‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee’: Why Mary is Mediatrix of All Graces
December 12, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – On this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a patroness so beloved to pro-life Christians around the world and especially to Catholics of North, Central, and South America, it is most fitting to explain and defend her unique privilege of being “the Mediatrix of All Graces”—a title that is still misunderstood by so many Christians today. We will show how Mary’s God-given role not only does not conflict with the unique salvific mediation of her Son, but emphatically presupposes and reinforces it.
In good Thomistic fashion, let us begin with an objection: “There is . . . one mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). As St. Thomas Aquinas explains:
The office of a mediator is to join together and unite those between whom he mediates: for extremes are united in the mean [medio, the one in the middle]. Now to unite men to God in the perfect way belongs to Christ, through Whom men are reconciled to God, according to 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” And, consequently, Christ alone is the perfect Mediator of God and men, inasmuch as, by His death, He reconciled the human race to God. Hence the Apostle, after saying, “Mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” added: “Who gave Himself as a redemption for all.” (Summa theologiae 3.26.1)
By His life, death, and resurrection, Christ won for us all the graces and merits necessary for our salvation. The winning and distributing of these merits is the mediation that Jesus Christ performs between the Holy Trinity and mankind.
Jesus gained these merits during His earthly mission and is worthy to distribute them from His heavenly throne. All merits He gained are of the kind that belongs to an act worthy of a reward in strict justice, as a salary is due to a worker who does his job. Gaining such merit is unique to Christ, since, being divine, His acts were infinitely worthy. The smallest act of Jesus was perfectly pleasing to the Father, for it proceeded from a perfect love. Much more, then, was the greatest act of Jesus, His death on the Cross, pleasing and able to win all graces for all times. As Head of the whole human race, our Lord can distribute His merits to all men and women whom He wills to unite to Himself. The uniqueness of Christ’s mediation, in this sense, has always been affirmed by Christian theologians: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
There is another kind of merit which belongs to a person in a state of grace, merit de condigno (of worthiness), which is a matter not of strict justice but of relative justice. Acts of a person in a state of grace are worthy of reward not because they could equal such a reward, but because they proceed from habitual grace, the seed of divine life planted within us at Baptism. What we do is worthy of the Father’s blessing because it is the Son’s work in us, His fruit.
There is a third kind of merit that is not a matter of justice but of friendship with God. This is called merit de congruo (of fittingness), for it is fitting that God should, on account of friendship with a soul, help someone who is joined to that soul. “Since a man in the state of grace does God’s will, it is in keeping with the characteristics of friendship that God should do His will in saving another person for His sake” (Summa theologiae 1-2.114.6).
For example, St. Monica obtained her son Augustine’s conversion by ceaseless prayers and weeping. Monica merited her son’s conversion—not as if she were his redeemer, nor as if she could, by the grace in her soul, save another soul, but because God chose to have mercy on her son owing to her merits and prayers, and this, because of the friendship existing between God and her. Merit de congruo presupposes the state of grace, and so is entirely dependent upon Christ. It is this third kind of merit that the Blessed Virgin Mary acquired for her spiritual children throughout her life; and being holy beyond any other saint, she merited more than any other saint.
Having clarified the kinds of merit and the uniqueness of Christ’s, it is now appropriate to examine how secondary mediation is possible. In the Old Testament, God chooses from the beginning certain people to act as go-betweens, such as the prophets and priests of the Old Law. An especially clear example is that of Moses who, alone on Mount Sinai, received the law for the people of Israel, and later pleaded with God for their salvation from the destruction owed to them for their sinful rebellion. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ institutes the priesthood of the New Law to give the Church greater access to Himself and His merits. “Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by His ministers and by the faithful,” declares the Second Vatican Council, “so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (Lumen Gentium 62).
In this subordinate manner, Mary, too, is a mediator between her Son and the human race. In fact, she is believed to mediate all graces. What is her unique role based on? Her unique motherhood. All Christians who preserve the heritage of the early ecumenical councils, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, rightly venerate Mary as Theotokos, the mother or bearer of a child who is truly the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. When the ancient bishop Nestorius claimed that Mary is the “Mother of Christ,” not of God, the Church throughout the world rejected this error because it bifurcates Christ into a human being of whom Mary is the mother, and a divine being, with whom Mary has nothing to do. In short, it denies the mystery of the Incarnation, on which our redemption hinges. Because Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of this singular person, she must be called Mother of God.
Mary’s role, moreover, has always been understood to have demanded of her far more than a merely “physical” motherhood. As St. Augustine says, “She conceived Him spiritually, before she conceived Him physically.” Most closely united to God through charity and obedience, she freely gave her consent on behalf of the whole human race. Throughout her whole life, in her actions and sufferings she co-operated with her son. In heaven, her mediation continues for us as an intercessor (cf. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater 21). To prove this real and efficacious contribution, the Fathers compare Mary with Eve. As death came into the world through Eve, so by contrast, the life which the new Adam brings comes through the new Eve, who most of all deserves to be called “mother of the living” (Gen 3:20). This merit and mediation is in and through Christ. A beautiful example of this mediation occurs at Cana, the “first announcement” of her motherly mediation (Redemptoris Mater 22). At her request, Jesus performs the miracle of turning water into wine. This miracle obtained not only good wine for the feast, but also faith: “His disciples saw His glory and believed in Him” (Jn 2:11). Mary’s faith becomes an occasion for the faith of others, showing that her mediation extends to the spiritual order (cf. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 110).
This broadening of her motherhood to all of humanity is evident at the supreme moment of salvation, when Our Lord entrusts his Mother to the beloved disciple, and him to her (Jn 19:26–27). Standing at the foot of the Cross, making the supreme act of faith, Mary, “always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam . . . and her mother’s rights and mother’s love were included in the holocaust. Thus she who, according to the flesh, was the mother of our Head, through the added title of pain and glory became, according to the Spirit, the mother of all His members” (Mystici Corporis 110). The words of Jesus to Mary, “Woman, behold your son!,” and to John, “Behold, your mother!,” confirm her motherhood of all men in the order of grace and impose that sweet obligation of all who wish to be “beloved disciples” to look upon her as their mother. “And she continues to have for the Mystical Body of Christ, born of the pierced Heart of the Savior, the same motherly care and ardent love with which she cherished and fed the Infant Jesus in the crib” (MC, no. 110). In this unfathomable love we find the universality of Mary’s mediation.
At the Annunciation, Mary became the mother of Redeemer, through whom all graces come to men. As St. Louis de Montfort says: “In giving her His Son, God the Father, from whom all good things descend, gave her all graces.” Mary is mediatrix of all graces because she bore, in body and in soul, the One through whom all graces come. She was given the role of delivering into the world the author of grace, and in His human nature He remains, for all eternity, her Son, as she remains His Mother. As it pleased God to enter and redeem the world through her, as it pleased Him to grant new wine and a first glimpse of glory by her intervention, so it pleases Him to save the world through her intercession on behalf of all men. Because Mary was “united most intimately” to her Son’s intentions, which extended to all men and all their needs, it follows that her intentions, her merits, and her satisfactions possess the same character of universality as those of her Son. This doctrine, far from endangering the uniqueness of our Lord’s mediation, rather accentuates it, for Mary’s mediation was “not partial and co-ordinate—as are three men who drag the same load—but rather total and subordinated” (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Mother of the Saviour and Our Interior Life, 204). This is indicated by her title “Mirror of Justice.” Her Immaculate Heart perfectly reflects the divine love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Christ, then, is the sole Mediator between God and man as Head of the human race. Any secondary mediation depends entirely on His mediation and flows from its divine superabundance. As the Second Vatican Council states with beautiful clarity: “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. The Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it” (Lumen Gentium 60).
Let us worthily honor our heavenly Mother, for nothing could please her Son more. In her holiness, in her faithfulness, in her beauty, He finds Himself most perfectly reflected; in her soul as in her body, He has made His dwelling; in her, His redemption has borne its noblest fruit. How right it is, therefore, that St. Ephrem the Syrian should cry out:
O Blessed Lady, most holy Mother of God, full of grace, inexhaustible ocean of the intimate divine liberality and gifts of God, after the Lord of all, the Blessed Trinity, you are Lady of all; after the Paraclete, you are the new consoler of all; and after the Mediator, you are the Mediatrix for the entire world!
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