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 Redeemer in the womb: Jesus living in Mary

by John Saward

 Redeemer in the Womb book cover


It would be difficult for me, as a priest, to say over a piece of bread the words, "This is my body", over a cup of wine, "This is my blood", without feeling the presence of Mary. For me, the Sacrifice of the Mass is not only a spiritual and mysterious re-presentation of the crucifixion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus; it is similarly his conception in the womb of Mary and his Incarnation.

In the divine plan of salvation, Jesus was conceived and born of a woman. We have no way of truly knowing if it could have been otherwise, but since this is the way it was, it seems reasonable to ask if the Redeemer would have come at all had Mary refused the invitation to become his Mother.

What happened in Mary, of course, happened by the power of the Holy Spirit who "came" upon her. What happens in each Mass happens through the power of the Holy Spirit, the "coming" of the Holy Spirit upon the elements of bread and wine. Is Mary somehow present? Does the Holy Spirit continue to work through her? Could the crucifixion have taken place without the Incarnation, the Incarnation without the conception, any of these salvific acts except through Mary? The potential for theological reflection is fascinating. It is the kind of theological reflection that marks the provocative writing of John Saward in this book, Redeemer in the Womb.

It is a privilege for me periodically to conduct retreats on Mary, including special retreats for the Sisters of Life, a contemplative-apostolic community of women consecrated by vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and the protection of human life. I speak always of the intimacy between Mary and the Redeemer in her womb, as reflected in the visitation to Elizabeth. We are told that it was when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting that the baby in her own womb, John the Baptist, "leaped for joy" (Lk 1:41-44). Older theologians used to tell us that at that instant John the Baptist was purified of original sin. If so, could this be except by way of the presence of the unborn Jesus in Mary's womb, radiating his power into the womb of Elizabeth? Yet if the effect on John, whatever it was, came by way of the presence of Jesus, it was Mary's greeting - the word from her lips - that somehow seemed to Elizabeth to channel this effect on the infant in her own womb.

Such simple reflections on my part cannot begin to do justice to the thoughts revealed through Saward's text but are offered here simply to suggest the possibilities in exploring the nature of the relationship between Mary and the unborn infant Jesus. Unlike my own merely pious speculations, however, Saward combs the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and later writers, even the icons of various periods, for thoughts hitherto unknown to many, almost certainly, most readers. My thoughts on the intimacy between Mary and her unborn child will be enlarged in future retreats because of Saward's insights.

This is a most unusual study and a contribution to Mariology of exceptional interest. Even more, it should prove to be an extraordinarily rich guide for meditation. I can see myself pondering it for years to come.



This book was written in England, but finally prepared for publication in America. I have therefore transatlantic debts of thankfulness to repay.

The original suggestion that I should draw out the 'pro-life' implications of Catholic faith in the Incarnation was made several years ago by
Father Michael Kelly, parish priest of Shipley in Yorkshire, England. He knows already of my gratitude for that initial spur - I telephoned him the evening the manuscript was completed - but I am glad to take this opportunity to thank him in print.

The research for the book was pursued while I was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Ushaw College, Durham. I shall never lose my sense of privilege at being able to teach at the seminary that descends directly from the English College, Douai, and so includes among its alumni many of the martyrs of England and Wales.

I thank my former colleagues and students for all I received from them during the last twelve years. Finally, I want to express the great pleasure I feel at joining the faculty of St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia. To all those who have so warmly welcomed me into the 'City of Brotherly Love', especially Monsignor Daniel Murray and Monsignor Richard Malone, I say with all my heart, albeit in an unredeemably English accent, 'Thank You'.

John Saward

September 8, 1992
The Birthday of the
Blessed Virgin Mary
St Charles Borromeo Seminary

Chapter Headings

* Introduction: Jesus Living in Mary

* The Moment God Became man

* How Can the Ark of the Lord Come to Me? - The Gospels

* A Womb Wider Than Heaven: The Teaching of the Fathers

* Perfection from Conception: The Middle Ages

* First Step into the World: The Age of Baroque

* Christ in the Womb of the Heart

* Our Lady of the Sign: The Liturgy and Sacred Art

* The Witness of Three Women

* Revelation in the Womb

Published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993. Paper back, pp. 184.

Book Reviews

Reviews : Ignatius Press, Priests for Life, Fr Leonard, Miles Immaculatae

Family Resources Center review

Leonie Caldecott review

Homiletic & Pastoral Review/Marian Library

Book Review by Dom Bendict Hardy OSB

From Professor Mary Shivanandan to Mark Alder
Theology of the Unborn and the Womb
Date: Wed, 17 Dec 1997 10:00:10 EST

I wrote an article on "Mary and the Gift of Life" which begins: "Through the conception and gestation of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary, the wombs of all women were raised to a new diginity. Already the womb was a sacred place in Creation as the home of the new human person made in the image of God. Recall Eve's exclamation in Genesis 4:1, "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord." But the Incarnation raised it to an even greater dignity."

From Professor Mary Shivanandan to Mark Alder
Theology of the Unborn and the Womb
Date: 10th January 1998 15:55

Another theme occurred to me yesterday.

Recently my 6-year old grandchild asked me at the lunch table why I went to Mass every day. I responded spontaneously that I want to be closer to God and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus. I do not know whether he understood because no one at the table commented--his mother is not Catholic.

But there is an analogy between the mother nourishing the child in her womb with her body and blood and the Eucharist.

We need to highlight both the personhood of the unborn and the centrality of the womb itself and the relation with both mother and father. In my view there is a lot of disrespect for the sperm and the egg. Even in Catholic bioethics they are treated as of little value and only valuable when they unite in conception to form a new human person. Human sperm and egg are different from animal sperm and egg, although obviously not of the same order as the embryo. This is a rich field for exploration.

Version: 7th February 2003

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