“Son, Behold Your Mother”: A Marian Theology of the Priesthood

Any consideration of the co-redemptive role of Our Lady in God’s plan for salvation brings us inevitably to the foot of the Cross. It is there that we see the greatest flowering of Mary’s motherhood—her Son enters His greatest moment of priestly mediation and she becomes not only Mater Redemptoris (1) but also Mater Ecclesiae. (2) In order to understand something of this essential co-redemptive mission of the Mother of God, we have to enter deeply into the priesthood of Christ and appreciate its fundamental significance. The late Dominican theologian, Cardinal Pierre Paul Philippe, (3) expresses it thus:

We will never be able to comprehend, far less understand the role which Our Lady has played next to Christ the High Priest if we do not approach it from the perspective of God. Thus, we need to contemplate how God sees Mary from all eternity or, in other words, we should consider her from the standpoint of her predestination. (4)

The Church has constantly taught that all the privileges enjoyed by the Virgin Mary spring from her divine mission as the Mother of the Savior, all that she is and all that she does serves to associate her as perfectly as possible with the two defining mysteries of her Son—His Incarnation through which He inaugurates his priestly life and the Redemption by which He brings to fruition the supreme act of this priesthood; the sacrifice of Himself for the salvation of the world. It is most essential to grasp this fundamental fact at the outset, for it is the supreme basis of Mary’s co-redemptive role.

Mary’s intimate association with her Son in His saving mysteries is part of the divine will from the outset—a fact which is so overlooked in many Marian reflections. Pope John Paul II, probably the greatest Marian theologian the papacy has ever produced, makes reference to this fundamental fact of Mary’s predestination in his Apostolic Letter “Redemptoris Mater”:

In the mystery of Christ, Mary is already present, even “before the creation of the world,” as the one whom the Father “has chosen” to be the Mother of His Son in the Incarnation. The Son, together with the Father, has chosen her, entrusting her from all time to the Spirit of holiness… (5)

By the humble obedience of her fiat, she is immersed in these saving mysteries, not merely by physical participation, but by material cooperation: Mary does not cooperate in the mystery of redemption purely by her physical presence at the foot of the Cross, but rather by being intimately united in the suffering and offering of her Son. In this she is the Mother of the High Priest, called to cooperate in His priestly activity of Savior. This is already explicit at the moment of the Annunciation which we should not look upon as the beginning of Mary’s cooperation, but rather as the highest point in the process of the uniting of her will with that of the Blessed Trinity. John Paul II describes this process stating that:

The Annunciation is not only the culminating moment of Mary’s faith in her awaiting of Christ, but it is also the point of departure from which her whole journey of faith begins. While on this road, in an eminent and truly heroic manner… she will fulfill the obedience she professes to the Word of Divine Revelation… Within the redemptive economy of grace, brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit, there exists a unique correspondence between the moment of the Incarnation and the moment of the birth of the Church. The person who links together these two moments is Mary: Mary at Nazareth and Mary at the Cenacle in Jerusalem. In both cases her discreet, yet essential presence indicates the path of the “birth from the Holy Spirit.” (6)

This prompts the question: How did Christ become a priest? St. Thomas explains that it was through Mary that Christ was made Priest, because it was through her that He united His divine and human natures, becoming the mediator between God and man. This is effected, not by a special act of consecration, but rather by the very act of the Incarnation—by becoming the Son of Mary, the Son of God became a priest. (7)