarity and precision.  Pius professes that “our salvation flows from the love of Jesus Christ and His sufferings” [ex Iesu Christi caritate eiusque cruciatibus] which is “intimately united with the love and sorrows of His Mother” [cum amore doloribusque ipsius Matris intime consociatis].  The Latin preposition ex indicates Jesus as the source of our redemption while three other Latin words, cum and intime consociatis indicate Mary’s inseparability from the source.  Finally, let us note Pius’ insistence on the fact that this union of Jesus with Mary for our salvation has been ordained “by the will of God” [ex Dei voluntate].

            While it would be possible to quote numerous other texts from the papal magisterium in support of Mary’s sacrifice of herself in union with Jesus for our salvation, I wish to cite just one more, which comes from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris of 11 February 1984 and which can also serve as a marvelous recapitulation of his magisterium and that of his predecessors on this point:

            It is especially consoling to note – and also accurate in accordance with the Gospel and history – that at the side of Christ, in the first and most exalted place, there is always His Mother through the exemplary testimony that she bears by her whole life to this particular Gospel of suffering.  In her, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakable faith but also a contribution to the Redemption of all. ... It was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world.  Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the cross together with the beloved disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son [Est imprimis solacii causa – res sane Evangelio et historia comprobata – quod iuxta Christum, loco primario et probe significato, sancta eius Mater semper adest ad dandum egregium testimonium, quod tota vita sua de hoc singulari doloris perhibet.  Permultæ et vehementes passiones confluxerunt in talem nexum et colligationem, ut non solum fidem eius inconcussam comprobarent, verum etiam ad redemptionem omnium conferrunt … dolores Beatæ Mariæ Virginis in Calvariæ loco ad fastigium pervenerunt, cuius altitudo mente humana vix fingi quidem potest, sed certe arcana fuit et supernaturali ratione fecunda pro universali redemptione.  Ascensus ille in Calvariæ locum, illud «stare» iuxta Crucem una cum discipulo præ ceteris dilecto, communicatio prorsus peculiaris fuerunt mortis redemptricis Filii].[31]


            Another citation from Salvifici Doloris may help to provide further context for the truths which underlie this mystery of Mary’s coredemptive suffering:

The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s Redemption.  This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite.  No man can add anything to it [Christi passio bonum redemptionis mundi effecit, quod quidem in se ipso inexhaustum est et infinitum neque ei quidquam ab ullo homine addi potest].[32]


But at the same time “Mary’s suffering [on Calvary], beside the suffering of Jesus ... was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world.”  Thus the Pope strikes that careful balance which is always a hallmark of Catholic truth:  he upholds the principle that the sufferings of Christ were all-sufficient for the salvation of the world, while maintaining that Mary’s sacrifice was nonetheless “a contribution to the Redemption of all”.

Part 2

Copyright ©; Msgr Arthur Calkins 2017

This Version: 7th June 2017

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