Mary as a Sacrificial Priest

Mary as a Sacrificial Priest

All Christians share in Jesus’ priesthood through the so-called common priesthood of the faithful. Tradition however asserted much more about Mary and this can be seen especially in the way in which Mary is seen as a sacrificial priest, on a par to and parallel with eucharistic ministers.

  1. Mary has often been called explicitly a “sacrificing priest”, a “sacrificer”.
  2. Mary offered Jesus as a sacrifice at the Presentation in the Temple
  3. Mary acted as a sacrificial priest on Calvary

Mary, the sacrificial priest

  • “Hail daughter, young sacrificial priest!” Theodore the Studite (826 AD).
  • “ Yes, gentlemen, Mary is a divine priestess, she is a great sacrificer who takes the place of all people and offers to God in their name the greatest and most worthy sacrifice that has ever been offered, presenting to him his unique Son, so holy, so pure, so innocent, which makes St Epiphanius call her the priestess of our religion . . . .
    Oh blessed virgin, you truly are the priestess of our religion; you have put together in one sacrifice, the most perfect sacrifice which the earth has ever offered, the varieties of all the legal victims offered before; you could not have better merited this glorious quality of being the redemptrix of all people of which your son has willed you to be part.” Julien Loriot (1633 – 1715), Sermon 10 de la Purification, ib. p. 316.

  • “ Mary kept herself upright. One does not see her weep. It is because she fulfilled then the office of bishop and sacrificial priest and it was not right for her to display signs of weakness while performing that office. Jesus Christ is the true sacrificial priest, and if he had not freely sacrificed himself, no one would have dared attack his life. But since he had voluntarily put himself into the state of being a victim, he could not at the same time publicly assume the role of bishop and sacrificial priest. This title belongs neither to the executioners who crucified him, nor to the Jewish priests, nor to the Jewish people whose ministers they were…. Only Mary, in the face of heaven and earth performed publicly the office of sacrificial priest and bishop.” P. J. de Clorivière SJ, ‘Commentaire sur l‘Apocalypse’ in Marie, C. Dillenschneider, 1947, p. 136.
  • “In the incarnation Mary was as it were the altar on which the victim was laid down and on which he was kindled through the flame of her love; at the presentation, she has become as the priest who in fact offered her; and at the redemption as the sacrificial priest who immolated him.” Auguste Nicolas, La Vierge Marie d’après l‘Évangile, Paris 1858, p. 295.

  • “Mary is no stranger in anything that belongs to the Eucharist. She was the first priest to call down the Word from heaven to earth and to bring forth Jesus Christ in this world through an act of her will. Therefore she has been called Virgin Priest, Virgo Sacerdos . . . .
    Just as she has been the first priest to bring forth Jesus Christ, she will be the first priest to offer him. She was the first sacrificer as she had been the first consecrator . . . .
    On top of the holy mount of Calvary, she stays upright in the posture of a sacrificer standing before the altar, that is: the cross, where the first Mass is celebrated and where are redemption was accomplished . . . .
    The Virgin Priest who has given us the Eucharist, the Virgin Sacrificer who has validated Mass for us, is also the Virgin of holy communion.” Bishop Morelle, Troisième congrès marial breton, Saint-Brieuc 1911, pp. xiv-xvi.

The Presentation in the Temple

One of the examples of Mary’s sacrificial activities is seen by tradition in the event of the Presentation in the Temple (also known as the Purification). Luke 2,22-35 says that Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord. The context speaks of sacrifice. Theologians and spiritual writers reflect on this event. They see in it a foreshadowing of Calvary. Jesus was still very young at the time, so Mary went to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer him to the Father for the sake of the world. Since Jesus himself could not perform this early sacrifice, Mary acted as a priest deputed to act in his name.

  • ‘O consecrated Virgin, offer your son and present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. Offer for our reconciliation to all, this holy victim, agreeable to God. The Father will fully accept this new sacrifice, this precious oblation (victim) of whom he himself has said: “This is my well beloved Son in whom I have put my love” (Mt 3, 7).’ St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153), ‘In Purificatione Mariae’, Sermo III, in Sancti Bernardi Opera Omnia, ed. J. Mabillon, Paris 1982, p. 370 col. b
  • ‘After the sacred virgin had arrived at the altar, having knelt down, inflamed by the Holy Spirit more than the seraphim, and holding her son in her hands, she offered him as a gift and acceptable sacrifice to God praying in this way: “Accept, almighty Father, accept the oblation which I offer you for the whole world, I your handmaid. Accept now from the hands of your handmaid this very holy morning sacrifice, which one time will be offered to you in the arms of the cross as the sacrifice of the evening. Look down most pious Father on what I am offering you and pay attention to the purpose for whom I am offering it to you.’ St. Thomas of Villanova (1486-1555), ‘Concio I in Purificationem’, Opera, Manila 1883, vol. 4, p. 397.
  • “Mary possessed the dignity, the task and the office of the New Testament priesthood . . . . At the Purification, Mary offered her Son to God with priestly hands . . . . .With the hands of a priest she offered her Son to God and through this sacrifice she herself was constituted a spiritual priest.” Ippolito Maracci (1604 – 1675), Leonis Mariale, 1651, ‘No 1. In Purificationem’, pp. 151-152.

  • “ The first task of priests in the Old Testament was to offer sacrifices to God, to consecrate sacrificial victims to God at the altar and prepare them for immolation. It is to perform this first task of the priesthood that Mary enters into the Temple carrying her son in her arms . . . . ” Jacques Biroat (1666), ‘Sermon sur la Purification’, Mystères etc., pp. 177-184.
  • “Mary performs her sacrificial functions in two ways: in one way, which is more indirect and less specific, by her providing the sacred victim . . . . and in a more direct, immediate and noble way by concurring with Jesus in this precious sacrifice. While offering the same victim of propriation that belongs to her on the title of her motherhoood . . . . she has become his priestess by offering her divine Son to God for the salvation of the world and thus meriting grace and glory for us by means of this sacrifice, not with the perfect merit and justice which only belongs to Jesus Christ, but with an imperfect merit, a merit of goodwill.” Lazare Dassier (1692), 3e Sermon sur la Purification, l.c. p. 370.

  • “In fact, is it not the double task of a bishop both to offer and to consume the victim, to sacrifice and to distribute communion? Well, have Mary and Simeon not been given today this same double task? Is it not in the arms of Mary that Jesus rests during the presentation?
    Is she not the Virgin priestess who offers her son to the eternal Father?
    Does Simeon not receive this child from her hands to communicate this adorable victim, consuming the sacrifice of his days in his breast and to mingle the deepest sighs of his heart with the wishes of his God ? And is it not in our name that Mary and Simeon exercise this double office? Yes, my brothers, it is in our name that they are associated to the royal priesthood and vested with its sovereign sacrificial power.”
    Sébastien Dutreuil, Sermons choisis de Du Treuil Prêtre de l‘Oratoire, Lyons 1757.

  • “At the purification, the Virgin was by anticipation the priestess of the new covenant.” Jean Puy, Dévouement du Chrétien à la Très sainte Vierge, Paris 1780, p. 9.

  • “[At the Presentation] in the Temple Mary offered a true sacrifice . . . . In spite of all the repugnance and upset of her maternal love, she joined the office of priestess to her quality as mother, and she sacrifices him in some way with her own hands to the grace of the Almighty and for the salvation of people: her Son, her only Son, the precious fruit of her virginal motherhood, the specific Son, the soul of her soul which she loves more than she loves herself.” C.L.Richard (1796), Sermon 63 sur l‘Assomption, Orateurs Sacrés, Paris, vol. 67, p. 699.

The sacrifice on Calvary

It is especially on Calvary that Mary’s sacrificial actions took place. Many theologians and spiritual authors think it highly significant that Mary is described as “standing upright” under the cross. ‘Standing by the cross was his mother’ (John 19,25). She had to stand up since this was the posture of a priest standing at the altar when performing the sacrificial rite. Mary was seen as functioning as a priest who offered Jesus to the Father, in conjunction with Jesus himself.

  • ‘The Blessed Virgin . . . standing upright next to the cross, at the same time when her son [was making his sacrifice], she offered for us to God the body itself of her son; and through her compassion she joined to it her own body and soul according to the words of Lk 2,35: “A sword of pain will pierce your soul”. ’Engelbert of Admont (1250 – 1331), Treatise of … Blessed Virgin Mary, part III, ch. 6.

  • “Mary is the priestess [sacerdotissa] of justice because she did not spare her own Son, but stood by the Cross, not, as blessed Ambrose says, to just see the death of her Son, not to witness the suffering of her Son, but to look forward to the salvation of the human race, prepared herself to offer the Son of God for the salvation of the world”. St. Antoninus of Florence (1389 – 1459), Summa Theologica Moralis, IV, Tit. 15, c. 3, § 3.

  • “No one should be ignorant in which way Mary, fulfilling a priestly function when standing upright before the altar of the cross, offered for us to God the Father a living victim who was no one else than her son. She did not “spare him” but delivered him up for all of us.’ Francis of Osuna, Pars Occidentalis, Evangeliorum Quadragesimorum Expositiones, Antwerp 1536, p. 36 verso.

  • Finally she experienced the martyrdom of her own will. Because she stood next to the cross out of her own free will, as Ambrose says; ready, for the salvation of the human race, to also undergo suffering herself, if it had pleased the divine will: offering, as a high priest, the beloved and unique child of her heart, more perfect than Abraham offered Isaac; [she offered her son] for the salvation of people, and interceding for them.” Jan Mombaer (1501), Rosetum, title 24, section 4.

  • “As to Mary, not only did she, in harmony with the Father, give her Son to the world, but also, in harmony with the Son, offered him for the world with priestly devotion. For standing next to the cross. She imitated the will of her Son in her own will. For the Son gave himself up for the world, but she gave him up voluntarily whom she held dearer than herself.’ Ferdinand Chirino de Salazar (1575 – 1646), In Proverbiis, VIII, no 211, vol. 1, 622D – 623A.

  • “What is most admirable is that, by a feat of prodigious charity, she performed both her two tasks in a saintly manner. She sacrifices and loves. She is priestess without ceasing to be a mother. Let us rather say, she continues to be a mother in order to perform the task of the priest and to offer the greatest sacrifice as soon as this victim shall be entirely formed. ” Félix Ceuillens (1679), Les douze estoilles etc. , Paris 1676, here p. 295.

  • “If it had been necessary . . . . , Mary would herself have offered the nails, handed the hammer, readied the cords to tie her Son to the sacrificial wood, as Abraham had done. She has sacrificed him for us.” Joachim Ventura (1792 – 1861), La Madre di Dio, madre degli uomini, French edition, Lyon 1845, pp. 214, 294, 297, 325-327.

  • “Mary was the minister of the Incarnation: that explains everything. She had as little the right to come down from Calvary as a priest would have to leave the altar while the sacrifice of Mass is going on. She had to preside over the completion, as she had presided over its beginning . . . . Her priesthood consisted in her continuous ministry to him.” F.W.Faber, The Foot of the Cross, London 1857, p. 399.

  • “ Mary stands upright. Why? . . . There is a mystery here. It is that Mary is not only witness to Jesus’ death. She is also priest, the first to offer the divine victim who sacrifices himself for us. The cross, well, it is the altar. Jesus, well, he is the victim. Do not search for the priest. It is Mary!” J.M.Raynaud, Marie modèle. Station du mois de Mai, Toulouse 1843, vol.n 2, pp. 251-252.

  • “Not satisfied in having produced from her substance the victim that was required, in having nourished him and brought him up, did Mary not fully realise that she was preparing him for sacrifice? Did she not come to [Calvary] to be priestess jointly with her dear Son? Did she not want to sanction this immolation by her presence at the foot of the cross?” J.B.Lemarchal, Paraphrase, Thonnelle 1867, p. 110.

  • “ She stood . . . she is in the attitude of a person who is fulfilling a function. And which function did Mary fulfil? The function of a sacrificial priest. Entering into the plans of the eternal Father, she offers up the victim who will liberate the world . . . She hands him over. She offers him mystically while he is sacrificed in reality; she represents humanity which must offer the sacrifice of Christ, together with Christ. She represents the priesthood which, every day, offers the holy victim, in such a manner that she has been as if it were the first priest, the first sacrificer . . . ” C. E. Berseaux, Dictionnaire de Théologie catholique, Paris 1822, vol. 2, p. 793-794.

  • “ She stood! I see Mary standing upright on the sacred mountain as each sacrificing priest should be at the altar….. She partook in some sort in the chalice and eternal priesthood of her Son, offering herself as she did as holocaust . . . . She stood! What a priest she was, what sacrifice!” Cardinal Maury, Révue mensuelle du culte de Marie, 8 (1891) p. 77.

  • “Yes, Mary stood upright at the foot of the cross, and that was so that she could make a public and voluntary sacrifice of all that is dear to her heart for the sake of lost humanity . . . .So she becomes, in as far as it is possible, cooperator with God in his grand work: she became priestess, she who was authorised to perform on the part of humanity, the holocaust of a beloved child.” Cardinal Wiseman, Sermons, New York 1866, p. 364.

  • “Mary is involved in redemption. She stands upright at the foot of the cross, upright in the posture of a sacrificer [=sacrificial priest].” Cardinal L.E. Pie, La Vierge Marie, Paris 1881, p. 303.
  • “Mary on Calvary stood erect, as a sacrificer, as a priest at the altar, Virgo Sacerdos, offering in her heart the Victim of the world.” Cardinal C.L.Laplace, Marie, mère des graces, Rennes 1884, p. 13.
  • “ Jesus Christ is at once both priest and victim. He is victim because he is being offered; but he is a priest at the same time….because it is of his own accord that he gives up his life, of his own free will. The judges and the executioners are only the instruments of this sacrifice which is truly offered and accomplished by himself: “Of my own free will I give up my life”….Well, following the thought of the holy Fathers, the blessed Virgin shares with the divine saviour in his double quality of being victim and priest. In the same way in which we could say that the Saviour himself accomplished the sacrifice of his life because he abandoned himself to the action of the executioners, so we can say in all truth that she immolated the divine victim by the perfect union of her will with that of Jesus Christ, joining herself to the sacrifice and the purpose of the sacrifice.” P. Jeanjacquot (1804 – 1891), Simples explications etc. , pp. 125-126.

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