"Mary, Mystery of Mercy"

A Meditation for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 15, 2003

Excerpt from a new book published by John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., by Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P.

Each August, the priests and brothers of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Province of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception host a week-long celebration of "Mary's Days" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, from the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (August 15) to the Feast of the Queenship of Mary (August 22). It is a time when many friends and associates of the Marians join with them in Rosary processions, in reflections on Our Lady, and in renewing the consecration of their hearts and lives to the Mother of our Savior.

In the previous meditation, we presented excerpts from the new book published by the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, entitled Mary, Mystery of Mercy, by Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P.. Fr. Philippe had written of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as the "first act of the Father's prevenient mercy" toward her.

In the following excerpt, he discusses what he calls the "second act" of the Father's Mercy to Mary, and reflections on the meaning of "consecration" in Mary's life, in the "consecration" involved in the religious life, and in the life of every Christian.

The second act of the Father's prevenient mercy as regards Mary is manifested in the presentation of Mary in the Temple. It is interesting to consider the particular physiognomy of the Father's different acts of mercy, for, through them, we enter into his mystery in a special way. The Father's mercy is not only prevenient. By definition an excess of love, it is necessarily radical and creative. When God says that we must build "upon the rock," is he not teaching us that we must build upon mercy?

Acts of the Father's mercy which envelop and renew everything are the "rock". In and through this prevenient mercy, the Father wishes to educate his children. Prevenient mercy is the creative omnipotence of God at the service of love. We must, therefore, see blossom in this mercy other acts which lead to a deeper, more secret, more intimate reality: the mystery of the Father's love manifested towards his little child, Mary.

Scripture says very little of what Tradition calls the mystery of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. At the Annunciation, Mary's response to the angel, and her attitude, show that she is totally consecrated to God. The passage is unintelligible if it is not understood in this way. There is a fact revealed here, indirectly, in a very hidden fashion. Mary responds to the angel, "How can this be, for I have no husband?" And yet, it is previously said that Mary is "betrothed to Joseph." Herein lies a mystery. If we place these two passages in parallel in a material, literal fashion, they are incomprehensible. They, in fact, prove that there is a secret between Mary and God: Mary has consecrated her whole being to God. This total consecration is Mary's first response to the Father's prevenient mercy, to the mercy of the Immaculate Conception. The only way for a creature to present itself to God is to consecrate itself to God. Enveloped by the Father's mercy, Mary can only present herself to Him by consecrating herself totally, body and soul. Such is the mystery of virginity in its most powerful and deepest sense.

Virginity is consecration to God of one's whole being, consecration to His service, total reservation for Him, total offering and gift to Him. Such is the first total cooperation of a little "creature", of a child of God, entirely enveloped by the Father's mercy, who experiences this mercy, and in experiencing it, responds by totally consecrating itself. Consecration springs from the encounter of a creature, enveloped by mercy, with its God, with its Father. Virginal consecration is joyous. Mary responded, exultant with joy. There is nothing more joyous than to experience divinely the Father's mercy and to live by it. There is nothing more joyous than to understand that such mercy is a fatherly embrace which takes possession of His little child to introduce and hide her in His mystery in a unique way. Virginal consecration is indeed the embrace of the Father, who takes full possession of His little child. That is why this consecration is made with joy and is hidden.

Consecration through the vow of obedience, on the other hand, is made coram populo, that is, in front of everyone. There need to be witnesses. The virginal consecration of Mary took place in a secret, intimate fashion, so much so, that Scripture does not speak of it explicitly. "He who has an ear, let him hear." The Church later affirmed the consecration of Mary. We do not have the right to consider it as something secondary. In a certain sense, the Church begins with it. The Father envelops Mary in His mercy and in so doing, envelops His Church. In the end, in heaven, the whole Church will be gathered in this mercy. That is why it is said that "He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God," all will be given to the Father. We will all be enveloped by the mystery of God. The mystery of the Immaculate Conception is the great embrace of the Father, but the Church does not begin here. The fundamental element of the Church, that upon which the Church is organized, is this mystery of virginal consecration. It is in this consecration that Mary cooperates, in an efficacious and primary fashion, with the mercy of the Father. Scripture communicates this mystery to us, all the while veiling it.

We must understand the connection between consecration and abandonment. On the one hand, consecration demands a certain abandonment; and the more perfect the consecration, the more perfect the abandonment must be. On the other hand, true abandonment calls for consecration and prepares for it. This is important to understand, for we thereby grasp how the mystery of the Presentation of Mary must be lived by all Christians, not only hose who make an "official" religious profession. For all Christians, abandonment is a fundamental, evangelical demand, a disposition to interior consecration. The mystery of abandonment must be present in the life of all Christians as the first effect of Mary's motherly mercy. Everyone can live abandonment, no matter what the circumstances may be, and, in living abandonment, one lives what is most fundamental in the evangelical law. It can even be said that abandonment allows one to live fully the spirit of virginal consecration. Only abandonment can give divine meaning to the religious life and to virginal consecration.

When Mary, moved by the Holy Spirit, consecrated herself totally to God, she did so as an act of response to all the Father's mercy towards her. In a certain sense, the act was the engagement of all of God's gifts. It was the most divinely adequate response to the grace given by God. She entrusted herself completely to God in order to belong only to Him, so that everything in her would be entirely hidden in His will. Such is the mystery of the virginity of Mary's soul and body: everything in her was surrendered to God so that He alone can make use of her according to His "good will and pleasure." Mary presented herself to the mercy of the Father through the mystery of her total consecration, a consecration that is realized in perfect abandonment. In the eyes of God, the virginal consecration of Mary was, as it were, the most marvelous fruit of her abandonment to His mercy. The consecration was rooted in abandonment and allowed the abandonment to be exercised fully, with no restrictions. Hence we can say that the mystery of abandonment expresses the foundation and the spirit of Mary's vow of virginity, as well as what is most hidden in this vow, its most radical aspect. In the light of God's wisdom, what gave this vow all of its depth and fullness is the fact that it was made in complete abandonment. Is this vow not precisely the most perfect way for a creature to respond to the prevenient mercy of God? Would not any other way of responding to the Lord's call have been, as it were, a reduction of the mercy? Virginal consecration, realized in total abandonment, is indeed the most perfect response to God from a creature elevated by God to the supernatural order, from a human being entirely renewed by grace.

Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P. is a widely-respected scholar of Catholic theology. This is the first English translation of his work "Mystères de Misericorde", published in 1958 and again in 2000.

This is the second in a series of excerpts from Fr. Philippe's book. Another excerpt will appear on this website for the feast of The Immaculate Conception 2003.

If you enjoy this excerpt and would like to order a copy, please call our customer service number: within the U.S. toll free 1-800-462-7426, outside the U.S. 413.298.3691. Code is ETBKMM. Price is $10.95, plus shipping and handling.