The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 47, No 5, Sep.-Oct. 1994

Theology for the Laity
By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

In the biblical account of the beginning of the human race, the fall of our first parents introduced conflict, suffering and death into the human scene. They lost the supernatural life of grace that made them children of God, and were reduced from a state of friendship with God to one of enmity with God. Not only could mankind do nothing, of itself, to regain the gifts that were lost, but heaven was closed to the human race. In addition, our first parents incurred for mankind an infinite debt of punishment for which man was utterly helpless to make reparation.

They lost the harmony between flesh and spirit, i.e. the perfect subordination of the former to the latter. The will was weakened, their intellect was obscured so that they often chose evil under the appearance of good, and they were left with an inclination to seek what pleased them rather than what pleased God. Had Adam not sinned, all the gifts he enjoyed before the fall would have been inherited by their descendents. Because of the fall, every descendent of Adam comes into this world deprived of those gifts, inheriting a wounded will and intellect, an inclination to evil, and a lack of subordination of his lower nature to the higher. Such was the pitiful plight of our first parents after their rebellion against the limitation that God had placed on them.


In response to the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God could have simply pardoned them and their descendents without requiring any reparation. Or He could have lessened His gift to mankind, making their ultimate goal a purely natural happiness after death. Again, He could have inflicted eternal punishment on them immediately as He did with the fallen angels. But this was not in keeping with God’s salvific plan of mercy and justice for the human race. The divine response was not slow in coming. As the first man and woman had rebelled at the instigation and deception of the devil who appeared in the form of a serpent, another Man and woman would in time undo the damage they had brought upon the human race, and would conquer decisively the devil and his angelic cohorts:

“And the Lord God said to the serpent, because you have done this ... I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head, and you will lie in wait for her heel” (Gen. 3:15).

Those words might be paraphrased as follows:

“Since you have made use of a woman to lead mankind into sin, I will make use of a woman to bring about the redemption of mankind. The woman I will choose and prepare, inferior to you by nature, will be superior in grace and glory to what you were before your fall, and more powerful than you and all your rebellious followers. Never for a moment will you be able to seduce her as you did Eve, or have dominion over her. With the power of her divine offspring (her "seed”) she will crush your head. She will be My instrument in your humiliating defeat, and your eternal shame and confusion.”

The above promise, issued at the very beginning of the human race, was a source of encouragement to mankind, for it gave a divine assurance of the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The One promised by God would restore - partially in this life and totally in the life to come - that which was lost. However, as the centuries passed, there was a gradual moral degradation of the human race, and the promised redemption made in the beginning and the hope it brought was lost sight of by many.

At a point in time, some 18 centuries before Christ, God singled out a chosen people to keep alive the knowledge of the promised Redeemer, and to further reveal to mankind the divine plan of salvation. Thus the Old Testament prepared the way for the promised Redeemer, whose coming was gradually announced in more detail regarding the time, place and circumstances of His mission.


In the fullness of time this long awaited prophesy was fulfilled, and the divine plan of redemption was carried out. The “woman” of Genesis, the new Eve, miraculously conceived of the Holy Spirit, and brought forth the promised One foretold centuries before and announced by the Angel Gabriel:

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His Father, and He shall be King over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk. 1:32).

The divine offspring of Mary, the promised Messiah and Redeemer, came as Prophet, Priest and King. As PROPHET (teacher), He went about preaching and teaching for three years announcing the good news of the redemption. As PRIEST, He offered Himself in sacrifice accomplishing that redemption, and meriting for mankind the restoration of the grace that Adam had lost. As KING, He established the kingdom of God, which has its beginning on earth, and its fulfillment in heaven. “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36). It is His role as High Priest of the New Law that we are mainly interested in here, for it is in that role that He redeemed mankind.

The word “redeem” means to buy back, to pay a price for something that was lost. By their sin, our first parents had thrown away their birthright of union with God by sharing in His divine nature through grace, and eternal happiness in heaven. That was lost not only for themselves, but for their descendents as well. Our divine Redeemer, as a member of the human race and as the second Adam, had become man precisely to purchase back that birthright for us, but what a high price He paid for it.

“You know that you were redeemed . . . not with perishable things, with silver or gold, but with the Precious Blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18). “You are not your own, for you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God and bear Him in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19).

Because Christ was man, He could pay the debt on the part of mankind; and because He was God, He could offer infinite reparation, rendering to the Father far more than was required to satisfy for the sins of the entire human race. By their rebellion against God at the instigation of the devil, Adam and Eve and their descendents came under the dominion of the devil (Jn.8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19), from which only God could rescue them. And from this dominion God ransomed them and all mankind through the sacrifice of his only-begotten Son. “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life for the ransom of many” (Mt.20:28).


Those words of St. Paul, quoted above, should provoke profound reflection. Not only are we God’s possession because He created us, and gave us every gift of nature and grace that we possess; but when the human race was put on trial (in the person of Adam, its head) and failed in that trial losing our divine birthright and incurring an infinite debt, God sent his only-begotten Son to redeem us from everlasting separation from Him by means of His passion and death. How much more, then, are we God’s possession. How much more does God have a strict right to our obedience, our love, our worship, our gratitude.

Among the various gifts with which God has endowed human beings is man’s free will. It is the source of his great dignity, but can also be the source of his downfall. We have been given the power (not the right) to reject what God commands of us. We hear so much today “I have a right to choose” - referring to something gravely sinful. No one has a right against God, the Creator. He made us free, so that we might freely fulfill His will making our acts meritorious. But we have the capacity of freely rejecting God’s will making our acts sinful. No one with the use of reason goes to heaven without freely choosing what is in conformity with God’s will; and no one is ever lost eternally except by freely choosing what is forbidden by God, and clinging to that choice.

How many there are who, in their blindness, seem totally unmindful of their indebtedness to their Creator, claiming the right to live their life as they choose. How many, like Eve, deceived by the Evil One, choose the creature in preference to the Creator.


Through His death on the Cross Christ redeemed mankind from a twofold need that only God could remedy:

1) To pay the infinite debt of reparation that mankind owed God because of the rebellion of Adam, its head. Christ’s sacrifice was infinite in its redeeming value, thus offering more than adequate atonement for the offense of Adam and all of his descendents. Christ’s passion and death were more acceptable to God than all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament combined. It offered the Father infinite glory, and all of the disobedience, insults, sacrileges and rebellion of the human race since the beginning of the world were more than counterbalanced. Adam’s sin, and every sin of his descendents involves an element of self-glorification and disobedience to God. Christ, the second Adam, made reparation in the name of all humanity through his "obedience, even to the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).

2) To merit the restoration of grace which Adam lost for himself and his descendents. Without that grace man could never attain the vision of God in heaven for which he was created. But now, through the merits of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice man can once again be restored to the supernatural state of grace. If Adam had not sinned, the soul of every individual man, created by God at the moment of conception, would be adorned with divine grace. Adam and his descendents would have passed on not only human nature, but supernatural divine life.

Christ’s redeeming action healed the breach between God and mankind by restoring the divine life of grace, but He did not restore the preternatural gifts that Adam enjoyed before the fall, e.g. freedom from death, from suffering and sickness. Too, He let remain the wounds in human nature, e.g. weakness of will, obscurity of judgment and an inclination to evil. God allowed these to remain to afford us the opportunity of atoning for sin (ours and that of others) by being united with the suffering Christ. Yet he merited for us sufficient grace to overcome these weaknesses and profit by our trials.


An essential concept in the understanding of Catholic theology of the redemption of mankind is the mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ, that supernatural organism of which Christ is the head, and all souls united to Him through grace - in heaven, in purgatory and on earth - are the members. By laying down His life through love and obedience as Head of the Body, Christ paid the price for Adam’s sin and the sins of all mankind, the members of His Body. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “as the head and members are, as it were, one mystical person, so the satisfaction of Christ belongs to all the faithful as to His members” (III,46,3). And again: “The satisfaction of Christ has its effect in us in so far as we are incorporated in Him, as members with the head” (III,49,3,ad 3).

Christ’s passion was sufficient to redeem all, from all sins, and to restore all the gifts lost by Adam. Yet, this does not guarantee the salvation of all, because all do not use the means established by Christ to share in the fruits of His redeeming sacrifice. As the Council of Trent stated: "Although Christ died for all, yet all do not receive the benefit of His death, but those only to whom the merit of His passion is communicated” (Ch.3; Denz. 795). The fruits of His passion have to be applied to individual souls (according to their capacity and opportunity) through the Sacraments, prayer, mortification, the crosses of life patiently borne, works of mercy, the sacrifices needed to keep God’s commandments and fulfill the duties of one’s state in life, etc.

What about unbaptized infants who die not having received the cleansing waters of baptism? Since Christ died for all (Rom.5:18; 1 Jn.2:2) do His redeeming merits and satisfaction apply to them as well? On this point the New Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

“As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused Him to say: ‘Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who died without baptism” (n.1261). (Note: the above would apply to all unbaptized infants whether born or unborn.)


Absolutely speaking, Christ has no need of us in the redemption of man. But in the divine plan of salvation He wills to use the Church and its members in that wonderful mystery. As Pope Pius XII stated in his encyclical on the Mystical Body:

“In carrying out the work of redemption Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because He is indigent and weak, but rather because He so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse. Dying on the Cross, He left to His Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Towards this she (the Church) contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this task of sanctification with His Church, but He wants it, in a way, to be due to her action. What a deep mystery . . . that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body offer for that intention, and on the assistance of pastors of souls and of the faithful, especially of fathers and mothers of families, which they must offer to our divine Savior as though they were His associates” (n.44).

What a wonderful mystery this is that, in the divine plan, God Himself needs our cooperation in the salvation of souls; and that the salvation of some souls will depend on the prayers and sacrifices of others. It was for this very reason that the Blessed Mother asked for prayer and sacrifice at Fatima: “Many souls are going to hell,” she said, "because there is no one to offer prayer and sacrifice for them.”

The work of redemption, then, will continue on until the end of the world. Each of us is called, in the commandment to love our neighbor, to collaborate with Christ in the salvation of souls. In His infinite mercy, He allows one member of His Mystical Body to make up (by prayer and sacrifice) for what is wanting in others.

“I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church”(Col. 1:24).

St. Paul is not saying that something is wanting in the passion of Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, but in the members of that Body. He is not saying that Christ’s passion was incomplete, nor that his own sufferings increase the value of the redemption; but rather that since Christ suffered in order to establish the reign of God, anyone who collaborates with His redeeming mission must share His suffering.

A final note on Mary’s role in the mystery of our redemption. While God wishes the collaboration of man in the distribution of the graces acquired by His Son on Calvary, Mary had the very special privilege of cooperating with Christ (although totally dependent on Him) in the very acquiring of those graces. Her redeeming role (while subordinate to that of Christ) was coextensive with His - offering her Divine Son and herself for the redemption of mankind. This is the basis of her universal participation in the distribution of all graces to all men. As Pope Pius X stated in his encyclical “Ad Diem Illum."

“By the communion of sorrows and will between Christ and Mary, she merited to become the dispenser of all the benefits which Jesus acquired by shedding His Blood.”

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