How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth: A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN.
Jeremiah 31, 22
As long as the heir is a child, he differs nothing from a servant, though he be Lord of all. But he is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the Father. So, we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of this world. But when the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Galatians 4, 1-5
“Humility is a passive virtue: it is a readiness to accept what is born not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of man’s will; a readiness to welcome God who comes down.”
Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
AS LONG AS THE HEIR IS A CHILD, HE DIFFERS NOTHING FROM A SERVANT, THOUGH HE BE LORD OF ALL
In his Commentaries on Galatians 4, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that, in the preceding chapter of Galatians, St. Paul creates a simile of the Israelites as small children to signify their helpless state under the Law of the Old Covenant. And they are likened as children because they possess an imperfection of knowledge in contrast with the knowledge of truth which comes through Christ by God’s grace. Likewise, in Chapter 4, God is compared to a child in our Lord’s becoming small like us by his incarnation. Our Lord humbles himself by becoming a servant who is subject to his lord and master, although he is Lord of all creation. As a servant, he is subject to the will of his master so that his will is not entirely his own insofar he must conform his will to the will of his lord.
Most Jews (the lost house of Israel) in the time of Jesus were servants in the strict sense, namely those who observed the Law in fear of temporal punishment and out of desire for temporal blessings and rewards, which they wrongly felt God was indebted to grant them for having obeyed the Divine commands purely through their own will with no thought given to His saving grace. However, the Jews who were not God’s servants in the strict sense were His true servants and rightful heirs to the promised inheritance. These righteous servants followed the Law not for its own sake, but out of a genuine love of God, whom they did not want to offend for the sake of His love and goodness. It wasn’t so much that they kept the law as a practical rule of conduct to avoid being punished and reap temporal rewards, as it were they observed God’s commandments being motivated by them for Him.
Adam and Eve had a will that was not completely their own insofar they were expected to obey the will of God. But their wills still belonged to them in that they could freely choose whether to abuse their autonomy by disobeying God out of sinful pride. Jesus, on the contrary, conformed his human will to his divine will in oneness with the Father by his substantial grace of union with Him. The suffering servant had faithfully and humbly served his master and had exemplified what a true servant should be. God became man to show us what our Lord and Master expects of us to aspire to in conformity with His will and our divine image if we hope to be reconciled with God (Jn. 13:14). Before Mary had even conceived and given birth to Jesus, she too demonstrated how faithful a servant of God she was when she consented to be our Lord’s mother (Lk. 1:38).
Not unlike her Son in his humanity, Mary was free to exercise her will as completely her own, but it belonged to God insofar it had to concur with the Divine initiative to produce the fruit that lasts to eternal life both for herself and the human race. In faith and charity, she humbly acted in oneness with God by accepting and cooperating with the plenitudes of grace she was endowed with to do her good work which God had prepared beforehand (Eph. 2:10). She offered herself to God as His handmaid or servant in childlike humility (Lk.1:48). As a rightful heir to the promised inheritance, because of her childlike trust in God, Mary completed what her Son eternally gained for humanity by his humility and poverty of spirit – the promised gift of eternal life (Phil. 2:5-11).
By emulating her divine Son in his humanity, Mary could conceive him in her womb. In that same poverty of spirit that Jesus exemplified, when he humbled himself to be baptized in the Jordan and endure his Passion for the sake of pleasing his heavenly Father, Mary opened the door that her Son was knocking on so he would come into the world and obtain for humanity the grace of justification and forgiveness (Rev. 3:20). Jesus would not become her Son unless she too were willing to please the Father by dying to self and this world with a humble child’s love for Him and faith in His goodness. She could open the door to her God and Saviour only by receiving him in her heart. Like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, the Lord’s handmaid could, therefore, bear the fruit of her womb (Lk. 1:42), so that all might save their lives by losing it, too (Mk. 8:35; Jn. 12:24).
Mary’s will, even though her own, had to belong to God by its being aligned with His will before He would become man. Unlike the servant of God in the strict sense, whose selfish concern was with avoiding punishment and reaping God’s blessings for oneself and their families, Mary personified the true Israel in the spirit – Daughter Zion – when she freely consented to be the mother of the Lord in charity and grace. Her love of God and neighbour took precedence in her obedient act of faith. She did not pronounce her Fiat to procure any temporal reward for herself. Her only joy was in the God of Abraham and living her life in His grace, as to be always united with Him spiritually and mystically by doing His will. And for this reason, she helped save the world from sin and death in collaboration with God. (Est. 14:16-19 DRB; Mt. 16:25-26).
By God’s grace and in their shared humanity, both Jesus and Mary had to grow in knowledge of God and wisdom to acquire an understanding of what righteousness means by the Divine standard as to live in His grace: love of God and neighbour, with a total willingness to surrender oneself to His divine and holy will, despite the great personal sacrifices that might have to be made and acts of self-denial (Lk. 2:40; Rom. 12:1-2). The time for following rules for their own sake to preserve social order came to an end with the establishment of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36: 26:28; Micah 6:8; Mt. 7:12; Rom. 3:20; Gal. 5:14; 6:2; 1 Jn. 3:22-23, etc.). The child Jesus and his mother Mary understood and appreciated at some point in their human lives that our justification before God depends on a complete ontological transformation of oneself by the infusion of His grace (Ps. 51:7-10; Rom. 5: 17-19; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:22-24; Phil. 2:13; Col. 3:10, etc.).
One must willingly refuse to offend God simply out of love, while loathing to offend the One who is infinite love and goodness. Everyone ought to love their neighbour with compassion and mercy by the strength of their will. This is the natural law of love written by God in the hearts of every human being (Jas. 2:12). Jesus (the New Adam) and Mary (the New Eve) are perfect examples of what it means to aspire to divine perfection the best we can in our frail humanity and be blessed with God’s friendship in the knowledge of His truth. Jesus and Mary could merit the reward of eternal life produced by the Son on behalf of humanity because of their love, poverty of spirit, and complete trust in God the Father: The Son in strict justice and the Mother by right of friendship with God. The Father’s will had been their will, only because they learned to love what He loved in His goodness and righteousness and allowed it to be the measure of conduct for their lives.
“Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 13, 17
BUT HE IS UNDER TUTORS AND GOVERNORS UNTIL THE TIME APPOINTED BY THE FATHER
St. Thomas continues, there was a fixed time set by God for the law of the Old Covenant to endure and for the heirs of promise to be under it. In like manner, there was a time fixed by the Father during which Jesus was not to exercise his divine power and ministry to the world. Until then, our Lord lived with his parents Mary and Joseph, being honourable and humbly obedient towards them like a child and a true servant of God in keeping with the spirit of the Law.
The servants of Israel in the strict sense failed to understand the true spiritual meaning of the Mosaic Law, and so they fell under its bondage by their own doing, burdening themselves with superficial observances and rites for their own sake while presuming they could place God in their debt by their acts. This was the Jewish religious mind-set at the time of Jesus’ birth which developed from the Jews’ traumatic experience of the Babylonian captivity centuries before. The Jewish fear of offending God by neglecting to observe the ceremonial law reached an irrational height. The people of Israel were taught and kept subject to the Law by their religious elders like children under tutors and governors. But at the appointed time, God willed to teach His people the true meaning of the Law, which the scribes and Pharisees had distorted in their religious zeal, by revealing His love and mercy that was at the heart of the Law.
The gospel dispensation revealed through Christ was meant to liberate the Jews from the burdens they had imposed on themselves in their neglect of the true meaning of the Law and in their misplaced fear and religious fastidiousness. God sent His Son into the world to redeem mankind because of His love and mercy and to teach the people of Israel that the true observance of the Law consisted of showing this same love and mercy to their fellow man. This was the spirit of the Law, if observed would free the Jews of their burden – the law of love and freedom written in their hearts. If their conscience did not condemn them in their relations with each other, then they could stand boldly before God’s justice without fear of punishment, for love should drive out all fear of God’s wrath (1 Jn. 3:21; 4:18).
As foretold by the prophets, the time of grace had arrived. Salvation could be attained if only the Jews would allow the Holy Spirit to condescendingly dwell in their hearts, renew their minds, and re-create their fallen human nature. Only by His grace, could they become children of love and mercy as adopted sons and daughters of God by partaking of His divine nature. By understanding the heart of the Law and observing its spirit, the Jews should be entitled to their promised inheritance. God sent His Son to teach and show how they could resemble Him in His nature as His children and rightful heirs. Their temper and conduct must emulate the God-man, he who claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Jesus came into the world to reveal the only way to the Father, and that was by living in the light as he was in the light, and to be pure as he was pure in the grace of God (Jn. 14:6; 1 Jn. 1:5-7; 3:3). Practicing the righteousness of the Pharisees, by superficially observing the ceremonial Law, was insufficient to cleanse the Jews of their sins. The time arrived for them to learn that to be in God’s grace their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. They must be righteous as Jesus was righteous in his humanity to enjoy God’s favour (Mt. 5:20; 1 Jn. 3:7). By being like him in their interior disposition they could free themselves from the curse and burden of the Law.
When the appointed time arrived for Mary to present her infant Jesus in the temple, she piously observed Mosaic law, fulfilling the promise made to Abraham, that his offspring Isaac would become the father of a great nation through which the world would be saved. Mary’s consecration of her firstborn Son to God fulfilled Abraham’s faithful offering of his son to God at the altar of the holocaust. As a faithful Jew, Mary had observed a custom that was traditionally established in Judaism on Abraham’s act of faith.
However, she did not follow this custom for its own sake so that she could reap temporal blessings for her and Jesus. She acted knowing, by observing the Law, the grace of redemption could be conferred on humanity. On this occasion, and so soon after his birth, Mary offered Jesus back to God because of her love for Him who was offended by sin and her love for humanity which was ravaged by sin. Her presentation of the infant Jesus was a meritorious act of charity in grace. In faith, she acted as a true servant of Israel in the spirit for the spiritual benefit of mankind.
Thus, Mary’s obedience to the will of God morally contributed to the salvation of the world, yet not without drawing her into the passion and death of her Son to make it complete (Lk. 2:34-35). The Cross stood before Mary since the nativity of Jesus. The mother of Jesus was chosen to be more than a bearer and nurturer of a child. She was the handmaid or servant of the Lord, which meant she had a divine vocation; a personally demanding one, she would learn, not unlike the patriarchs and prophets who went before her, for the sake of the world, to be fulfilled on Calvary.
Mary consecrated the fruit of her womb to God in the spirit of the priesthood, not only for the forgiveness of sins, but to help gain the gift of eternal life which would be produced by her Son for humanity. And she did not act out of an irrational fear of God, but out of perfect love in His grace. Mary felt compassion for humanity, and so her sacrificial offering on man’s behalf pleased God. Our Blessed Lady temporally appeased the Divine justice by her observance of this Judaic rite of initiation in her obedient act of faith in anticipation of Calvary. The blessed fruit of her womb which she offered up to God was the heavenly bread and his flesh that he would give for the life of the world (Jn. 6:50-51).
The Divine Word chose to be made of a woman so that, as her seed, he could be consecrated to the Father in preparation for his sacrificial act of atonement on the Cross. The Son took his flesh from a woman so that he should have a mother who would not only consecrate him to the Father, but also make the offering in faith and charity. This ceremonial act had to be performed by the woman who God promised would be at enmity with the prince of darkness and understand the true meaning of the Law in all its spiritual fullness and richness manifested in the coming of her Son. It was fitting that she who walked in the light should present the “Light of the world” to God for mankind’s redemption (Jn. 8:12).
Mary’s Father of faith pleased God, for the sacrifice of his only son that he was willing to perform was as much a living sacrifice of himself made in charity and grace. To his supernatural merit, Abraham was willing to suffer pain and loss because of his love of God and childlike trust in him (Gen. 22:15-18). So, too, Mary’s consecration of her firstborn and only Son was a meritorious act of personal sacrifice to God that should be joined with the sacrifice he came into the world to make. Mary’s offering of the fruit of her womb was a peace offering to God in anticipation of the appointed sacrificial peace offering Jesus would make of himself to reconcile mankind with his heavenly Father, but not without the pain and loss his mother must endure to completely satisfy God for the sins that offend Him (Lk. 2:34-35).
Hence, Jesus and Mary embodied the true servant of Israel in the Spirit by faithfully and lovingly observing the will of the Father. The law of the Old Covenant should be fulfilled and have served its good purpose now that both the woman and her offspring submitted to this prescription of the Mosaic Law in accord with its true spirit of love and freedom: Jesus by his circumcision, his mother Mary by her faithful act of presenting them for their purification and the dedication of her Son in the Temple.
On this occasion, Mary was called to let go of her Son and give him back to the Father in anticipation of his divine mission. Her love of God had to supersede the love of a mother for her only child even at the expense of having to endure great sorrow. Therefore, Simeon had mysteriously included her in his prophecy concerning Jesus at the time she presented and dedicated him to God as his servant. Mary presented her body as a living sacrifice to God her “spiritual worship” when she sacrificed her maternal right and presented the fruit of her womb in the temple as a peace offering to Him (Rom. 12:1-2). This she did in the name of her Son, though neither of them was in need of being ritualistically purified. In a humble spirit of obedience to the will of the Father by her love of God, in union with her Son, Mary presented herself and her holy Offspring together with him in a true spirit of dedication to God for the sake of His righteousness and goodness. At peace with her brethren, Mary acted so that they would be eventually reconciled to God at the appointed hour.
“Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5, 24
SO WE ALSO, WHEN WE WERE CHILDREN, WERE SERVING UNDER THE ELEMENTS OF THE WORLD
The promised people and heirs, says St. Thomas, were serving the “elements of the world” under the Law by observing rituals and ceremonies in the hope of obtaining temporal blessings and avoiding temporal punishment. Yet, unlike the neighbouring pagans in their midst, the Israelites refused to worship the created order of things in place of the Creator, that is so long as they remained faithful and did not worship the idols of the surrounding nations and engage in the immoral practices of their neighbours. Monotheism didn’t really take firm root in Judah until after the Babylonian captivity and the Jews finally learned their lesson the hard way. But, as a result, religious observances became too rigid. The letter of the Law overrode the spirit of the Law, for fear of incurring divine wrath.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found grace with God” (Lk. 1:30). He implied she was a child of the promised inheritance who had come of age and had a direct relation with her heavenly Father, as to His thoughts and desires. We could say that Mary was a daughter after His heart, as the Psalmist was as a son of God, but even more so, since our Blessed Lady never sinned (Lk. 1:28). Unlike the unfaithful servants among the Israelites, Mary observed the word of God while accounting to herself every Divine command she kept in accord with the spirit of the Law. She was more than a servant who received her orders without giving any conscientious thought to them. Mary personified God’s faithful virgin bride in the ideal figure of Daughter Zion.
Before Christ came and preached his Gospel to the Jews, they were in tutelage to principles that appertained to their religious and social system as part of the fallen and corrupt world they presently lived in. Their walk with God was confined to a rigid system of law and did not go beyond it. Whatever divine light they may have occasionally received that revealed God’s heavenly kingdom to them made their system of law that much darker, since the works of the Law in and of themselves could not justify them before God.
Mary had found grace with God, and so she could stand confidently before Him in His justice. She was found worthiest among all the Jewish maidens in Judah to be the mother of His Only-begotten Son. The character of God whom Jesus came to manifest in His person, so that the Jews could properly relate to Him as His children, was borne by the woman who would become his mother in the flesh. The Law manifested the humanity of the Jews to be contrary to what they should have been in spirit according to the right understanding of the Law. The Law was spiritual, but because the Jews could be just as sinful as their pagan neighbours, they themselves could be nonspiritual, “sold as slaves to sin” (Rom. 7:14). Yet God looked with favour on the lowliness of His handmaid by removing her from sinful humanity (Lk. 1:48).
Mary was counted among the true servants of Israel in the spirit, who were a minority. The Jews in general were like little children who could be very naughty by being peevish and perverse. Because of their apostasy and idolatry, the Northern and Southern kingdoms respectively were enslaved by the Assyrians and Babylonians for decades. They often stood in need of correction and chastisement before and after their exiles. After their restoration, as was suited to their infantile state of lacking in spiritual maturity and moral responsibility, the application and observance of the Law became far more rigid and ceremonial practices too superficial, especially in the Southern kingdom of Judah where Christ was born. The Mosaic institutions were the first principles of Judaism under whose elements the Jews were held in bondage.
The ceremonial laws kept them in bondage through its sanctions and penalties to the extent that the law of love and freedom written in their hearts became obscure. Natural elements such as certain foods and cleansing water obscured whatever spiritual vision and knowledge of God they might have had. What mattered more to them in their false sense of security was the impeccable observation of rituals for their own sake which for them served as a sign of being in God’s favour. The spirit of humility and charity that should have taken precedence in their souls like a burning fire of God’s love was quenched to the virtual point of extinction.
What kept the Jews in bondage under the law was also the induced fear of failing to perform their religious tasks and receiving due correction from their elders whom they often appeared to have feared more than they feared God. Charity and repentance were often wanting because of an excessive indulgence in following dietary prescriptions and observing the ceremonial protocols, such as the washing for making physical contact with lepers. A Jew might refrain from handing a loaf of bread to a begging leper or even a Samaritan for fear of becoming ritually impure and having to explain himself to his rabbi for his taboo act. Many Jews were more anxious about washing their cups than they were about the cleansing of their souls through an examination of conscience and act of repentance for being uncharitable to the outcast and foreigners.
Like dependent children who didn’t know any better and needed instruction, the Jews in Mary’s time were taught by their elders that following the prescriptions of the ceremonial law and religious observances was what mattered most to be in good relations with God. Jesus, for instance, was criticized by the scribes and Pharisees for healing the sick on the Sabbath. The Jewish elders, in a sense, spoke on behalf of the people’s conscience. Thus, the Jews could fall prey to religious pride in their misplaced and excessive zeal, to the extent of even being uncharitable in contravention of the spirit of the Law for the sake of holding to its letter (Mt. 12: 1-14; 23:15; Mk. 12:40; Lk. 10:25-37).
Mary, on the other hand, found grace with God because of her humility and charity. The spirit of the Mosaic Law was written in her heart. She was ever thoughtful of where she stood in her relation to God and kept in touch with the voice of her conscience. Though devoutly religious, Mary never succumbed to excessive religiosity. She was a spiritually mature and morally responsible woman who received her religious instruction in calculated and proper measure. Mary proved herself to be the ideal mother in raising the young child Jesus in the Jewish faith. God sent His angel to Mary because she was more than a servant; she was a child of God who could enter upon her inheritance, since the Gospel which her Son would bring to light to the Israelites – the spirit of the Law that had been buried beneath the written word, but was near to them – filled her heart with lasting peace and joy. It was in possession of this spirit that Mary pronounced her Fiat.
The Lord’s faithful handmaid was raised above the restraint of the Law, for she lived a life of grace as an adopted daughter of God. As such, she placed her kinswoman Elizabeth’s interests before her own for three months, though she too was with child. Moreover, spiritually our Blessed Lady had no need to conform to the Mosaic rites and customs, being free of all stain of sin and never having failed to observe the truth of God’s word (Lk. 11:28). Mary was an heir who had come of age and no longer a minor who should be placed under tutors and governors. She received her instruction from the word of God that was in her heart through the voice of His Spirit. Mary was unaffected by the condition of servitude to rites and customs for their own sake, for she possessed and lived her life in full knowledge of God’s truth as revealed in the Gospel, which kept her free from being held in bondage to a rigid observance of the prescriptions of the Law.
Still, she faithfully observed the religious ordinances and prescriptions of the ceremonial Law in humble obedience to God who had instituted them, but in accordance with His Spirit who animated the Law to free the Jews of the elements of this world that could alienate them from God. The angel Gabriel assured Mary that the Lord was with her and she had no cause to be afraid, meaning she wasn’t distant from Him in how she conducted her life in relation to God and her neighbour.
The Jews were heirs of the promised inheritance, but did not yet take full possession of it, since the dispensation of the Gospel and the grace of redemption had not arrived until the coming of Christ. Until then, the Jews were being prepared for the coming of the Messiah. But the angel saluted Mary as “full of grace”. God had already prepared her to receive her full inheritance. She was never under the bondage of the laws of nature nor strictly under the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations. Mary had come of age and could manage the affairs of her soul in collaboration with the Holy Spirit. And she never fell from God’s grace as the Israelites had in their marriage covenant with God.
Our Blessed Lady rejoiced in the good news that the angel brought to her with a happiness derived from the liberty of the Gospel which she kept in her heart. Mary conceived Jesus physically, so St. Augustine says, because she had first conceived him in her heart. She rejoiced in God her saviour when she declared, “Be it done to me according to thy word.” Mary couldn’t refuse the promised inheritance that she was rightfully entitled to as an adopted child of God who, as a young girl consecrated to God in the Temple by her mother Anne, partook of the divine life in preparation for her divine call and the exercise of her maternal vocation in collaboration with God in His work of redemption.
The idea of having to die to oneself and to the world to directly relate to God and merit His favour was contained in the spirit of the Law, though it was generally suppressed in the minds of the Jews who got caught up with the superficial observance of rituals and customs for the sake of reaping temporal blessings and avoiding punishment. Having come of age before her Son would even preach the Gospel and liberate God’s chosen people from futile bondage to the Law, Mary led a life of grace in anticipation of God’s establishment of His New Dispensation. We see, for instance, the self that had died in Mary was her natural and instinctive maternal self. Like any loving mother, she must have struggled with the thought of having to offer up her Son as a pleasing sacrifice to God when she consented to be his mother at the Annunciation.
What unsettled her, however, wasn’t so much the sacrifices she might have to make as it was the reason for these sacrifices: the sins of the world which offended her Lord and her God. Strangely, it was because of sin that Mary was privileged to have the joy of becoming the mother of her Lord. Yet this joy came with the price of having to experience and endure great sorrow because of her love for her offspring. But because of her love for God, and her desire to appease Him for the many offenses that are daily committed against Him, she gladly accepted the trials she would have to face and was ready to offer them up to God as a sacrifice of temporal expiation for sin.
So, in a spirit of joy, Mary declared: “Be it done to me, according to thy word.” Mary’s Fiat joined the one her Son had pronounced from all eternity in anticipation of her declaration of faith in real time after she received His proposition from the angel Gabriel: “Behold, I come to do thy will” (Heb. 10:9). Mary understood that being the mother of the Son meant being a servant of God and presenting herself to Him as such. She could not conceive and bear Him unless she were His servant. And so, Mary declared: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” With these words the angel departed, and in time the Holy Spirit would overshadow Mary. Both the Mother and the Son should suffer together for the sins of the world to appease the Father.
It could not have been that easy for Mary to accept God’s will, as it was just as difficult for Job to bless God’s name after he had lost his loved ones and possessions. Yet, in faith, she knew that she must renounce any motherly natural desire for the sake of God’s love and goodness and the fulfillment of God’s promise of universal salvation. The self that victoriously took charge in her soul was the one which assumed her unique position with God as his humble and faithful handmaid. It was in accordance with the word of God – the spirit of the Law – that Mary freely consented to be the mother of His Only-begotten Son with no thought given to herself other than remaining in God’s grace for the sake of His love and goodness and the establishment of His New Covenant with mankind.
With the great joy of conceiving and bearing Jesus should come the acute sorrow of losing him because of the sins of the world. The disappearance of the child Jesus for three days as he preached in his heavenly Father’s Temple anticipated his three-day burial in the tomb and, of course, the greater sorrow for his blessed mother that would come with it. Being a true heir of promise and Israel in the spirit, Mary pronounced her Fiat in as many words that were spoken by Job: “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). She understood, when the angel said to her, “The Lord is with you,” God was calling her on a mission that must require her to make great sacrifices. Upon receiving the good news, the sacrifices she would have to make could only be those of a mother which should involve her Son and the probability of losing him for the redemption of humanity.
Nevertheless, the Lord’s faithful handmaid humbly pronounced her Fiat in obedience to God’s will with a child’s trust, confident that what her heavenly Father (Abba) desired of her was for the greater good. Mary rejoiced in God her Saviour, perfectly knowing that God wasn’t indebted to her, but rather she was indebted to God for her redemption and the salvation of the whole world. Since God loved her and blessed her above all women, she should love Him in return above all created things, including her maternal rights, trusting Him always, despite whatever she might have to suffer and any personal loss she would have to endure for doing what was asked of her.
Mary emulated the holy Child she was about to conceive when she said ‘Yes’ to God, tacitly in as many words as her holy offspring would say in his prayer to the Father on the agonizing eve of his Passion: “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt.26:39). Jesus was made of a woman, for she had to have a share in his passion and death to complete his work of redemption. His mother would have to accept her cup of salvation, however bitter, by being willing to suffer and die to her maternal self before he would come into the world to accept his cup of sour wine on the Cross.
The righteousness that both the Mother and the Son possessed was a righteousness that proceeded from the human heart informed by grace and charity, an interior righteousness intrinsic to them which gave justice to their acts. They were doers of the spirit of the Law, and not hearers of the letter only (Jas. 1:22). In true faith, they acted in harmony with an interior disposition that transcended the external observance of the Law out of mere formality or for the sake of keeping up just appearances with the false notion that the wrath of God should be appeased only by the act itself. But God desired mercy – not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Burnt offerings were unacceptable to God if unaccompanied by a true acknowledgement of Him. How the Mother and the Son acted to please God emanated from a heart of flesh, and so their obedient acts of faith could be just and meritorious in God’s sight. Both the commission of sin (in thought, word, or deed) and a righteous act originate from the human heart, which is what God judges and takes into account.
“Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
Matthew 15, 11
BUT WHEN THE FULLNESS OF TIME WAS COME, GOD SENT HIS SON, MADE OF A WOMAN
St. Thomas adds, God sent his own natural Son; and if a son, then an heir also: Only-begotten, not adopted; one with the Father in his divinity, but assuming a distinct human nature just like ours. God came to us in the flesh while retaining his majesty to heal our wounded nature through his humanity and to enlighten us on how to live in God’s friendship as adopted sons and heirs of promise. “He made himself small not by putting off greatness but by taking on smallness.” Christ took the flesh of his mother to become like us in all things but sin. By her, he acquired a human nature as genuine as ours distinct from, but hypostatically united with his divine nature in his single divine person.
Aquinas points out that Paul had intended to write “made of a woman” instead of “born of a woman” to underscore the Incarnation and the fullness of Christ’s humanity in union with his divinity. The apostle uses the Greek word egeneto which he also uses to describe the creation or making of Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus was conceived and born by the will of the Father. He was the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) from whom he acquired the fulness of his humanity when his mother Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35). The Divine Word could not have been a true model, whose visible image we must conform to, unless He were fully human as the Son of Man, but without sin. Mary was made to conform to the image of her Son by her Immaculate Conception and the plenitudes of grace she was endowed with, as to be a mother worthy of him in his Divine holiness.
God came to us in the flesh not only to redeem the world, but also to exemplify what it takes to be adopted sons and daughters of God; how we are to partake of the divine image that has been marred by our tainted human nature through the sin of Adam, as to be fully reconciled with God. Our heavenly Father could have willed to redeem us without having to send His Son to atone for the sins of the world by simply dismissing the original sin. But in His infinite wisdom and righteousness, God knew that we should be saved only by showing ourselves worthy of reaping the fruits of redemption gained for us by the Son. The Word was made flesh to teach us how we must be and what we must do by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit and a just interior disposition to inherit eternal life.
In a sense, we must redeem ourselves by collaborating with the Holy Spirit. We must present ourselves as being worthy of the redemption which Christ alone has gained for us in his divinity joined with his humanity in and through his just merits by bearing fruit ourselves, viz., meriting an increase in justification or sanctification by co-operating with divine grace (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16; 7:1; 13:5; Col. 7:1). This is fitting, since we who partake of the nature of Adam have freely incurred God’s wrath by falling from His grace, because of our natural inclination to will what we think is best for us apart from God and against His will. Whenever we gravely sin against God by our inordinate love of self, we are at enmity with Him. Mortal sin is especially hateful to God and deprives the soul of sanctifying grace and thereby everlasting life with Him in heaven (1 Jn. 5:16). God did not desire that Adam and Eve should disobey Him. Our primordial parents chose to do so.
Thus, we must choose whether we want to be saved by allowing the infusion of divine grace to sanctify our souls and render us inherently just before God, now that our salvation has been made possible through the merits of Christ’s passion and death. The grace of justification and forgiveness was formally gained for us by Christ alone, but its instrumental application in our personal lives depends on our response to God’s call. If we draw near to Him, by co-operating with His grace and growing in holiness in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, who desires to dwell in us, He will draw near to us (Jas. 4:8) and progressively all the nearer as we strive for spiritual perfection.
God’s plan of salvation calls for our complete cooperation with His grace and an active participation in the life of the Spirit in and through Christ, the Divine Word of God. This is the order of the New Dispensation which most of the Jews prior to the coming of our Lord had not yet attained in their spiritual development. St. Paul teaches us that we have ‘clothed ourselves with Christ’ by our baptism (Gal.3:27). In other words, by cooperating with divine grace, we too are made inherently righteous by fulfilling our baptismal commitments.
Our righteousness before God is personally our very own and not something externally decided or imputed to our account, provided we freely choose to “walk in the light as He is in the light” so that his sanctifying or justifying blood will cleanse us from our sins (1 Jn.1:7). God sent His Son so that we put on the same garment he wore in our human likeness. Our righteousness, not Christ’s alien righteousness, must exceed that of the Pharisees through a divinization of our human nature and supernatural transformation of our interior disposition by the infusion of divine grace into our souls. (Mt. 5:20).
Jesus not only taught, but also demonstrated that true human greatness lies in following the two fundamental commandments upon which all the others rest: Love of God and love of neighbour. The strict observance of religious rites and customs cannot sanctify the soul with charity and grace wanting. Our love of God and neighbour often requires that we make personal sacrifices and place the interests of others as equal to our own (Phil. 2:4). Indeed, making personal sacrifices for the well-being of others requires that we put the interests of others before our own. Jesus and his mother Mary did just that. She understood what her Son had meant by saying “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” long before he would declare this dictum to the scribes and Pharisees who were offended by the apostles for picking grain on this holy day of obligation (Mk. 2:27).
Mary was chosen to have a key role in the economy of salvation in association with her divine Son, since subjective redemption is an integral part of the Divine economy of salvation together with Christ’s objective redemption. Human participation is an essential factor in our redemption, otherwise God would not have sent his Only-begotten Son to us in the flesh to formally redeem the humanity and show us how we should conduct our lives to abide in God’s love. The Incarnation was brought about by the perfect love and humble obedience of a woman who answered God’s call by consenting to conceive and bear the Son for our salvation at whatever personal cost might be involved for being the mother of the Messiah. Our salvation is something we must “work out,” so Paul tells the Philippians.
God intended to create a world in which each person would be free to respond to His grace as a sign of their love for Him. There can be no true love without human free will and liberty. The fall of Adam and Eve was a consequence of their moral freedom which God intended they should possess to truly love Him and make their abode with Him. Because of the fall, which God foresaw when he created the world, it was His predestined (not predetermined) plan and His grace that went before Him to enable us to be saved. By His antecedent will, God desires that everyone be saved. Therefore, a person must willfully reject God’s ‘predestined’ plan for his salvation to be eternally damned.
God intends that a soul be saved this way: by not rejecting His word and resisting His grace. In consequence of the reprobate’s act, God has predestined him to eternal damnation by His consequent will. With this will we can perceive God as not being self-contradictory – willing two different things at once – but as completely faithful to Himself. God does desire that everyone come to repentance and be saved, but He is also a just God who doesn’t tolerate sin and will punish those who refuse to repent. ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ (Ezek. 18:4). Thus, what God has not intended is to predetermine the eternal destiny of souls which is why He appeals to us to cooperate with His saving grace: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek. 18:32).
Our heavenly Father, therefore, had no intention of imposing His will on Mary or the rest of mankind when he sent the angel Gabriel to her with the good news. Jesus was made of a woman because of the love she should have for God and humanity. She had to draw near to God before He would become man, and so, He willed to become incarnate and draw near to humanity because of Mary’s response to His proposition. Moreover, Mary was called to suffer in union with her Son if humanity were to be redeemed and reconciled with God, for Christ himself had chosen suffering to be the necessary means for our redemption.
With the forgiveness of sins should be included temporal reparation for them to completely restore the equity of justice between God and mankind which is morally responsible for its sins. By his passion and death, Christ conferred redemptive value on the evils of suffering and death which are penalties for original sin – man’s natural tendency to be inordinately in love with himself or selfish to the point of making himself out to be God – but not in His likeness. What naturally follows is the lack of charity towards one’s neighbour.
It was easy for the Jews to sacrifice a one year old lamb for the forgiveness of sins and repair one’s relationship with God by accompanying acts of penance, if they were nothing more than superficial demonstrations. What essentially made the sacrifices for sin valid before God was a “contrite heart and spirit” which God could not “spurn” in His love and mercy for His chosen people (Ps. 51). A saving faith was a repentant faith. Luke reaffirms this in Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk. 18:9-14). Both the Mother and the Son embodied the New Dispensation which hadn’t quite ripened yet in Judaism and the spiritual life of the Jews, but lay concealed in the heart of Mosaic Law.
Our Blessed Mother and her divine Son Jesus – she in emulation of him by living her life in the Spirit – demonstrated what sacrifice to God for sin and reconciliation essentially meant. A true sacrifice that was pleasing to God had to be grounded on love and compassion in a true spirit of repentance. The Mother and the Son suffered and died respectively for their love of God who was offended by mankind’s sins, and for their love and compassion for humanity which was ravaged by sin. Their sacrifices held supernatural merit before God, for they were offered in charity and grace as acts of worship. Their value was derived from a personal interior disposition intrinsic to the Woman and her Offspring, not from their external acts themselves. Both had crushed the head of the serpent in alliance with each other (Gen. 3:15).
There is no supernatural merit in simply following a prescribed formula or religious routine for its own sake, regardless of whether it has been instituted by God. Thus, Mary could not have been called to passively become a cog in a wheel or an inanimate instrument so that God could carry out His newly designed plan by acting on a whim. How Mary felt about what God had willed for the salvation of the world in his goodness and merciful love was what mattered most to God. He would have been displeased if Mary had said Yes because she feared being punished for disobeying Him. If she had chosen to be the mother of the Divine Messiah for this negative reason, then she would have been just like most of her fellow Jews, who observed the Law in its formally strict sense for personal gain or benefit, rather than being a true Israelite and servant of God in the spirit. Mary would have sacrificed herself, but not in mercy which precludes self-interest.
That the Son of man should suffer for our transgressions and die as an expiation for our sins wasn’t an option for God. Jesus himself said: “Was it not necessary for The Messiah to endure these things and to enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26). So, what was also necessary by God’s graciousness was that our Lord be “made of a woman” who had the liberty to accept or reject the will of God as much as her Son was at liberty to choose life on behalf of humanity as the new Head in place of Adam. God did not depend on Mary’s reply to the angel, since He knew what her answer would be when He fashioned her soul, but the Incarnation did.
Our Lord did not have to become man to expiate sin, but in His love for the Father and mankind, he willed to reconcile the world to God by offering himself as a living sacrifice provided, of course, a woman should humbly and lovingly receive Him into the world and be willing to sacrifice herself in union with him. Thus, that Mary should say Yes to being the mother of the Lord was as necessary (though not absolutely) as it was for her divine Son to suffer and die to atone for the sins of mankind. This was simply because his heavenly Father would have it no other way.
The Son should not have to suffer alone as the new Head of humanity in place of Adam, who sought to save his life rather than lose it for his personal happiness. To ally herself with our Redeemer, Mary had to be willing to lose her life rather than satisfy any natural desires of hers, unlike Eve, so that her Son would accomplish restoring mankind to life with God and true happiness. Both the Son and the Mother had to possess liberty of will aligned with God’s will to be the second Adam and Eve.
The sacrifice Jesus made of himself in the person of the Son was his humble and loving Yes to the Father in his humanity (Jn 14:31). God would have it no other way either. Mary’s Yes to God temporally preceded her Divine Son’s Yes to the Father and brought the Lamb of God into the world so that his Yes may redeem humanity. (Jn 1:29). Mary freely chose what God desired, since she desired nothing but what He desired. For this reason, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she conceived and bore God’s holy Son.
Mary sought the fulfillment of their shared desire so that it would redound to God’s glory. Whatever reward she might merit for herself and humanity by her obedient act of faith was less important to her. And despite her compassion towards fallen humanity ravaged by sin, what Mary desired more together with her Son was that God should be appeased for the sins that grieved Him because of His infinite love and goodness. Amends should be made to repair mankind’s offense against His sovereign dignity.
Mary experienced first-hand what her Divine motherhood was ultimately meant for when she stood at the foot of the Cross and sorrowfully gazed upon her bruised and dying Son. Until the Passion, all she could do was keep pondering in her heart on all that had transpired while trusting in the Divine will without waver as a true disciple of her divine Son should. During the flight into Egypt, Jesus’ disappearance for three days at the young age of twelve, at the wedding feast in Cana, and during her Son’s public ministry which created much scandal among the Jews, Mary had to valiantly persevere in faith. She was both mother and servant of the Lord, which required that she take up her cross after him in reparation for mankind’s sins and the grace of redemption produced by her Son.
Mary was “the mother with the Redeemer”. She is our co-Redemptrix. as opposed to the woman Eve, the Co-peccatrix: “the woman who is with the sinner” Adam (Peccator). It was through the instrumentality of faithless Eve that Adam accomplished the fall of humanity, and so, it was through the instrumentality of the faithful Virgin Mary or new Eve that the righteous new Adam, her divine offspring made man, and our Redeemer, accomplished the formal redemption of humanity and its reconciliation with God.
If by any chance, the Son preferred not to disclose everything to his mother once he reached the age of reason, it would be because he wanted her to grow in the perfection of faith. It should be on Golgotha that she saw and fully understood through her own experience how necessary it was for her to stand beneath the Cross and unite her anguish with the suffering of her beloved Son. Meanwhile, she would grow in grace like rising yeast and reach the summit of perfection by learning obedience to God through suffering like her Son did to propitiate the Father (Heb. 2;10; 7:26).
When Mary freely consented to be the mother of our Lord, she had in fact presented her body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God. Her Fiat was itself a sublime act of worship, since it expressed her desire to be united with God in love so that the Messiah should enter the world to atone for its sins. On Calvary, Mary realized more poignantly than she ever might have that as God’s handmaid she must sacrifice her motherhood for the sins of the world. All that her Son spoke of in allusion to his mission must have come back to her in piercingly translucent light.
Because of the suffering her Son must undergo to redeem humanity, Mary too would have to suffer as a temporal means of repairing man’s broken relationship with God. And this primarily involved offering the Divine fruit of her womb back to God, which rendered her offering most pleasing and acceptable to Him for the remission of sin because of the sorrow it cost her on account of sin. Since the Mother must be bought together with man with the price of the child she carried in her womb, so she must glorify God with her own maternal womb for the redemption of the world to be complete (1 Cor. 6:20).
It was for the glory of God that the Son gave himself for man’s sins and to deliver him from the evils of suffering and death (Galatians 1:3-5). He glorified his heavenly Father by offering his body as a living sacrifice for sin in total submission to His will because of his love of the Father. He offered himself to God in his humanity and as head of the human race to undo the sin of Adam and appease the Father. The Mother, on the other hand, was chosen to offer her body as a living sacrifice to God in union with her Son out of that same love of God whom sin offended. It was necessary that she, too, submit to the will of God, even if it meant having to make the sacrifice of offering the fruit of her womb to Him for the sins of the world, which she would make if she truly loved God and was grieved by the sins which offended Him.
Unless Mary obediently submitted to the will of God in faith and love at the Annunciation, she would never have had to face Golgotha, because then God would not have become man. God willed with necessity, that to reconcile the world to Himself, a ‘woman’ should be at enmity with the serpent and crush its head by her faith in charity and grace together with her offspring in his enmity with the serpent’s offspring who wished to put him to death because of their misplaced faith (Gen 3:15; Matt 2:13; 12:34; 23:33). The scribes and Pharisees had Jesus put to death for having defied how they interpreted and applied the letter of the Law. Mary died to her maternal self in union with her Son’s passion and death, for she understood and acted in the heart and spirit of the Law, being a true servant of Israel, mature in the knowledge of God, and free from the strict adherence to the written Law imposed on her people by the religious elders who crucified her Son and pierced her soul in one blow.
There is no supernatural merit in hearing and observing the word of God without having to place one’s trust in Him and hoping in His promises. There could be no theological virtues of faith and hope if there were evidence of what is divinely real rather than an illuminating perception of what should be divinely true because of it being infinitely better than any alternate reality. Faith is believing in what should be because there mustn’t be anything better – not in what might be real despite its invisibility.
Not unlike her Son, Mary was made perfect by having learned obedience to God through suffering while persevering in faith and never losing hope despite all the obscurity that lay before her, a darkness encircled by the light of faith (Heb. 5:9). She couldn’t have proved her fidelity to God and been humbly obedient to Him if she infallibly knew all that God knew concerning what she should experience for the sake of mankind’s redemption. Faith and hope had to inform her pain and anguish for it to be meritorious to mankind’s credit.
Instead of journeying on a pilgrimage of faith, which required that she trust God and never lose hope despite the trying circumstances, she would have simply gone through the motions keeping in line with her gnosis and acting according to a set plan. Our Lady of Sorrows would have fared no better than a servant in the strict sense who simply did what she was told presuming God would reward her for what she did merely for having observed His instructions, regardless of any virtues of hers and the quality of faith one must have to please God and merit His blessings.
Thus, Mary would not have been in the position to really suffer at all and meritoriously offer up her body to God as a living sacrifice. But she was called to suffer and, more importantly, endure suffering in the face of obscurity, which required that she have faith in God’s goodness and righteousness and genuine hope in God’s promises, despite the trying circumstances. Only this way could God’s creation of mankind be restored to what God intended it to be: man’s full dominion grounded on faith and trust in God. In the order of grace, Mary preceded all the members who would constitute the Mystical Body of her Son with him as the new Head of humanity and his Church, established on the New Covenant of his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins, being united with the Lord in his suffering and death to reign with him in glory.
Since Mary was made perfect by having learned obedience through suffering, God established her to be the Mother of the Church at that precise instant when the sword Simeon spoke of finally pierced her soul (Lk. 2:34-35). The Church was born by the water (regeneration) and blood (justification) which poured out from her Son’s side after it had been pierced by the soldier’s spear (Jn. 19:34). The prophet foresaw this, but only in its shadow: “The Lord has founded Zion; and the needy among his people will find refuge in her” (Isa. 14:32). Mary acquired a saving office at the instant she declared her Fiat in “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:5-6).
Indeed, this prerogative our Lord conferred on his blessed mother continued without fail, despite the many sorrows she had to endure on the road from Bethlehem to Calvary where her motherhood was redefined and ratified by her Son from the Cross (Jn. 19:26-27). Because of her unshakable faith and hope in charity and grace, Mary did not lay her saving office aside when she was assumed body and soul into Heaven. Therefore, the Church invokes Mary under the titles of “Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” By her “manifold intercession in Heaven she continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” through her prayerful intercession (Lumen Gentium 62:8, 14-17).
Paul doesn’t explicitly refer to the mother of our Lord as his mother and not even by her given name. This is for the same reason why Jesus calls his mother Mary “Woman” at the beginning (Jn. 2:2-10) and completion (Jn. 19:26-27) of his earthly mission with her right by his side. Not unlike Paul, our Lord is alluding to his mother Mary as being the new Eve and helpmate of his in the work of redemption. She universally represents the female who contributed to the fall of man, but as her anti-type who has contributed to the redemption of man. Adam called his wife “the woman,” whom God created to be his “helpmate,” before their fall from grace, and she acquired the name Eve which means “mother of all the living” after the Fall. As a personal consequence of her disobedience, which led to the fall of mankind, Eve became the mother of all Adam’s fallen descendants rather than the mother of which should have been his righteous offspring.
By her obedience to the will of God, Mary became the mother of all her Son’s faithful disciples who bear witness to him by keeping the Divine commandments (Rev. 12:17). She is the free Woman of Promise whom God foretold to the Serpent would crush his head by vindicating fallen Eve and despoiling him of his prize of victory over her, while her Son would crush the Serpent’s head by undoing the sin of Adam and the fall of mankind from God’s grace. Mary is the second Eve – the spiritual mother of all the living – for having offered mankind the righteous fruit of her womb, as opposed to the forbidden fruit which Eve presented to Adam. Our Blessed Mother helped bring about man’s restoration to the life of grace by sacrificing her maternal self to God in union with her Son.
Hence, Jesus was made of a woman who would help him undo the fall completely in the most perfect way – by reciprocation. Our Blessed Mother vindicated Eve in her transgression that precise moment when the sword Simeon spoke of pierced her heart. God could now turn his gaze away from Eve and His attention away from the past, because of her moral involvement in the sin of Adam, and turn it towards the future of humanity which was now reconciled with Him by the just merits of His Son, the new Adam, who undid what the woman’s husband accomplished through her enticement.
But the Son would not have made eternal expiation for the sin of Adam unless his mother made temporal expiation for the sin of Eve and all her offspring. Mary congruously merited the grace of redemption for sinful and unworthy humanity in and through the just condign merits of her Son in union with his suffering and death on the Cross. Her love of God and compassion towards sinful humanity was stronger than death, which Eve was partly responsible for. In this way, she is truly Mother of the Church and redeemed humanity.
“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
John 13, 15
MADE UNDER THE LAW
A problem arises here when we consider Romans 5, 18: “If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.” If Jesus was not only spiritually perfect in the form of man, but also the giver of the Spirit in his divinity, it would appear unbecoming to assert that he was “made under the law”. But Aquinas tells us that to be under the law can be taken in two ways: It may mean the mere observance of the law or the oppressive fear of the law.
By saying Jesus was made under the law, St. Paul must mean that like any other Jew he was obligated to observe it. By becoming man, Jesus observed the Mosaic Law in both its ceremonial and moral aspects to please his heavenly Father. He subjected himself to the precepts of the law because they had originated from God and had to be observed. For the same reason, our Lord submitted to being baptized “to fulfill all righteousness,” though he was in no need of being baptized (Mt. 3:15). Since Jesus was naturally sinless by his divinity, he was not subjected to the law in the strict sense. The law held no claim on our Lord. It could never point its finger at him, so to speak. The curse of the law did not apply to him, since he never committed a single sin in his life: not in thought, word, or deed (Jas. 2:10; 1 Jn. 3:4).
Neither could Jesus, in his humanity, be counted among those servants who rigidly followed the precepts of the law to reap temporal rewards and avoid temporal punishment, for these proceeded from him in his oneness with the Father as their source. Thus, our Lord’s observance of the law did not necessarily mean that he was sinful by nature and thereby subjected to it like everyone else. His voluntary subjection to the law dismisses such a notion.
Up to this point, St. Paul’s concern has been to distinguish between two types of people in their subjection to the law: the in righteous servants who follow the letter of the law out of selfish motives, viz., the reaping of temporal rewards, and the righteous servants who observe the spirit of the law written in their hearts in God’s grace because of their love of God and neighbour. The true heirs of promise who live a life in the Spirit have no cause to be oppressed by the fear of punishment exacted by the law, for they live according to the law of freedom that is written in their hearts. They are the true Israel in the spirit who conduct their lives in keeping with the spirit of the law by grace through faith. The love they have for God precludes fear of the law, since a personal reward is not the primary object of their good works. If it were, then any good work would be done outside of God’s grace, and so, would not hold any supernatural merit.
God did not prepare His people to do good works to make Himself indebted to them. Since grace precedes all our good works done in charity, God could never ever be indebted to His people. Love must be behind every good work for it to be meritorious in God’s sight and worthy of a reward. Moreover, the mere observance of rituals and customs is worthless without a repentant faith and the acknowledgement of oneself being in God’s debt (Lk. 18:9-14). In his oneness with the Father, Jesus himself is love, which exempts him from not only being subjected to the law, but also from having to fear the Divine justice and punishment (1 Jn. 4:18).
The Douay Rheims and The King James Bibles accurately read “made of a woman, made under the law.” St. Paul does not use the Greek word for “born” (gennao) to underscore both the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus. The phrases “born of a woman, born under the law” comprise an inaccurate translation. As we have seen, the apostle uses the verb egeneto, whose mental equivalent conveys the idea of being “made” man. We should also note that the original Greek text simply reads “law”. There is no definite article (the) preceding it. So, what the Apostle could be referring to is natural law in general rather than the Mosaic Law with its moral precepts and ceremonial prescriptions. The implication is that Jesus wasn’t conceived and born entirely subject to the procreative laws of nature. So, for this reason, our Lord couldn’t be subject to the prescriptions of the Mosaic ceremonial law with respect to his conception and birth. He subjected himself to it, though ontologically he transcended the law.
What the apostle’s audience should know then is that the divine Word fully became man, and that in his humanity Jesus chose to subject himself to the same natural forces and conditions human beings are subjected to, while he observed the natural law that enforces all forms of morality. But the human condition rightly applies only to sinful man. Jesus was without sin. Thus, if he observed the Old Covenant regulations with all its ceremonies and rituals, he did this insofar that he was Jewish and obligated himself to observe the law in honour of his heavenly Father who instituted it for His chosen people in His covenant with them.
Jesus “humbled himself and took the form of a slave” to redeem the world. His obedience to the will of the Father rendered his sacrifice of himself perfect. In his divine person, Jesus was not naturally bound to the law as all Jews were, especially not seeing he was conceived and born in miraculous ways. We read in Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made (ginomai) a curse for us: for it is written, “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Jesus was fully human in flesh and blood, but he wasn’t a human creature like ourselves. He wasn’t conceived and born in a fully natural way and fallen state. If he were, then he couldn’t have delivered us from the curse of the law. Our only chance of getting into Heaven, then, would be to never ever sin at all – not in thought, word, or deed.
Jesus was not conceived in sin by the seed of Joseph, but conceived in holiness by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit. Nor was his birth a normal one in all aspects, as it were for all the Jews descended of man in the wake of the Fall. If it were, Jesus would have been entirely subject to the laws of nature along with the rest of sinful humanity and thereby in need of purification himself. The prophet Isaiah foretells the miraculous virgin birth of our Lord and Saviour: ‘Before she travailed (ta hil), she brought forth (ya-la-dah); before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child’ (66:7).
We read in Leviticus 20, 26: “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” The meaning of sanctification (qadosh) in the original Hebrew context literally means “to leave behind and be separate from for a distinct purpose,” and figuratively “set apart” by God, meaning to serve His divine purpose, including being removed from what is profane and distancing oneself from any uncleanliness, as to be acceptable to God as His chosen servant. Yet Jesus was sinless by nature; nor was he conceived and begotten in a profane way as are all sinful human creatures because of the fall of Adam. So, there was nothing profane for him to ever leave behind upon entering this world, no hereditary sin or uncleanliness of birth in fallen creation – he being the New Adam.
The Israelites were expected to be a holy people, since they were removed and set apart from all the surrounding pagan nations by God, who is all-holy, to be His own people. Israel was set apart for bringing forth the Messiah into the world. It was for this reason that God sanctified the Hebrew people by His covenant with them. Meanwhile, Mary is the personification of Daughter Zion by being the Woman of Promise as expected to bring forth the Messiah. “I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body” (Ps.132:11; Lk. 1:42). She too was in no need of purification, since she did not conceive and give birth to Jesus in a completely natural or normal way.
A built-in component in the mother’s ritual impurity was the symbolic responsibility of bringing another sinner into the world. So, if Mary needed being purified after giving birth to Jesus, we can only infer that she gave birth to a potential sinner. However, it was Eve who gave birth to Cain. Mary was chosen by God to bring forth the new Adam who came to reconcile the world to God and regenerate mankind with His saving grace. Further, ritual impurity (niddah) was essentially more of a spiritual and mental condition (tumah) than a physical one which prevented the mother from entering the temple court. So, Mary did not necessarily have to discharge blood during the birth of Jesus to be rendered ritually impure. We read in the Niddah 27b: “According to the order of all the uncleanness mentioned regarding the menstruating woman (נִדָּה), she becomes unclean because giving birth. [This is true] even if the womb opens without [any issue of] blood.” The concept of the mother’s tumah must be taken into greater account, since it belongs to the spiritual order of creation.
A ritual bath was also an integral part of the woman’s purification preparation to re-enter the sanctuary. The Jewish Mishnah records that full immersion for both men and women was required of them in the Temple mikvah. Bathing in this pool for ritual purification was necessary before anyone could enter the courtyard to offer a sacrifice. Mary was expected to ritually bathe in the mikvah before presenting her purification sacrifices. What she was purified of was what the issuance of blood involved, that is not having full volition to submit to the will of God and being unable to commune with Him while under the trauma of naturally giving birth. The burnt offering (olah) that was presented expressed the ardent desire to intimately commune with God. The Hebrew word implies ascending from the profane to the sacred. Procreation was viewed as holy, but it was also recognized as being tainted by the natural birth process which was profane. The physical corruption involved was evocative of death which was viewed as a penalty for sin.
Thus, if Jesus had been conceived and born naturally like all the Jewish firstborn sons, he also would have been rendered ritually impure and in the state of tumah himself and in need of circumcision, which would cleanse him and prepare the way for his presentation to God in the Temple. No man could enter the Temple precincts unless he were circumcised. Moreover, the physical trauma he would produce by proceeding through the birth canal would have caused his mother to be mentally and spiritually distanced from God. But Jesus came into this fallen world to repair it and eventually restore it to a more glorious state than the original paradise that was lost.
The rites of purification and circumcision were intended as monuments testifying to the taint of human spiritual imperfection and sin inherited by every child descended from Adam. These rites did not necessarily apply to Jesus and Mary, but as a religiously devout Jewish mother who was obligated to observe the law, Mary humbly and devotedly submitted herself and her Son to these legal requirements under which they were born in obedience to God who instituted the Mosaic Law. She submitted to the ritual of purification after childbirth, because as a Jewish mother she was expected to formally consecrate her Son to God. Jesus submitted to circumcision (a purification ritual symbolizing being made spiritually clean) for the same reason (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Jer. 4:4). He should not serve the Father without first having been formally consecrated to Him in humble human obedience to His will, albeit his natural holiness. As true servants of Israel in the spirit, Mary and Jesus subjected themselves to this Divine law in sweet humility because of their love for the Father who would be pleased by their humble submission to His will.
“Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
Matthew 5, 17
THAT HE MIGHT REDEEM THEM WHO WERE UNDER THE LAW, THAT WE MIGHT RECEIVE THE ADOPTION OF SONS
St. Thomas tells us the reason why God willed that his chosen people be subject for a time under the law was that they would become the heirs of promise and freed from the slavery of sin. The fruit of freedom as against subjection was made manifest in the redemption Christ won for us by his Precious Blood. Our Lord’s death delivered us from the curse and bondage of the law. Thus, our adoption belongs in a special way to Christ, since we cannot become adopted “sons” unless, of course, we spiritually undergo a genuine internal transformation of the heart and mind that reflects our Lord’s human likeness by the graces he has merited for us.
Mary received the initial grace of sanctification or justification at the first instant of her conception in view of the foreseen merits of Christ because of her election to the Divine Maternity. This grace was merited for her in strict justice (perfecta de condigno) by the Son she was predestined to conceive and not by any foreseen natural merit of hers. By this singular grace, Mary was supernaturally transformed in her mother’s womb from the state of being a child of Adam into the state of being re-created in the Spirit as an adopted child of God.
What happened upon Mary’s creation, however, wasn’t a single event in her life of perfecting grace, but the beginning of an on-going process that involved growing in holiness and striving for greater spiritual perfection in the knowledge of God, as she grew in wisdom through life’s moral experiences and increased in charity and grace. (Mt.5:48; Eph. 2:5; 8-10). This ongoing process of justification that Mary underwent, of being made holy and righteous was uninterrupted. Mary’s life-long commitment of faith, which followed the first plenitude of grace she received in her mother’s womb, was impeccable.
Being in this initial state of original holiness and justice and increasing in charity and grace, Mary could merit by right of friendship with God a further increase in grace for herself and others, as she grew towards a more perfect image of God in the conduct of her life by the gifts she received from the Holy Spirit. As she matured spiritually with age and grew in the knowledge of God, her inner nature was renewed daily. But since Mary was preserved free from contracting the stain of original sin, she possessed no outer nature that would normally waste away correspondingly with the help of divine grace, as is the case with fallen humanity (2 Cor. 4:16). She resembled the perfection of grace Eve was originally created in and endowed with before her fall in the Garden of Eden.
Sanctification is the essence or “formal cause” of justification. No person stands inherently just before God unless they are made holy by the infusion of sanctifying grace. Mary was the ideal proto-type of the Christian who must be inherently holy and righteous to be just in God’s sight. She was the “aroma of Christ” whose righteousness personally belonged to her by the infusion of sanctifying grace into her soul (2 Cor. 2:15). To be just in God’s sight, she had to be intrinsically holy by the power of the Spirit who dwelled within her. Mary was “perfectly, completely, and permanently” endowed with God’s sanctifying grace. And so, God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel, called her Kecharitomene (“highly favoured by grace”) when he first greeted her at the Annunciation (Lk. 1:28). What this implies is Mary never needed to repent of any personal sins (venial and mortal) and confess them to be restored to God’s grace. If she looked to herself and examined her conscience, it was only so that in a positive way she could see how more pleasing she could be to God in her life of grace given any new circumstances (1 Jn. 2:8). Still, she never presumed that her salvation was eternally secure. But she was confident that if she remained faithful to God, He would in turn be just as faithful as He would ever be even if she had sinned.
For Mary, a true and living faith meant acting in conformity to the love and mercy of God in communion with Him in her relations with her neighbour. Unless she did act in charity and grace at appropriate moments in her life, her faith would be of no benefit to her soul. God prepared Mary to do good works in charity and grace, by the foreseen merits of her Son and in conformity to his good works, to increase her sanctity and thereby render her most worthy to participate in his redemptive work.
God redeemed Mary in the most perfect way, so that she should be inspired to do good works in charity and grace in collaboration with the Holy Spirit to please Him and remain in His grace in view of the great sacrifices she would have to make for the salvation of souls (Eph. 2:8-10). And since Mary persevered in faith to the end of the course of her earthly life years after the climax of her pilgrimage of faith on Calvary, God rewarded her with her glorious Assumption body and soul into Heaven (Heb. 3:13-14). God’s faithful handmaid was a doer of His word, and not a hearer only (Jas. 1:22). The word was the spirit of the Mosaic law, which was the law of Christ written in her heart, to be obeyed for her to be personally righteous before God and equally at enmity with the serpent together with her Son in the supernaturally transformed nature of her humanity which Jesus received from her (Rom. 2:13). Mary’s relationship with God the Father was a filial one, her being an adopted daughter of His, without any spot or blemish in her soul by ever having fallen from grace (Rom. 8:14-17; Heb. 12:5-11).
As God’s chosen one, Mary was re-created to be personally holy and beloved by Him. Her life had to be hidden with the Son she would bear, if she were to be his most worthy mother. Mary’s soul magnified the Lord, which meant she personally died to her natural self by being completely indifferent towards all worldly allurements, unaffected by inordinate self-love and pride which constitute the original sin she was preserved from contracting.
Our Blessed Lady was immune to the influence of temptation because of dark desires which might have lain in wait in the depths of her soul if God had not prevented her from being subjected to the law of sin. And so, she was exempted from the law of the corruption of death, being assumed body and soul into heaven by the power of her divine Son. Her hidden life with Christ identified her personal righteousness with the personal righteousness of her divine Son in his humanity (Isa. 61:10). The Mother and the Son were consecrated to God to abolish the evil effects of original sin and Satan’s rule on earth. Thus, Mary bore the holy image of her Son in thought, word, and deed, and thereby conformed to the divine image of her Creator which rendered her justified (Rom. 8:29). Her impeccable life of grace, through the plenitudes of grace she received, revealed the life of the child hidden in her womb, and so she was revealed with him in glory in a singular way (Col. 3:4).
The essential meaning of the word faith (emunah) in the Hebrew Old Testament is “steadfastness in love” whether it be God’s faith towards man or man’s faith towards God. Mary’s faith in God, not unlike ours, was measured by how much she loved God and her neighbour. She would have deceived herself if she claimed to love God while hating her neighbour or being indifferent towards their needs at any point in her life (1 Jn. 2:3-6). By the knowledge she was graced with, Mary knew that belief was essentially much more than an intellectual assent to divine truths by the determination of the will or observing ritual protocol for its own sake (Jas. 1:26-27; Heb. 13:1-5). She would have been worse than her pagan neighbours and an unworthy mother of the Son if she had ever denied her faith by being uncharitable towards others (1 Tim. 5:8). Because of her perfect love and compassion for wounded humanity, Mary had the moral courage to carry her cross together with her Son for the redemption of mankind.
Mary exercised her freedom of will with the utmost wisdom by opening her soul to the Holy Spirit and His outpouring of divine grace in her pilgrimage of faith (Eph. 4:30). Our Blessed Lady was called to be God’s fellow worker in His plan of salvation, so she shouldn’t receive His grace in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). Her singular initial grace of sanctification or justification in the womb, by no preceding merit of hers, allowed her to receive an increase in grace to her credit, as she continued to bear fruit (gain merit) with the help of God’s grace. And so, Mary could merit grace for others as well (congruous merit) as she sorrowfully stood beneath the Cross because of her obedient acts of faith and increase in holiness (Phil. 4:17).
All the graces our Blessed Lady received from God originally proceeded from His mercy and love through the merits of her Son. God did not owe her anything, for without the inspiration and assistance of His grace, she could do nothing that truly pleased Him. Christ merited grace for his mother so that she would be created for good works. Mary co-operated with all the graces she received through the Holy Spirit, and so she merited grace upon grace for herself and could merit grace for others, that they might be saved, since her righteousness concurred with the abundance of grace she willingly received and allowed to permeate her soul (Jas. 5:17). Thus, the good works Mary performed in charity and grace were necessary for her to be reckoned as just and worthy to be the handmaid of the Lord as His fellow-worker in the redemption. Mary stood confident before God, for her heart never condemned her. She always obeyed God and did what was asked of her (1 Jn. 3:22-23). This was why the angel appeared to her with the good news of salvation, in which her spirit could rejoice (Lk. 1:47).
Mary possessed a humble spirit and was pure of heart. Her poverty of spirit could rejoice in God her savior, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to souls such as hers. She is the proto-type of not only the Church, but of redeemed humanity. For the redemption her Son had gained for fallen man to be applied to each living soul, everyone must look to Mary their spiritual mother as a model for what it means to be saved and have eternal life with God. Mary rejoiced in God her saviour for having mercifully looked upon her humility and exalting her (Lk. 1:48-49). The Incarnation happened because she was humble and poor in spirit.
Still, Mary humbly owned that she had no cause to boast before God and claim anything from Him, unlike the untrue servant of Israel, even though her heart did not ever condemn her for offending Him. “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God” (2 Cor. 1:12). Grace preceded Mary, and she knew that. How she conducted herself before God mattered more to her than the promised reward for her acts of faith, and so, she could be rewarded. Mary owed God everything, while He owed her nothing other than a promised reward, which He obligated Himself to give her in His justice and mercy for her obedience of faith in charity and grace.
Hence, as a true child of promise and rightful heir in receiving her heavenly crown, Mary asserted that her good works held salvific value if done primarily for the sake of God’s love and goodness, without seeking recompense. What she sought above all else was being in communion with God and finally enjoying the Beatific Vision in heaven. There could be no greater reward than “feasting on the face of God” as Moses and the elders had on Mount Sinai. Indeed, the works of the law must have reminded her of just how weak and sinful man naturally was and how dependent he was on divine grace to conduct his life in a manner most pleasing to God, as to be united with Him (Gal. 3:19). In the purity of her soul, Mary must have terribly regretted how indebted her people were to God for all their sins and backsliding for centuries despite His continual faithfulness in His covenant with them because of His love and goodness.
Our Blessed Handmaid and Mother of the Lord was a true daughter of adoption by perfectly observing the natural law of love and freedom written in her heart which the spirit of the Mosaic Law embodied and her Son brought to full light for the whole world to see in his Gospel teachings. Mary humbled herself in the sight of God by doing what He desired of her, and so God exalted her in return (Lk. 48-49; Jas. 4:7-10). She did only what God commanded of her and all the Israelites: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk. 10:27; Deut. 6:5). There was no maiden in all of Israel who was worthier than the Blessed Virgin Mary from whom the Divine Word could be made man and dwell among us, that everyone might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
“For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5, 20
“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.”
St. Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 7 (c. A.D. 110)
The Lord hath sworn truth to David, and he will not make it void: of the fruit of thy womb I will set upon thy throne.
Psalm 132, 11
In honour of our Blessed Mother Mary on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary
7 October 2017