Holy Mary, Mother of God in the Sacramental Economy and Christian Life—Part II
Jun 24, 2024

Holy Mary, Mother of God in the Sacramental Economy and Christian Life—Part II

  1. The Holy Mother of God in the Sacramental Economy

In the first place, we need to specify what the patristic tradition understands by “the mystery of the economy” and how this economy came to be sacramental. This initial global perspective will allow us to understand exactly where the Théotokos is situated in the divine Plan. Later we will treat, in the sacramental celebration of the mystery, the relationship of the Holy Mother of God with the four great epochs of the economy.

1.1 The Mystery of the Economy

From the triple use of the word oikonomia in the Letter to the Ephesians, (1:10, 3:2, 3:9) the Economy signifies, above all, the “generous plan” (eudokia) of the Father, wisely ordered, “the mystery of his will” accomplished in history and fulfilled in Christ (Ephesians 1:5-10). From there the different nuances of expression try to translate the inexpressible: “the Economy of the grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2), “the Economy of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9), the Economy of salvation, the Economy of the incarnate Word, and, to return to St. Paul, literally: “the Economy of the fullness of the ages” (tôn kairôn) (Ephesians 1:10), which most resemble “the fullness of time” (tou chronou) (Galatians 4:4).

In order to accomplish his plan of Love, the Father in effect has “fixed times and moments.”1 We do not treat of a “history of salvation” in a merely chronological sense, so much as the Economy of the mystery of Christ, “hidden through the ages in God the Creator of all things,” (Ephesians 3:9) and accomplished in favor of men and with them in history.

Four great times trace the course of the Economy. [1st]2 At the beginning is the time of preparations and of the types of the incarnate Word, as revealed in the Old Testament. [2nd] When “the fullness of time came” (Galatians 4:4), the Son completely accomplished the Father’s Design of love “for us men and our salvation,” through his Incarnation, his death, his Resurrection, and his Ascension next to the Father. [3rd] Pouring out the Holy Spirit on the Twelve Apostles, he inaugurates the “last days” (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2). [4th] When he returns in glory it will be the “consummation of time” (Matthew 28:20) and “his reign will be without end” (Luke 1:33).

However, and this is what we must understand well, in the “last days” in which we find ourselves (I mean the time of the Church between Pentecost and the Parousia), the economy of the mystery of Christ is sacramental. That which Christ lived from his Incarnation through his Ascension, he lived “once and for all” (ephapax). The Fullness of time is not behind us in the past but is always present. The event of salvation completed by Christ is his victory over sin and death. And so, this event is the only one in history that is not swallowed by death, that does not pass: it remains and lives with more power than during the mortal life of Jesus.

But “How is this possible?” we can ask with Nicodemus (John 3:9). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Economy of salvation is poured out, from now on, in the world in a sacramental form. Sacramental? This is the mode of being (tropos) of the Body of Christ, head and members, through the realities of this world which signify, contain, and actualize the event of the mystery of salvation accomplished “once and for all.” The same Holy Spirit who had anointed the incarnate Word and had fully constituted him as Christ in his Resurrection (Acts 2:36) is the One who anoints the members of his Body. This is why the mystery of the Economy is continued sacramentally through the Church, “sign and instrument of Communion with God and of the unity of the human race” (Lumen Gentium 1).

This initial perspective should allow us to understand exactly where the Théotokos is situated in the mystery of the Economy. Her mission first appears in the meeting point of the time of the promises (Old Testament) with the Fullness of time (cf. Galatians 3:23; 4:4). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and of the virginity, that is to say, the consented impotence, of Mary that “the Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin” (Byzantine troparion of the Annunciation).

Nevertheless, this meeting point is not only in the order of time; the Mother of God is not simply the sign, yet hidden, that “the time has been fulfilled” (Mark 1:15) and that the time of the promise will reach its completion. It is about the unique and inconceivable event that revolutionizes all the history of the first creation and carries already the Seed of the eternal harvest. It is about the union of human nature and the Word, Creator of the world. It is through Mary and in her that the beloved Son is married with humanity in a new and unwavering Covenant. Because she is the “unmarried wife” of the One who pre-exists his creature, it is understood in what sense Mary is truly Mother of God: not of the divinity but of the Son, consubstantial with the Father, who assumes in her our humanity. However, it is precisely this deifying union that constitutes the mystery of the Economy from its beginning until its consummation. The “moments” (kairoi) in which the Théotokos participates in this Economy cannot be isolated from those other “times and moments” of the divine Plan: they are written in the plot of the Economy of the incarnate Word in the heart of the Fullness of time. However, it is this Fullness toward which the time of the promises walks and which is poured out in the last times until that in which God will be all in all.

1.2 The Sacramental Celebration of the Mystery

By the light of faith, the Holy Spirit introduces us to the full truth: the divine Plan is one and develops according to wisely ordered times. In the “last times,” the Holy Spirit, in synergy with the Church, manifests, actualizes, and communicates that which Christ has completed “once and for all”: the mystery of the Economy is in action sacramentally. How does the Holy Mother of God participate in this sacramental Economy? From that which is common to the sacramental celebrations of our Churches, let us try to scrutinize in the four great times of the divine Plan how the name of the Théotokos “contains all the mystery of the Economy.”

a.) Marian Typology in the Liturgy

Unfortunately, we cannot try here to cite texts and symbols of our distinct ecclesiastical traditions. But each of us will be able to verify in his own liturgical experience the few general commonalities that follow.

The Eastern liturgies are, fundamentally, woven by the word of God. Their vocabulary and their symbolism are a re-reading of Sacred Scripture expressed in prayer. This is particularly striking for the Marian typology of the Old Testament, that is to say, for the “figures” or types of 3 which Mary is the completion in the Fullness of time, and by her in the sacramental Economy. Without doubt, some symbols are unique to each of the liturgies—Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, or Syriac—on account of the culture and the spiritual tradition of each church, although their original contributions are integral to the scriptural plot of Revelation.

This Marian typology is expressed above all in the liturgical hymnography and iconography. Over and over, they send us to the events of the Economy of salvation, prefigured in the time of the preparations and realized in the Fullness of time. Through the hymns and the icons, this Marian typology testifies to the heart that listens and contemplates in faith that the first Testament does not encounter its meaning if it is not in the newness of Christ. In this way it confirms the singular mission of Mary at the point of encounter of the time of the promises with that of its completion.

However—and this is essential to our purpose—the biblical figures that the liturgy applies to Mary always consist of a double relationship. Whether it treats of the Woman, the new Eve, the Daughter of Zion, Jerusalem, the Bride, the Cloud, Jacob’s ladder, the Ark of the Covenant, Wisdom, Sarah, Ruth, Judith, Esther, etc., the symbols only make sense in relation to the incarnate Word: it is he who is spoken, manifested, felt, and contemplated. But, in these events of the Economy of salvation, the mission of the Woman is found at the side of the Holy Spirit and in his transparency: it is he who says the Word in the flesh of humanity and manifests him, it is he who gives “the wisdom to understand, the eyes to see and the ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:3) the One whom the Father sends. It is through the Spirit and the Woman that God realizes the “wonders” of his Plan: Christ. Put in another way, the Marian typology that the liturgy proposes to us already testifies, clearly, that the name of the Théotokos “contains all the mystery of the Economy.” The pastoral liturgy provides here an inexhaustible treasure to nourish the faith of the faithful.

b.) The Théotokos and the Liturgy of the Mystery of Christ

In the Fullness of time, Christ completes the mystery of the Economy, “once and for all,” and his Church, in synergy with the Holy Spirit, announces, actualizes and communicates it in the sacramental liturgy. If we posit the question of the mission of the Théotokos in this liturgy, from the mystery completed in the Fullness of time, we ascertain that the Holy Mother of God is present in the great moments (kairos) of this time, from the Annunciation through Pentecost. It is these moments that constitute the major feasts of the liturgical year, especially in the Antiochene traditions: the Annunciations, the Theophanies, Easter, the Transfiguration, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The relation of the Holy Mother of God with each of these mysteries of Christ will appear in the upcoming conferences, by the light of each liturgical tradition. Here we will limit ourselves to a single point, fundamental because it refers precisely to Mary as the Mother of God and also because it is proper to the Eastern liturgies: the relation of the Incarnation of the Word with his Passion and his Resurrection. This will convince us that the wisdom of the Scriptures and life according to the Spirit are offered to us in the experience of the liturgy.

“Today the dawn of our salvation appears and the eternal mystery is manifested because the Son of God is made Son of the Virgin” (Byzantine troparion of the Annunciation). What is the profound harmony between this dawn of the Fullness of time and the Hour of the Cross, and finally the Day without sunset of the Resurrection? The Annunciation of Mary and the Passover of the Lord appear as two events, two distinct moments on the ladder of history. In reality, in the depth of the mystery, it is the same Event, here in its beginning, there in its end, namely, the Fullness of the work of salvation completed by the mission of the Word and the Holy Spirit. However, Mary is integral to this mission, as a creature “full of grace,” according to a permanent and indispensable relationship. How?

The harmony of these two moments lies, first, in the kénosis of the beloved Son, (Philippians 2:7) in his abasement, in his condescension (sinkatabasis). “By the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Word becomes flesh.” In this first moment, his kénosis is personal, it is the divine Seed entrusted to his mother, and he receives from her our integrated humanity. But on the Cross and in the tomb he descends to the depths of our human condition, welcomes the weight of the sins and the death of all mankind. The Mother of Jesus, Son of God, thus becomes the Woman (John 2:4 and 19:26), the Mother of the whole Christ.

Nevertheless, the profound unity of these two moments of the kénosis of the incarnate Word and of the maternity of Mary radically proceeds from the power of the Holy Spirit. In effect, the powerful energy of he who is the artisan of the marvels of God is “virginal”: the mystery of the Economy is not a work of determinisms or of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13), in synergy with the faith of those who welcome him. Mary consents to conceive by the Holy Spirit because she is a virgin, that is to say, moved by the Spirit from the beginning of her existence and reciprocating freely, she does not seek her own will, does not belong to herself, but is given over entirely to the Word of the Father, and offers her consensual impotence to the power of the Holy Spirit. She believes and will live by faith until the end. It is in this depth that she is revealed as “Ever-Virgin” and as “unwedded bride,” she becomes the Mother of God. We profess it by the Incarnation and give praise when the prophecy of Simeon is completed (Luke 2:34-35): at the foot of the cross, her faith is no more than silence and tears apart death. “Hoping against all hope,” the daughter of Zion gives birth with the pain of childbirth to the Firstborn from among the dead. It is the silent epiclesis of the Resurrection.

The participation of the Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary in the conception, birth, death, and Resurrection of her Son has been and remains hidden, as happens with the power of the Spirit that gives Life. St. Ignatius of Antioch says of these “clamorous mysteries” that “they were realized in the silence of God” and because of that “the prince of this world ignored them” (Ephesians 19:1). In our sacramental liturgies, the mysteries of the Fullness of time are announced and actualized so that we may commune in them, but our faith cannot ignore “the silence of God” that brings them. The mysterious synergy of the Holy Spirit and of Mary remains enwrapped in the “cloud of unknowing” in the last times; from this, he does not cease to give Life to the Body of Christ which is the Church, and through him, to the “children that God has given him” (Hebrews 2:13).

For previous instalments of Father Corbon’s reflections on Mary’s role in the Sacramental Economy, see:

About this piece:

Jean Corbon “Sainte Marie Mère de Dieu dans l’économie sacramentelle et dans la vie chrétienne:” Proche-Oriente Chrétien 45 (1995) 10-25. Conference given in the Institute of Liturgy of the University of the Holy Spirit in Kalik (Lebanon), March 14, 1994, in the liturgical conferences organized each year since 1985 by the Institute. The Arabic text is included in the ninth series of the liturgical conferences. Translated by Lucy Schemel from the Spanish as printed in Liturgia y Oracion, Jean Corbon, Ediciones Cristiandad S.A,, Madrid, 2004, pp. 91-115.

Image Source: AB/Mother of God of Kazan, Wikimedia.

Jean Corbon

Father Jean Corbon (1924-2001) was born in Paris, ordained a priest for the Greek-Catholic eparchy in Beirut, and was the principal author of Part IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic of prayer. He was the author of numerous books, including The Wellspring of Worship.


  1. Acts 1:7 and the note in the Jerusalem Bible that gathers the principal scriptural references pertaining to this theme.
  2. Numerals within square brackets were added to ease comprehension. (Spanish translators’ note).
  3. Concerning the use of the word type in the New Testament, cf. Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11; Hebrews 9:24; 1 Peter 3:21.