“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”