“Incarnatio redemptiva redemptio inchoativa” (“the redemptive Incarnation is the Redemption begun”). This patristic concept of the miracle of miracles in which the Second person of the Most Holy Trinity deigned to become flesh for us correctly conveys that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is truly the “Redemption begun.” And yet, it was the Father’s perfect plan that such redemptive Incarnation take place only through the consent of a human, a woman, a virgin.
“Yes” to the Annunciation: Lk. 1: 26-38
“Let it be done to me according to your word”
Perhaps St. Bernard describes it best when he states that the whole world waited to hear the response of the Virgin, upon whom salvation was dependent: “The angel awaits an answer; . . . We too are waiting O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us . . . We shall be set free at once if you consent . . . This is what the whole earth waits for . . . .” St. Luke records the commencement of Redemption:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great and will be called
the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him
the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I know not man?”
And the angel said to her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High
will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God.
And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
“Be it done unto me according to your word.”
With these words, words of a free and immaculate virgin, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. “The Eternal Father entrusted himself to the Virgin of Nazareth,” and the Virgin gave her “yes” to the Father’s plan to redeem the world through the incarnate Son.
For those tempted to dismiss the “fiat of history” as bereft of any real active participation on the part of the Virgin (as if her consent was only a type of passive recognition or simple submission), Mary’s “fiat” in the Greek is expressed in the optative mood (ghenòito moi . . . ), a mood which expresses her active and joyful desire, not merely a passive acceptance, to participate in the divine plan.
Redemption Begun – Co-redemption Begun
As the Incarnation is the Redemption begun, so too is Mary’s fiat the Co-redemption begun. In the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “Of course, Mary is the Co-redemptrix. She gave Jesus his body, and the body of Jesus is what saved us.” The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we have been “sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all” (Heb. 10:10). But Jesus receives the precious instrument of Redemption, his sacred body, through Mary. In virtue of the intimate and sublime salvific gift, body to Body, heart to Heart, Mother to Son, the Immaculate Virgin begins her role as Co-redemptrix in the donation of human nature – from the Co-redemptrix to the Redeemer.
But within the gift of body from Mary to Jesus, is the gift of heart bespoken in that gift of body. It is the gift of free will, of soul and spirit, unconditionally offered back to the Eternal Father, in the “yes” of the Immaculate One to His redemptive plan, regardless of the price.
With this “let it be done to me,” the humble Virgin of Nazareth becomes “cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race” as St. Irenaeus teaches; the “price of the redemption of captives” as St. Ephraem proclaims; she “conceived redemption for all” as St. Ambrose explains; and is rightly greeted, “Hail, redemption of the tears of Eve” by the eastern Akathist Hymn. St. Augustine tells us that the faithful Virgin first bore Christ in her heart and then in her flesh; and St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the Blessed Virgin’s free consent to receive the Word represented in a true sense the consent of the entire human race to receive the Eternal Son as the Redeemer.
The Immaculate One’s “yes,” soft-spoken to the Archangel Gabriel, is amplified and resounds throughout creation and time. It is humanity’s yes by humanity’s best, for she speaks not only for herself but in the name of mankind, when she gives her assent to the Father’s design for a Redeemer. The Triune God so respects human free will, typically fragile and fickle, that he awaits human consent for a mission upon which literally every human soul’s eternal destiny depends. Yet, above all human creatures, the sinless Mary is most free to choose, most able to offer herself to the Father for the accomplishment of his will. And when her consent is given, he generously responds.
Theologians have long examined the precise nature of Mary’s fiat in relation to her role in Redemption, and have sought to categorize it. Some have argued that her fiat is only a “remote,” “indirect” or “mediate” participation in the plan of Redemption, too distant from Calvary to be considered an intimate sharing in the accomplishment of Redemption. But in this we must remember the wisdom of the early Church Fathers, who teach that the Incarnation is the Redemption anticipated and begun.
If we examine the question from the perspective of God the Father of all mankind, further light is to be found: The Father sends an angelic invitation to his Immaculate Virgin Daughter, requesting of her a free assent to become the greatest human cooperator in the plan of Redemption by becoming the Mother of the Redeemer, including everything that is mysteriously part of that redemptive plan and role.
There are not two invitations. There is not one for bearing the Redeemer and another for suffering with the Redeemer – not one invitation sent to Nazareth and another sent to Calvary. Mary is invited by the Almighty to a vocation of the greatest conceivable union with the Redeemer and with His prophesied mission. The redemptive mission begins with the Immaculate One giving the Logos flesh, but it certainly does not end there. The Virgin knows that hers is a historical and lifetime vocation, that she is to become the Mother of the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah – the messianic mission, of which the Virgin, educated in the Temple, is well knowledgeable. Her vocation is a celestial call for an extraordinary lifelong suffering.
It is an invitation to a vocation of being “with Jesus,” beginning at the Annunciation and continuing in heart wherever the Redeemer goes and whatever the Redeemer does. Always she will be his constant companion in suffering. At Calvary, the Virgin Daughter of the Father understands clearly that her consent to co-suffer in the great immolation of her Victim-Son was given thirty-three years earlier at Nazareth.
Is this not the same with the “yes” that one utters to the various Christian vocations? The priest, the religious, the married person say “yes” on the day of ordination, profession, or marriage, accepting a lifetime of service and love in that vocation, without the knowledge of everything the vocation will entail in the future. Is the priest on the day of ordination given divine illumination regarding each and every specific joy and sorrow that awaits him in the life of priesthood? Rather his “yes” on the day of ordination is a “yes” to the entire plan of the Eternal Father for his vocation. The Father need not issue a second invitation before the most climactic aspects of his priestly sacrifice numerous years later, for the first “yes” of the priest is a lifetime “yes” to the entire life vocation.
The vocational “yes” of the Virgin of Nazareth is a lifetime “yes” to suffering “with Jesus,” from the Annunciation to Calvary and beyond. Seen in this light, Mary’s fiat not only begins her providential vocation as Co-redemptrix with Jesus, but it also begins an intimately willed and consented participation in the Father’s redemptive plan with the Son in its entirety, in whatever manner the mission of Redemption with Jesus is to unfold historically in act and circumstance.
Mary, with the fullest consent of her heart and spirit, cooperates “with Jesus” in the redemptive plan of the Father from that Annunciation “fiat.” There is never a time when she is not intimately, morally and directly cooperating with Jesus in the developing redemptive plan of the Father, which only reaches full maturity and mystical birth at Calvary. “Principium huius maternitatis est munus Corredemptricis” (“the beginning of this maternity is the office of Co-redemptrix”). For this reason, it is best to describe the singular role of Mary in the plan of Redemption initiated at the Annunciation as the “Co-redemptrix begun,” and her climactic participation “with Jesus” at Calvary as the “Co-redemptrix fulfilled.”
Joseph’s Ordeal and Mary’s Heart
Soon after the fiat, an intensity of suffering begins for her. The Immaculate One becomes physically recognizable as pregnant. She is the Tabernacle of the Redeemer, but this is not yet known or understood by others. The Virgin’s suffering is multiplied by the suffering of one so close, so dear, so just, that it increases the sacrificial offering of her young heart. It is the ordeal of Joseph.
“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt. 1:18-19). After the Virgin’s return from Ain-Karim, during which for three months the Icon of Charity exercised her virtues at the service of Elizabeth, Joseph witnessed the early external signs of pregnancy, the sight of which brings him a great darkness of understanding regarding his betrothed and the Child she is carrying.
The deep interior anguish of Joseph is seen by Mary and she suffers with him. Within the illogic of external appearances, she is the very cause of his suffering. Even in this first of ordeals, the Mother and the Son are united as the objects of human confusion and seeming contradiction because of their united fiat to the plan of the Heavenly Father’s mission of Redemption. The Mother “with Jesus in the womb” suffers silently and offers this intensely, while her just and chaste spouse shares in an early passion of heart caused by God’s mysterious designs for human salvation. It is a test of Joseph’s faith, a measure of his love. Mary, Woman of Silent Suffering, does not defend herself. She awaits in the pain of silence and potential misjudgment for the Heavenly Father to defend his redemptive plan and his virgin daughter.
The Father does indeed defend her: “But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins . . .’ When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus” (Mt. 1:20- 21,23-24).
All those who are proximate to the Redeemer will have their share in suffering, including the Guardian of the Redeemer. Through his fruitful, exceptional sharing (albeit external), in the redemptive Incarnation and its hidden development during the private years of Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph becomes the spiritual Guardian of all the redeemed. He becomes Patriarch of Patriarchs, spiritual father to Jesus, spiritual father to us all.
Lk. 2:22-38 – Simeon’s Prophecy of the Co-redemptrix
The role of the Co-redemptrix is soon after confirmed in prophecy by the power of the Spirit of Truth.
The Virgin Mother, though not truly bound under a law given for an expiation of sin, nevertheless obediently subjected herself to the Mosaic Law. In the Temple she fulfills the duties of ritual purification, offering the “poor offering” of one young pigeon for a holocaust and another for a sin offering. There, too, she offers her male-child to the Lord.
In this great paradox, the Mother and Son, who will offer themselves as the “sin offering” for all humanity at Calvary, enter the Temple humbly and offer a sacrifice for the son who is the redemptive Sacrifice itself. In truth the Mother is offering the “rich offering” of the Lamb, the Paschal Lamb whom the Eternal Father will accept when his “hour” has come; the Lamb who is both Victim and High Priest.
Simeon is most likely not a priest, but rather one of the “anawim,” a blessed poor one, faithful to Yahweh and His covenant. Simeon is an old man of prayer and expectation, a simple member of the faithful, a humble voice of the vox populi, awaiting the Messiah in order that he may journey to his eternal home in peace.
The Temple is first and foremost a place of sacrifice. All that takes place during the event of the Presentation is a real and mysterious foreshadowing of Calvary, with the same two public persons, Jesus and Mary. Mary offers the child in perfect obedience to the redemptive decrees of God – at the Temple and at Golgotha – effecting a historical sharing in humanity’s liberation. She performs the offering of the Child to the Eternal Father, joined by the co-offering of herself for the unified goal of Redemption.
Simeon recognizes the child as the “salvation” (Lk. 2:30) prepared in the presence of all peoples, as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory to thy people Israel” (v. 32). But then the holy Simeon turns his gaze to the Mother of salvation, and prophesies that she too, in virtue of her motherly relation to the sign of contradiction, will experience a life and mission of suffering “with Jesus”: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is rejected – and a sword shall pierce through your own soul, too – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35).
If the Sign is rejected, then the Mother of the Sign will be rejected. What mother does not share in the suffering of her son when her son is contradicted? But if her son is the prophesied sign of contradiction, (in relation to which all hearts will be “revealed,” either for or against the true Redeemer), then she experiences not merely a moment of pain at the Temple, but a lifetime of pain as the Mother united to the Sign, a mother suffering “with Salvation.” No greater sacrifice will ever be asked by the Father of all mankind than the one asked of this Son and Mother, with its defining moment at the tree of Calvary. Yet this sacrifice begins long before. Indeed, the sufferings of the Mother begin before the sufferings of the Son.
From the moment of the Presentation, for a period of over thirty years, the Immaculate Heart painfully ponders the prophecy of Simeon, back and forth on different levels of consciousness and concurrent sorrow. From this moment on, her heart is pierced in anticipation due to the knowledge of the suffering awaiting her innocent Child. She will ultimately share the piercing of his Heart, to which hers is indissolubly united. “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Jn. 19:37), and the pierced Heart of Mary will “suffer with” the Pierced Heart of Jesus, from which the blood and water of Redemption is destined to flow.
Dr. Mark Miravalle
Footnotes, Page 1
1. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hom. 4, 8-9; Opera Omnia, ed. Cisterc. 4, 1966, 53-54.
2. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 39.
3. I. de La Potterie, Maria nel mistero dell’Alleanza, Genoa, 1988, p. 195 (Eng. trans.,
Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, 1992).
4. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Personal Interview, Calcutta, August 14, 1993.
5. St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, vol. 3, ch. 22, n. 4; PG 7, 959.
6. St. Ephraem, Opera Omnia, ed. Assemani, Rome, 1832, vol. 3, p. 546.
7. St. Ambrose, Ep. 49, n. 2; PL 16, 1154 A.
8. St. Augustine, De Sancta Virgin. iii.
9. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, Q. 30, a. 1.
1. The patristic tradition which maintains that the original date of the Annunciation and the original date of Good Friday is the same March 25, seems to confirm the inseparability of the Incarnation from the Redemption. Cf. Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos, 8; PL, 2, 656 in J. Saward, The Mysteries of March, Catholic University of America Press, 1990, p. xv.
2. F. Ceuppens, De Mariologia Biblica, Rome, 1951, p. 201; cf. Manelli, “Mary Coredemptrix In Sacred Scripture,” Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations II, Queenship, 1996, p. 86.
3. Cf. Lev. 12:2, 8
4. Cf. Rt. Rev. Aloys Schaefer, The Mother of Jesus in Holy Scripture (trans. from the German by Rt. Rev. Ferdinand Brossart), Frederick Pustet, 1913, p. 186.