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The Theology of the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The terminology of the “alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary” comes from an Angelus address given by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II on 15 September 1985, but the concept itself is as ancient as Christianity itself which began with the Redemptive Incarnation. It is another way of speaking about the “indissoluble bond” between Jesus and Mary, about their “joint predestination.” What do I mean? Let us go back to the very beginning, to the Garden of Eden. There we find “the man,” Adam, and his wife and helpmate, Eve. We know the story, but it is necessary to keep averting to it in order to penetrate ever more deeply into God’s eternal plan.

I. The Mystery of Iniquity

In simple, yet poetic and profound language the third chapter of the Book of Genesis narrates the story of the fall of man. Three creatures play the major roles in this momentous drama: the serpent, the woman and the man. The serpent beguiles. The woman who was given to the man as his helpmate lets herself be beguiled and the man follows suit. The story seems deceptively simple, but it has monumental implications. The man, Adam, is the progenitor and head of the human family. The woman, Eve, is his companion. As partners they are equal, but they have different roles. He is the head of his wife and the head of the human family. “The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man.’ By this ‘unity of the human race’ all men are implicated in Adam’s sin.” (1)

At the same time it must be noted that the role of the woman given to the man as his helpmate was far from negligible. Let us note how it is described by the Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman:

Eve had a definite, essential position in the First Covenant. The fate of the human race lay with Adam; he it was who represented us. It was in Adam that we fell; though Eve had fallen, still, if Adam had stood, we should not have lost those supernatural privileges which were bestowed upon him as our first father. …but further, as she thus had her own general relation to the human race, so again had she her own special place as regards its trial and its fall in Adam. In those primeval events, Eve had an integral share. … She co-operated, not as an irresponsible instrument, but intimately and personally in the sin; she brought it about. As the history stands, she was a sine-qua-non, a positive, active, cause of it. And she had her share in its punishment; in the sentence pronounced on her, she was recognized as a real agent in the temptation and its issue, and she suffered accordingly. (2)

God metes out punishment first to the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15), then to the woman (Gen. 3:16) and finally to the man (Gen. 3:17-19). What is particularly striking, however, is that already the sentence passed upon the serpent heralds the reversal of the fall. The Lord says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head, while you lie in wait for her heel” (Gen. 3:15). (3) This text has become famous as the Protoevangelium—”first gospel”—and the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains why:

The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the “New Adam” who

because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the “Protoevangelium” as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve.” (4)

In fact, the Church’s magisterium (teaching authority) has grown ever more convinced of the soundness of this insight of the Fathers and Doctors over the centuries and has come to see the Protoevangelium as a revelation of the indissoluble bond between Jesus and Mary in the work of our salvation. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium provides explicit corroboration of such an association by stating that Mary “is inseparably linked to her Son’s saving work” (indissolubili nexu cum Filii sui opere salutari coniungitur) (#103). (5) This follows logically from a principle of capital importance enunciated by Blessed Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December 1854, namely that “God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” (6)

II. The Mystery of Mediation

An attentive study of God’s revelation to us in both the old dispensation and the new discloses that God chooses to deal with his people through certain persons whom he designates to act as his representatives to them and as their representatives before him. This may be truly described as the “mystery of mediation.” After the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:6) the first exercises of mediation which we hear about are the offerings of Abel and Cain (Gen. 4:3-5). These offerings comprised an act of worship or sacrifice to God.

What is a sacrifice? Sacrifice, which constitutes the supreme act of external and public worship, may be defined as the offering and immolation to God of something sensible (fruits, liquids, animals) in order to recognize his absolute lordship and in order to atone for sin. Sacrifice, consequently, has two aspects: one material and sensible because it is an external and public act; the other internal and spiritual because in order to have an effective moral value it must be motivated by a spiritual and intimate content. The offering especially of something living such as fruits and, even more, animals and then the consequent immolation or destruction of these offerings is the counterbalance to the creative act of God. As God has given life to all things, man symbolically restores life back to him. Particularly in the immolation to God of a victim such as a lamb, a goat, a calf or a bull through the mediation of a priest, man expresses his total dependence and dedication to God. The ultimate end of the sacrifice is the mystical union of man with his God. (7) In those early days of the human race, even before the establishment of the priesthood of Aaron, Cain and Abel acted as mediators before God.

While we are not explicitly informed about why the sacrifice of Cain was not acceptable, we may well assume that it had to do with the lack of a proper spiritual disposition on his part. From Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel (Gen. 4:8), the sin of our first parents has been subsequently multiplied billions of times over by the personal sins of all their descendants. Consequently the Old Testament shows us numerous instances in which a representative is designated by God himself to intercede on behalf of his people in order that his wrath, stirred up on account of their sins, might be turned away from them and that his people may receive instead his blessings.

The priests, prophets and kings of the Old Testament, each according to his particular office, all shared in this role of mediation. In varied circumstances and with an ever clearer manifestation of God’s plan these chosen mediators reveal to us both 1. the divine dispensation of mediation which God established in order to show mercy to his people and 2. at the same time the provisional role of this mediation.

While it was clear that God required an acceptable reparation in order to restore man to his friendship, it also became clear that no mere man could ever definitively “breach the chasm” which sin had caused between God and his creatures. As the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us:

Since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins (Heb. 10:1-4).

Sin, an offense against the infinite God, in effect required a reparation which man, left to his own devices, remained incapable of making. No mere human creature could really succeed in mediating between God and his people except in incomplete and partial ways which could, at best, foreshadow the full, complete and definitive mediation which was needed.

III. Jesus the Perfect Mediator

At the very heart of the mystery of our redemption is the fact that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and men … who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:5-6). Why is Jesus the unique and perfect mediator? This affirmation from the new Catechism provides us with the fundamental elements needed to formulate a response:

No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. (8)

One with God in his divinity, Jesus is at the same time one with man in his humanity. (9) In his divine person he unites the two natures of the two parties who had become separated by man’s sin: he represents God to man and man to God. As the Word who is one with the Father from all eternity, the Son is not a mediator, but he becomes one from the moment he begins to take flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews would come to grasp that, even though he was not sprung from the priestly tribe of Levi and never referred to himself explicitly as a priest, Jesus was the perfect high priest who succeeded in bridging the gap between God and his people in a way that no other priest ever could (cf. Heb. 4:14-10:18). He did so by offering the sacrifice of himself on the cross. (10)

IV. Collaboration in Jesus’ Mediation

Now while there can be no dispute that Jesus is the priest and victim of that sacrifice by which we are saved and that he alone by virtue of his death and resurrection (the paschal mystery) is the Redeemer of the world, the Catholic Church also holds that

because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men. … In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering. (11)

Here is the careful résumé of the Church’s teaching on this matter which Pope John Paul II gave in his general audience address of 9 April 1997:

Down the centuries the Church has reflected on Mary’s cooperation in the work of salvation, deepening the analysis of her association with Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. St. Augustine already gave the Blessed Virgin the title “cooperator” in the Redemption (cf. De Sancta Virginitate, 6; PL 40, 399), a title which emphasizes Mary’s joint but subordinate action with Christ the Redeemer.

Reflection has developed along these lines, particularly since the 15th century. Some feared there might be a desire to put Mary on the same level as Christ. Actually the Church’s teaching makes a clear distinction between the Mother and the Son in the work of salvation, explaining the Blessed Virgin’s subordination, as cooperator, to the one Redeemer.

Moreover, when the Apostle Paul says: “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), he maintains the real possibility for man to cooperate with God. The collaboration of believers, which obviously excludes any equality with him, is expressed in the proclamation of the Gospel and in their personal contribution to its taking root in human hearts.

However, applied to Mary, the term “cooperator” acquires a specific meaning. The collaboration of Christians in salvation takes place after the Calvary event, whose fruits they endeavor to spread by prayer and sacrifice. Mary, instead, cooperated during the event itself and in the role of mother; thus her cooperation embraces the whole of Christ’s saving work. She alone was associated in this way with the redemptive sacrifice that merited the salvation of all mankind. In union with Christ and in submission to him, she collaborated in obtaining the grace of salvation for all humanity. (12)

Both of these texts carefully point out that 1. it is possible for creatures to be “associated with Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice” or to be “cooperators in the work of salvation” 2. that Mary was associated or cooperated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of Jesus’ redemptive suffering. Pope John Paul II makes two further and very important points: 1. Mary’s cooperation differs from ours because it took place