Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Rosary

Updated: May 30, 2020

This article is an excerpt from The Threefold Garland by Hans Urs von Balthasar. In looking at the Mother and in honoring her singular participation in the work of the Father, the Church finds a model for Herself and the path by which She journeys to God. –Assistant Ed.

Christian prayer can attain to God only along the path that God himself has trod; otherwise it stumbles out of the world and into the void, falling prey to the temptation of taking this void to be God or of taking God to be nothingness itself. God is not a worldly object, but neither is he a supraworldly thing to be aimed at and conquered, after making adequate technical preparations, by a kind of spiritual trip to the moon. God is infinite freedom, which opens up to us only on its own initiative. He not only addresses his Word to us, but makes it live among us. Thus, the Word that comes from God is also the Word that returns to him. The path between God and us has been trod in both directions: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” “I have come into the world as its Light so that no one who believes in me will remain in the darkness” (Jn 14:6; 12:46).

But how has this “Way” reached us? How has the “Light” penetrated to us? How has the “Word” lived among us? For this had to happen if we were ever to set out for God along a road practicable by men. Otherwise the Light would have only shone into the darkness and the darkness would not have grasped it. The Light would have come into its domains—for the world belongs to God—but its subjects would not have welcomed it. Someone had to receive the Word, so unconditionally that it staked out a space in a human being in order there itself to become man, as the Child of a Mother.

We ourselves are not this Mother, who opens herself up and offers herself to God without holding anything back: none of us speaks to God the unconditional Yes. This is why the perfect assent always precedes us unsurpassably. And yet, if God’s Word is really to reach us, it is indispensable that it become the Way which we humans can tread. It could not have become man in a heart only half-open to God, for the child is essentially dependent on its mother. It is nourished from her corporeal-spiritual substance; it is reared by her to genuine and fruitful humanness. The Mother’s precedence ahead of us—essential for the establishing of the road between God and us—does not imply her isolation, but rather the opening up of the possibility of us too becoming assenters, the possibility of the Word reaching us, too, and of us reaching God in the Word. “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts that nursed You. Yes, truly blessed are they who hear God’s Word and keep it” (Lk 11:27f). “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is to me a brother, a sister and a mother” (Mk 3:35).

Mary’s abiding pre-cession is the basis of our own suc-cession. The community which binds God to man in her when he becomes a Child of man is the foundation of a community which binds us all together as children of God, a community which we call God’s Church. The mother is the enduring presupposition, the source, the full realization of the Church, to which we can belong, if we only will it, as people under way to the perfect assent that sinks deep roots into our whole existence. Thus, we the half-finished can and must say “Hail, Mary!” to her who is whole, to her who introduces us and rears us to her wholeness. But it is not by separating her from the Son that we do this; for she is but the Answer while he is the Word.

The happening that occurs between the Son and the Mother is the center of the event of salvation, which can never lose its relevance because God’s gracious self-revelation is always occurring at the present moment: the river can never become distanced from its source. If a person wants to participate in it he must plunge into this wellspring, into its inexhaustible mystery: that God’s Word has really opened itself to us, that it has really been received among us and has really dwelt among us, that it has not returned to God alone but together with us. We can see what this means from the relationship between this Child and this Mother. She totally puts herself at the Word’s disposition that it may become flesh from her—flesh from her flesh. But as this Child grows up and gives his divine flesh for the reconciliation of the world with God, as he offers it as a eucharistic nourishment to all who receive the Word in faith, he draws into his own flesh those who welcome him, first of all his Mother, archetype and source of the Church. Both of them, Christ and Mary-the-Church, are thus “one flesh,” one “body” by virtue of a reciprocal event: first, Christ is the receiver of Mary’s earthly flesh; then Mary-the-Church becomes a partaker of his heavenly flesh. Insofar as only the Mother puts her flesh at the disposal of the Word’s incarnation, she is “blessed among women”; but this is but the first movement leading to the second, whereby “blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus,” who has elicited his answer from the earthly flesh, the answer of Mary-the-Church, and steadily continues to elicit it in the Eucharist. And he elicits it from us, too, the members of the body, who according to the purity and fullness of our assent can also become her fruitful members, her very womb.

Thus we, too, on mandate from God, may greet M