The story of our fall begins with the words of an angel—albeit himself a fallen one—to a virgin in Eden. The story of our resurrection begins with the words of an angel to a virgin in Nazareth. St. Luke tells us how the angel Gabriel stood before Mary—then a girl of some fifteen years—and saluted her: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women” (Lk 1:28); and announced to her the part that God wished her to take in the Redemption. Mary was well acquainted with the prophecies concerning the Redeemer, and she knew well what a unique share in His sufferings was involved in the association with Him proposed to her by the angel. Her only question was how the virginal consecration she had already made of herself to God would be affected, and when the angel had informed her of the special miracle God intended to perform so that she might remain a virgin while becoming the Mother of the Redeemer, she gave the simple but profound answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). And then, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn 1:14).
The parallel with the fall is very close. To the devil’s, “I will not serve,” is opposed Mary’s, “Behold the servant of the Lord.” The pride and disobedience of Eve are replaced by the humility and obedience of Mary. We shall return to this reply made by Mary, for it contains the secret of the whole spiritual life. It is, moreover, only a re-echo of what the Prophet David, and after him, the Apostle St. Paul, tells us of the first sentiment of the Son of Mary on becoming man: “Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not: but a body thou hast fitted to me . . . then said I: Behold, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb 10:5–9). Here the parallel is even closer. The new Adam begins His earthly course with an act of humility and complete obedience, of which His life is but the fulfilling and consummation. In passing, let us draw attention to the words given by St. Paul: “A body thou hast fitted to me.” The possible significance of this expression will become evident in the course of our discussion.
Of our Lord’s birth, His flight into Egypt, His mysterious appearance at the Temple in Jerusalem, and the eighteen subsequent years of hidden toil as a workman in Nazareth, there is no need to tell. St. Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, is content to sum up this hidden period in the significant phrase: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (Lk 2:51).
Here we must pause to examine the unfolding of God’s plan. God Himself, with His infinite power, His infinite knowledge, and His infinite wisdom became man, and took upon Himself the sins of the whole human race. He became man to atone for the sins of mankind, to win for men the supernatural life which they had lost in Adam; to found His church by which that life was to be given to men, and to convert men by His life and doctrine so that they might receive His grace. His life on earth was planned by the divine Wisdom, even to the smallest detail. Its duration was known, and neither its development nor its end took Him by surprise. And yet during the first thirty years of the thirty-three allotted for the fulfilling of that mighty work, His whole plan of life, apart from that one mysterious visit to His Father’s house in Jerusalem, is summed up by the inspired writer in the words: “He was subject to them” (Lk 2:51).
The significance of that description is incalculable. It means that the only important external feature of our Lord’s life during that period was His subjection to His Mother Mary, and to the carpenter, Joseph. His external life was that of a village workman, quite an ordinary life which as such left no mark on the world, at least, as one ordinarily understands it. Its real significance must await discussion, for it is best considered together with the value of our own actions; but the pattern is what we desire to emphasize here; namely, a life of humble submission to the Will of God, made known by human authority. Judged by our standards—especially by the standards of the present day—it was sheer waste. Such a judgment, however, rather condemns the standards on which it is based; for they are not merely inadequate—they are absolutely misleading.
At first sight, the next stage of our Lord’s life—His public work—seems more in accordance with our ideas. For the next three years, we find Him preaching His gospel to the Jews, confirming it by miracles, and recruiting and forming a number of chosen followers among whom twelve take a prominent place. His fame spread throughout the whole country; He spoke as one having power and authority and His influence became so great that the Pharisees and Scribes, fearing for their own position, began to plot against Him. But the Jews began to hope that He was the deliverer for whom they had waited so long. To understand their attitude we should remember that the tradition of a Redeemer to come had been confirmed and developed by a long line of prophets sent by God; but in the minds of an oppressed people, suffering under the foreign yoke of the Romans, it had taken on a more political color. Among the Jews in the time of our Lord, there was a widely spread hope of a redeemer who would come as a king to free Israel from its subjection and restore the ancient kingdom of the Jews. The religious and political aspects of this redemption could be found mingled in varying proportions in many minds. Despite our Lord’s insistence upon the true nature of His kingdom, even His own chosen twelve apostles, who were so closely associated with Him, did not escape from the popular error. When our Lord began to speak of His own death as a criminal on the cross, consternation took hold of them, so much so, that Peter, who was to be the head of His followers, remonstrated with His Master and earned a sharp rebuke from the lips of Christ. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seemed to lend color to the Jewish hopes of national deliverance; the people acclaimed Him as their king and gave Him a public reception of such enthusiasm that it only needed a definite sign from Him to start a general movement for national deliverance.
To us, it might seem that this was the opportune occasion to seize temporal power as a means to building up a spiritual empire. Such was not our Lord’s plan, nor were these developments anything but an accidental result of His policy. All His work was directed quite differently. “The kingdom of God,” He preached, “is within you” (Lk 17:21). In fact, when one remembers who our Lord really was, and what infinite power was at His disposal, the whole wonder of His public life is not the marvelous works He actually did, but the many and more wonderful works which He could have done and did not do. And one gets the impression that, throughout all this period, His chief desire was to press on to the final stage of His life—that the works of His public ministry formed but a small part of His plan, a part perfectly performed, but still something that He seemed to have far less at heart than the final stage—“the baptism wherewith He was to be baptized”—and to which He hurries on, if one may say so, with the impatience of a lover.
Our standards cannot be adopted to measure this period, of which certain things are noteworthy. He wrote nothing with His pen; He shared the work of preaching with His disciples and eventually left the whole of that ministry to them; great as were the works which He performed, His disciples were to do still greater; the one pre-eminence He seemed determined to reserve for Himself was that of suffering. Looking at His work as it appeared on the day of His death, it seemed to have been a complete failure. The crowds who had acclaimed Him on the previous Sunday are replaced on Friday by a mob who clamor for His death. The thousands who heard Him and saw His wonderful miracles, and who were helped by Him and healed by Him, seem to have disappeared. At His death on the cross we find only His Mother, one of the apostles, a few faithful women; and in a crowd, a few of His followers, whose eminence, perhaps, gave them courage to be present. He Himself is branded as an imposter, disgraced as a criminal, and put to a death that carries with it the stigma of the deepest degradation.
All this is part of a plan, but the plan is one which shatters our standards of value. On that very end of our Lord’s life, which material standards condemn as a complete failure, the whole history of the human race hangs in eternal dependence. Since our Lord was God, since the Person who acted and suffered in the human nature of Christ was divine, all His acts were of infinite value. Had God so willed, any single one of them, however small, would have been more than sufficient to satisfy for the sins of the world and to redeem all men. Yet God’s love had decided otherwise. For His own wise reasons, to help men to understand the enormity of sin, to win their confidence and their love, and to show them His own immense love and desire for their happiness, God had decreed that the salvation of the world should be purchased by the Passion and Death of His Son.
The five sorrowful mysteries commemorated in the Rosary contain a summary of those crowded hours from Thursday night until Friday afternoon: the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion on Calvary. It was a short time as measured by movement of the sun; but if measured as moments of pain are really measured, by the intensity of agony, those few hours were longer than the whole duration of the world. For we cannot conceive what our Lord endured in those hours. His body was designed for suffering, and the power of His divinity was used only to avoid the remedy that human weakness would otherwise have found, that of loss of consciousness, and even of life, through sheer pain. No human being ever suffered as our Lord suffered in that physical agony, and the physical agony was a mere drop in the ocean compared with the exquisite agony of His mind and heart. For the heart of the Crucified burned with a more intense love of God than the world has ever known, and the Son’s heart was torn by the offences that men offer to His heavenly Father. And in that same heart there was a fire of love for men, of love for each man and for every man; and the Lover’s heart was torn by the thought of the coldness of those whom He loved and the loss they were incurring by their refusal to love Him. On the previous Sunday we heard the lament that wrung tears from the eyes of God: “and thou wouldst not”; on the cross on Friday the same love wrings every drop of blood from that divine heart. Truly, we must call Him, “This Tremendous Lover.”
And we must remember that His love for men is not merely a love for humanity in general. God is in love with each human individual, personally and particularly. It is essential to remember that fact. Each of us can rightly regard the whole of our Lord’s heart and interest as centered on our own self, for our Lord would have undergone all His passion for any one of us, and each of us was present to His mind just as clearly and as significantly as if there were no one else to redeem. The heart of our Lord is the heart of a man who is God and who has all God’s infinity of knowledge and power and love. And yet it is a human heart with all the human heart’s longing to love and be loved; and no lover has ever been treated and slighted as bitterly as has “This Tremendous Lover.”
Thus the human race, which was lost at the tree in the Garden of Eden, was redeemed at the tree of the cross on Calvary. And just as Eve stood by the tree in Eden and played a cardinal part in our fall, so the new Eve—Mary, the Mother of Christ—stood by the cross on Calvary, and played so important a part in our redemption, that theologians do not hesitate to call her the Co-Redemptrix. Of her sufferings also there is no measure. She was only a human creature, but the very grace that filled her soul gave her a capacity for suffering that we cannot understand. Only a mother can know the sufferings of a mother, only a lover can know a lover’s anguish, and only the Mother of God herself can know the sufferings that racked the heart of Mary at the foot of the cross. She knew, as no one else could know, the horror of sin; she knew, as no one else could know, what agony men were causing the heart of her Son. She knew, as only the Mother of all men could know, what a loss men were inflicting on themselves. “Great as the sea is thy destruction, O Daughter of Sion.” She is the Mother of Sorrows; more than that we cannot say.
As it was in this sorrowful Passion and Death that the redemption of men was achieved, the parallel to the fall in Eden becomes more and more evident. Pride and disobedience were the source of our ruin; our redemption was won by the humility and obedience of Christ. St. Paul sums all up when he writes of our Lord that He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. . . . he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross” (Phil 2:7–8).
Historically, the next stage of the restoration commenced on the third day after the Crucifixion, when Christ rose from the dead glorious and immortal for our justification and became “a quickening spirit” to those who believe in Him. This was the beginning of His triumph. Forty days afterwards, He ascended into heaven, having put the finishing touches to His work of founding the Church. In heaven He rules at the right-hand of God, and reigns as king of the universe for ever and ever. His work on earth was done—in one sense; and yet in another, it was only beginning.
Here we meet with that especial difficulty that besets all attempts even to outline the plan of our redemption, namely, the unique manner in which the interaction between the life of our Savior and our own life transcends not only space, but time also, defying even the external sequence of events. For example, our Lady was preserved from original sin and sanctified by the merits of Christ nearly fifty years before the Passion and Death that were the source of that preservation. Our Lord in Gethsemani and on the cross was stained with the shame of the sins that we commit today and even of those sins which those who come after us will commit until the end of time. In fact, the whole of God’s plan for our sanctification consists in making us living partners in the life and death of Christ. That partnership demands an intricate succession of mutual interaction and cooperation, a relationship of mutual cause and effect repeated over and over again; and yet our Lord’s part in the partnership on earth was completed nearly two thousand years ago, while our part has still to be performed.
The organization of the Church, the sacraments, the sacramental presence of Christ on our altars, and His glorious presence in heaven help us to some extent to overcome the difficulty of realizing that He still acts on us; but the part we played in the life and death of Christ remains a mystery that is not easy to penetrate. Yet our part is quite real. In the succeeding chapters we shall make some attempt to visualize the working of this partnership from different points of view; here we shall merely follow the historical sequence of events, while warning the reader that the connection between our Lord’s life and our own is by no means limited by the time sequence.
Our Lord, having won for us as the new Adam the supernatural life that the old Adam had lost, made certain arrangements to transmit that new life to each of us. Direct action on each of us is of course always possible, and since sanctification is a supernatural work in the strictest sense of the term, God alone can be its principal cause and agent. Yet in His mercy, He deigned to associate His creatures with Him in His work so that they may share His happiness. The most obvious part of His plan for extending His benefits to all men is His Church. The association of this word with a building in which acts of worship are performed may distract us from its real meaning, which is an organization, a congregation of persons arranged in a hierarchy of authority, endowed with certain powers, subject to Christ, and which transmits to each of its members the fruits of the Redemption. St. Peter was its first visible head exercising his authority as vice-gerent of Christ and has been succeeded in an endless succession by a long line of popes, each possessing full authority in the name of Christ.
The twelve apostles were the first bishops, possessing certain privileges that were unique, and they are succeeded by bishops who are placed by the Holy Ghost to rule each diocese in union with the pope. They are assisted by the Catholic priesthood in whom our Lord has perpetuated His own priesthood. The lower orders of the clergy are associated with them in their ministry. Finally the Church includes all the faithful, who become its members by the sacrament of baptism. They are thereby made partakers of the life that Christ won for them on Calvary; they are united to Him as the branches are to the vine; and they are accordingly subject to the laws regulating that supernatural life in their souls, made by the lawful authority governing the Church. The Church is unique among the societies known to men. There are many other societies—some natural, some artificial, some covering a whole nation, some limited to one family; there are societies of every type, and yet the Church is different from them all. For the Church is not merely an organization, it is a vital organism; it is, in fact, the living Body of Christ.
With that expression we reach the heart of the whole problem; and its explanation, or rather its discussion, will occupy the many pages of this book. Let us here notice two vital processes that are found in this society, which will illustrate its unique character. The first of these is the sacramental system. This system centers around the great sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist, in which the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are made the essential food of the life of the Christian soul, without which life he cannot have ever lasting happiness. In the Blessed Sacrament there are really and truly present the Body, the Blood, the Soul and the Divinity of Christ. If this be the food of the soul,—what must be its life? Can it be anything less than God Himself, in some way living in the soul?
And so we find that in the sacrament of baptism, in which the soul receives its supernatural life, the Blessed Trinity come and take up their abode in the soul of the baptized, and enter into a vital union with that soul, in which the Holy Ghost plays such an intimate part that there is a true sense in which He may be said to be the soul of the soul. For He is the animating principle of its supernatural life, which He gives to the soul by grace. It is of course true that this does not involve what philosophers call a substantial union, such as is that of the human body and its soul, for that union produces one new substance. The technical term for the union of grace is “accidental union”; and while being made a partaker in the divine nature, the soul does not become God, nor does it in any way lose its individual personality or distinctness of substance.
Yet there is a real transformation produced in the soul, by which it becomes capable of actions completely above its human nature. As iron is plunged into fire and shares in the glowing heat and burning power of the fire even though it still remains iron, so the soul is plunged into God, and shares in a real and vital, withal limited, way in His nature. So real is the change, that the soul becomes truly a son of God. It becomes a son by adoption; but whereas human adoption merely confers legal rights and gives extrinsic assets without effecting any change in the nature of the adopted child, divine adoption actually confers a new nature upon us, and makes us children of God and heirs to His kingdom.
There is then in the sacramental system evidence of the extraordinary nature of the Church as a vital organism. The functions of her priesthood afford another illustration of it. The priest in saying Mass, takes bread into his hands, and speaking in the first person says: “This is my body.” In virtue of these words the bread is changed into the Body of Christ. The same priest in the confessional, speaks to the penitent in the first person, saying: “I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” And by virtue of those very words, all sins properly confessed with sorrow are forgiven. And if we remember our Lord’s words, we shall know that the forgiveness of sin is a work proper to God alone.
Here then is clear evidence of the living presence of Christ in His Church, and a manifestation of that vital union and intimate partnership that exists between Him and the members of what we have called His Body. One other example may be cited from the same sacramental system. Not only has our Lord perpetuated His real presence in the sacramental species of the altar, and His priesthood in the person of His ministers, but He has even found a means of perpetuating His sacrifice—that unique sacrifice of Calvary—in the sacramental sacrifice of the Mass. There is a mystery here, the “mystery of faith”; but we can say that the Catholic who assists at Mass is as near to the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross, in all that concerns its supernatural essentials, as were those who stood at the foot of the cross, for the Mass is “the perfect sacrament of the Passion.”
The second vital process referred to is still more mysterious. In St. John’s Gospel, we read of our Lord’s dying words to our Lady and to St. John as they stood at the foot of the cross. To Mary, He said: “Woman, behold thy son”; to St. John: “Behold thy mother” (Jn 12:26–27). There is ample authority for the statement that St. John here stood for the whole of the redeemed. Mary was then proclaimed the Mother of the living, the new Eve, who was to be the custodian and the Dispensatrix of the life that our Lord was pouring out for our Salvation. In some real but mysterious way, Mary begets us in Christ and Christ in us, and she plays such a vital part in the supernatural regeneration and growth of each one of us that she is, in fact as well as in name, our Mother.
It is not without significance that she is mentioned in the first announcement of our salvation in the Garden of Eden, when God said He would place an enmity between her seed and the seed of the devil. And the significance is all the more deepened when we read in St. John’s prophetic work, that forms the last book of Holy Writ, his vision of the great sign in heaven:
A woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child she cried travailing in birth and was in pain to be delivered. . . . And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered: that when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. . . . And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rv 12:1–17)
That this vision describes the Church as well as our Lady is clear; the very duality of its applications only lends further reality to the extraordinary relation that one glimpse between Mary and the Church. Both are mothers, both are mothers of Christ. And in Mary the Church finds its life—for she is the Mother of the Head of the Church. Pope Pius X, applying the above text from the Apocalypse to our Lady, asks whose birth is in question. He replies: “Clearly OURS, who, still detained in exile, have yet to be begotten in a life of perfect charity of God and eternal happiness.” Can one then question our right to regard the whole plan of redemption, which St. Paul summed up in the phrase: “to re-establish all things in Christ,” as the rebirth of the whole human race, through the exercise of the maternity of Mary—who is the Mother of the whole Christ?