The Eucharistic Mystery and Mary's Mysterious Presence

Author: Piero Viotto

The Eucharistic Mystery and Mary's Mysterious Presence

Piero Viotto

Why Charles Journet maintains that the Church is Marian

The Church is Marian not for the "mystery of the Incarnation" alone, because in Nazareth Mary is the Mother of Christ, the Word of God, but also for the "mystery of compassion", because Mary, who participated in the Redemption at the foot of the Cross, was entrusted with the Apostle John and with all of us. Thus, the Church is born of the wounded heart of Jesus and of Mary. It can be said that Mariology is a part of ecclesiology.

Charles Journet (1891-1975) based his work on the Church Fathers whom he repeatedly cited as he employed theologians' arguments, following St. Thomas' existential realism as well as the poetic intuition of Charles Péguy and Paul Claudel.

Journet sought to understand these mysteries as much as possible using images drawn from the world of natural science and mathematics in the five volumes of his treatise The Church of the Word Incarnate (1941-62).

But to gain a knowledge of his theological reflections, perhaps his numerous spiritual retreats, Entretiens, would he more helpful. These were held in convents. Cardinal Georges Marie Martin Cottier, O.P. who took Journet's place in editing his magazine, Nova et vetera, is now publishing these reflections with the Swiss publishers: Word and Silence.

In his Treatise and Meditations, Journet reflected at length on the nature of the Mass, affirming that during the short period after the Consecration, we are, for a brief moment, truly present in the unique sacrifice of Christ on the Cross just as Mary was at Calvary. We are participants in an "ascending mediation", in which Mary sacrifices her Son to the Father for the salvation of humanity, and a "descending mediation", in which Mary "disposes our hearts to welcome salvation".

The Eucharist is considered from two perspectives: in time, as a "sacrificial sign", at the central moment of the Mass which makes us present at the death of Christ, and in space, as a "sacramental sign", in the consecrated Bread where the risen Christ is present, in which the "precise and natural appearances" of the Species are conserved.

The theologian develops two interesting observations. In the first, he writes: "The priest who abstains from celebrating to content himself with solely receiving communion disregards that for which the Church ordained him".

In the second, he emphasizes that the Church is not so much a place in which Christians assemble as much as it is a place for the personal presence of Christ among us, who make up his Body, which continues on in history.

Mary is the "prototype of the Church", and the Swiss theologian dedicates an entire chapter of his Treatise to this theme precisely in order to define the modality of Mary's role and the role of Christians in the process of redemption.

"The merits of Christ give rise to the merits of the Church, not by 'addition' but by participation, not by way of a 'juxtaposition' but in the manner of 'permeation', as the Being of God gives rise to the existence of the universe".

Christ is the unique Redeemer, because grace "resides first and foremost in him, as in its Source, and in the Church, whose growth from its first appearance is dependent upon him".

Thus premised, Journet's reflection makes an analysis of the differences between the "collective co-redemption" of the Church, which concerns the people of each historical period and each social group, and the "personal co-redemption" of Mary, which "is absolutely universal and concerns the people of all times, to whom it is anterior and concerns the mediation of the Church"; even if she herself is absorbed in the redemption of Christ.

Journet exemplifies this relationship, observing that St. Monica's behaviour is in direct reaction to St. Augustine's, but this is sustained by the redemptive action of Christ — as the moon is in the gravitational orbit of the earth, which in turn is a gravitational orbit of the sun.

These images are not only an intellectual aid to better understand the mystery, but to refer to the reality of the communion of saints: "There are souls that sustain other souls, just as a planet sustains its satellites".

All redemption is in Christ, and does not increase with time. Journet observes, in the same way that "after the Creation there is not, intensively, more being, but only greater participation in the being".

The difference between redemption and co-redemption is a question not of quantity but of quality. Christ's action is an ontological fact; only he can be the Mediator and can merit — on a level of justice — our salvation.

The action of Mary, of the Church, of individual Christians, is a moral act, which participates in the redemption through love and for love. In the spiritual universe Mary is the first redeemed, but in an absolutely unique manner, because she was preserved from original sin by the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, before the Church and in view of the Church.

The maximum co-redemption is in Mary, and Journet even employs mathematics as an explanatory example, saying that the Church in its becoming tends towards this maximum, which is Mary, like "a curve approaches its asymptote".

Reflecting upon the Apocalypse, Journet also considers Mary's role as Christ's spouse more as an eminent part of the Church than as the mother of Jesus, because it would be incorrect to mix these two perspectives — mystical and ontological.

Mary is the spouse of Christ from the evangelical perspective of "whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Mk 3:35).

Journet's theology is always attentive to these subtle but important distinctions, pushing intellectual theological reflection to the extreme without resolving it in the language of mystical experience.

After this argument Journet concludes that "Christ is our brother because our sister Mary is his mother", and states that salvation occurs in history, since Mary and the Saints in heaven cannot acquire any more merit but can only distribute it.

Thus "an undeserving intercession in heaven is dependent upon a well-deserved intercession on earth, in order to lift up the whole of the universe's history and consequently, the whole universe of purgatory".

He leaves the last word to St. Augustine: "A great mystery has granted that death came to us through a woman and that life was restored to us through a woman, and that the devil was conquered by our double nature, both feminine and masculine" (De agone christiano, ch. 22).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 October 2008, page 25

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