Mary’s Role in the Church Is That of First Member and Model of the Body of Christ (the Church) – The Member Who Goes before Us Every Place We Go
It should be clear by now that Catholic Marian doctrines and the devotions based on them have nothing whatsoever to do with exalting Mary beyond her very clearly understood human status. Rather, they are all about what Catholic Christians through deep reflection over many centuries on the Mystery of the Incarnation of God in the fully Divine and fully human Jesus Christ, in which Mary was intimately involved as God’s human instrument, have increasingly clearly come to understand about just what the Incarnation means for Mary the human instrument of the Incarnation, and just what the Incarnation means for us who as humans are joined to God Incarnate as His Body the Church. Human nature itself has been raised to the highest dignity because God took on a human nature. Thus the so-called “Marian doctrines” ultimately are not about Mary, they are about the Body of (Mary’s son) Christ, the Church, which is intended to encompass all humanity (2 Peter 3:9). In fact, what the Catholic Church believes about Mary it also believes about the Church.
Mary Is Simply the First Christian Saved, Purified, Glorified, and Crowned by Christ (As All Christians Will Be) and the First Christian Co-redeemer and Co-mediator with Christ as a Member of His Body
As mentioned previously, note that in Catholic doctrine Mary, first member of the Church, in her ontological being is no different in nature from what we shall be, she is just first. She is the first human saved by Christ, and we are later saved by Christ. She is the first member of the Body of Christ the Church to be purified of all sin by Christ, and we are later to be purified of all sin by Christ so as to enter Heaven where “nothing impure will ever enter” (Revelation 21:27). She is the first member of the Church raised and glorified body and soul in Heaven as we will also be raised bodily to Heaven and glorified at the Second Coming and final Resurrection. She is the first member of the Body to be crowned in Heaven (Revelation 12:1,5), and we all will receive a crown (2 Timothy 4:8, 1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Peter 5:4, James 1:12; see also Revelation 2:10, 3:11, 4:4,10). Mary is the first member of the Body of Christ to co-redeem with Christ the Redeemer (hence her title “co-redemptrix [female redeemer]”), and we also co-redeem with Christ as His co-workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) who “fill up in our bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body the Church” (Colossians 1:24). Mary is the first member of the Body of Christ to mediate graces as mediatrix (female mediator) with Christ the primary Mediator (initially by giving birth to Christ, physically mediating God’s gift of the God-Man to the world), and we also mediate the graces of God in Christ (whose Body we are) to our fellow human beings through our prayers for them and our works of love (which comes from Christ) for them. So nothing can be said of Mary, first member of the Church, that is not essentially true of all Christians, of all members of the Body of Christ the Church. She merely, due only to her unique relationship with Christ as His mother who provided Him with a human nature to be crucified for our salvation, experienced or did these things first and in greater degree or in different manner.
The Only Differences Between Mary the First Member and All the Other Members of the Body of Christ the Church Are Related to Mary’s Unique Relationship with Christ as His True Mother and Source of His Human Nature in the Mystery of the Incarnation
All of the differences between Mary and all the other members of the Body of Christ are related to her unique relationship with Christ as His mother. Mary was redeemed, saved from sin by Christ in a different way than the rest of us and purified from all stain of sin earlier in her life than we will be (through preservative redemption) only in order for her to be a pure channel for God the Son to enter the world through, only in order for her to be capable of giving Jesus a human nature that was already sinless, so that sin never had any claim on Jesus the God-Man in His humanity which would require Jesus to be saved from sin by a preservative action of the Holy Spirit (see Volume II Chapter 1).
Mary is raised bodily into Heaven and glorified before we are only because of this Immaculate Conception on account of Jesus her son, which means bodily death and corruption – a wage of sin – had no hold on her, so she is assumed bodily into Heavenly Glory in somewhat different manner than we will be (those alive at the time of the Second Coming, “meeting Jesus in the air,” will be glorified body and soul in a more similar fashion to Mary’s Assumption).1
The crowns Mary has received in Heaven are different than the crowns we will receive only in that she is crowned Queen of Heaven (cf Revelation 12:1-2,5), but this is only due to her being the mother of Jesus Christ, the messianic Son of David, crowned King of Heaven (cf Hebrews 2:9, Revelation 6:2, 14:14, 19:12) in fulfilment of God’s promise to David, making Mary the Hebrew “Gebirah,” the “Great Lady” or Queen Mother of the promised Everlasting Davidic Kingdom of which the earthly Davidic Kingdom (in which the King’s mother was always the Queen) was a type or prefiguring (see Volume II Chapter 5).
Mary’s co-redemption with Christ as a member of His Body the Church is different than our co-redemption with Him only because she is his mother – meaning that in addition to participating in the subjective redemption of others (in the subjective release of saving graces through our prayers) as “co-workers with Christ” who “fill up in our bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ,” as His human mother she also actually gave Christ His human nature and human body which, crucified on the Cross for our salvation, was the instrument of our redemption (Hebrews 10:10). Thus among all the co-redeeming members of the Body she is uniquely the “co-redemptrix” with Christ, because she participated in the objective redemption of Christ’s Cross by giving Christ the human body which was nailed to it, and moreover by willingly offering up to God her son on the Cross2 as only a mother (who has a right to ask God for her child’s protection) can, while suffering herself in seeing her son suffer so, as only a mother can.
Mary’s mediation of grace with Christ the primary mediator differs from our own mediation with Christ in being a mediation of all the graces which flow from Christ the Head by the Holy Spirit through Mary (the “neck”) into the rest of the Body, but again this distinction is only due to Mary’s current intimate union with the Holy Spirit who delivers the graces, her will never contrary to His (as ours will be when we achieve that Blessed Union with God). Mary’s current heavenly glorification (body and soul) ahead of the rest of the Body of Christ is only due to her Assumption, which is only due to her Immaculate Conception, which is only due to her role in the Incarnation as the human mother of the sinless God-Man. Thus Mary is different from other Christians within the Body of Christ the Church only in relation to her unique motherhood of Jesus which no other Christian shares, and one should note that the entirety of Catholic Mariology here flows naturally and logically from the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth.
General Rule: All That Is True of Christ Is True (By Participation) of His Body the Church, and Uniquely True of Mary the First Member of the Church Because of Her Unique Relationship with Christ as His Mother
So as a general rule in summary: everything that is true of Christ is true, by participation (in the Divine nature – 2 Peter 1:4), of His Body the Church, and uniquely true of Mary the first member of the Church, because of her unique relationship with Christ as His mother. What is true of Christ is true of His Body the Church by extension, and uniquely true of Mary first member of His Body the Church because of her uniquely intimate mother-son relationship with Christ, which is beyond the relationship of Bride and Body, adopted son/daughter of God by incorporation into Christ the Only Begotten Son which all the members of the Church share with Mary (who is also God’s adopted daughter redeemed through the merits of Christ). Christ is the Redeemer, all members of His Body the Church are co-redeemers who co-redeem with Christ (Colossians 1:24), and Mary the first member of the Church is the co-redemptrix who uniquely co-redeems with Christ as His mother who gave Him His human body which was the instrument of our redemption (Hebrews 10:10). Christ is the one primary mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), Mary is the secondary mediator (feminine mediatrix) who initially physically mediated Christ the God-Man Himself, source of all grace, to the world, and all Christians are tertiary mediators, mediating Jesus Christ to all who need to know Him, but all mediation between God and men occurs with and within Christ, within His Body, which includes Mary the first Christian and all Christians as members of Christ’s Body. Christ’s Body the Church mediates God’s love and saving grace to the world such that we are channels of Divine Grace which flows from the Father to Christ the Head by the Holy Spirit through Mary “the Neck” and through the entire Body of Christ out to the world (see the Diagram at the end of Volume II Chapter 4, “The Flow of Grace to and through the Body of Christ”).
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
1 It should also be remembered that the Immaculate Conception and the consequent Assumption of Mary because of her motherhood of the God-Man are not so much “exceptional” and “unique”as they are a restoration of God’s original intention for created humanity through the graces of Jesus’ Cross being applied to Mary early (in time) by God from all Eternity (outside of time). Adam and Eve were created sinless, “immaculate,” and death had no hold on them – it was God’s original ideal that within this sinless, immortal state that they should “be fruitful and multiply,” such that their children would also be “immaculately conceived,” conceived without the stain of an Original Sin which never happened. Since God’s ultimate purposes in creating humanity was not so humans could happily wander the Garden forever, but so that humans while on Earth could learn to love like God, with total self-giving, and then come to join Him in His Heavenly Trinitarian life, fully sharing the love God is within Himself, some kind of bodily assumption into Heaven, like Mary’s, must have been God’s original intention for how sinless human beings would “cross the veil” from Earth to Heaven, since the Bible very clearly teaches that death as we know it is a result of sin (this is why we still recoil at the sight of death in horror, we fear it as unnatural – it is unnatural – it is not part of God’s plan for humanity, but a result of sin). The little-known Catholic dogma (since 649 AD) that Mary remained a virgin not only before and after but also during the birth of Jesus is also not so much “exceptional” as a restoration of God’s original intention for humanity – Genesis 3:16 is also clear that a woman’s pain in childbirth, which comes from the physical stretching and breaking of bodily integrity in order to make room for the child to exit her body, is also a result of sin, such that now “with pain you will give birth to children” – suggesting that before sin entered the world, God intended for children to leave their mother’s wombs painlessly, miraculously, complementing the miracle which still continues of the creation of a new soul from nothing in each new child.
2 The Scriptures actually provide excellent evidence that Mary as Jesus’ mother willingly consented to her son’s sacrifice on the Cross. While Mary (with Joseph) was at the Temple on the eighth day of Jesus’ life, ritually offering up her firstborn son to God in sacrifice as prescribed in the Law (Exodus 13:2,12), Simeon gave her this prophecy: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-5). Thus Mary offering up Jesus at the Temple prefigured and prepared her for offering Him up on the Cross. Mary, while ritually offering up her son to God in sacrifice, was warned by Simeon that the victory of her son which had been prophesied would come at terrible cost, that her son would be spoken against by the powerful, and the trouble He would be in would pierce her mother’s soul like a sword – such that she would have to offer Him up to God’s will again. And “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 – Mary in fact is likely Luke’s source among his interviewees (Luke 1:2-3) for the details of her life and of Simeon’s prophecy, ingrained in her mind). Mary pondered this warning for 33 years, likely even connecting this warning with the Isaiah 52:13-53:12 prophecy of the suffering servant, and thus she was ready when the Crucifixion happened, she had been expecting something like this since Jesus was eight days old. Though she would not likely have known the precise time and manner, she knew something like this would happen long before, she knew she would have to give up her son once more to God’s plan, which is why, as the Bible tells us, she stood at the foot of the Cross, she was not swooning or fainting, totally overcome by shock and horror – she was accepting the event as God’s will, and saying ‘ yes’ to it, as she did at Gabriel’s Annunciation (despite its burden upon her as an unmarried woman), for she was used to saying ‘yes’ to God’s will, at whatever cost.