Revised: 10 May A.D. 2000 Solemnity of Saint Joseph Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mediatorship of Mary
Many of the questions we have received about Catholic devotion to our Lady arise from a misunderstanding of the Church's Marian teachings. Even though we honor her with titles like "Mediatrix," "Redemptrix," and "Mother of God," in no way does the Church claim that Mary is equal to her Divine Son. All devotion to our Blessed Mother arises as a result of her relationship as a creature to God her Creator.
Fr. Ludwig Ott explains the Church's use of the terms "Mediatrix" and "Redemptrix" below. Those interested in use of the term "Mother of God" may be interested in the article at Mother of God There are also some pertinent quotations at Mediatrix.
From Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, (Rockford: TAN, 1974) Chapter 3, Section 7
Although Christ is the Sole Mediator between God and Man (1 Tim. 2: 5) since He alone by His death on the Cross, fully reconciled mankind with God, this does not exclude a secondary mediatorship, subordinated to Christ (cf. Summa Theologica III 26, 1). "To unite man to God prefectively (perfective) appertains to Christ according to 2 Cor. 5: 19). Therefore Christ alone is the perfect mediator between God and man, inasmuch as He reconciled mankind with God by His death.... But there is nothing to prevent others in a certain way (secundum quid) from being called mediators between God and man, insofar as they, by preparing or serving (dispositive vel ministeraliter), cooperate in uniting men to God."
The Fathers called Mary the "Go-between" (mesitris, mediatrix). A prayer ascribed to St. Ephrem says of her: "After the Mediator thou art the mediatrix of the whole world" (post mediatorem mediatrix totius mundi: Oratio IV ad Deiparam. 4th lesson of the Office of the Feast). The title Mediatrix is attached to Mary in official Church documents also, for example, in the Bull "Ineffabilis" of Pope Pius IX (1854); in the Rosary Encyclicals "Adiutricem" and "Fidentem (D 1940a) of Pope Leo XIII (1895 and (1896); in the Encyclical "Ad diem illum" of Pope St. Pius X (1904). It has also been received into the Liturgy of the Church through the introduction of the Feast of Mariae Virginis omnium gratiarum Mediatricis (1921).
Mary is designated mediatrix of all graces in a double sense:
1. Mary gave the Redeemer. the Source of all graces, to the world, and in this way she is the chanel of all graces. (Sent. certa.)
2. Since Mary's Assumption into Heaven no grace is conferred on man without her actual intercessory co-operation (Sent. pia et probabilis).
1. Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces by her co-operation in the
Mary freely and deliberately co-operated in giving the Redeemer to the world. Instructed by the angel as to the person and task of Her Son she freely ascented to be Mother of God. Luke 1: 38: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to they word." The Incarnation of the Son of God, and the Redemption of mankind by the vicarous atonement of Christ were dependent on her assent. In this significant moment in the history of salvation Mary represented humanity. St. Thomas says: "At the Annunciation the concurrence of the maiden was awaited as a representative of all human nature (loco totius humanae naturae)" (S. th. III 30, 1). In regard to these words, Pope Leo XIII remarks: "To a certain extent she (Mary) represented the whole human race" (quae ipsius generis humani personam quodammodo agebat). D 1940 a.
The Fathers contrast Mary's obedience at the Annunciation with Eve's disobedience. Mary by her obedience became the cause of Salvation, while Eve by her disobedience became the cause of our death. Saint Irenaeus teaches: As she (Eve) who had Adam as her husband, but was nevertheless a virgin, was disobedient, and thereby became the cause of death to herself and to the whole of mankind, so also Mary, who had a pre-ordained husband, and was still a virgin, by her obedience became a cause of her own salvation and the salvation of the whole human race" (et sibi et universo generi humano causa facta est salutis: Adv. haer. III 22, 4; cf. V 19,1). St Jerome says: By a woman the whole world was saved" (per mulierem totus mundus salvans est: Tract. de Ps. 96). Cf Tertullian, De carne Christi 17.
Mary's co-operation in the Redemption.
The title Coredemptrix=Coredemtress, which has been current since the fifteenth century, and which also appears in some official Church documents under Pius X (cf. D1978 a), must not be conceived in the sense of an equation of the efficacy of Mary with the redemptive act of Christ, the sole Redeemer of humanity (1 Tim. 2: 5). As she herself required redemption, and in fact was redeemed by Christ, she could not of herself merit the grace of the redemption of humanity in accordance with the principle: Principium meriti non cadet sub eodem merito. (The author of an act of merit cannot be the recipient of the same act of merit.) Her cooperation in the objective redemption is an indirect, remote, co-operation, and derives from this that she voluntarily devoted her whole life to the service of the Redeemer, and, under the Cross, suffered and sacrificed with Him. As Pope Pius-XII says in the Encyclical "Mystici Corporis" (1943), she "offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and her motherly love like a new Eve for all children of Adam" (D 2291). As "The New Eve" she is, the same Pope declares, in the Apostolic Constitution "Munificentissimus Deus (1950) "the sublime associate of our Redeemer (alma Redemptoris nostri socia [cf. Gn. 3: 12]). Cf. D3031: generoso Divini Redemptoris nostri socia.
Christ alone fully offered the sacrifice of atonement on the Cross; Mary merely gave him moral support in this action. Thus Mary is not entitled to the title "Priest" (sacerdos). Indeed, this is expressly laid down by the Holy Office (1916, 1927). Christ, as the Church teaches, "conquered the enemy of the human race alone (solus)" (D711); in the same way, He alone acquired the grace of Redemption for the whole human race, including Mary. The words of Luke 1: 38: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" imply Mary's mediate, remote co-operation in the Redemption. St. Ambrose expressly teaches: "Christ's Passion did not require any support" (De inst. virg. 7). In the power of the grace of Redemption merited by Christ, Mary, by her spiritual entering into the grace of the sacrifice of her Divine Son for men, made atonement for the sins of men, and (de congruo) merited the application of the redemptive grace of Christ. In this manner she cooperates in the subjective redemption of mankind.
The statement of Pope Saint Pius X in the Encyclical "Ad diem illum" (1904): (Beata Virgo) de congruo, ut aiunt, promeret nobis, quae Christus de condigno promeruit (D 1978a) (The Blessed Virgin merits for us de congruo what Christ merited de condigno) is, as the present tense "promeret" shows, not indeed to be taken as referring to the historical objective Redemption, which occurred once and for all, but to her ever-present, intercessory co-operation in the subjective redemption.
2. Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces by her intercession in Heaven.
Since her assumption into Heaven, Mary co-operates in the application of the grace of Redemption to man. She participates in the distribution of grace by her maternal intercession which is far inferior in efficacy to that of the intercessory prayer of Christ, the High Priest, but surpasses far the intercessory prayer of all the other saints.
According to the view of the older, and many of the modern, theologians Mary's intercessory co-operation extends to all graces, which are conferred on mankind, so that no grace accrues to men without the intercession of Mary. The implication of this is not that we are obliged to beg for all graces through Mary, nor that Mary's intercession is intrinsically necessary for the application of the grace, but that according to God's positive ordinance, the redemptive grace of Christ is conferred on nobody without the actual intercessory co-operation of Mary.
Recent Popes have declared in favor of this doctrine. Pope Leo XIII says in the Rosary Encyclical "Octobrae mensae" (1891): "From the great treasure of all graces, which the Lord has brought, nothing, according to the will of God, comes to us except through Mary, so that, as nobody can approach the Supreme Father except through the Son, similarly nobody can approach Christ except through the Mother (D1940a). Pope [St.] Pius X calls Mary "the dispenser of all gifts, which Jesus has acquired for us by His death and His blood" (D 1978a). Pope Benedict XV declared: "All gifts which the Author of good has deigned to communicate to the unhappy posterity of Adam, are according to the loving resolve of His Divine Providence, dispensed by the hands of the Most Holy Virgin" (AAS 9, 1917, 266). The same Pope calls Mary: "the mediatrix with God of all graces (gratiarum omnium apud Deum sequestra: AAS 11, 1919, 227).
Pope Pius XII in the Encyclical "Ingravescentibus malis" (1937) quotes with approval the words of Saint Bernard: "Thus it is His (God's) will that we should have everything through Mary" (AAS 30, 1937, 373). Similarly Pope Pius XII in the Encyclical "Mediator Dei" (1947).
Express scriptural proofs are lacking. Theologians seek a biblical foundation in the words of Christ, John 19, 26 et swq: "Woman behold thy son, son behold thy mother." According to the literal sense these words refer only to the persons addresses, Mary and John. The mystical interpretation, which became dominant in the West in the late Middle Ages (Dionysius the Carthusian), sees in John the representative of the whole human race. In him Mary was given as a mother to all the redeemed. Moreover, it corresponds to the position of Mary as the spiritual mother of the whole of redeemed humanity that she, by her powerful intercession, should procure for her children in need of help all graces by which they can attain eternal salvation.
The idea of the spiritual Motherhood of Mary is part of the ancient Christian tradition, independently of the interpretation of John 19. According to Origen the perfect Christ had Mary as mother: "Every perfect person no longer lives (of himself) but Christ lives in him; and because Christ lives in him, it is said of him to Mary: Behold thy son Christ (Com. in Ioan. l 4, 23). St. Epiphanius derives Mary's spiritual Motherhood from the Eve-Mary parallel: "She (Mary) is she of whom Eve is the prototype, who, as such, received the appellation 'mother of the living' ... as to externals the whole human race on earth stemmed from that Eve. Thus in truth, through Mary, the very life of the world was borne, so that she bore the Living One, and became the Mother of the Living. Thus in prototype, Mary was called 'Mother of the living'" (Haer. 78, 18). St. Augustine bases Mary's spiritual Motherhood on the mystical unity of the faithful with Christ. As the bodily Mother of God, she is, in a spiritual fashion, also the mother of those who are articulated with Christ. Cf. De s. virginitate 6, 6.
Express testimonies, though few in number, to Mary's position as mediatrix of grace are found since the eighth century. They became more numerous during the peak period of the middle ages. St. Germanus of Constantinople (+733) says: "Nobody can achieve salvation except through thee ... O most Holy One.... nobody can receive a gift of grace except through thee ... O Most Chaste One (Or. 9, 5. Lesson of the Office of the Feast). St. Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153) says of Mary: "God wished that we have nothing, except by the hands of Mary" (In Vig. Nativit. Domini serm. 3, 10). St. Alber the Great calls Mary: "The universal dispenser of all riches (omnium bonitatum universaliter distributiva: Supe Missus est q. 29) In modern times the doctrine that Mary is the Universal Mediatrix of Grace was advocated by St. Peter Canisius, Suarez, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Scheeben, and it is supported by the opinion of numerous theologians at the present day.
Speculatively the doctrine of Mary's Universal Mediation is based on her cooperation in the Incarnation and the Redemption, as well as on her relationship to the Church:
a) Since Mary gave the source of all grace to men, it is to be expected that she would also cooperate in the distribution of all grace.
b) As Mary became the spiritual Mother of all the redeemed, it is fitting that she, by her constant motherly intercession should care for the supernatural life of all her children.
c) As Mary is "the prototype of the Church (St. Ambrose, Expos. ev. sec. Luc. II 7), and as all the grace of redemption is obtained by the Church, it is to be assumed that Mary, by her heavenly intercession, is the universal mediatrix of grace.
The doctrine of Mary's Universal Mediation of Grace based on her co- operation in the Incarnation is so definitely manifest in the sources of the Faith, that nothing stands in the way of a dogmatic definition. Her position as Mediatrix of Grace in virtue of her intercession in Heaven is definitely attested. Since, however, it is organically associated with Mary's Spiritual Motherhood, which in turn is base on Scripture, and wih her intimate participation in the work of her Divine Son, its definition does not seem impossible.