Originally published in 1961, on the eve of Vatican II, it is a small, easy-to-read, but deep book of 135 pages. It is a small jewel of what is called ressourcement--the theological movement prior to Vatican II which deeply influenced Vatican II by calling for a return to the sources of Catholic faith. Hugo Rahner returns to the sources by reading the Scriptures with the eyes of the Fathers of the early Church. No less than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger endorsed this book as a "marvelous work [which] is one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century." Renewal of our faith and liturgy is a long task. Reprinting classic, faithful books of high quality is an important part of that task. It is good that Zaccheus Press and others like Sophia Institute Press undertake this intellectual apostolate.
In the beginning of the book, the author hints at the problem that all of us face in recovering the depth of meaning of the doctrines and piety of Catholic tradition. The great theologian Romano Guardini is quoted referring to how the words of the saints from another era can "sometimes seem to us but empty phrases" (p. 4). H. Rahner also points to the "dry lack of feeling" we may have to different forms of Catholic devotion (p. 5). Returning to the sources gives us again the depth of what the saints and Fathers wrote about so passionately; we re-read with renewed faith from a new informed depth. In the service of renewal, Hugo Rahner lets us read the Scriptures again with the fervor and devotion of the Fathers of the Church and so to find Mary once again at the center of salvation history.
And so H. Rahner proceeds to methodically explore the thesis that he summarizes in the Foreword: that "Mary and the Church are two, yet one single mother." Mary physically bore Christ; the Church gives birth to Christ in each of us through the gift of faith in baptism. Thus, the Church is also, in this sense, Mother of Christ. "Each is mother, each is virgin. Both conceived by the same Spirit, without human seed" (quoting the Latin Father Isaac of Stella). And so, throughout the book, Hugo Rahner shows how what Scriptures say about the Church can be applied to Mary, how in fact the great image of the Woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12 refers to both Mary and the Church (see Ch. 10).
In contrast to abusive feminist interpretations, the author also ties the Old Testament's feminine image of divine wisdom or sophia to Mary and the Church by referring to the Christian East's tradition of icon-painting--another "source" which we are to make use of as John Paul the Great so urgently requested (pp. 132-34).
And, of course, as emphasized by Vatican II, Mary is our mother, the mother of the faithful. The author captures this ancient truth by quoting Augustine:
"Mary is indeed the mother of Christ's members, that is, of ourselves. For it is by her work of love that men have been born in the Church, faithful men who are the body of the head, whose mother she was in the flesh."
H. Rahner, p. 51 (quoting Augustine).
In our religion, there are no orphans: each of us always has a Mother. Because of Mary's "yes" to God, "the floodgates of God's grace upon mankind" have been opened (p. 51). That is why Mary is mediatrix of all graces (see pp. 129-31). H. Rahner underlines this truth by emphasizing the Marian character of our baptism in which we first received the gift of grace. For the baptismal font that gives new birth to us through the Holy Spirit is "symbolized in the birth, which overshadowed by the Spirit, gave us the Redeemer born of the Virgin" (p. 65). The "old theology of baptism" views the baptismal font from which we are reborn as the womb of Mary (pp. 65-66). To deeply understand Baptism and being born again, we cannot do without Mary. Protestants, please take note.
And not only baptism. Even evangelization is unavoidably Marian in character. The author notes that the evangelizing Christian "becomes the 'mother of Christ' also in the sense that he builds up Christ and brings Him to birth in the hearts of his neighbors" (p. 84, later quoting Gregory the Great in support). As we become "other Christs," Mary is our mother; but it is also true that, as we evangelize, we are also "other Marys" who give birth to other Christs (cp. p. 58 referring to quote from Origen).
For those of a more "pentecostal" or charismatic bent, H. Rahner makes clear that Pentecost itself is also a Marian event:
Mary's presence at Pentecost is the last view we have of her in the writings of revelation . . . . (Acts 1:14). . . . . Here indeed [at Pentecost] is fulfilled in all mankind what was begun in the heart of the Virgin at the instant of the Incarnation: in the sanctuary of the immaculate heart, in her innermost being, . . . , in her spotless womb, when the overshadowing grace of the Holy Spirit came in . . . . [I]n her heart was performed in secret, what now at Pentecost is open to the gaze of all mankind. The heart of Mary is the original upper room, where redeemed mankind is gathered.H. Rahner, pp. 99-101.
Yes, to understand fully the fundamentals of biblical Christianity, such as baptism, new birth, evangelization, the descent of the Holy Spirit--not to mention the core truth of the Incarnation of the God-Man Himself, we must turn to Mary. Biblical Christianity is Marian in character. The Marian aspect is like a vein of gold embedded in biblical revelation. The early Fathers, those closest to the Apostles and their immediate successors, those present at the springtime of the new faith, affirmed it. So in ecumenical discussions, Mary is not a matter to be pushed aside to avoid controversy: Mary is at the heart of the faith.
Let me end with a more immediately personal image: Mary as our constant intercessor before her Son. Here, the author turns to the famous scene at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-11). As H. Rahner states, "Mary is ever present, and ever voicing the needs of the nations: 'They have no wine' " (p. 57). We invoke Mary in our prayers so that she can intercede before her Son. This invocation is not a Catholic invention or projection into Scripture. Rather, this invocation is a call to the one whom God Himself chose to be the essential instrument of the Incarnation and the one who was the first to call on Jesus to perform the first sign of his saving ministry. To ignore Mary is to ignore God's revelation. Let us not replace that revelation with our own blueprints. We go to Christ through Mary because God Himself has chosen to place her at the strategic center of the faith.