Written by Alison Deighan
Mediatrix of all Grace is one of the less understood and more controversial of Our Lady’s titles. Both within and outwith the Church, it is a title which can cause discomfort. Does it place too much emphasis on Mary, at the cost of neglecting Christ? Is it simply unnecessary, adding nothing when we have faith in Christ as our Redeemer?
Before we think about what the title means, and why it reflects authentic doctrine and devotion, it would be well to consider what the Church understands in saying that Christ is our Mediator. Mediation is one model for understanding how Christ saves us. Like other models (such as sacrifice, atonement and redemption) it casts true light on the mystery of salvation, but doesn’t exhaustively explain it. One of the key Scripture passages to help us understand Christ as Mediator is 1 Tim 2:5, which says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” The author of the book of Hebrews also uses the concept of mediation to describe how we are saved, describing Christ as “mediator of a new covenant, since those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15). In thinking about these passages, we can see two related aspects of Christ’s mediation. Firstly, Christ can be a true mediator because, as St Augustine taught he is “God with the Father and because He is man with men.” He can stand as man before God and make mediation and intercession for us as he combines divinity and humanity in His own person. Secondly, his mediation is a matter of bridging the gap between God’s infinite goodness and man’s fallen sinfulness; the transgressions under the first covenant are purified by his perfect self-offering on the Cross which establishes a new covenant. This mediation wins the grace of sanctification for us (Heb 10:14); which is nothing other than God’s Spirit being poured into our hearts.
When we think about these two aspects of Christ’s mediation, we can see how Mary participates in both. First of all, by God’s good plan, it was through her humanity, and through her consent as the obedient handmaid of the Lord that the Word became man and can bridge the gap between humanity and divinity. Secondly, Christ’s self-offering throughout his earthly life, and above all on the Cross, was one in which Mary gladly co-operated, associating herself with the works of his redemption. The doctrine of Mary as mediatrix or dispentrix of all grace is a long-established one in the Church. It is associated particularly with St Bernard who said in a Christmas sermon that “God wished us to have nothing that would not pass through the hands of Mary” – an idea which draws on the unity of God’s plan. As the coming of Christ in the incarnation was through Mary, so his coming through the Spirit into our hearts by grace is through her intercession. At the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Mary is recognised under the title of Mediatrix due to her unique association in the salvific work of her Son:
“In a wholly singular way, she co-operated by obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason, she is mother to us in the order of grace… By her intercession she still brings us gifts of eternal salvation and is invoked as Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix.” (LG 61-62).
This passage shows that the title of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces reflects both Mary’s unique co-operation in bringing about the grace of our redemption, as Mother and first and best disciple of her Son, and also her continuing role in bringing about the life of grace in souls, which is a participation in the intercession and mediation of Christ. If we think of grace most simply as communion with the Trinity through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul, then we can see Mary as Mediatrix or Mother of Grace insofar as her co-operation in salvation, and her motherly intercession for each one of us are means by which God has chosen to bring us into union of life with Him. As St Augustine expresses it, “She is clearly the mother of the members of Christ as … since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”
When we honour Mary as Mediatrix of all Grace, we in no way detract from the mediation of Christ, which is different in kind from that of his Mother. Christ is the one cause of our salvation, whereas although by divine providence, Mary is chosen to play a unique role in salvation history, including as Mediatrix, her mediation is not essential for our salvation the way that Christ’s is, and depends entirely on her Son. In the same way that our prayer does not change God’s will, but rather that He ordains to use our prayers as a means by which we can become willing co-workers with his plan, so Mary’s co-operation in her Son’s mission and mediation adds nothing necessary to the perfect mediation of Christ, but is an expression of God’s will to make Mary pre-eminently, but each Christian too, a partner in his great plan of salvation.
To honour Mary under the title of Mediatrix should encourage us to devotion to her and prayer for her intercession. There are many Scripture passages which present Mary to us as Mediatrix, and which can inspire meditation and prayer; I will mention a few of them here. In the Old Testament, the figure of the Queen Mother of the King of Israel can be seen as a prefiguration of Mary, and King Solomon’s words to his mother Bathsheba as foreshadowing the intercessory power of Mary’s prayers: “Make your request Mother, for I shall not refuse you” (1 Kings 2:20). In the New Testament, Mary’s simple request to her Son at the wedding feast of Cana, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3), and Jesus’ generous, abundant response shows us the power of her intercession. On a deeper level, it also tells us of Mary’s role as co-operator in the Passion of Christ and in our redemption, as John’s account of the wedding feast at Cana is full of symbolic significance, with the new wine symbolising the blood of Christ shed on the Cross, the Eucharist, and the new wine at the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb. Mary’s presence and intercession at the scene speaks to us of her significance in salvation history, and the efficacy of her prayers. Finally, we have just celebrated Pentecost, and in St Luke’s Pentecost account in Acts 2, we can see Mary, praying at the heart of the Church for the gift of the Holy Spirit, both as our Mother in the order of grace, and as the perfect image of the Church, through which the gift of the Holy Spirit flows to us sacramentally.