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The Mediation of the Mother of Jesus at the Incarnation:
An Exegetical Study

Rev. Ignace de la Potterie, S.J.

Translated by Salwa Hamati, Ph.D.

Fr. de la Potterie is a Jesuit priest who taught for
30 years at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
An eminent biblicist, he is internationally
known for his publications and conferences.

Quite often when we mention Mary's mediation, we think immediately either of her title of "Coredemptrix" (her role at the cross) and what it expresses, or of her present intercession to God in favor of humanity. But this role of mediation the mother of Jesus has already exercised historically during her earthly life, and this from the very moment of the Incarnation. We will examine this point very carefully based on the Gospels.

The Incarnation is, undoubtedly, the central mystery of Christianity. But the concrete modalities of this historic fact are directly linked to our theme of Mary's mediation. If the Word was made flesh, this means. that he bodily entered our human history. How did humankind, and particularly his mother, take part in this absolutely unique event? What does the New Testament tell us about it? We will examine from this viewpoint the two essential passages that mention the Incarnation: The Prologue in Saint John's gospel and the narration of the Annunciation in the third gospel.[1]

I. The Mother of the Word
Incarnate according to St. John's Prologue


1. The Word made flesh

The central point of the Prologue, one could say, is 1:14 : "And the Word was made flesh." This verse, however, is closely linked to the two preceding verses 1:12-13. In 1:13 (as many authors rightly think) the verb should be read in the singular; then the point here would be not about Christians (who "were born of God"), but about Christ (who "was engendered by God"). Let us reread those three verses in this light:

But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock (of blood)
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
of God himself.[2]
The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the
only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth" (

If the very fact of the Incarnation of the Word is indicated in verse 14, its concrete modalities are described in the two preceding verses. However, what is remarkable is that John indicates them by three negative expressions, meaning that in order to make us understand what was unique in this historical event, he excludes three aspects that are absolutely normal in ordinary life. In 1:13 the second and third negations indicate the manner in which the human conception of the Word incarnate was concretely realized: "not of the urge of the flesh nor of the will of man"; in other words, this was a virginal conception. The first of the three negations ("not out of human stock" [of blood] ) is an indication of the virginal birth: it was "not contaminated" (for the Jews any outpouring or shedding of blood led to contamination). This was already the thought of Saint Ambrose: "He opened His mother's womb and was born immaculate."[3]

2. The Mother of the Word Incarnate

Let us emphasize, however, a paradoxical fact: nowhere is the mother of Jesus explicitly mentioned here. All the attention of the evangelist is concentrated on the event of the Incarnation of the Word himself. Nevertheless, since the three negations of verse 13 are in reference to ordinary conditions of birth among men - but to exclude them - (the urge of the flesh, contaminated birth), a woman, the mother of the Word incarnate, is necessarily implicated in the event, since conceiving and giving birth to a child are feminine and maternal functions. This is all the more true, that in the fourth gospel, John will always insist on this maternity of the mother of Jesus: he never calls her by her own name (Mary); for him she is always "the mother of Jesus" (2:; 19:25) or even simply "the mother" (19:26), precisely to show, at the cross, that this maternal role of the mother of Jesus should be applied from now on to others than himself. The function that this woman fulfills is of greater importance for the evangelist than the details of her life.

Let us weigh carefully the importance of these remarks. The Incarnation could only be realized by the concrete intervention of a woman who became, by the same fact, the mother of the Word made flesh. But the very special modalities of this unique event (indicated by the three negations) make of it a sign for humankind, precisely the sign of effective divine filiation of the child born of that woman. This child was not the son of Joseph (Mary's spouse), but the Son of God; it is God himself who has engendered him. Hence we see that the appropriate Christological dimension of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word is indissolubly linked to the mariological dimension, as an external sign of the other dimension (which is interior and remains mysterious). In the perspective of the subsequent tradition, we should even say that by denying the sign of this virginal motherhood of the mother of Christ at the Incarnation, we end up denying its very significance, which is the Arian negation and denial of divinity of Christ.[4]

3. The Mediation of the Mother of the Word Incarnate

We can still go a step further and affirm that, in this historic event of the Incarnation of the Word, the role played by the mother is clearly a mediating role. Her part indeed was indispensable for the effective realization of the Incarnation, that is, so that the Son of God would truly become flesh, become "Jesus the man." However, if part of "the mother of Jesus" was necessary, the fact is that the Word incarnate was "engendered of God," which means that his Father was God. Between the Father of the Word incarnate on one hand, and on the other Jesus himself, the Son of the Father, the role of this woman, who according to history was "the mother of Jesus," was undoubtedly an intermediary one. In this sense we can and should here speak of the mediation of Mary.

4. Mediation and Virginity

This mediatory role of the mother of the Word incarnate, however, was possible, and would achieve its real meaning only when linked closely to her virginity, and this both at the conception and the birth, as John the evangelist emphasizes it (1:13). The human engendering of the Word made flesh was the work of the Father; but it could only have been realized in the womb of a woman who was entirely at the disposal of the action of God in her. By using a double negation John underlines two aspects of this virginal conception: it did not take place "out of the urge of the flesh," or "of the will of man." These two negations are not simply synonymous. We discover a clear progression leading from the first negation to the second: the first one dismisses all references to the part played by the "flesh" (general), the second one rules out any intervention of a "man" (in exact sense: someone of the male sex); the evangelist therefore excludes at first all carnal desire (this applies to both man and woman), then more specifically the desire of a male partner: the desire which in an ordinary marriage is that of the husband; the man who, precisely by this fact, will become the father of the child; at the Incarnation, on the contrary, the generating role is that of God himself; it is God who becomes the Father of Jesus. Therefore, we can see how the virginal conception and birth are both structurally necessary for the reality and authenticity of the Incarnation of the Son of God.[5]

However, let us consider with greater attention the first negation which accentuates especially Mary's virginity; it underscores the absence in Mary of all carnal desire; which, in positive terms, expresses her desire to lead a life of virginity (this theme concerning Mary will be found again in Luke's narration of the Annunciation). To use the terminology of Saint Augustine [6] the question here is not only that of a physical virginity (the "virginitas carnis") of the mother of Jesus, of the absence to her of all physical relations with a man, but also of her "virginity of the heart" (the "virginitas cordis") that the holy Doctor also calls the "virginity of faith" (the "virginitas fidei").

Therefore we also rediscover, for the mother of the Word Incarnate, this theme of faith that John the evangelist emphasizes so much in the Prologue, emphasizing the fact that faith is, for all men, the means of access to the life of children of God:

"to all who did accept him (the Word made flesh; note the past tense) he gave power to become (progression) children of God, to all who believe (present tense) in his name" (1:12).

It is faith that opens up for all men this possibility; it is faith that allows them to take part in this plenitude that the Word made flesh bestowed upon us by giving himself. So much more, the mother of the Word Incarnate herself shared in this plenitude, in this grace of truth, not so much as to enter herself in this filial life that was her Son's, but to be able, by her virginal availability itself, to make it possible to communicate the gift that the Word Incarnate was extending to all, the gift of being able to share in his divine affiliation.

Interpreted in this way the virginal maternity of the mother of the Word Incarnate must also be seen as a form of mediation. Since she was, by her motherhood, at the origin of salvation, by giving to the world Him who is life (Jn 11:25; 14:6), she could rightly be called the "vitae mediatrix," as an ancient Marian homily mentions.[7] From another viewpoint one can speak here of mediation between God and humanity, because Mary collaborated in the realization of the economy, of salvation. This theme is already mentioned by certain Fathers, in reference precisely to Saint John's Prologue. Irenaeus for instance writes:

...without Joseph's action, Mary was the only one to cooperate in the economy (sola Maria cooperante dispositioni)...; he wanted us to understand that his human coming was the result not of the will of man but of the will of God.[8]

The economy is the will of God, the plan of salvation; but in order for it to be realized in time the "cooperation" of a woman was needed, the one who was called to become the mother of Jesus.

The virgin's role was also underscored by Methodius of Olympus:

The body of Christ was not born of the will of man (...), but of the Holy Spirit and of the power (dynamis) of the Most-High and of the Virgin .[9]

Therefore, certain theologians, rightly so, draw our attention to Mary's mediation which truly begins at the Incarnation; at this most important moment of the history of salvation, she who was called to become the mother of the Word Incarnate exercised a "physical and moral mediation": physical, without any possible doubt, for she became bodily "the mother of Jesus"; morally and spiritually also because her virginal conception did not only express her bodily virginity (her "virginitas carnis"), but also her virginity of the heart (her "virginitas cordis"), her virginity of faith (her "virginitas fidei").[10] What is still latent and implicit in what John tells us about the historical conditions of the Incarnation of the Word will become - as we shall see later - explicit in the narration of the Annunciation by Luke: At the salutation of the Angel Mary was "transformed by grace" (Lk 1:28); it was the grace of being a virgin (and remaining so); and when the plan of God is announced to her that she will become the mother of the Son of God, she will express, in faith, her full "consent" (1:38), thereby explaining what Elizabeth will proclaim: "Blessed is she who believed" (1:45). Now before proceeding to Luke's text we would still like to present a broader question for which the Johannine texts could have a special importance.

5. Transitory or Permanent Mediation
and therefore still effective?

a) This question was raised by R. Laurentin, following the lively discussions that took place during Vatican II concerning the preservation or abandonment of the traditional title: Mediatrix.[11] Since the object of this study is limited to the question of Mary's role at the Incarnation, we will formulate the problem in R. Laurentin's very own words:

At the Annunciation [which we will examine momentarily; but we could say generally: at the Incarnation], Mary holds a mediatory position, between the transcendent God, who is offering the messianic fulfillment, and men, who are the beneficiaries of salvation.[12]

However, following this historic moment of the Incarnation, the situation changes: the mother of Jesus seems, from that time on, to have fulfilled her role, and therefore to be unable to act as mediatrix any longer; indeed, the author continues:

...from that time on, Christ, the Word Incarnate, becomes the mediator. He brings together ontologically in his Person the two parties to reconcile: God and men. Henceforth, he himself will effectively bring about the reconciliation by his very existence and by the irreplaceable Sacrifice of his life and death.[13] 

What puzzles us in Laurentin's text, is the adverbial expression at the beginning: "from that time on." Does that mean that Mary mediatory role at the Incarnation belonged only to the past and after that ("from that time on"), that it does not remain true any longer. Could it be said that Mary's situation "is after that, passed over for essential"? [14] It is in the past, certainly, that Mary conceived and brought forth into the world the Word made flesh; but she remained throughout her entire earthly life "the mother of Jesus," as Saint John says time after time. And this is still and will always be true: the Church, through the centuries, continues to invoke her under the titl of "Mother of Christ."

The role of mediatrix that she exercised at this specific moment in the past remains forever attached to her person. To use here the famous Pauline text of unus Mediator (1 Tim 2:5) as an objection inoperative, because the apostle, in this text, considers the redemptive work accomplished later by Christ;[15] nevertheless, he is designating Christ here with the words homo Christus Jesus. Now, "Jesus, the man" remains for ever the one whose mother was Mary. Therefor the question we ask is whether the mediatory role Mary played previously at the Incarnation holds, as such, a permanent and definitive value; in other words, it is not a question of an accessory extrinsic, transitory fact, but one that affects in their deep, ontological being and in an irrevocable and definitive manner the very persons of Jesus and Mary: the relationship between Mary and Jesus is forever that of a mother to her son; in other words still, we are asking whether Mary, precisely by her virginal motherhood, does not remain for evermore the Mediatrix between the Father (who engendered Jesus) and his Son, Jesus himself ("the Engendered by God," 1 Jn 5:18).

Several indications observed in the gospel of John summon us without any possible doubt, to answer in the affirmative.

Let us point out first two details in the Prologue, that is if one accepts the translation and the interpretation we suggested for the last two verses: [16]

The only begotten Son, who is back with the Father, He is the one who opened the way.

At the time when John is writing the Prologue, after the Resurrection, the only Son, who at the Incarnation had "come from the Father" (1:14), is now (Ho ôn) "back with the Father." Then, in the very last word (exêgêsato), the author looks back to the past (cf. the aorist) to indicate the global meaning of Jesus' life on earth: "He opened the way," that is to say, the way to the Father (cf. 14:6). Incarnation of the Word: This signifies that the past conditions of this historic event (with its concrete modalities recalled in verse 13) are actualized by John so as to remain ever present in the life of the Church. Similarly the title "the only begotten Son" will be utilized later by John, both in his Gospel (3:16.18) and in his great letter (1 Jn 4:9). For John, Christ is for ever the "only begotten Son", and his historical event of the Incarnation, with all its concrete modalities, is integrated in his Christology. The same conclusion arises from the fact that the fundamental theme of the Prologue is repeated clearly (Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God Incarnate) in the conclusion of the Gospel (20:30-31). Other such repetitions are echoed in the great Epistle (1 Jn 5:13.18). The conclusion to all these remarks is indispensable: The Johannine Christology is organized around the central theme of the Incarnation of the Son of God; to John, Jesus Christ is the Word who came from the Father and became "flesh" to live among us. The concrete conditions of his Incarnation remain present with him. The woman by whom this coming of the Word in the flesh was made possible, by her virginal conception and her virginal birth that are regularly evoked by the fact that John always calls her "the mother of Jesus," this woman holds, for all time, this relationship and this role that were and still remain a true mediation. The Christian Tradition has understood it perfectly in its innumerable representations of "the Mother and Child": in which Jesus will always be the Son of that mother.

b) Another question is to know in what concrete and effective manner this mediation of the mother of Jesus in the past has manifested itself, later on, in the successive events of the public life Jesus: At Cana and at the Cross. This is beyond the scope of our topic.[17] Suffice it to say briefly, about the wedding at Cana, that " mother of Jesus" was there (2:1), that Jesus nevertheless called her "Woman" (2:4), that she told the servants, to "do whatever He tells you" (2:5), thus inviting all the servants of Jesus to take on the attitude of the Covenant, and we will understand that Jesus and Mary become here truly the spiritual "Bridegroom and Bride" of Messianic banquet. [18] Between Jesus, the Messianic Bridegroom and the servants of the new Covenant, the one whom Jesus here calls "Woman" is, from now on, his Bride in the Covenant, but she is already seen as mother of the disciples, for by inviting them to submit to the words of Jesus, and therefore to believe in Him, we could say she brings them forth into the faith (2:5.11; cf. 1:12). In this double title, of Bride and Mother, Mary plays an intermediary role, a true mediation between Jesus and the disciples.

A similar remark should be made about the pericope of the Cross. There the final Messianic act of Jesus unfolds: "after this, (He) knew that everything had now been completed" (19:28; cf. 19:30). Then John once more tells us that "the mother of Jesus" stood there (19:25). But according to the description of the Evangelist she was standing between the Cross of Jesus and the disciple he loved (19:25-26); therefore, here again, she is standing in a position of mediatio between Jesus and the disciple. By the words that Jesus addresses first, not to his mother, but more in general "to the mother" ("Woman this is your son"), then to the disciple ("this is your mother"), the theme of the spiritual motherhood of Mary is announced, a theme that was well understood beginning from the Middle Ages on, especially with Rupert of Deutz. But the question here is to know how the mother of Jesus became our mother on Calvary. Rupert's answer is that

"In the passion of her only Son, the Blessed Virgin brought forth (peperit) salvation to us all; from that time on, she is obviously, to all of us, our mother".[19]

This explanation is not totally satisfactory: We note, first of all, that the expression "bring forth salvation" is strange: "salvation" is a sort of social or religious liberation, that someone can realize or provoke, but not "bring forth," "give birth to"; this statement has been chosen obviously, to create a causal link (artificial though it may be) between the theme of motherhood and that of salvation; besides, it introduces here the idea of coredemption, of direct participation by Mary in the salvific work brought about by the passion of her only Son. However, nothing in John's text leads us in that direction.

Let us outline here a more exegetical track of thought. How does the fourth Gospel lead us to think that the mother of Jesus becomes here, the mother of all the disciples? To explain how the final will of Jesus was realized (v.27), the Evangelist tells us, in reference to the mother of Jesus, that "the disciple made a place for her in his home",[20] but the true meaning is "in his life of faith." To the disciple, the mother of Jesus hence becomes his mother. As in Cana, the mother of Jesus here, exercises her motherhood towards the disciple by bringing him forth into the faith. In fact, according to verse 35, the disciple who "saw" Jesus' side open, gives "trustworthy evidence," so that we may believe as well" (v.35c). Also the Scripture quoted further, (in the plural), "They will look on the one whom they have pierced" (v.37), is directed probably to all the believers, to the whole Church, but assumes at the start a look of faith among those present there, and first among them the disciple (cf.v.35), but undoubtedly the mother of Jesus too. If the disciple "welcomed" Mary in his life of faith as his own mother, it follows that with her, and probably like her, he learned to contemplate the episode of the Cross in the light of faith and salvation. The "motherhood" of the mother of Jesus towards the disciple (and all the disciples) is consequently a spiritual motherhood; and since this motherhood towards the disciple is the extension of what was Mary's motherhood towards Jesus himself, it follows necessarily that this very motherhood (at the Incarnation) had already unfolded at the level of faith (as it had simultaneously at the level of the flesh). Mary's faith in her Son has thus become a model for the faith of the disciples themselves; therefore, she has also been, in a certain sense, mediatrix between Jesus himself and our faith in him.

II. The Mediation of the Virgin
Mary at the Annunciation (
Lk 1:26-28)

In terms of the theme we are considering, this passage of the Gospel, in a certain sense, is easier to understand than that of John, because it tells us how the announcement of the Incarnation of Son of God was to unfold concretely in Mary's life. But at the same time it is more important than the Johannic text, because it mentions explicitly what we ordinarily call the "consent" of the Virgin to God's design (Lk 1:38). Unfortunately we are content more often to quote eagerly this only verse in favor of Mary's mediation without demonstrating all it exactly signifies in its immediate context; it even happens that, because of this text, we speak of Mary's consent to the redemptive Incarnation.[21] But could one here introduce the theme Redemption? This would require, by all hypothesis, a theological reasoning in order to make explicit and extend what may be implied in the text. We will come back to this point in the conclusion. For the moment we must establish the fact that in this passage there is no question of the redemptive event as such. What we propose here is to demonstrate synthetically all that Mary's response really conveys in the perspective of the Evangelist. It is essential to bear in mind that we are directly concerned here with the Incarnation.

1. The Structure of Lk 1:26-28

Mary's "consent" to God's design, which the angel presented to her, finds its expression in v.38. This verse is however only the conclusion of this narration. In order to see, in depth, all that Mary' last sentence implies, that is to say, to perceive its different links with the whole preceding dialogue, it is essential to situate it in the literary, structure of the pericope.[22] Such an analysis demonstrates that verse 38 has important and varied connections with verses 28,30,31 and 34. It is by virtue of these relations with the various themes which precede the conclusion that v.38 can be presented as the true ultimate point, and that one can see, henceforth, in what sense it expresses an aspect of Mary's mediation.

a) The link between v.38 and v.28

At first sight, nothing seems to link these two verses situated a each extremity of the pericope (they form however, one could say, a sort of inclusion). A careful look, nonetheless, would discover at least two relations between them: The first is of a grammatical order, the second is of a thematic one.

First of all we note that Mary's "consent" is expressed in Greek by an optative: ghenoito moi (a verbal form of which no other example can be found in the New Testament). It does not simply manifest submission (as the words at the beginning: "I am the handmaid of the Lord" might suggest) and certainly still less a passive resignation (what the "fiat" might lead us to believe, the "fiat" that often times is applied to her improperly, resulting from the Vulgate translation). Mary expresses here her joyful desire (cf. the optative) to collaborate fully with God's design. This nuance of desire is like an echo of the sentiment she had manifested to the angel to signify her difficulty: "I am a virgin"; by that she expressed not a statement, but her "desire" for remaining a virgin (cf. infra). She now realizes that this deep desire is granted fully when she learns that the maternity announced to her will be virginal. In the words of v.38 "let... (it) be done to me" a feeling of joy is equally expressed which is a response to the invitation to be joyful when the angel in his very first word greeted her: "Rejoice" (chaïré); this is even more true if we translate: "Rejoice for having been transformed by grace"; then the link between the theme of joy and that of grace appears very clearly, a theme which we shall discuss in the following section.

The second word of the angel Kecharitôménê is also of impor­tance to our topic; it should not be translated (under the influence of the Vulgate) as "full of grace" or "so highly favored" (JB), but rather: "you who have been transformed by grace"; or better still "you who have been made agreeable to God (by grace)." This theme of grace (charis), present in the root of this verbal form in v.28, will be taken up and explicitly formulated in v.30: "you have found favor (grace) with God," and it will resound again in v.34, as we shall see later. Such are the various echoes we should perceive in Mary's final response, in v.38: her desire, her joy, her total availability to grace. These are the sentiments of the Virgin facing the economy of the Incarnation that the angel just revealed to her on behalf of God.

b) The verses 28,30,31,and 34

As we have just seen, both verses 28 and 30 express the theme of grace, first from Mary's point of view, then from God's viewpoint. In v.28, we said that the perfect passive participle Kecharitôménê indicated that Mary's transformation by grace has already taken place long ago, so as to make her agreeable to God, and this in view of her future task; in v.30, the angel "sent by God" (v.28) can then announce to her that the moment of the Incarnation had come: "she found grace with God," she is now such as God wanted her for her mission; the angel can, on behalf of God, communicate to her the great message: "Behold: you are going to conceive in your womb and bear a son..." (v.31); the first part of the sentence is the announcement of a virginal conception (in your womb), then follows that of a future maternity; the first announcement will be clarified in v.35 and completed by the indication of a virginal birth ("the child will be born holy"); which will be the sign that the totality of these episodes is due to God's action.

Mary's response is expressed in v.34: "I am a virgin".[23] Thus she expressed, not a resolution, but an intimate desire, "the most profound orientation of her life" (R. Guardini), this desiderium virginitatis, having already been mentioned by St. Thomas; hence she displays how the grace operating in her had prepared her in a providential way for the task which awaited her: that of becoming the Mother of the Messiah, the Son of God, while remaining a virgin. Saint Bernard already had this fortunate intuition: the "grace" which operated in Mary was "the grace of virginity (virginitatis gratia)".[24]

c) The word "Behold" in v. 36

In the structure of this pericope a last detail should also be considered. Note the first word in Mary's response in v.38: "And behold..." If this word seems to echo two other stages of the angel's message, both introduced by the word "Behold," this could not be accidental. At the beginning (v.31) this expression introduces the first announcement of the angel: that of the virginal conception and the future motherhood of Mary; but these two impending events are presented to Mary as the sign of the grace (favor) she found with God (v.30), and this, following the transformation that had already taken place in her. The entire work of the Incarnation that will be accomplished will unfold under the sign of this grace. In v.36 we find once more these words "and behold," but this time, it is to give a tangible and external sign, a confirmation of the message of the angel: the fact that her relative Elizabeth also was able to conceive, she who was called "barren," confirms that Mary, similarly, will be able to conceive, she who was and remains a virgin; the fecundity of a barren woman attests that the fecundity of a woman remaining a virgin is equally possible; the final words of the angel ("nothing is impossible to God") apply to the one as much as the other. Thus ends the message of the angel punctuated in two stages (vv.30-33 and vv.35-37). This twofold "behold" of the angel echoes Mary's "behold"; her "consent" is therefore offered rather as the total and joyful acquiescence to the announcement coming from God: "Be it done to me according to your word."

2. Mary's Mediation according to Lk 1:38

According to the final verse in Luke's narration, there is no doubt that Mary's response is necessary to the realization of God's design, and therefore the Incarnation. Theologians argue this point to know whether such a cooperation is mediate or immediate.[25] Such distinctions would seem quite speculative in nature. From a biblical point of view we would like to demonstrate that it is not only a question of "physical and moral cooperation"[26] with the Incarnation itself. A question should be raised here, similar to the one raised regarding John's text: Is Mary's mediation at the Incarnation limited to that precise moment of history or is it equally important for the future? We would like to establish that the availability shown here by Mary affects equally the future mission of the child who is to be born of her and moreover that she would be of decisive importance to the permanent life of the Church.

a) First of all we should note, in the angel's message, the accumulation of verbs used in the future. This child that Mary will bring forth, the angel announces, will be "great" (c.32) in an absolute meaning, and that is a divine attribute; he will be called "Son of the Most High" and will have the throne of David, his father, which implies that he will be the Messiah; further still (v.35) the angel declares that because of his holy birth he will be called the Son of God. We therefore see already presented in the angel's message, at least in a broad outline, the future destiny of the child who is to be born.

Mary's response in v.38 is not only in reference to the physical and imminent realities of conception and childbirth (which concern her directly since she will be the mother of that son), but also in reference to what was just revealed to her regarding the future of the child.

To characterize Mary's response we ordinarily speak of her "consent" or even of "her cooperation with the redemptive Incarnation".[27] We previously noted that there is, as yet, no question of redemption in this context. Notwithstanding, the words "consent" and "cooperation" are perhaps not a very good choice here, since they remain somewhat ambiguous. "Consent" implies that the one who proposes the plan expects the agreement of his partner in order for the plan to be realized; this remains then on a juridical and contractual level totally foreign to this dialogue with the angel. As for the word "cooperation," it will become traditional in the Church (cf. LG nn. 56, 61, 63). But we are here in the context of the Annunciation, where Jesus was not yet born and where the Angel of God, precisely, is coming to announce his birth to the Virgin. Mary's answer is formulated in the optative, it does not simply express a "yes", a personal will, a very decision on her part, but a joyous desire; it is the very expression of her faith (cf. Lk 1:45). We can thus speak of her "cooperation," in this sense, that the Virgin, by opening up herself in faith to God, has precisely made possible the realization of the plan of salvation for the whole humankind. This plan comes from God, it is contained entirely in the message of God's Messenger ("according to your word"); as far as she is concerned, Mary, the daughter of Zion, only wishes and wishes earnestly, that God's plan be realized; as Saint Bernard says: "she opens her heart in faith."

We cannot help but notice another striking point: when we speak of Mary's role in the context of the Annunciation we usually forget to take into consideration two aspects that have nevertheless been stressed in the pericope, namely, the twofold insistence on the grace of God (vv.28.30) and on the virginity of Mary (vv.31.34.35). These are exactly the two themes we came across in our analysis of what John was telling us in the Prologue about the Incarnation of the Word: the absence of the "urge of the flesh" (Jn 1:13), that is to say the virginitas carnis as well as the virginitas cordis, and the insistence on the "plenitude of grace" (Jn 1:16). Now, if we ask the question of Mary's mediation according to Luke's narration of the Annunciation the answer should be the same. It should be emphasized even more than in the preceding case; here, too, at the Incarnation all is grace; and she who was to become the mother of the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, has, for a long time, already been "transformed by grace," and this, precisely, to enable her to become the mother of the Messiah in a virginal manner. That is why Mary's final response expressed in Lk 1:38 is nothing more than the expression of her entire openness to the realization, in her, of the grace of God and, through her, of God's design. Her desire for virginity, fruit of the action of the grace in her, is her desire to give herself totally to God, therefore to be entirely available for the realization of the divine plan. It is in this sense that one can speak, here, of Mary's mediation at the Incarnation: Between the "Power of the Most High" (v.35) operating in her, and the Son of God who will be born of her, Mary, undoubtedly, plays an intermediary role, which is itself the result of the action of the Holy Spirit in her. This mediation is in the order of faith; that is in fact what Elizabeth at the Visitation will say of her: "Blessed are you who believed" (1:45).

b) Another point should be made which opens a perspective on the future, and even on the life of the whole Church. We wish only to ask when the ideal of the virginal life began to be lived in Christianity. It is sometimes said that Christ was the first to proclaim such an ideal. However we should go back further: the desire of a virginal life was lived, for the very first time, by the Mother of Jesus, by Mary, in view, precisely, of the virginal birth of her Son, the Messiah, the Son of God who came into this world. This is what in the Middle Ages the Glossa ordinaria had already expressed in these words:

"She was truly full of grace, she who, the very first among women, has offered to God the glorious gift of her virginity".[28]

From this point of view Mary was also mediatrix between the moment of the Incarnation of the Son of God and the life of all those who, since then, and from that time onwards, wish to live fully a virginal life in the Church.


1. For these two passages see this author's book: Ignace de la Potterie, translated by Bertrand Buby, SM, Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, Society of St Paul, Staten Island 1992; for the Prologue of St. John's Gospel, see Chapter III (pp.96-154); for the Annunciation to Mary according to Lk 1:26-28, see Chapter I (pp.3-35).

2. Cf. the Jerusalem Bible translates: "Him who was born ...ot God himself"; and a note adds: "Allusion to the eternal generation of the Word, but also, as it seems to Christ's virgin birth, cf. Mt 1:16,18-23 and Lk 1:26-38."

3. In Lk, 2,57: "Aperuit matris suae vulvam ut immaculatus exiret" (PL 15, 1655 A­B [=1573 A-B]).

4. The link between the divinity of Christ (proclaimed at Nicaea, against Arianism and the virginal conception of Mary was emphasized by several authors; see Mary in the mystery of the Covenant (op.cit.,1), p.158; J. LEDIT, Marie dans la liturgie byzantine, Paris 1976, p.168: "The eternal engendering of the Son of God, demanded the virginal engendering of the Word made flesh in time."

5. Cf.PROCLUS, Or.4 in natalem diem Domini, 3: "An only Son cannot be engendered by two fathers. He who is without a mother in heaven is without a father here on earth" (PG 65,714 B.). S. AUGUSTINE, Sermo 4. De natali Domini: "That Christ was born of the Father, without mother; that Christ was born of the mother without father: the two births are marvelous: the first in eternity, the second in time" (PL 46,982).

6. See some texts from Augustin in Mary... (op.cit.,l) pp, 172-177.

7. PS. ORIGENES, Homilia 8. In Matthaeum, 12,38 (PLS 4,896); quoted by R. LAURENTIN, Le problème de la médiation de Marie dans son développement historique et son incidence aujourd'hui, in the collective volume: Il ruolo di Maria nell'oggi della Chiesa e del mondo. Simposio mariologico 1978, Roma, 1979, 9-33 (cf.p.15, n.7).

8. Adv. Haer., III, 21.5 and 7 (Sc 211,411 and 420); the closeness of the terms allows us to specify: the economy is the plan of salvation where the will of God is expressed; according to Irenaeus it is with God's salvific plan, with his divine will that Mary "cooperates."

9. METHODIUS OF OLYMPUS, De resurrectione, 1,26,1 (GCS 27,253).

10. Cf.G.L.MULLER, art. Mittlerin der Gnade, in Marienlexikon, IV, St. Ottilien, 1992, 487; MARK I. MIRAVALLE, Mary, Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Samta Barbara, 1993, p.30.

11. R. LAURENTIN, Art.cit.,(7).

12. Art.cit., p.18.

13. Art.cit., p.19.

14. Art.cit., p.20.

15. Art.cit., p.11.

16. Cf. "C'est Lui qui a ouvert la voie," la finale du Prologue Johannique, in Bib 69 (1988) 340-370.

17. Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant. op.cit.(1) In chapters V and VI.

18. Op.cit.,p.206.

19. RUPERT OF DEUTZ, in Evang. S Johannis (PL 169,790 A-B).

20. See Mary ...op.cit.(1); pp.225-278 and the articles mentioned in that section.

21. Cf. Gabriele M. ROSCHINI, La mediazione di Maria oggi, Ed. Marianum, Roma 1971, 35: Concerning the Annunciation he speaks of "libero consenso prestato dalla Vergine all'Incarnazione del Verbo redentrice." But nothing, in the immediate context, allows us to speak of her redemption yet; also see further, note (27).

22. For the structure of Lk 1:26-28, cf. Mary... op.cit.,(1) pp.10-11; for the detail of the connections, cf.the remainder of chapter I.

23. For this translation, cf. Mary ...op.cit.,(1) p.22-23.

24. ST.BERNARD: De laudibus Virginis Matris,111, 3 (Opera, IV,37-38; PL 183,72).

25 See in this regard C.POZO, Maria en la obra de la Salvación, Madrid 1974, 42­50: "La cooperación de Maria a la obra de la Salvación."

26. We take up once more here the expression already used above regarding John's Prologue.

27. C.POZO, op.cit.,(25) in 229, n.118, this quotation from a famous exegete, A.FEUILLET (on the subject of Mary): "Her adherence to the Word is an 'immediate cooperation' (K. RAHNER) to the Redemptive Incarnation, in the sense that she will make possible its realization; the whole soteriological event takes its point of departure from the yes of Mary." But A. Feuillet speaks here more as a theologian (notice his reference to K. Rahner) than as an exegete. Can we find in Luke's text the expression of Mary's yes, as he says? We already emphasized the point that the Ghenoito moi of v.38 has another meaning.

28. The complex problem of the different recensions of the Glossa Ordinaria are
known; the text quoted above is not found in the edition Migne (PL 114,246 C);
we transcribed it from the edition of the Renaissance:
Biblia sacra cum Glossa
Antverpiae 1617, 682; this commentary of the Gloss is inspired from Bede; here is the Latin text: "vere gratia plena, quae prima inter feminas virginitatis gloriosum munus Deo obtulit." A similar position is found in: J. Ratzinger, La Figlia de Sion. La devozione a Maria nella Phiera, Jacabook, 1979, 50: "Christian Virginity [...]begins in Mary."

The above paper first appeared in Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., (ed.), Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations: Towards a Papal Definition? (Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1995)

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