Catholic Apologetics


How Mary Merited This Gift

We can outline three major justifications for Mary’s share in the merit of the Redemption:


  • ·       She – literally – gave Christ His Body, which is the Instrument of the Redemption (Hebrews 10:10)
  • ·       She freely acquiesced to suffer the most extreme torments in relation to the Passion, and did suffer them
  • ·       Her Immaculate nature gave her a capacity to suffer in union with the Godhead the effects of sin (especially the sin of the Passion – deicide) to a far greater extent than any other creature


St. Augustine declares, echoing Scripture, that “The flesh of Christ is the flesh of Mary!”  This fact – an obvious, direct consequence of her status as Theotokos – on its own by gives to the Virgin and implies of her a status higher than any other human being could possibly merit.


As St. Louie de Monfort states, “God the Father has communicated to Mary His fruitfulness, as far as a mere creature was capable of it, in order that He might give her the power to produce His Son, and all the members of His mystical Body.  God the Son has descended into her virginal womb, as the new Adam into the terrestrial paradise, to take His pleasure there, and to work in secret the marvels of His grace.”[1]


As great a status as the divine maternity confers on the Blessed Virgin, the deliberate acts of her free will in acquiescing to the Incarnation – knowing what it implied - along with Passion (first implicitly and later explicitly), are possibly of even greater worth.


“Mary was not ignorant of the Messianic prophecies,” notes Garrigou-Lagrange, “most particularly those of Isaias - which foretold the redemptive sufferings of the promised Savior.  Thus, when she uttered her fiat she accepted in advance for herself and for her Son all the sufferings which the redemption would involve.”[2]


Indeed, not only did she know beforehand the fate of the Saviour, but hers was even more specifically foretold to her:


And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).


Mary’s entire life – as was her Savior Son’s – one of suffering and of complete, perfect abandonment to the will of God.


This life of quiet, humble suffering and submission was culminated at the foot of the Cross, where Mary Immaculate felt both compassion for her suffering Son and horror over the unspeakable crime of deicide to an extent that other human beings are unable to comprehend.


[It is interesting to note, as does Dr. Mark Miravalle, that the word compassion comes from the Latin cum passio, literally, “suffering with”.[3]  Mary, via her compassion for her Son, the dying God-Man (a compassion that exceeded normal human bounds due to her immaculate nature, as we will see below), was “with” (cum) her Son in a way so intimate that she merited to be truly cum redemptrix.]


Two more observations of the master, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, are in order:


“One may even say that her act of faith was the greatest ever elicited, since Jesus had not the virtue of faith but the beatific vision.  In that dark hour when the faith of the Apostles themselves seemed to waver, when Jesus seemed vanquished and His work annihilated, Mary did not cease for an instant to believe that her Son was the Saviour of mankind…”[4]


“Even the saints who have been most closely associated with the sufferings of the Saviour did not enter as Mary did into the most secret depths of the Passion.  St. Catherine de Ricci had every Friday during twelve years an ecstasy of pain which lasted twenty-eight hours and during which she lived over again all the sufferings of the way of the Cross.  But even such sufferings fell far short of those of Mary.  Mary’s heart suffered in sympathy with all the agony of the Sacred Heart to such a point that she would have died of the experience had she not been especially strengthened.”[5]


Finally – but critically – it must be noted that Mary’s fullness of grace is what gave her suffering its immense value.


“Mary’s sufferings have the character of satisfaction from the fact that like Jesus and in union with Him, she suffered because of sin or of the offence it offers to God.  This suffering of hers was measured by her love of God Whom sin offended, by her love of Jesus crucified for our sins, and by her love us whom sin had brought to spiritual ruin.  In other words, it was measured by her fullness of grace, which had never ceased to increase from the time of the Immaculate Conception.  Already Mary had merited more by the easiest acts than the martyrs in their torments because of her greater love.  What must have been the value of her sufferings at the foot of the Cross, granted the understanding she then had of the mystery of the Redemption!”[6]


So, perhaps we can see how it was possible, indeed, that a creature could participate in the merits of the salvation of mankind.  Though a creature indeed, Mary is no “mere creature,” but the very masterpiece of the Creator, immaculate, impeccable, superior even to the archangels in grace.  Her willful suffering, incurred by the Passion of Christ, must indeed be of a value too high for ordinary human beings to begin to contemplate.



God Willed That The Virgin’s Participation Be Necessary For The Redemption Of Mankind


Somewhat amazingly, it is an inescapable conclusion that the Deity expressly willed that the Blessed Virgin’s participation in the Redemption was necessary for it to occur. 


A simple chain of logic proceeds as follows:


  • ·       Maternity for a rational being must be freely consented to
  • ·       Mary’s material was not just rational, but divine
  • ·       Thus her consent was doubly required, morally - as Aquinas says, “The prophecy of predestination [of the Incarnation] is fulfilled without the causality of our will; not without its consent” (emphasis mine)[7]
  • ·       Consent, by definition, must be free
  • ·       Ergo, without Mary’s consent, the Incarnation, and thus the Redemption, could not have taken place


St. Thomas notes also that, “…in the Annunciation the Virgin's consent was besought in lieu of that of the entire human nature.”[8]


Of course, it is preposterous to suppose that, in actuality, God left the Redemption to chance.  Rather, He, in His Providence, foresaw that Mary would give consent for the Redemption; “He willed efficaciously and foresaw infallibly Mary’s consent to the realization of the mystery of the Incarnation… Mary’s fiat belonged entirely to God as First Cause and entirely to Mary as secondary cause.”[9]


(As an airplane under its own power is moved over the ground by the movement of the air it rides in, so God may move the will of a truly free creature without robbing it of its freedom.)


The fact that God’s perfectly efficacious Will is the Primary Efficient Cause of the Incarnation and Redemption makes His reliance on the Blessed Virgin’s acquiescence no less remarkable.  It is perhaps the quintessential example of God’s gratuitous love for mankind – leaving His own plan for the universe subject to our will.


“It was not merely by having conceived the Redeemer physically, by having given Him birth and nourished Him, but rather was her association moral, through her free, salutary, and meritorious acts.  Eve contributed morally to the fall by yielding to the temptation of the devil, by disobedience, and by leading up to Adam’s sin; Mary, on the contrary, co-operated morally in our redemption by her faith in Gabriel’s words, and by her free consent to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation and to all the sufferings it entailed for her Son and for herself.”[10]



Development Of Doctrine (The Authentic Kind)


Scripture is not explicit regarding the Blessed Virgin’s role in the Redemption – proximate or remote.  As we have seen, the doctrine, like so many concerning Mary, is present in implicit form, but it is in a form that would require centuries to unpack and explicate under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.


Likewise, even the Fathers of the Church[11] do not explicitly teach the doctrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary cooperating with Christ in the Redemption of Christ directly.


Writing regarding the Fathers’ appreciation of Mary as the New Eve, Fr. Carol remarks that, “…the patristic texts… bear exclusively on Our Lady’s mediate [indirect] cooperation in the world’s Redemption, in the sense explained above.  Implicitly, however, they may be said to contain later developments of the doctrine.  In other words, the theologians of subsequent centuries simply elaborated and carried to its ultimate conclusions what had been preached in the Church from the remotest times only in embryonic fashion.  Thus, in the 12th century, and particularly under the influence of Arnold of Chartes (d. 1160), we begin to find frequent and specific allusions to the redemptive character of Our Lady’s compassion and her oblation on Calvary [that is, direct coredemption - PF].  By the end of the 17th century, a large number of theologians and Catholic writers were already teaching the doctrine of Mary’s Coredemption in exactly the same sense as we do today."[12]


As was alluded to in the Introduction, for centuries the most complex doctrinal jewels regarding the Most Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, lay dormant, waiting to be discovered, deep within the Deposit of Faith – though, of course, Mary’s divine motherhood, perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, and assumption into Paradise have been understood by the Church in some form at least since Apostolic times. 


In the early ecumenical councils (Nicaea and Constantinople, especially), the core Christological dogmas were formalized, critical as they are to the Faith.  Ephesus may be seen as an exception, giving us the Theotokos, yet this too is a fundamentally Christologicaltruth.


After noting that objective progress in the Deposit of Faith - an actual increase in that corpus - ceased with the deaths of the Apostles, Van Noort defines “relative, or subjective progress: no new truths are revealed; believers simply grow in their knowledge of the original deposit of the faith through the clearer, more explicit teaching of the Church.”[13]


Msgr. Van Noort defends the proposition that the material object of revelation can increase, and has increased, in the relative sense with this proof (emphasis in original):


“(a) some truths are contained in sources of revelation in obscure fashion;

 (b) the Church did not in its first beginnings proclaim these obscurer truths in clear and unmistakable fashion;

 (c) the Church, with the passage of time, did proclaim some of these truths in clear-cut fashion for our belief;

 (d) the same process can occur in the future in regard to other truths…”[14]


Regarding point (c) above, Van Noort later clarifies that the standard of “clear-cut” can encompass both solemn definitions (ex cathedra definitions) as well as the testimony of the ordinary universal magisterium, which does not define dogmas, yet teaches infallibly just the same, as noted above.


Discussing the typical process by which dogmatic progress takes place, Msgr. Van Noort outlines three stages:


“In the first stage of the process, the dogma is contained in the Church’s teaching implicitly or only in some practice.  Consequently it is indeed implicitly believed by all Catholics, but it is known by most of them only rather vaguely… In the second stage, the matter begins to be subjected to deliberate scrutiny and thus, regardless of the exact cause there arise hesitation and controversy as to whether the doctrine should be understood this way or that, whether it is contained in the sources of revelation, etc… In the third stage, with the questions clarified and the judgment of the Church brought to maturity, the truth is rendered absolutely certain either through the now universal consent of the ordinary magisteriumor even through solemn definition” (emphasis mine).[15]


Van Noort discusses Cardinal Newman’s criteria for “distinguishing a legitimate evolution [of doctrine] from a corruption”.  Among these are:


“ b. Continuity of the same fundamental principles

  d. Logical consistency in virtue of which doctrines made explicit at a later era… harmoniously blend in both with her [the Church’s] principles and with one another.

  e. Anticipation of future events.  This means that sometimes there are found among the ancient Christians dim foreshadowings or beginnings of doctrines and practices of later ages.

  f. Preservative addition to antiquity.  This means the new additions did not take away or diminish, but rather corroborated and strengthened matters which were already held much earlier.  So for example the cult of the Virgin Mary enhances rather than obscures the cult of Christ” (emphasis in original).[16]


We can see that the development of the doctrine of the Blessed Virgin’s co-redemptive role is entirely congruent with these criteria.  It is the exposition of a doctrine that existed in the Deposit of Faith from its origin, the understanding of which has been “in the same sense and the same meaning” throughout its evolution.



The Church-Approved Marian Apparitions at Akita, Japan


These apparitions, which took place in 1973 (with associated miraculous phenomena, such as lachrymations from a statue of the Virgin, continuing through 1981), received the approval of the local ordinary, who speaks for the Church regarding such events within his diocese.  The apparitions at Akita are fascinating for many reasons (they are an extension of Fatima in tone and spirit; they, via Sr. Sasagawa, the seer, make a statement contra Communion in the Hand, and more), part of their message is of keen interest to our purpose here.


Writes Francis Fukushima, “On the 28th of September 1981, 13 days after a group of 65 parishioners, pilgrims and nuns observed the 101st and final weeping of the statue of the Blessed Mother, Sr. Agnes suddenly felt the presence of her guardian angel at her side during adoration of the Most Blessed Sacraments.  She saw a vision of a large, majestic Bible appear before her eyes, and then the guardian angel instructed her to read a passage


She recognized the reference – verse 15 of chapter three of Genesis.


Then, the guardian angel explained the meaning of the number 101 of the 101 episodes of the weepings of the Blessed Mother of Akita.  The angel said:


There is a meaning to the figure one hundred and one.  This signifies that sin came into the world by a woman and it is also by a woman that salvation came to the world.  The zero between the two signifies the Eternal God who is from all eternity until eternity.  The first one represents Eve, and the last, the Virgin Mary.”[17]


So, we have a Church-approved Marian apparition directly confirming the doctrine of Mary’s Coredemption (in the general sense).


Fukushima also notes that, “In NO other place of Marian apparitions in the world throughout the history of mankind has the meaning of the message been explained by the authority of Scripture!” (emphasis in original).[18]



In the next installment, we examine the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of All Grace.



[1] de Monfort, True Devotion to Mary, 7

[2] Garrigou-Lagrange, Mother of the Saviour, 147

[3] Mark I. Miravalle, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate (Mark I. Miravalle, 1993), 21

[4] Garrigou-Lagrange, Mother of the Saviour, 182

[5] Ibid, 183

[6] Ibid, 178-179

[7] Summa, III, q30, a1, ad1

[8] Summa, III, q.30, a1

[9] Garrigou-Lagrange, Mother of the Saviour, 149

[10] Ibid, 151

[11] Generally defined as the Catholic theologians of the 2nd-7th centuries

[12] Carol,, Fundamentals of Mariology, 63

[13]Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology: The Sources Of Revelation – Divine Faith, 231

[14] Ibid, 231-232

[15] Ibid, 246-247

[16] Ibid, 250-251

[17] Francis Mutsuo Fukushima, Akita: Mother of God as CoRedemtrix (Queenship Publishing, 1994), 150

[18] Ibid, 151