This exceptional presentation by the late Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv, on the solution to the great crises facing the Church and the world today: the need to re-Marianize the Church by recognizing the Blessed Mother’s universal mediation through the solemn definition of her roles as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate, was given at the Mary, “Unique Cooperator in the Redemption” Symposium held at Fatima on May 3-7, 2005. – Ed.
I have chosen to entitle this final, concluding conference of our symposium, the “Cause of Mary, Advocate.” Etymologically, cause is a legal term. If its use to summarize our discussion of the mystery of Mary Immaculate and of her unique place in the divine counsels governing the economy of salvation retains a legal scent, that is quite intentional. For the cause of Mary in the economy of salvation, the place she occupies from eternity in the divine counsels of salvation and the crucial role she fulfils so perfectly in bringing these counsels to pass at the Incarnation, on Calvary and in the Church, as well as the recognition of the part she plays by the Church and by every soul redeemed and delivered from sin by her Savior-Son, namely, by those whose salvation in fact hinges upon the successful prosecution of that cause, are very much today a matter of intense dispute. Those who would promote her cause and those who, either violently oppose it or who just as adamantly want to hear nothing of it, are locked in battle.
That battle for souls is very much at the center of what is commonly called the “crisis of faith” in the Church, in times past what was called her “falling into ruin.” “Crisis of faith,” like the older phrase “falling into ruin” is used analogically, not univocally. From the point of view of the “enemy” the crisis of faith is the fruit of that cause understood as the case (the original sense of causa in Latin) of Mary and of her children: that is, of putting Mary and her supporters on trial. From Mary’s vantage point as Advocate that crisis is but an aspect of a process of discernment, sorting out “the thoughts of many hearts”: for or against Christ in view of their willingness to be or not to be children of Mary, above all at the foot of the Cross, therefore children of the Immaculate Coredemptrix (cf. Lk 2:34-35).
Apropos a very similar situation at the time of the Protestant reform the great English convert and apologist, G.K. Chesterton, made this observation: When in the midst of all the din of controversy, with rights and wrongs on all sides, there was heard the mocking and demeaning of the “Virgin Mother mild,” at that moment one distinctly began “to hear the little hiss that only comes from hell” (cf. his A Party Question: Collected Works, vol. XI). In one form or another the entire history of the Church has always been marked by this controversy, an aspect of the battle between the Woman and the dragon, sketched so accurately in the 12th chapter of the Apocalypse. Recalling that heavenly scene revealed to the beloved disciple and apostle especially consecrated to Mary as her child by the Savior Himself should remind us of another aspect of this cause of Mary. She is not in the first instance an object of legal disputation either in the Church or outside. She is rather in her own right and before all others an Advocate, our Advocate in the final settlement of all claims bearing on who owns us: Christ or the anti-Christ. And her intervention or less is the decisive factor. Against that Advocate the Prince of this world and his brood, heavenly or earthly, avail nothing.
That aspect of the enmity between the Woman and the serpent foretold in the Protoevangelium reveals in a special way both the distinctive tactics and weak points of “the liar and murderer from the beginning” (cf. Jn 8:44). He has a certain sophisticated cleverness enabling him to excel in prevarication and seduction of men and so take charge of this world, but he has neither the courage nor the means to confront directly the invincible Woman, the Mother of Truth, which will make you free, namely, from sin (cf. Jn 8:32; Mt 1:21). The dragon can only attack the Woman to the extent he can persuade her children, the “rest of the brethren of her First-born” (cf. Apoc 12:17), therefore His friends (cf. Jn 15:12-17), that she is not the Mater et Magistra Veritatis, and so her “cause” is either irrelevant or downright counterproductive: respectively the position of those indignantly indifferent to it or violently opposed to it.
If, to the contrary, her children are convinced that she is just this: “Pre-eminent Member of the Church” because “super-eminent” as the original Latin of the Council indicates (Lumen Gentium, n. 53), the dragon’s anti-cause is finished. For, other than sensational “bluff,” the dragon has no other effective means of blocking her, but these, so long as She makes our cause Hers. The last great miracle of the sun here at Fatima, 13 October, 1917, should be more than enough to prove beyond argument: 1) that real control of the “forces” of nature is in the hands of the heavenly Woman, the Immaculate Virgin, the Queen of the Angels, with Michael commanding the hosts of heaven in her service, and 2) that the actual powers of the common enemy, of Her and of us, do not extend beyond the theatrical, or perhaps not even the melodramatic, of producing a great deal of noise, of smoke, of unpleasantness, effective only as a means to “convince” us we ought to accept his “philosophy of life,” the one peddled to our first parents and in every seduction to sin, especially against chastity and humility.
Mary is indeed the strong Woman foretold in Proverbs 31. She is indeed the courageous Mother “joining a man’s heart to a woman’s thought” (cf. II Mach 7:21) sustaining her sons in their victorious martyrdom, as she once supported her first-born Son on Calvary. On October 17, 1917, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe with six confreres founded the Militia of the Immaculate in Rome. About two weeks later the arch-enemy of the Immaculate made his counter-move and set up an anti-Marian militia in the once Marian Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin. In this flash, in this opening of the heavens, we are able to glimpse the true state of affairs in the Church and in the world: the Woman is always ahead of the dragon. All his plans and tactics are constrained within limits closely defined by the systematic intervention of this mysterious, but for us so wonderful personage.
One might ask: 1) why, and 2) how is her cause bound up with ours? The answer to the “why” is: because she consented to be and is the Theotokos, the Mother of God on whom she imposed the name, Jesus: God (Yahweh—He Who Is) Our-our Salvation. Therefore, the answer to the “how” is: because in making God’s will hers, She has made our cause Her cause (cf. Lk 1:38): our salvation, our liberation from the prince of this world is her cause, because that is the Father’s will, this is how he has loved the world so much that he could not love it more: he commanded his Son to be born of the Woman to save us in the most perfect way possible in any possible world, however perfect, that is, in sacrificing Himself for Her and at Her request and so through Her for us who are her children. Or with St. Maximilian we might also say: God has saved us because this is what Mary asked him to do (cf. Jn 2:1-12). In a word, she is “Our Advocate,” our Defender at the bar of eternal justice, and the Defender of our faith in via. Since Pentecost the Church has always believed this, because in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, she is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the other Paraclete (Advocate), “incomparably” beautiful. This is why Bl. John Duns Scotus calls her the “perfect fruit of a perfect redemption by a most perfect Redeemer” (cf. III Sent., d. 3, q. 1). This is why St. Thomas (cf. S.T. I, q. 25, a. 4) calls the Divine Maternity (together with the Incarnation and our Salvation) one of the three “quasi-infinites.”
How the Church on this Marian basis is constituted so as to operate efficaciously and fruitfully to the parousia, is definitively portrayed in the Cenacle on Pentecost: the Mother of Jesus in the midst of the Apostles and the faithful awaiting the promised Spirit of holiness and truth. There is a clear parallel here with the scene in the holy House of Nazareth on the day of the Annunciation, where the Virgin full of grace and of the Spirit is shown to be the key conduit whereby that Spirit will anoint the flesh to be assumed hypostatically by the Son of God. So, too, throughout that historical process whereby the Church, the People of God and Body of Christ is anointed in preparation for her final glorification on the day of Christ’s final coming, the same Mediatrix of all graces: because Theotokos and victorious Coredemptrix, occupies center stage. Any deviation from this structural arrangement necessarily tends to paralyze the Church. Or any “decentralizing” of the Spouse of the Holy Spirit in the Church, any minimizing of her role as Immaculate Mediatrix because Mother Coredemptrix must necessarily initiate a process of deconstruction and crisis within the Church and world. She is so effective an Advocate, because like the Holy Spirit she not only intercedes with her Son, but intervenes directly in the economy of salvation to realize that holiness made possible to the Church by the redemptive sacrifice of her Son.
The reason why the Immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit can exercise such a mediatory role in the Church and so make possible the multiple forms of ecclesial mediation (institutional-sacramental and charismatic) of the Church as a kind of extension of the Virgin-Mother in the order of grace is to be found in that sanctificatory mediation exercised by her in the Incarnation: she made (in the words of St. Francis) the Lord of majesty our brother (St. Bonaventure, Legenda Maior, 3; 7; 9). In giving birth to the Son of God, that is, in bearing a divine person, the Immaculate Virgin made the Word, eternally consubstantial with the Father consubstantial with us (cf. Leo the Great, Letter 31), and so that nature was sanctified in Him and in each of His members, sanctified by a rebirth similar to His Birth of the Virgin. This dual mediation of the Virgin (respectively in the objective and subjective redemption) makes possible both 1) the victimhood of that Son (in actu primo et secundo) and 2) our rebirth as adoptive, but truly sons of the Father. That is why her maternal presence at the heart of the Church, as the recently deceased successor of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II, said, is more crucial than that of the Pope himself. That presence is nothing else but her maternal mediation. She can thus mediate because as Virgin-Mother and Co-redemptrix actively sharing her Redeemer Son’s victory of the Cross she has been assumed body and soul into heaven and there gloriously crowned Queen. All this, because she is the
This is our great good fortune, that she who was so loved by the Blessed Trinity, should also have loved us. That is why we have a Redeemer and a perfect redemption.
Now, this is why we should quite consciously and deliberately make her cause our cause. It is what Our Lord expects, as he made so clear to the seers of Fatima. The triumph of the Immaculate Heart must be a primary goal of the Church. That triumph is the only way the victory over the serpent can be made total and final: in the immaculatizing of the Church: sine macula et sine ruga as that is clearly formulated by St. Paul (Eph 5:27). At the request of His Father and His Mother Christ died that the Church might share, not just any level of holiness, but the most perfect level, that of the superabundance of grace (cf. Rom 5:15) in that Virgin whose name is “Full of grace” (cf. Lk 1:28; Eph 1:4) But it is also true that when Catholics fail to believe this enthusiastically and Church policy fails to be articulated about this absolute Marian priority, the devil is well on his way to sowing the bad seed successfully and harvesting a bumper crop.
This is also the point where we note how the cause of Mary, instead of being the Savior’s primary, active instrument of our salvation, has been made an object of acrimonious debate, the moment when instead of the axiom: de Maria numquam satis, the life of the Church is conducted as though the axiom read: de Maria numquam, the moment when, with the wisdom of the Cross (cf. I Cor 1-2) and the prudence of the little ones who have made themselves children of Mary (cf. Mt 11:25 ff.), the “little hiss that only comes from hell” can plainly be discerned. This is how the efficacy of the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus in souls and in the Church is negated. This is also why the cause of “Our Advocate” must in theory and in practice enjoy absolute priority for the entire Church, for all the baptized, for all who yearn for salvation, because only thus is the primacy of Jesus rendered absolute in our hearts and works. Instead, her cause seems presently, in theory and in practice, to be on trial, the object of doubt, and the subject of censure by theologians and of silencing by ecumenists, precisely under her title of Immaculate Coredemptrix and Mediatrix of all grace.
This hardly corresponds to the normative vision of the Church presented to us at Pentecost and in the first assemblies of the believers to celebrate the Eucharist, “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32) about the Mother of God, Super-eminent Member of the Church (Lumen Gentium, n. 53), because Immaculate, preservatively Redeemed and so Mother Coredemptrix.
Hence, to the degree that the serpent can successfully persuade us to continue to debate the issue—whether the Church and all her members should publicly acknowledge the universal mediation of Mary, rather than resolve it in her favor—to that degree he has staved off final defeat. Only this, absence of a positive conclusion in the form of a dogma, not a negative judgment, is all he needs.
Conversely, once such a public acknowledgment has been made, the entire tide of battle will be reversed from what looks like an advancing crisis in the Church with no end in sight, to what not only looks like, but is what St. Paul describes as “being snatched from the jaws of hell and transported into the kingdom of light” (cf. Mt 16:17; Col 1:13). Roma locuta, causa finita. The cause “finished” will be that of Mary as total victory of the Church; but the cause finished will also be that of the devil in total defeat.
Obviously such an analysis supposes that the mystery of Marian mediation in the Church is basic to an understanding of her history. St. Bonaventure says as much in his famous Collationes in Hexaemeron, c. 14, n. 17, when he writes: “In paradise there were two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus is signaled how in all the mysteries of Scripture are explained Christ with His body (the Church) and the anti-Christ with his body (the anti-church)” The conflict between Cain and Abel, says the Seraphic Doctor citing St. Augustine (City of God), typologically describes the battle, initiated in the garden of Eden over the absolute primacy of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother, but continued in virtue of the redemptive dispositions of the Lord manifested in the prophecy in Genesis 3:15 of a Redeemer and Coredemptrix, possible because of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary. This is the battle consummated on Calvary, perpetuated in the Eucharistic sacrifice, with the offering of the Last Abel by the New Eve, the Real Isaac by the First Believer, prefigured by Abraham, “our father in faith.”
In this regard the Seraphic Doctor tells us (Collationes in Hexaemeron, c. 13, n. 20) that in one way or another Mary is to be discovered in every verse of Scripture because of the unique role she plays as Mediatrix in this great drama: in giving birth to the price of our redemption, in offering on Calvary the price of our redemption, in being in the Church absolute proprietress of the price of our redemption (protulit, persolvit, possedet pretium redemptionis nostrae: cf. Collationes in septem donis Spiritus Sancti, c. 6). If not verbally, in fact the Seraphic Doctor has here described the universal mediation of Mary in virtue of her Immaculate Conception at the moment of the Incarnation (divine Maternity), at the moment of redemption consummated on Calvary (coredemption), in the time of the sanctification of the Church and believers (mediation of all grace).
The victorious prosecution of the struggle in the glorification of the Church is accomplished in a certain order and according to a certain arrangement of the persons involved: of Christ, of Mary, of the Church and of her members. St. Bonaventure formulates this order thus: the Virgin Mother is our Mediatrix with Christ as Christ is our Mediator with the Father (cf. III Sent., d. 3, p. 1, a. 1, q. 2). This is because our only way to the Savior is through her by whom He first came and continues to come to us (cf. Commentarius in Evangelium Lucae I, 70). For the God-God she is “gate to earth”; for us sinners, singly and assembled, she is “gate to heaven.” Or still more practically the Seraphic Doctor tells us that the praises of Mary during Our Lord’s public ministry, when he was accused of being in league with Beelzebub, prince of devils, both by that good woman and by our Lord, are intended to reveal to us how the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Mary are in net contrast with the opposite seven vices of Satan in the enemies of Christ leading them to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. From this horrendous slavery there is no liberation except through the Virgin full of the Holy Spirit (cf. Commentarius in Evangelium Lucae, II, 58-63).
Practically, this translates thus: we can only know and understand Jesus and the Church and participate efficaciously in the battle between Christ and the anti-Christ to the degree that 1) the Immaculate Coredemptrix-Mediatrix of all grace is operative in the Church and in the lives of each of us; and that 2) we consciously and willingly and deliberately and unconditionally cooperate with her. This is what is meant by total consecration to the Immaculate Heart. The attempt to serve the Church and to “know the surpassing love of Christ Jesus” (cf. Eph 3:19) with neglect of the second condition and worse with grudging acknowledgment or even express repudiation of her maternal mediation can only aggravate an already advanced crisis of faith and introduce those so living more and more, not to Christ, but to the anti-Christ and his body.
We have enjoyed hearing over the past few days a wonderful overview of the mystery of Marian coredemption in theology and in the history of theology. This stupendous mystery of the Immaculate Coredemptrix on Calvary and at the Altar (Arnold of Chartres) is the very center on which turn all her other activities as Mediatrix in the Church: Advocate and Mother in so unique and powerful and indispensable a way. In a comprehensive way this overview is a description of the Immaculate Virgin’s precise place in that fundamental strategy designed in heaven to make possible our effective cooperation in that plan of battle. In a word her preservative redemption in view of the foreseen merits of her Son and Savior is the active, personal instrument of our liberative redemption and cooperation. The coredemptive mediation of Mary Immaculate, foretold by Simeon in the prophecy of the sword to pierce the Mother’s heart enables us to discern “the thoughts of many hearts” (cf. Lk, 2:35), that is, of their faithful cooperation or want of cooperation in filling up what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ for the Church (cf. Col 1:24). What is true of individuals is true also of communities.
Filling up what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ for the Church might be summarized in a single phrase: total consecration to the Immaculate Heart. The grounds for this observation are to be found in the New Testament as well as in many private revelations accorded to the Saints, precisely in two shining examples: St. Joseph (cf. Mt 1:18-25) and St. John the Evangelist (cf. Jn 19:25-27). The virginal spouse of the Immaculate illustrates what that consecration to the Immaculate Heart means in reference to the Mediatrix of all grace as Theotokos. The beloved disciple represents what that consecration or filling up what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ for the Church means in reference to the Mediatrix of all grace as Coredemptrix. In both cases consecration centers on the redemptive sacrifice of the Son of God become the Son of Mary and so Son of Man (Adam), as the Redeemer pointed out on the night before He died (cf. Jn 17:1-25). Consecration to Him and so through Him to the Father on our part is conditioned by consecration to the Immaculate and so through Her to Christ. This is what St. Bonaventure means when he tells us that Mary is our Mediatrix with Christ as Christ is our Mediator with the Father. This, it may be noted, is one of the earliest ways of recapitulating in a few words the entire theology and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.
Let us see how the current situation of the Church appears in the light of this mystery and in the light of the history of the Church and of the human family interpreted as St. Augustine and after him St. Bonaventure understand the guiding principle of all history embedded in the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. In the light of this approach we shall see why the counsels of those who would wish to silence all promotion of this mystery because equivocal or because something purely marginal to the Church today are erring counsels and why active promotion of this mystery must become part of the present agenda of the Church.
The Fact of a Marian Issue in the Church Today
I do not think very many people would seriously attempt to deny that the Church, particularly in what for many centuries has been known as the Christian West, is in a state of crisis. One may argue over the choice of term to describe a condition not exactly ideal or normative. But that the word “crisis” does describe the present condition with some degree of accuracy is generally conceded. Since most of us here are quite familiar with the components of what makes up this “crisis” it will suffice merely to list a number of the more important of these, and then go on to some more precise considerations drawn from the mystery of the Church and of its history, to enable us to go on to a second consideration: the centrality of the Marian issue as coredemptive.
Crisis as a Fact of Life
Whatever the formulation, an accurate delineation of what is meant by crisis in the Church (in the West) today would include the following elements:
– crisis of faith: Satanism; atheism, syncretism, “new-age,” false ecumenism, denial of truths of faith; chaotic theological formation; poor and sometimes bad catechesis and preaching;
– crisis of vocations: loss of priests, absence of new vocations, closing of seminaries, chaotic religious life; sale of monasteries and convents, feminization of the Church and especially the clergy; use of church administrative organs to subvert belief and discipline;
– crisis of prayer and of penance: plummeting figures for Sunday Mass attendance, for confession, for praying the rosary; unauthorized liturgical innovation; closure and razing of church edifices (or sale for profane use), hedonism, consumerism and Sunday commerce;
– crisis of morals: loss of sense of sin; widespread practice of contraception among Catholics; higher divorce rate among Catholics than among non-Catholics, pansexualism,
nudism, pornography, filthy language, abolition of public moral standards;
– crisis of social order: legal positivism, prioritization of commerce and industry, disintegration of family, legalization of “same sex marriage,” hunger, economic discrimination;
– crisis of family: infidelity, separation, divorce, co-habitation, homosexual marriage, pre-marital sex;
– crisis of life: abortion, contraception, euthanasia, war, genocide, terrorism;
– crisis of youth: drugs, sexual indulgence, pre-marital sex, sodomy, aids, pedophilia.
One may be tempted to remark that this resembles