Having reflected on the spiritual journey of the soul from conversion right up to a mystical transubstantiation into the Immaculate, and having seen the crucial role of our Mother Coredemptrix throughout, it would be extremely negligent not to treat of that final destination of the journey which is Jesus Christ. To be perfectly conformed to Jesus Crucified, to be espoused to Him in a transforming union: this is the supreme summit of holiness that is attainable during this earthly pilgrimage. There is no spiritual height which surpasses Jesus Christ who is Himself “our sanctification” (I Cor. 1:30). Union with Him, by grace in this life and by glory in the next; this alone constitutes blessedness.
Obviously it is beyond the scope of this short essay to cover this exhaustively. For our purposes it shall be sufficient to show how perfect conformity to Christ Crucified and transforming union with Him is a work accomplished by, with and in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Coredemptrix. (1) Fr. Ragazzini sums it up well when he writes:
The ideal of every soul that strives for perfection is to reach the point of participating in the life of Jesus in the most intimate and full manner possible… Actualizing this program of life in individual souls is the specific task of Our Lady. It is her mission. It seems that she was created for this. And whatever has taken place in this sector is, without exception, her work; one could even say exclusively. (2)
He is confirming the teaching of St. Louis de Montfort: Ad Jesum per Mariam, to Jesus through Mary. De Montfort, in fact, claims that “the greatest good which Mary procures for her faithful clients is… to unite them to Him in a most intimate union…” (3) She operates in union with her Spouse, the Holy Spirit, to produce this union of love with Jesus Christ. Montfort also states that, “The strongest inclination of Mary is to unite us to Jesus Christ, her Son, and the strongest inclination of the Son is that we should come to Him through His holy Mother.” (4) It is Our Lady’s desire, therefore, to unite us to her Son and it is the Son’s desire that we be united to Him by way of Mary.
All of this having been established, we can now take a more in-depth look at the essential role which the maternal and coredemptive Heart of Mary plays in effecting perfect conformity to Christ Crucified (a conformity to which every Christian is called by virtue of his Baptism) and in effecting a mystical marriage or transforming union with Him (a union which all souls ought to desire and dispose themselves for).
According to the doctrine of St. Paul, we are predestined “to be made conformable to the image of His Son; that He might be the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Rom 8:29). Conformed to Jesus who is the Son of God and Son of Mary, the firstborn of many brothers: this is the intrinsic vocation of every Christian. But, as Fr. Fehlner clearly demonstrates, “The key to perfect conformity to the Crucified and to the repair of the Church is the mystery of Coredemption,” (5) this is so because “…her coredemptive suffering is the means of our being conformed to Christ Crucified…” (6) In a word, our conformity to the Crucified is effected by Marian Coredemption, and in particular by the maternal mediation of her transpierced Heart on Calvary. Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart merits and brings about our conformation to Jesus Christ. As Mother and Coredemptrix she, united with and subordinate to the Savior, redeems fallen humanity; her maternal and coredemptive Heart reopens the gates of Heaven, acquires redemptive grace, and applies it to souls so that they might be one in Him.
It is not surprising, then, when Ven. Fr. Allegra writes that in her Heart, “in this sanctuary of the Blessed Trinity, the soul is perfectly conformed to Christ, or better is transformed into Him.” (7) De Cruce similarly observes that the soul is “…perfectly conformed to Jesus, the Beloved, through a transformation of divine grace in the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” (8)
Among the countless examples that could be cited of this perfect conformity to Jesus Crucified in the depths of Mary’s maternal and coredemptive Heart, there is the Poverello of Assisi, the first person in the history of the Church to receive the stigmata. In this regard Fr. Fehlner asks the pointed question: “…what is that spirit so singularly Francis’ which can unfold even more marvelously in his children, if not the created Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mother into whom Francis was ‘transubstantiated’ to be the fruit of her coredemptive love for the Sacred Heart?” He responds that “only the immaculate, impeccable love of the Virgin Mother’s Heart transpierced can explain the mystery of that perfect inner conformity of the heart of the Poverello to the Crucified revealed in the miracle of the stigmatization; and why such ecstatic contemplation can be so apostolically effective.” (9) The explanation of the perfect conformation of St. Francis to Jesus on the Cross is none other than the “Virgin Mother’s Heart transpierced”; he is the “fruit of her coredemptive love.”
A more recent example of this is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. One set of authors writes: “At San Giovanni Rotondo the Mother of the Church willed to offer an exact copy of her Crucified Son in Padre Pio… Padre Pio is presented to us as a masterwork of Mary.” (10) Further on they maintain that “Padre Pio could not help but be the delight of Jesus and of Our Lady of Sorrows: he was totally transformed in the Crucified, with his heart passed through by the sorrows of Mary.” (11) This, in fact, was the life and spirituality of the stigmatist priest: perfect conformity to the Crucified Savior in union with the Mother of Sorrows. He himself once wrote: “May the Virgin of Sorrows obtain from her most Holy Son (the grace) to make us penetrate ever more into the mystery of the Cross and, along with her, to inebriate ourselves by means of the sufferings of Jesus…” (12) Love unto victimhood which penetrates ever more the mystery of the Cross and immerses itself into the sufferings of Jesus Christ: this is the fruit of Marian Coredemption in Padre Pio’s soul and is the goal of any authentic Christian spirituality.
While St. Paul speaks of “being made conformable to His death” so as to “attain to the resurrection” (Ph 3:10-11), he also speaks of a spousal union with Christ. He writes to the Church at Corinth: “For I have espoused you to one Husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor 11:2; cf. Eph 5:21ff.). It is a union which caused the Holy Apostle to exclaim: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels… nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). His was so profound a mystical union with the Crucified as to render him capable of saying: “with Christ I am nailed to the Cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:19-20).
We are dealing here with an infused, mystical union with Our Blessed Lord that has been called by the Doctors of the Church a transforming union or mystical marriage. St. John of the Cross, in fact, teaches that the “spiritual marriage… is a total transformation into the Beloved.” (13) “Regarding this mystical state of spiritual marriage,” writes Fr. Ragazzini, “it seems that” it is one of “Mary’s missions”; it is she who disposes “the soul for such a sublime transformation in God, since it is pleasing to God that the soul might be prepared by Mary and that everything (particularly this highest state) might be realized by her intervention…” (14) Although this mystical gift does not seem to be necessary for the salvation and sanctification of the soul (many Saints having reached the heights of holiness without such a mystical experience) nonetheless, it is certainly pleasing to God that a soul desire this spiritual intimacy with the Savior through the Heart of Mary.
Although this state of mystical union is always effected in souls by means of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, not all the Saints who received this infused gift of the Spirit were explicitly aware of her maternal mediation. Notwithstanding, she is ever the Mediatrix of all graces, graces which flow from the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the pure canal of her Heart. In order to verify this truth let us look at some experiences of St. Charles of Sezze and St. Veronica Giuliani who both explicitly experienced this divine union by means of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
St. Charles, in fact, narrates the grand moment in this fashion: “So my soul, with very great humility and peace, was about to celebrate the sumptuous espousals with its beloved Spouse, …a reality my soul had longed for and which had been obtained by the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin.” (15) We note that his soul longed for this reality and that it was obtained for him “by the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin.”
St. Veronica, on the other hand, frequently experienced these espousals and always in the presence and through the intercession of Our Blessed Lady. However, notice how for St. Veronica the experience is explicitly an espousal to Jesus Crucified and is effected by Our Lady of Sorrows. She recounts:
Mary Most Holy took me by the hand; she placed me at the feet of her Most Holy Son and… consigned me to Him as true spouse of the Crucified and Daughter of her, Our Lady of Sorrows… at the same time I heard the voice of Jesus which uttered these words: “Daughter and Professed of Mary of Sorrows.” Mary Most Holy said: “Spouse of Jesus Crucified.” (16)
Later on in her spiritual diary she clearly states that “Mary Most Holy… confirmed me as Spouse of the Crucified.” (17) These and many other (18) experiences of the mystical marriage by the Saint help us to concretely grasp the theological reality delineated by Fr. Fehlner:
No one, therefore, more than the Immaculate… has ever been drawn to love the Crucified so compassionately and love sinners so mercifully. And that is why transubstantiation into the Immaculate Coredemptrix conforms one so perfectly to the Crucified, why that constitutes perfect obedience, perfect loss of self so as to find and know oneself in Christ Jesus, why one lives no longer oneself, but Christ Jesus in such a person… (19)
In conclusion, therefore, we can see the absolute complementarity of Mariology and Mystical Theology from the doctrinal point of view, and the essential unity of Marian devotion and the life of prayer from the practical, spiritual point of view. Saints, mystics and theologians alike confirm that Our Blessed Lady is indispensable for growing in personal holiness. With great theological precision Bl. Columba Marmion writes:
No piety would be truly Christian if it did not include in its object the Mother of the Word Incarnate. Devotion towards the Virgin Mary is not only important, but necessary, if we wish to draw abundantly at the source of life. To separate Christ from His Mother in our piety is to divide Christ; it is to lose sight of the essential mission of His Sacred Humanity in the distribution of grace. Where the Mother is left out, the Son is no longer understood. (20)
Hence the need to bridge the gap between Marian doctrine and spiritual theology by developing a true synthesis of Marian asceticism and mysticism both in the study of scholastic theology and in the assiduous practice of the life of prayer. (21)
It is evident that the doctrine of the Immaculate Virgin Mary’s maternal mediation is not only important, but crucial for the sanctification of the individual soul and the Church as a whole. She is the Coredemptrix who, with and subordinate to her Divine Son, redeems the human race; she is the spiritual “Mother of all the living” (Gen 3:20). And as Our Blessed Mother in the order of grace, she not only conceives us in her womb and brings us forth in her coredemptive sorrow on Calvary, but she also continues to nourish Christ in our souls until we pass from this world to the next.
“The Coredemption of the Mother of Sorrows, understood and lived out with love and joy, is the vital and fruitful exchange between the Mother and her children…” writes Fr. Allegra:
Mary not only… generates the children of God… she also educates them, instructs them, leads them to the perfect age. The grace of conversion and progress in the spiritual life passes through her, the Mediatrix of grace. The grace of conformity to Christ, of being Christ-formed, is the work of the Holy Spirit, but it pleases me to call these graces with a single word: the grace of the Compassion! (22)
Marian Coredemption, then, is not a sterile hypothesis to be passed over in proper theology; it is rather doctrina catholica to be “understood and lived out with love and joy,” it is part of that true devotion to Jesus Christ and His Immaculate Mother which brings about the sanctification of souls; it is a “vital and fruitful exchange between the Mother and her children.” Popes and Saints alike, therefore, have not hesitated to proclaim and, more importantly, to incorporate into their lives the doctrine of the maternal mediation, especially in its culminating and coredemptive moment on Calvary.
Within Marian Coredemption, then, there is a complete program of personal sanctification from conversion to divine illumination, from active and passive purifications to acquired and infused contemplation, from imitating the Virgin Coredemptrix to a radical “transubstantiation” into her, all of which culminates in being transformed and united in the Savior. In a word, through, with, and in the maternal and coredemptive Heart of Mary we discover that “easy, quick, perfect and secure way to arrive at union with Our Lord,” to arrive at Christian perfection. (23) It is the path of perfect conformity to Jesus Crucified by way of, and in union with, the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary Coredemptrix.
Marian Coredemption needs to be not only understood, but to be shouted from the rooftops. There is a need for apostles who will courageously live and proclaim that the Immaculate Virgin Mary is our Mother and our Mediatrix, especially on Calvary where the maternal Mediatrix becomes our Coredemptrix by her active, direct, and immediate cooperation with and under her Son. Perhaps some will appeal that it is a difficult doctrine to grasp; yet, however difficult it may seem to be, it is an essential part of that simple truth that shall make us free (cf. Jn 8:32). In reality, it would be more difficult to understand an exclusion of the Immaculate from this unique participation in our Redemption than it is to understand the actual, loving plan of our heavenly Father who has willed that she repair the disobedience of Eve by her obedience (24) at the foot of the Cross where she, “by means of faith, participates in her Son’s death, in His redemptive death” (25) as Mother and “Coredemptrix of humanity.” (26)
Hence, as Fr. Fehlner keenly observes, “we can contemplate the final significance, the appropriateness, of the doctrine of the Coredemption: it is the means by which the entire Church, and each member, is perfectly conformed to the Savior, is ‘transubstantiated’ into Him as the victim for sin, as the glorious work of the Father, and so shares in the triumph of the Coredemptrix.” (27) We might say that its dogmatic definition is the key to the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (28) precisely because her Heart cannot triumph in souls or in the world until this mystery is acknowledged universally and incorporated into the spiritual life of each Christian and the Church as a whole. (29)
We conclude then with the wisdom and zeal of a child, of a shepherdess, who not only comprehended the doctrine of Mary’s maternal mediation, but lived it to the maximum and longed to see it diffused everywhere. We are speaking of Bl. Jacinta of Fatima who died a great saint at the age of nine. What she exclaimed to Lucia shortly before her death ought to find echo in our hearts as well. “Tell everyone,” she says, “that God grants us all His graces by means of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that we should ask these graces from her; that it is the will of the Heart of Jesus that the Immaculate Heart of Mary be venerated together with Him.” (30)
Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, F.I. is a member of the Franciscans of the Immaculate and author of several Mariological publications which include his recent book, In Pursuit of Immortal Souls. This article is the last in Fr. Maximilian’s series, Marian Coredemption and the Spiritual Life.
(1) Fr. Severino Ragazzini, O.F.M.Conv., lucidly notes that, “At this point some souls may have expected to see Our Lady disappear in order to give way entirely to Christ. What was at first, perhaps, to their surprise and then to their satisfaction in verifying that she never disappears, is, rather, that as the soul ascends she gradually takes an ever more primary position, more necessary than ever, to sustain and animate her children under the ever more powerful action of grace”; Maria Vita Dell’Anima, Frigento (AV), Italy, 1984, p. 356.
(2) Ibid., p. 355.
(3) St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, n. 211.
(4) Ibid., n. 75.
(5) Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., The Mystery of Coredemption According to the Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure, unpublished 1998 English edition, used with permission, p. 20; Il Mistero della Corredenzione secondo il Dottore Serifico San Bonaventura, in Maria Corredentrice: Storia e Teologia II, Frigento, Italy, 1999; Il Mistero della Corredenzione, work cited, pp. 42-43.
(6) Ibid., The Mystery of Coredemption, p.34; Il Mistero della Corredenzione, p. 66.
(7) Ven. Fr. Gabriel Mary Allegra, O.F.M., Il Cuore Immacolato di Maria, edition cited, p. 106.
(8) Friar M. M. De Cruce, F.I., In Pursuit of Souls: Meditations on the Role of Redemptive Suffering, Silence, and Prayer in the Missions, from the unpublished text, used with permission, P. III, s. III, Perfection, p. 47.
(9) Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., Virgo facta Ecclesia, New Bedford, MA, Academy of the Immaculate, 1997, p. 165.
(10) A. Negrisolo, N. Castello, S. M. Manelli, Padre Pio nella sua interiorità, Cinisello Balsamo, Italy, 1997, p. 28.
(11) Ibid., p. 60.
(12) St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Epistulario I, p. 602.
(13) St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, Stroph 22, n. 3.
(14) Fr. Severino Ragazzini, work cited, p. 513.
(15) St. Charles of Sezze, Trattato delle Tre Vie, II, XVI, 112.
(16) St. Veronica Giuliani, Diario, VII, Prato, FI, Italy, 1905-1927, p. 150.
(17) St. Veronica Giuliani, Diario, VII, edition cited, p. 256.
(18) Yet another telling episode in her Diario which precedes the two cited above is the following: Jesus and Mary placed a ring on St. Veronica’s finger and the mystical marriage of her soul with God was renewed. “The most Holy Virgin declared me Spouse of her Son Jesus and Jesus consigned me to my dear Mother. At the same time it seemed to me that I was made to see that ring and I saw it… a golden ring with a stone in the center which seemed to me a diamond. In the diamond there was sculpted a Heart pierced through by seven swords which signified the Heart of Our Lady of Sorrows.” St. Veronica Giuliani, Diario, VII, edition cited, pp. 36-40.
(19) Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., Virgo facta Ecclesia, edition cited, p.155.
(20) Bl. Columba Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul, P. II, C. XII, intro.; St. Louis, MO, 1925, p. 340.
(21) Fr. Severino Ragazzini notes that for souls who abandon themselves completely to her, without limits, “she is eager to display the abundance of means at her disposal to quickly lead her favorites through all the ascetical—mystical ascensions to the production of true and proper masterworks of sanctity and mystical contemplation”; work cited, p. 261.
(22) Ven. Fr. Gabriel Mary Allegra, Meditazione sull’Addolorata, 1952, in Archivio della Vice Postulazione.
(23) St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, True Devotion, n. 152.
(24) Cf. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haereses, 3, 22, 4.
(25) Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, March 25, 1987, n. 18.
(26) Pope John Paul II, Inseg. V/3 (1982) 404.
(27) Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., “Immaculata Mediatrix: Toward a Dogmatic Definition of the Coredemption,” in Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations II, Queenship Publishing Co., Santa Barbara, CA, 1997, p. 306, cf. also p. 328.
(28) Cf. Dr. Mark Miravalle, The Dogma and the Triumph, Queenship Publishing Co., Santa Barbara, CA, 1998.
(29) Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.I., writes: “(To)incorporate the mystery of the Immaculate Conception into the life of the Church and of believers means to live the mystery of the Coredemption in being conformed to Christ Crucified… Let us pray that the work of theologians in seeking to illumine the mystery of Coredemption for us and even more for the lives of contemporary saints will draw us not only to understand, but desire to live and live in fact the mystery of the Immaculate Coredemptrix as she is now present in our lives, in our penance, in our prayer, above all the Eucharistic prayer as the Mother of grace” (in The Sense of the Coredemption in St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus, in Mary at the Foot of the Cross, Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA, 2001, pp. 117,118); he also states in the concluding remarks of his study Toward a Dogmatic Definition of the Coredemption: “Surely, in a moment of the life of the Church especially chaotic and painful, the solemn definition of this great mystery would not only be a wondrous act of homage and thanks to the Savior, but a most beneficial source of renewal and order in the Church. For by defining those points left still undecided about the Virgin’s maternal mediation, the Immaculate will once again crush the head of the fomentor of heresy and rebellion in the Church. But more than that she will, through the incorporation of the mystery into the life of the Church, bring the Church to the perfection of holiness which the Savior expects in her at His second coming” (Immaculata Mediatrix, work cited, p. 329).
(30) From the Memoirs of Sr. Lucia, O.C.D., reported in Mother of Christ Crusade.