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Exploring the Sacramental Dimension of a Fifth Marian Dogma

Updated: May 30, 2020

For a moment let us consider the first temptation Jesus faced after His baptism. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that it was over bread. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and forty nights and, therefore, He was hungry. We can easily picture the scene. The stifling hot desert air, Jesus emaciated and pale, the Tempter whispering, “Go ahead, do it,” while arousing Jesus’ senses even further by faking the aroma of freshly baked bread. Suddenly the stones do seem to be round loaves! Jesus rubs His eyes at the false vision and resolutely utters His rebuke, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (1).

What is going on here is more than meets the eye. The devil is not only suggesting that Jesus satisfy His hunger, but that He should do so in a manner contrary to His creative power. Think about it. Do you ever pop a rock into your mouth, chew on it a bit, and swallow? Of course not, rocks are inedible substances! So to affect the sort of change Satan is proposing—hard stone into soft bread—nothing of the stone can contribute to the inner meaning of the bread, which is food, nourishment. The stone has to totally give way to the bread and hence be annihilated in the process. We might respond, “Who cares?

Look, it’s only a rock,” but Jesus cares. As God, He has assigned a “place”, or nature, to everything He has created. Even a lowly rock has its special niche in the universe: unchanging and solid, it stands for “strength,” “durability,” “reliability.” As such it is even used as a metaphor for God: “I love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge” (Ps 18:1-2).

In this temptation, then, we get a glimpse into Satan’s warped way of thinking. You can almost hear him muttering to himself: “Who does this over-pious Jew think he is? Another annoying prophet like Moses, who also fasted for forty days and forty nights? How obnoxious! Let us put him to the test.” (2). Very cunningly, the devil laces his poisonous attack with the obvious and legitimate need of Jesus’ body for food: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3). The strategic error in such a move seems lost on Satan. If Jesus is merely a man, He is powerless to do what Satan has proposed. On the other hand, if Jesus is truly “the Son of God,” His creative power is unlimited. He can bring forth bread without the aid of any pre-existing material, so why would the cheap thrill of annihilating a stone appeal to Him? But Satan is not worried about such minor details. The point of this temptation—or any temptation, such as the two which follow—is not that Jesus should enjoy a nice meal, or win the adulation of the crowd, or adopt a cozy lifestyle for Himself as Lord of this world, but that, in one way or another, Satan should get what he feasts on: that cheap thrill of destroying something good and beautiful, here not a trifling rock, but the precious sanctifying grace inundating the soul of Jesus. Satan wants Jesus to commit a sin, a mortal sin. Why? So he can exult once again that he, Satan, is “like” God, hence “the Son of God.”

If this latter statement sounds jarring to our Christian ears, it should! But remember, Satan is no Christian, but a murderous liar (Cf. Jn 8:44). As a demon he believes in God, but it avails him nothing as he “shudders” before the face of God’s omnipotent power (Jas 2:19). Though he may accept the fact that a “son” is like his “father,” soon lust for power takes over: if the Father—here God, Master of the universe—is omnipotent and absolutely free, then the Son of God, likewise, is omnipotent and absolutely free. But if the Son is to be truly “absolutely free”, then He needs to be independent of the Father, independent of any constraints, such as a Truth which imparts meaning and order in the universe. Therefore, Sonship is not proved by living in intimate union with the Father, drawing one’s life from the Him, but by asserting oneself against and above the Father, who is viewed as a rival for power and freedom. If the Father creates, that is brings forth something good, let the Son of God prove Himself by “uncreating”, or destroying that good. And if that corrupted good can be in another person who accepts his lies, all the better! For then he, Satan, will have his own “son” breathing forth his “spirit” of rebellion, making him an even better rival of the God he so hates. What a perverted sense of divine filiation! “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! … You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High’” (Is 14:12-14).

Now we can grasp the deeper significance of Jesus’ rebuke. He, as the Incarnate Word, is rejecting a chaotic world view centered on an extreme egotism and opening for us the path to true likeness to God: faith. It is by taking in the Word of God, “chewing” on it, freely adhering to the truth it reveals, that one comes to life—an abundant life, eternal life. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the gift of the Eucharist. God’s Word is spoken—and through a miracle, and not some kind of magic trick—one substance is fully changed into another. The bread is “sacrificed”, yet does not lose its inner meaning and hence the “accidents” are left in place for our senses to see, touch and taste. It does not become less of a food, but a far more exalted kind of “bread”: the Sacred Body of Christ! It is not annihilated, but ennobled to the highest! And so all becomes united in one act of divine love—Christ, His Mystical Body and the good things of the earth which God has created for our nourishment and well-being.

It’s easy to see that stones and bread are two different substances. It’s harder to grasp a more subtle distinction such as that which exists between the two sexes of the human race. We may even question if such differences are important. Are not both men and women created in the image and likeness of God? Are they not, therefore, equal in dignity? It only seems just to promote equality between men and women in every sphere of human endeavor, and all the more so because of a “second-rate,” or derogatory, attitude towards women which still persists in many cultures today. But unless such efforts are grounded in a proper theological perspective, they will not be very successful. For example, I have sometimes heard it said in a sermon that God, if He wanted to, could have become incarnate as a woman instead of as a man. Sounds good—isn’t God omnipotent? And what the priest is trying to say is commendable: “Ladies, you are of equal value to any man.” But think about it. What message is he really conveying? “Ladies, look, there was a fifty-fifty chance that your sex would be selected for the Incarnation. However, you lost out to a guy. Too bad!” It’s something like flipping a coin—it could have gone either way—and guess which half of the human race lucked out? We are back to a chaotic world view, to an arbitrary choice not based on any particular reason … which makes God what? A Father to be loved? Or a Master to be feared?

Here it could be argued that since sin entered the world through Adam, who was a man, it was necessary that a Redeemer also be a man. Of course, if—as popular opinion has it—there is no real distinction between masculinity and femininity, it’s just a matter of social conditioning or whatever, this argument doesn’t hold up. Once again, it could have gone either way and, for who knows what reason, it just happened that God decided to come as a man. But supposing there is such a distinction, where was our first father when the Serpent came along with his dirty tricks? Rolling up his sleeves to kick the Fiend out of the garden? Hardly that. He didn’t say boo. It was the woman who took the initiative. She did the talking. She ate the fruit, and only then, after she handed it to her husband, did he partake of it. In terms of the harm done by Eve’s actions, wouldn’t it make more sense for God come as a woman, the better to repair what went wrong? Once again we are left in the dark. From the Book of Genesis (Gen 3:1-6) it certainly appears that sin, hence death, entered into the world through the actions of a woman, but St. Paul, in the equally inspired Letter to the Romans (Rom 5:12-19) sure thinks it was through a man. Try to figure that one out!

Could God have assumed a woman’s body at the Incarnation, so that our Redeemer would have been a “she” instead of a “he”? Recall how Jesus refused to turn stones into bread. For a similar reason, I believe God would never have thought of coming as a woman. For, if He had done so, femininity would have been annihilated instead of ennobled, robbed of its inner meaning, its mission, its “place.” How could such a destructive act save us? Remember: it is a woman daring to make such a politically incorrect statement! But it is what I truly think.

Yes, we are so accustomed to speaking in terms of “the Incarnation,” that we can forget how stupendous an act it is. Not only did God, while remaining God, become “man”, a human being like us, but He did so without overpowering us in any way, without any kind of violence or show of force. We remain what we are—human beings—yet are elevated by the grace of Christ to a new existence, participating in the very life and nature of God, so much so that Saint Paul speaks of a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Or, as he elsewhere puts it, we become the adopted “sons” of God (Rom 8:14-17).

But, as pointed out earlier, sonship can be taken in a radically wrong way, as a rival power to the Father, instead of a gift freely bestowed upon a creature by its Creator. To the notion of “sonship” then, God wisely added a second image for us to ponder: that of “woman.” Whereas a male human body speaks of “transcendence”—witness the creation of Adam and how he was somehow different or “above” the other creatures (Gen 2:19,20)—the female human body speaks of interpersonal relationships, of love. Simply put, in terms of our bodily fruitfulness, a man is always in a negative mode: he has no womb, no physical organ to “receive” something from another. He may initiate life in another, father a child, but this is something “accidental” to his nature. But a woman is just the opposite: her body has the capacity to receive from another, to nourish the new life conceived within her womb, and to bring to birth another human being. And although this, too, is something “accidental” to her nature—a woman is a woman whether or not she physically becomes a mother—still, it is something which profoundly marks her being. As a “woman,” ontologically different from a man (3), her being is always orientated towards life and love. The capacity to welcome the “other” doesn’t go away just because she is not blessed with motherhood.

Accordingly, although Scripture acknowledges God’s merciful love for us is “like” that of a mother for her child—tender and compassionate—still, it does not refer to God as “Mother,” but as “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). God is like a human father, if we can reverse our usual way of putting things (4), in that He never “receives” anything—however we want to think of it: life, existence, power—from another. God is the Transcendent One, who simple “is.” As such, He is eternally and infinitely happy in Himself, not needing anything or anyone else. So when He “fathers” creation, again, like a human father, this is an act “accidental” to His nature. He may initiate life “outside” of Himself (although all is held within His creative power), but His true glory is within, in the interpersonal relationships which form the Trinity. As we now know, thanks to the revelation given to us by Jesus, God is One, yet Three—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and these immanent relationships are always there, as the very nature of God.

So when Scripture calls us the adopted “sons” of God, it is saying something very important. A son comes from his father, and so shares in the life and nature of his father, in this sense a son is “like” his father. A son is very different from a slave, who merely works for his master, and this often under constraint or fear of punishment. For a son knows the love and care of his father, and is called to reverentially return that love as a matter of justice.

But if, as adopted sons, we are to render back to God the love and respect owed to Him, we have to remember our place in the scheme of things—that although we are like God, the likeness to God is not perfect, and can never be so. Between the Uncreated and the created remains an infinite gap which not even grace can bridge (5). Here feminine language becomes crucial. We may be “sons,” but we participate in the life and nature of God only as something “accidental” to our nature. The human soul is mystically feminine, or like a “woman.” By this I mean our rational being has the capacity to receive, as a seed of glory, the gift of sanctifying grace, a supernatural reality, something “outside” of human nature, and “to bring to birth” a “child of God,” something also “outside” of human nature, a supernatural life (6). The process requires the interior “nurturing” of grace, its intensification through continuous cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Yet once raised to the dignity of a “son,” now imaging the Father, one can truly “mother” God’s life within, one can put into act virtuous deeds and so merit eternal life.

Yet note: while an adopted son is like a woman, and God’s merciful love for us is truly like that of a mother’s—yes, even more compassionate than that of any mother’s—God is not like an adopted son. God never receives from another, higher “being,” or brings forth something “higher” than Himself. God always initiates. And we always receive, for we have no power to bring about our own existence, never mind entering into the life and nature of God without His help. In this relationship brought about by sheer gift—grace—God has His place and we have our place, and the two roles absolutely cannot be interchanged. True, the human nature of Jesus is inundated with grace, and grace remains something “outside” of human nature. But the source of that grace is His own divine Person—He “fathers” Himself in holiness. Here is a profound mystery, but one which does no violence to reason. Just as the first Person of the Trinity, God the Father, is the source of His own life, so Jesus, “the first-born of all creation” (Col 1:15), is the source of His own graced state as man. And so it is most fitting that He take unto Himself a male body, one which speaks of “transcendence,” for He is uniquely above all other creatures, mystically the “Bridegroom,” true God and true man.

To understand this better, consider for a moment how, within the Trinity itself, the Second Person, the Word or Son, can be “what” the Father is—God—but not “who” the Father is. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit can be “what” the Father and the Son both are—God—but not “who” the Father is or “who” the Son is. Carrying this thought further, we, too, can be “what” God is, in a participation sense of course, as divinized creatures (7), but we cannot be “who” God is—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God can be “what” we are—a human being, as the Incarnation demonstrates—but He cannot be “who” we are, or created persons. Persons can be of the same nature, or at least participate in the same nature, but no one person can take the “place” of another person. Each person’s place is unique, in the interpersonal relationships which mark both the Trinity and us, and I dare say the angels as well.

So what would a Fifth Marian Dogma consist of, if not in some way defining Mary’s unique place in God’s plan of salvation, which is to say the depths of her person, represented by her Immaculate Heart? It would complete our understanding of “who” she really is in the eyes of God, and thus would give glory to the One who created her, through the Son who redeemed her, and in the Holy Spirit who has continually sanctified her, starting from the very first moment of her earthly existence.

Who is Mary in God’s plan of salvation? Saint Maximillian Kolbe certainly pushed in the direction of answering this question with his theological reflections on Mary’s words at Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception” (8). That is a part of the answer, an important part of it, but not the whole. Let us try to discover more fully “who” Mary is in the light of the four Marian Dogmas already proclaimed by the Church.

Who is Mary to Jesus? She is His natural mother, yet the mother of a Divine Person who has both a divine and human nature. Therefore, she is truly the “Mother of God,” and from this great dignity flows all her other privileges and responsibilities (9).

Who is Mary to the Eternal Father? She is the ever-virginal Mother of His Son, and hence the created person who most images Him in His great glory of bringing forth another divine Person (10). For remember—the Father generates His Word in a wholly interior, or virginal, way. Mary does the same—she brings the Word to birth, both in her flesh and through her unwavering faith—but in a wholly feminine way, as a sheer gift of grace.

Who is Mary to the Holy Spirit? She is His ever-virginal, yet most fruitful and beloved, Spouse. Redeemed in a more exalted fashion by her Son, she is consecrated, or betrothed, to the Holy Spirit from the very first moment of her earthly existence. Thus escaping the stain of original sin, she is able to freely consent to the consummation of this marriage at the Annunciation. Here is a unique union between God and a creature. And a spiritual femininity brought to the fullest possible actuation, because it is constantly nourished by the love of God, with the Holy Spirit freely bestowing His graces, and Mary freely cooperating with each and every one of these graces. Thus she is not only conceived without sin, but preserved entirely from any form of rebellion against her Heavenly Father (the original sin of Satan) and so can identify herself as “the Immaculate Conception.” She is the perfect adopted “son,” a feminine image of the natural Son, and the Holy Spirit’s mission of sanctifying souls begins in a most perfect way, even before the Redemption takes place in human time, because nothing is impossible for God.

Who is Mary to the angels? Angels don’t beget children; they don’t think in terms of “family,” but of “hierarchy,” with each angel a unique species unto himself (11). Mary is the Mother of their Lord and King, Jesus Christ, and so she, naturally, is their Queen (12). Assumed body and soul into heaven, she has conquered Satan and the death he introduced into the world. She is the victorious Sign they rally around and are pleased to serve. She is the loveliest creature God ever created, and accordingly, they especially love, venerate and admire her!

But who is Mary to us? We know the answer: she is our Mother, too, “in the order of grace” (13). But what does this mean? Mother-child is a person to person relationship for us human beings. Furthermore, as human persons we have bodies as well as rational souls. Is Mary merely a mother-like figure for us? Or is she our “Mother” in a much more profound sense of the word? This is what a fifth Marian Dogma, defining her role as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate would clarify.

Who is Mary to us? Let us backtrack to “the beginning.” What was the offense the Redemption sought to remedy? We speak of it as a “fall.” What does the term “fall” imply? That somehow we ended up in a “place” different from where we started from. We also speak of it as the “original sin,” although the first to commit such a murderous rebellion against God was an evil Serpent (Satan), the very one Adam and Eve chose to listen to and obey. He thought up the lie and they swallowed it. He fathered them in evil and they cooperated with the ugly seed of rebellion he fostered within them (14). The result was a rupture of interpersonal relationships as Adam and Eve sought to supplant the Father’s place and be the source of their own well-being and happiness. They wanted to be “like God” in the wrong sense of adopted sonship, as a rival power to their Creator, well able to decide for themselves what was good and what was bad (15). And so a tension was introduced between masculinity and femininity: they also became rivals to each other, subject to attempts to control and manipulate each other. Lust entered into our human nature (16).

Another way of putting it is this: God cast Adam into a deep sleep and from his side removed a rib, into which God fashioned Eve, the “woman” who was to be the “Mother of the Living.” They were two persons united in “one flesh”, united as husband and wife by God Himself. When Adam fell into a different sort of sleep—neglecting to “keep watch” (1 Pet 5:8) over the interior garden of his soul—from his side, his hardened heart, came a different sort of woman, the “harlot” (17), bringing death to all mankind. What a disaster!

What is death? Whether we think of it in spiritual or bodily terms, it means the diminishment of a person. We are rational creatures, so to sin, to go against right reason, wounds both our intellect and will! We become “beastly” in our thoughts and actions, and without the right ordering of our lives, our interpersonal relationships go downhill. We end up using others (a form of prostitution), instead of loving them in themselves, as persons. And when the body and soul separate at natural death, then we are no longer fully persons. True, the soul of the person is immortal and continues to exist, but there is no longer a human person, only the soul of a human person. Yes, what a disaster!

The redemption is the overcoming of death and its sting. When Jesus dies upon the cross for our salvation, He freely bestows His Body and Blood to us, thus fulfilling His role as Bridegroom. At the same time, even though His Body and Soul separate—He truly dies in that sense—His Person remains untouched, for He is a Divine Person and not a human person. Death certainly meets its match!

But what is the point of all this? Why defeat spiritual and physical death? It is not to satisfy a blood-thirsty God, who demands a pound of flesh to pay for all our offenses. Rather, it is to restore interpersonal relationships to their right ordering, to save “the lost” by making them once again God’s beloved adopted sons.

Yet even though Jesus, as the New Adam, wants to “father” our humanity in holiness, He does not want to take the Father’s place when doing so. Remember, attempting to supplant the Father was the very thing which got us into such a mess in the first place! And so enter the role of the “Woman” (Jn 2:4; 19:26). Feminine to the core of her being, Mary never takes the Father’s place. Her role as Mother of the Redeemer enables Jesus to be clearly identified as the “Son,” so He never takes the Father’s place either. And Saint Joseph, even though head of this Holy Family, is united to Jesus only through his virginal marriage bond with Mary. So he doesn’t take the Father’s place either, as he clearly contributed nothing to the conception of Jesus. How much there is here to ponder!

As the New Eve, then, Mary is the first person redeemed by Jesus. She comes directly from His wounded side at her Immaculate Conception, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, inseparably united to Him by God, the Holy Spirit. She is the seed of the Church as “Bride,” and from her virginal body will come the whole Mystical Body of Christ (18). For in giving birth to the Head of the Body, she also gives birth to all the members of that same body (19). And so she is also inseparably united with all of us. As Scripture states: “There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).

And this is the importance of her Immaculate Conception: redeemed in so exalted a fashion, she is indispensable for the marriage covenant between the Lamb of God and His Bride, the Church, which is at the heart of all our Liturgical celebrations (Cf. Rev 19:7). This marriage was able to take place at a specific historical moment only because of the existence of a Bridegroom and a Bride who consented to belong wholly to each other, Jesus to Mary and Mary to Jesus. You can’t have a wedding unless there are two persons—a male and a female—who give themselves this way. So rather than posing some kind of obstacle we have to climb over in order to reach Jesus, Mary is the “finger” by which the whole Church “touches” all the mysteries of Our Lord’s earthly life, beginning with the Annunciation and ending with His glorious Ascension into heaven (20). Mary was personally there. Through her who is the Bride in seed form, with all the potential for growing into a mighty communion of all the redeemed, the rest of us, in a hidden fashion—mystically—were made present as well. And because Mary was always present there in a sinless state, without the slightest self-seeking or imperfection, no obstacles were constructed to Our Lord now touching us through her. All the graces Jesus merited for us, day by day, culminating in the supreme act of offering His life on the Cross, He graciously bestowed on His Beloved Church for our sanctification. And guess who was personally there at the time to “catch” all these graces and pass them onto us for our sanctification? Our loving Mother, Mediatrix of all graces. As I said, she is the seed of Mother Church, and cannot be separated from the rest of us. And so the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride affected a profound, supernatural communion of persons in one flesh, a family of adopted sons. And that’s the redemption, when we find our place again, “who” we are!

Mary’s Immaculate Conception also makes her, de facto, the Coredemptrix (21). By God’s favor, she is created as “full of grace.” Therefore, from the moment she exists as a person, she is spiritually united to the Redeemer, in a state disposed to continually cooperate with Him, of living in complete harmony with Him and His wishes. If this is true in many little ways during the hidden years at Nazareth, it is all the more so when Jesus begins His greatest work of redeeming us. The only way she cannot end up being the Coredemptrix at the foot of the cross, therefore, is if she leaves this state by

committing some kind of sin, be it big or small. For only then would she cease to be united to Him, and hence united to all His actions, in her complementary role as “Woman.” But the Tradition of the Church has always held that Mary is sinless, and private revelation too speaks of entrusting ourselves with confidence to her “Immaculate Heart.” The depth of her person is sinless, or immaculately pure, and so trustworthy and good.