And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.Luke 1:47
Mary, a lowly woman, was given the vocation to bring forth the Saviour of the world: God Himself. For such a great vocation—that is, to become the Mother of God—required a great preparation by God Himself.
Preparation for Vocation
When God sends someone out on a vocation, He prepares him first. God gives each man the grace for his own calling. For example, to prepare him for his prophetic vocation, the Lord sends a seraph to the Prophet Isaiah. The seraph touches his lips with a coal, saying to him:
And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.Isaiah 6:7-8
Isaiah is cleansed and sanctified in preparation for being sent.
Mary, having such a great vocation, would likewise need preparation proportional to her vocation. However, when the archangel Gabriel appears to her, he salutes her with: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28). Before Mary has accepted or even has been presented with the calling from God, St. Gabriel recognizes that she is already full of grace. If, as St. Jerome puts it, “into Mary at once the fullness of grace wholly infused itself,” then the sanctifying preparation for her vocation already had occurred. However, when would she have been saved and prepared for her vocation? Whenever it is, it must be before her vocation begins, because it is preparation for that vocation.
Mary’s Vocation: Virgin and Mother
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14
The Prophet Isaiah shows that Mary’s vocation is twofold: to be both virgin and mother. After examining the nature of this twofold vocation, we can see when it began for her. Once we know when her mission began, we can determine when she was saved and how.
First, to be consecrated as a virgin would require immediate preparation, so to say. Virginity is not done at a certain point. Instead, every man and woman comes into existence as a virgin. Mary, as the virgin prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah, would need to be prepared and maintain this consecrated virginity. From this, it would seem that the beginning of her vocation is the beginning of her existence: her very conception.
Second, to be the mother of Jesus is likewise a lifelong preparation. To be the mother of Jesus, who has no human father, is to necessarily be the giver of his human nature. Jesus’ human nature comes exclusively from Mary, since Jesus is, as St. Paul emphasizes, a son of Adam to redeem the sons of Adam, “made of a woman, made under the law” for those under the law (Gal. 4:4). To provide for Jesus’ human nature, the Father could not have just created ex nihilo another instance of humanity, perhaps a human seed. Instead, Jesus needed to truly be a son of Adam like all of us. Therefore, Mary as the source of Jesus’ humanity needs her nature prepared for the Incarnation.
This aspect of her vocation indeed is essential and cannot be understated, because the humanity Jesus receives is the instrument of our salvation. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, saves man by the instrument of His human nature. This is why He says at the Last Supper: “Take, eat; this is my body….Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). It is by His body and blood (His humanity) that salvation (the “remission of sins”) is wrought. Therefore, since Mary was to provide—from her very self—the instrument for the salvation of the world, her very self would need to be prepared. Therefore, since these make up the nature of her vocation, the sanctifying preparation would have to occur upon her very conception, that is, the moment she begins to exist.
Since Mary’s vocation began at the moment of her conception, her salvation occurred at her conception to be prepared to bring forth the Saviour of the world. One might ask, though, what is she saved from? If she is saved at the very beginning of her existence, then there would be no sin to remove. To answer, one must remember that each son of Adam is ordinarily conceived in sin. As David recounts:
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.Psalms 51:5
Therefore, as a daughter of Adam, Mary rightfully deserved to be conceived in sin: original sin. It is from this rightfully deserved penalty that Mary is saved. Mary is truly saved from sin in a more glorious way, because God saves her from the sin she deserved before it even stained her soul, all for the sake of our salvation by Christ Jesus.
Does Jesus Save Himself?
If this was not so, what else could happen? Since the Word takes on human nature from Mary, the state of the body, and the soul, would be congruent to hers, just like every other birth. While God creates the soul ex nihilo, it is given in the state congruous of the parent, either broken or not. However, Jesus cannot receive a broken human nature, since He is without sin. So, if the human nature, to be his, was not purified in Mary, perhaps his own human nature was purified for Him alone. However, this runs into a contradiction in Scripture.
First, what would enable this unique, first dispensation of saving grace? Of course, it would be the cross, from which all grace and salvation flows. The Cross is possible because the Word Incarnate acts as both high Priest & Victim.
Second, Jesus Christ is the great High Priest. Unlike other High Priests, who “ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins,” (Heb. 5:3) Jesus Christ does not offer the sacrifice for Himself. Instead, it is offered for those who are in sin.
Third, if Jesus Christ does not offer the sacrifice for Himself, then it cannot be applied to Himself. The contradiction becomes apparent: the human nature of Jesus Christ cannot be purified while it is truly His. Instead, it somehow needs to be purified before He assumes the human nature. The solution to this is found in the salvation of Mary. Mary’s human nature is made all-holy, immaculate, at conception, even though she was liable to be contaminated by sin. This is a true and extraordinary salvation. So, the Cross is offered for Mary and the fruit is given to Jesus, though the sacrifice of the Cross is not offered for Him.