SOVEREIGN REDEMPTION AND ITS FRUITS IN MARY
Taken from OUR SAVIOUR AND HIS LOVE FOR US
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
and Nihil Obstat
"He that is mighty hath done great things to me."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
DOWNLOAD THE IMAGE, TEXTURED, PLAIN, LARGE
HOME--------------------MARY'S INDEX----------------------LAGRANGE DIRECTORY