John O'Leary (not Fr. Joseph O'Leary) of Zaccheus Press was kind enough to send me this new reprint edition of this long out-of-print gem by Hugo Rahner (not Karl Rahner), Our Lady and the Church. The original German edition of the work, Maria und die Kirche, appeared in 1961, quickly followed by the English translation by Sebastian Bullough, O.P., also in 1961, which is reprinted here. The book carries two endorsements -- one written by the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and another by Avery Cardinal Dulles. Cardinal Ratzinger says: "This marvelous work is one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century.... Hugo Rahner's great achievement was his rediscovery, in the Fathers, of the indivisibility of Mary and the Church. This marvelous work is one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century." Cardinal Dulles says: "With engaging clarity, this pioneering study sets forth the vast range of biblical metaphors the Fathers applied to Mary and the Church: ark of the covenant, valiant woman, treasure-laden ship. This rich theology of poetry and image has much to say to our more prosaic age."
Rahner's book, published just prior to Vatican II, reflects the movement of ressourcement or "returning to sources" gaining momentem at that time. This can be seen in Rahner's repeated turnings to biblical themes as interpreted through the Marian typologies and metaphors of the early patristic theologians. The book, which is filled with quotations from Greek and Latin Church Fathers (Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Ephrem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Irenaeus, Origen, various popes and many others). One reviewer writes that the book is "images of Mary that are fertile for prayer and meditation," and says: "For example, you will never think of the sacrament of Baptism in the same way again when you focus on the baptismal font as representative of the womb of Mary so that Mary is indeed our Mother as she was the Mother of Christ. You will also see the Marian character of evangelization in which we as Christians become "other Marys" as we give birth to new Christians."
I myself found particularly interesting Rahner's account of the "Woman of Revelation" (Rev. 12) -- "clothed with the sun ..." The only way of making sense of the passage is by keeping in mind, he says, that she is "at the same time a symbol of the Church and the Church's fate that is both earthly and heavenly. It is only in this way that we can resolve the occasional apparent contradictions in the vision: she is clothed with the sun in her heavenly glory and yet is in the pains of childbirth: she has already entered heaven and yet is still on the painful journey here below: she is at once the gracious queen and the sorrowful mother." (p. 112) He goes on to show how the early Church Fathers saw this image teeming with metaphorical surplus of significations, the "sun" representing also the "Son," so that the woman who is both the Church and the Blessed Mother is "clothed with the Divine Logos."
If you like to have your spiritual imagination stirred with a panoply of Marian metaphors, typologies, and images; and if you like to be more deeply inspired by Our Lady, whose vocation was, is, and forever shall be to "magnify the Lord," then get this book. (Gratia tibi, John O'Leary!)