Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1951

"He that is mighty hath done great things to me."
Luke 1:49

THE special manner in which the mystery of the Redemption was accomplished with relation to Mary, the Mother of God, contains such profound harmonies that they long remained hidden even from great theologians and great Saints like St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, and perhaps St. Thomas Aquinas. 1 Now that the Church has made an infallible pronouncement by defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, all the faithful can see in this privilege the most eminent form of the mystery of the Redemption. Let us first consider it in the light of the privilege itself, and secondly in the light of its consequences.

The Preservative Redemption

The harmony of a mystery is all the more beautiful when it intimately reconciles things that are apparently most contradictory and that God alone can bring together. Thus the mystery of the Redemption, considered in terms of the Savior Himself, reconciles in the sufferings endured through love the most rigorous justice and the tenderest mercy. Therein lies the sublimity of the Cross.

The Immaculate Conception presents a reconciliation of the same order. On the one hand the Virgin Mary, by reason of her birth as a daughter of Adam, was destined to contract Original Sin. The first man, through his sin, lost original justice for himself and for us. That is to say, he lost sanctifying grace and the privileges that accompanied it. Had he remained innocent, he would have transmitted this original justice to us, together with his human nature. 2 The law that weighs on our fallen nature is universal: human nature is transmitted to all of us by way of generation, but it is transmitted deprived of grace and of the privileges of the state of innocence. Every child is born not merely deprived of sanctifying grace but moreover inclined to covetousness, to disorders of the passions, to error, and subject to suffering and death. "By one man sin entered into this world," 3 St. Paul tells us. Mary, therefore, by reason of her birth as a daughter of Adam, was destined to contract Original Sin. How could she, caught in the current of generation, escape the current of sin? And, as St. Peter declares, "there is no other name under Heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved" [except that of Jesus Christ]. 4 St. Paul also says: "There is ... one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus Who gave Himself a redemption for all." 5 There is no salvation for anyone except through the blood of the Savior, Who is the Redeemer of all men without any exception. In this sense Mary needs redemption, just like the other children of men.

St. Thomas lays great stress on this point, for this is a capital dogma of our faith. There is no salvation except through Christ Who died for us.

Mary, on the other hand, has been called from all eternity to be the Mother of the Savior. The heavenly Father chose her through a love of predilection from among all women, so that in time she should give a body to the Son, only begotten from all eternity. No one but the heavenly Father and Mary can call Jesus, "My Son." The Holy Ghost was to overshadow her and, without sullying her virginity in any way, was to make it possible for her to conceive the Savior. The Word of God, Who exists eternally and therefore existed before creation, was to be truly Mary's son, and He was to love her among all creatures as His true Mother.

Could it be that Mary, called to this glorious maternity, should have come into the world bearing the stain of Original Sin? Was it possible that she who was to be the Mother of the Author of grace should be born deprived of grace? Could she who was to be the Mother of the Word made flesh have been born inclined toward covetousness, disorders of the emotions, and error?

These reasons are so compelling that even the theologians who once doubted the privilege of the Immaculate Conception declared unequivocally that Mary was sanctified before her birth in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. But the Church goes still further and has solemnly affirmed the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, accorded at the very instant when Mary's soul was created and united to her body.

How then can we reconcile these two things that are apparently so irreconcilable: Mary, being the daughter of Adam, must contract Original Sin; but, being called to be the Mother of God, she must be exempt from any stain whatever, she must escape the universal contagion?

How can these things be reconciled? We can understand an exception to the law of man's fall, in view of a mission that is unique in the world, a mission that is superior to that of the prophets and Apostles. But how was this exception to be accomplished? Was Mary preserved from the common stain independently of the future merits of her Son? Is it possible that Christ, the sole Mediator and Savior of all souls, is not Mary's Savior? Can it be that she does not owe her holiness to Him? St. Thomas rightly placed great emphasis on this point, for he was deeply concerned with safeguarding the dogma of universal redemption.

The Church, in defining the Immaculate Conception, answers: Mary was the beneficiary of a unique mode of redemption, a preservative redemption, and not merely a liberating and reparative redemption. Mary was preserved from Original Sin because of the future merits of her Son, and this truth reveals to us the deep harmony of the mystery, which long remained hidden even from great Saints. [Emphasis in bold added.]

What kept St. Thomas from stoutly affirming the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, not yet defined by the Church at that time, was his fear of contradicting the dogma of the universal redemption of souls by Jesus Christ. He feared he might detract from the Redeemer's glory. And Divine Providence seems to have permitted the great doctor to remain in darkness on this point, and with him St. Bonaventure and St. Bernard, because the proclamation of this privilege was reserved for much later, for our era of unbelief and naturalism which denies Original Sin and the necessity of redemption. 6

Preservative redemption is one of the marvels of Catholic dogma. To truly understand it we must realize that not only is Jesus Christ Mary's Savior, but that she benefited more than anyone else from His redemptive mission. Herein lies all the grandeur of the mystery. Let us consider it in some detail. Indeed it is fitting that the absolutely perfect Savior should exercise sovereign redemption for at least one soul, the soul called to be most intimately united to Him in His work of salvation. But perfect redemption consists not only in rescuing a soul from sin, but also in preserving it from this sin even before sin has had a chance to sully it. He who preserves us from a mortal blow saves our life even better than if he healed the wound caused by this blow. It is therefore highly fitting that Christ Jesus, the perfect Redeemer, should bestow upon His Mother redemption in all its plenitude: a redemption that is not merely reparative and liberating, but a preservative redemption. It is highly fitting that Mary should not be liberated, purified, cured of Original Sin, but that she should be totally preserved from it by the future merits of her Son.

Christ's love for His immaculate Mother is immense. At the thought of it our souls should rejoice and soar upward. Only the Mother of the Son of God could have this unique prerogative. How fitting that she should have it!
Inasmuch as she had been called to become the Mother of God and the Coredemptrix, the Mother of all men, it was necessary that she be redeemed as perfectly as possible. Being closer than anyone to the stream of grace that pours from the Word made flesh, she received His blessings in their plenitude.

At a time when all truths were being depreciated, when many refused to believe either in Original Sin or in the necessity of Baptismal regeneration, it was fitting that the Church should solemnly define this dogma and that Mary should remind us of all these truths by telling us at Lourdes: "I am the Immaculate Conception." This privilege, far from detracting from the dogma of the universal redemption of souls by Jesus Christ, discloses to us in the person of Mary sovereign redemption in its most perfect form conceivable. 7

In preserving His Mother from Original Sin, the Savior gave her an initial plenitude of grace greater than that of all the Saints and Angels taken together, just as a single diamond may have greater value than a great pile of lesser stones. From this initial plenitude of sanctifying grace sprang forth in the same eminent degree faith, hope, charity, the infused moral virtues, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, this initial plenitude did not cease growing until Mary's death, for no venial sin or imperfection impeded its progress. Because of Mary's unceasing fidelity, the initial treasure increased in a marvelous progression. Just as bodies fall with increasing speed as they approach the earth by virtue of the law of acceleration which is a corollary of universal gravitation, so do souls progress more quickly toward God as they come closer to Him and are increasingly attracted by Him. 8

This law of acceleration of the progress of souls toward God, which is approximately verified in the lives of the Saints especially by frequent Holy Communion, 9 was fully verified in Mary. Whereas Jesus never increased in goodness, 10 since He had been conceived in the absolute plenitude of grace, Mary continued to increase in perfection until her death, until the moment of the final plenitude of grace when her soul entered glory. 11
It is a consolation to think that there has been one soul that received in its plenitude everything that God desired to give her and that never impeded the pouring of grace upon other souls. There is one absolutely perfect soul which allowed the Divine life-giving torrent to flow through her without obstacle. There is at least one soul that never for a single instant failed to measure up to what God desired of her. This is the soul of the Mother of God, the Mother of all men, who watches over them to lead them to eternal life.

This is what we mean by sovereign Redemption, a redemption that is not merely liberating and reparative but also preservative. This is what motivated the words of the Archangel Gabriel when he said to Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." 12

The Consequences of the Preservative Redemption

Did the privilege we have just discussed remove from Mary even here on earth all the consequences of Original Sin? What happens to us even after Baptism which remits Original Sin and restores us to sanctifying grace with all its accompanying infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost? Even after Baptism, there remain in us as a consequence of Original Sin concupiscence or the roots of covetousness that enkindle our evil passions, inclination toward error or weak judgment that easily goes astray, as well as suffering and death.

None of these evils existed in the state of original justice in which human nature was ennobled by grace and endowed with privileges. The body was perfectly submissive to the soul, the passions to right reason and to the will, and the will was submissive to God. Baptism, while it cleanses us of Original Sin, leaves the consequences of Original Sin in us as so many occasions for struggle and merit.

What is so striking about Mary is that the privilege of the Immaculate Conception exempts her from two of the consequences of Original Sin that are blighting and incompatible with her mission as Mother of God, but her privilege does not exempt her from suffering and death. This is most illuminating.

From the first moment of her life Mary was exempt from every form of concupiscence. The embers of covetousness never existed in her. No movement of her emotions could be disorderly or circumvent her judgment and her consent. Hers was perfect subordination of the emotions to the intellect and the will, and of the will to God as was the case of man in the state of innocence. Thus Mary is the most pure Virgin of virgins, "inviolata, intemerata," the tower of ivory, the most perfect mirror of God.

Likewise Mary was never subject to error or illusion. Her judgment was always enlightened, always clearsighted. In the words of the Litany, she is the Seat of Wisdom, the Virgin most prudent, the Mother of good counsel. All theologians agree that even here on earth she possessed an eminently superior and simple understanding of the Scriptures on the subject of the Messiah, the Incarnation, and the Redemption. She was more intimately initiated into the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven than were the Apostles. Then too, everything in nature spoke to her of the Creator more poignantly than to the greatest poets. In its simplicity her contemplation was superior to that of the greatest Saints, to that of even St. John, St. Paul, or St. Augustine. Mary was above ecstasy. She had no need to lose the use of her senses to become very intimately united to God. Her union with Him was continual. She was thus perfectly exempt from covetousness and error.

Why then did not the privilege of the Immaculate Conception exempt Mary from suffering and death, which are also consequences of Original Sin? The truth of the matter is that suffering and death, as Mary and Jesus experienced them, were not consequences of Original Sin, as they are for us. For Original Sin had not touched them. Suffering and death were for them the consequences of human nature which by its very nature is subject to suffering and to corporeal death just as is the nature of the animal. It was only through a supernatural privilege that Adam in his innocence was exempt from all suffering and from the necessity of dying.

That He might become our Redeemer by His death on the Cross, Jesus was virginally conceived in mortal flesh, and He willingly accepted suffering and dying for our salvation. Following His example, Mary willingly accepted suffering and death also, so that she might be united to her Son's sacrifice, make expiation with Him in our stead, and thus redeem us.

And, astonishingly enough, the privilege of the Immaculate Conception and the plenitude of grace she enjoyed, instead of exempting Mary from pain, considerably increased her capacity for suffering. This truth never ceases to arouse the admiration and wonder of the contemplatives. Mary suffered extraordinarily from the gravest evils precisely because she was absolutely pure, because her heart was aflame with Divine charity. Yet we in our flightiness are not much troubled by these evils. We suffer because of things that wound our susceptibility, our self-love, our pride. Mary suffered because of sin in the measure of her love for God Whom sin offends, in the measure of her love for her Son whom sin crucified, in the measure of her love for our souls that sin ravages and kills. Just as the Blessed Virgin's love for God was superior even here on earth to that of all the Saints taken together, the same is true of her suffering. Here on earth, the closer a soul is to God - that is, the more it loves - the more it is destined to suffer. Mary loved the Savior, not only as her beloved Son but also as her Son the legitimate object of adoration, with her most tender virginal heart. The depth of her love made of her the queen of Martyrs. As the aged Simeon had prophesied, a sword pierced her soul. The privilege of the Immaculate Conception, far from exempting Mary from sufferings, thus increased them and disposed her so well to endure them that she wasted none of them.

Finally, although this privilege did not save Mary from being subject to death, the Assumption was one of its consequences. Mary, conceived without sin, preserved from all sin, was not to know the corruption of the grave. The Savior was thus to associate her to the glories of the Ascension and to hasten for her the moment of the resurrection of the body.

Such were the consequences of the sovereign redemption which was accomplished in her. Not only was Mary redeemed by the most perfect redemption conceivable, but she has been intimately associated with the work of the salvation of mankind through her love and suffering.

This preservative redemption reminds us of the value of a less exalted grace, but one that is so necessary to us: Baptism. Although we are born sinners, we are cleansed of Original Sin by baptismal grace, which is the seed of eternal life. There is an immense difference between an unbaptized child and one who has received the Sacrament of regeneration. And as Mary's initial plenitude of grace never stopped growing within her during her lifetime, so the seed of eternal life should never cease growing in us until the moment of our death. God loves us much more than we realize. In order to grasp the full value of the sanctifying grace received in Baptism, we should have to see God. For grace is nothing but a true and formal participation in God's intimate life.

Lastly, the sovereign redemption that we have just contemplated in Mary reminds us of the value of sanctity, and inspires us to pray earnestly, especially at the thought of the spiritual wretchedness of present-day Russia and other vast areas of the world. As the contemplatives tell us, the actual state of the world is at once much sadder and more beautiful than we know. The world desires no more Saints, and expels them from persecuted lands. But God for His part wishes to give the world Saints of every age and station in life. God wishes to give the world Saints, but we must ask Him for them and secure them from His mercy. For a number of years now, Rome has been multiplying its beatifications and canonizations. In moments of great confusion like that of the Albigensian heresy and that of Protestantism, God sent galaxies of Saints to carry on His Son's work and to lift up afflicted and tempted souls.

Although the world's plight is grave, let us not view it with discouragement and thereby depress those around us. Let us look at the other pan of the scales with a holy realism, and see in it the infinite merits of the Savior, those of Mary Coredemptrix and Mediatrix, and those of all the Saints. This is the supernatural contemplation superior to all science, the contemplation that awakens in us not merely momentary enthusiasm but "the hunger and thirst for God's justice." It tells us that the only genuinely and profoundly interesting thing for us is sanctity and whatever leads us toward it. When this sanctity is incontestable, as in Mary, it becomes manifest to all as the profound reign of God in souls, and it permits us to glimpse even here on earth the grandeur of the mystery of Redemption, that is, the mystery of eternal life given back to souls that are willing to receive it.

1 It is often said that St. Thomas denied the privilege of the Immaculate Conception. Such a categorical assertion does not seem justified on the basis of a work recently written on this subject by Father N. del Prado, O.P., of the University of Fribourg, Divus Thomas et bulla dogmatica "lneffabilis Deus" (1919). In this work the author shows that St. Thomas made more of a distinction than is generally believed between the body of the Blessed Virgin before the animation, and her person which presupposes the presence of a rational soul within the body. According to the saintly Doctor, the body of the Blessed Virgin before the animation was not preserved from Original Sin. But with regard to the person of Mary, several reliable authors maintain that St. Thomas neither affirmed nor denied the privilege. Since the Church had not yet made any pronouncement on the matter, neither did he see fit to make. Cf. P. Frietoff, O.P., Angelicum, July, 1933: "Quomodo caro B.V.M. in originale concepta fuerit."
2 The Council of Trent says clearly: "Si quis Adae praevaricationem sibi soli et non ejus propagini asserit nocuisse, acceptam a Deo sanctitatem et justitiam, quam perdidit, sibi soli et non nobis etiam eum perdidisse: an. sit" (Denzinger, no. 789).
3 Rom. 5:12.
4 Acts 4:12.
5 1 Tim. 2:5
6 If these great doctors had made definite pronouncements in favor of the Immaculate Conception, this dogma would probably have been defined before the nineteenth century.
7 Let us note that, since Mary was fully redeemed by Christ, she was not able, properly speaking, to merit the Incarnation even de congruo. Why? Because the principle of merit cannot be merited, just as the first cause cannot be an effect produced. It cannot produce itself. Thus the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary derive from the future merits of her Son as their primary source. [IBID.] Her merits depend on those of her Son not only as on a final cause, but as on an efficient moral cause, foreseen and willed by God. Mary therefore could not have merited the Incarnation.

But having received the initial plenitude of grace through the future merits of her Son, she merited the superior degree of grace which made her the worthy Mother of the Savior. St. Thomas (IIIa, q. 2, a. 11 ad 3) says with admirable precision: "The Blessed Virgin is said to have merited to bear the Lord of all; not that she merited His incarnation, but because by the grace bestowed upon her she merited that grace of purity and holiness which fitted her to be the Mother of God."

Several modern theologians seem to forget this distinction and therefore to misunderstand the great principle that the principle of merit cannot be merited. Some wish to apply in this connection the axiom "causae ad invicem sunt causae," but one must not forget to add "in diverso genere." There is certainly a mutual priority of final and efficient causes, but on condition of keeping in mind that they are of diverse orders. The principal root of Mary's merits lies in the merits of Christ, and these latter presuppose the Incarnation. Thus Mary could not merit the Incarnation. It is clear that here we are dealing with the same order of causality. Cf. the commentators of St. Thomas on IIIa, q. 2., a. 11, for example Billuart: "Nullum meritum est aut concipi potest pro praesenti hominum statu, quod non accipiat valorem suum et vim merendi ex Christi meritis."

8 Cf. St. Thomas, In Epistolam ad Hebraeos, 10 :25: "Motus naturalis (v.g., motus lapidis cadentis ad centrum terrae) quanto plus accedit ad terminum, magis intenditur. Contrarium est de motu violento. Gratia autem inclinat in modum naturae. Ergo qui sunt in gratia, quanto plus accedunt ad finem, plus debent crescere." Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 35, a. 6 ad 2: "Omnis motus naturalis intensior est in fine."
9 In principle, if we fought generously against negligence and every attachment to venial sin, each of our Communions should be substantially more fervent than the preceding one since each of them must not only preserve but increase charity in us and therefore dispose us to receive our Lord with a more fervent will the following day.
10 Cf. Concilium Constantinop. II (Denzinger, no. ZZ4).
11 As the theologians say in describing this instant which is preceded by a period of time that can be divided ad infinitum: "primum non esse viae, seu primum esse separationil animae a corpore, fuit primum esse vitae ejus gloriosae."
12 Luke 1:28.



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