Far from obscuring or diminishing the one mediation of Christ (cf. 1 Tim 2:5), the maternal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary rather “shows its efficacy,” as the Second Vatican Council teaches. Indeed, it is the seal, the hallmark of a redemption more perfect than which cannot be conceived. That saving work, according to God’s inscrutable designs, necessarily involves our collaboration as well: “God who created you without you, will not save you without you” (St. Augustine, Sermo 169). How do we come to understand and realize the perfection of our cooperation in our own salvation? Only by means of our heavenly Mother, the Mediatrix of All Graces.
In addition to the one Mediator between the one God and men—the Son of God, Christ Jesus, Himself man as well as God (cf. 1 Tim 2:5)—there can be and are other mediators who, in subordination to the one Mediator, cooperate in the work of mediation without compromising the oneness of Christ’s mediation. This is clearly taught by the Church. How this is to be explained, or whether it can be explained at all, has been much disputed over the centuries. Despite the disputes, the explanations generally offered by Catholic theologians over the centuries and approved by the Magisterium of the Church are perfectly reasonable, even if they do not explain fully every aspect of the mystery involved.
The oneness of Jesus as Mediator in the economy of salvation rests on His uniqueness as Incarnate Word, at once God and man unconfused, yet substantially united in the person of the Word. Precisely as man, Jesus can bring those united to Him as members of His mystical body, the Church, into communion with the Father. Only in union with Him can we find access to the Father as his adopted children. Even if Adam had not sinned, we would have needed such mediation to attain the salvation and bliss of heaven. For this, there is no substitute for the mediation of Jesus; hence, in view of this, He is the one and only Mediator of men as well as, indeed, angels with God the Father.
But surrounding the exclusive work of this one Mediator, the Man-God, there are many other aspects of mediation which may and are carried out by ministers of Jesus: those whom St. Paul calls cooperators, collaborators in the work of salvation and redemption (cf. Col 1:24-29 and the pastoral letters of St. Paul in general). Their collaboration has truly the character of mediation, because it depends on the key work of the Man-God. It adds nothing to, nor does it in any way minimize, the perfection and fullness of Christ’s mediation. Rather, His mediation reveals its perfection because it makes such collaboration possible. Jesus might have redeemed us without a Mother. But this, according to St. Thomas (Summa Theologica, I, q. 25, a. 4), would in no way constitute nearly as perfect a redemption as, in fact, ours is—a “quasi-infinite,” says the holy Doctor, because it includes the maternal mediation of the Virgin Mother.
Nor should this surprise us. In creating the world in such wise that creatures might cooperate with the Divine Creator in bringing the world to perfection, God in no way added to or subtracted from his unique perfection as Creator. For the work of creation is not a natural necessity for the Creator without which he would be lacking something essential to his existence. Rather, creation and our collaboration in it is a work of his free will which neither adds nor subtracts from his immense goodness. Hence, this collaboration of creatures with the Creator in the natural order provides a basis and precedent for assisting Jesus in the great work of salvation, yet leaving intact His title of “one Mediator” between God and man.
All these considerations concerning collaboration with Christ Jesus as one Mediator reflect the dogmatic metaphysics indispensable for grasping correctly the unique mediation of the God-Man. This is particularly true in relation to the singular mediation of the Virgin Mother, Mary Immaculate. For she is not simply another mediatrix among many collaborating in the work of dispensing this or that fruit of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. No, she is the Mediatrix of all graces, the fruits of that sacrifice. She carries out this mediation, not only via prayer of intercession with Jesus, but through direct intervention in the lives of her children. She can do this because she is truly their Mother, the New Eve. She is their Mother because she is Mother of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. She is Mother of God, because she is the Immaculate, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the uncreated Immaculate Conception (St. Maximilian, SK 1318]).
Not all theologians are willing, for one reason or another, to acknowledge that the collaboration of Mary in the work of salvation, however holy she may be, is any different from that of any other saint. This is very strange, since in fact her mediatory work for and with Jesus in the economy of salvation is that of His Mother. She is His only Mother; hence, her role as Mediatrix of all graces is unique. Jesus became present and accessible to us primarily through His Mother; so we go to Jesus primarily through Mary, or we do not find Jesus. This is true, whether we are aware of this Marian mediation or not. It is, however, far better to be aware of it; hence, the importance of total consecration to the Immaculate Heart.
All other forms of collaboration with Jesus in the work of distributing the fruits of His sacrifice depend on this maternal mediation of Mary Immaculate; hence the importance of Mary’s presence in all works of evangelization and mission. In this context it is interesting and instructive to read various New Testament selections dealing directly with the maternal mediation of Mary: St. Luke’s account of the visitation (Lk 1:39-56); St. John’s account of the wedding feast of Cana and the intervention of Mary as Mediatrix (Jn 2:1-11); the consecration of the beloved disciple to the new Woman-Mother by Jesus just before His sacrificial death on Calvary (Jn 19:25-27); St. Luke’s account of Mary at Pentecost and her role in the Church (Acts 1:14).
The divine-virginal Maternity of Mary is utterly unique. Therefore, writes St. Maximilian, it is among the most difficult mysteries of faith for us to comprehend:
Who are you, O Lady? Who are you, O Immaculata? I am not able to know in depth what it means to be a “creature of God.” It is beyond my mental capacity to grasp what “adoptive son of God” is intended to connote. But you, O Immaculata, who are you? You are not merely a creature, not merely an adopted daughter, but you are Mother of God and not merely adopted Mother, but true Mother of God. And here we are not dealing merely with a hypothesis, a probability, but with a certitude, with a dogma of faith. But are you still Mother of God? The title of Mother is not subject to changes. In eternity God will call you “My Mother.” He who decreed the fourth commandment, will venerate you in eternity always… Who are you, divine one?… For you God created the world. For you God has called even me into existence. How has this, my good fortune, come about? (SK 1305, cf. Lk 1:43-45).
We find it hard enough to grasp what is meant by mother and by God, but the difficulty involved in grasping “Mother of God” is as great as that grasping how God can become man without ceasing to be God. St. Bonaventure tells us the same:
Whether we speak of [the Word] becoming man, or whether we speak of a woman becoming Mother of God, both are events beyond the state due a creature (III Sent., d. 4, a. 2, q. 2).
The difficulty, however, of grasping how Mary can be our Mediatrix between Christ and ourselves and, therefore, Mediatrix of all graces, can be somewhat alleviated via reflection on an aspect of human motherhood, in modern times mostly forgotten in discussions of what it means to be a mediator, viz. one who brings other persons together. In this way we can realize in some small way the source of our good fortune in being called into existence for the sake of Mary: her great love for us in consenting to be the Mother of God, a love rooted in her Immaculate Conception, in her unique condition as the Panhaghia, the All Blessed among women.
Begetting children is not simply a biological process, a means to “reproduce” the human species. Human generation, reflecting the eternal generation of the Son of God as image of the Father, is therefore primarily metaphysical. For this reason it is rightly termed “procreation” of a person in the image and likeness of God. It is this which distinguishes it from animal reproduction. Father and mother in this procreation form as it were a single parenthood. One without the other can accomplish nothing with the power to beget.
What is particularly interesting for understanding the unique maternal mediation of Mary is the fact that in the use of the power to beget a man, the role of the mother as one who conceives is precisely that of a mediatrix between the child and his/her father. The father cannot have a child except via such maternal mediation, nor can the child have a father except via maternal mediation. Through this intimate relation between mother and child initiated by conception, a relation touching not only externals, but the interior life of the child as well, the child is introduced to its father. Unfortunately, not all parents carry out their role properly; but when they do according to the plan of God, the fruits are stupendous.
This being the case, it is not unreasonable to see in the maternal mediation of a human mother a kind of preparation for an absolutely unique instance of maternal mediation in Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent role of Mediatrix in the work of salvation. For once Mother of God, Mary is always His Mother; and so in every mystery of the work of salvation, she is always Mediatrix between Jesus and us as her adopted children. As the instrument of the Holy Spirit in bringing to pass the Incarnation of the Word, the Virgin Mother becomes the Mediatrix of all graces. That mediation not only involves all blessings which are the fruit of the Savior’s sacrifice; it touches her children begotten of water and the Holy Spirit, not only from without but from within. It is not only through her, but also in her, that these graces are received, because we find Jesus in her, not outside of her, and we find her in Jesus.
St. Maximilian, in more than one place of his writings and conferences, simply and beautifully synthesizes this:
The King is not to be sought out aside this Palace, but within it, in its interior, in its inner halls (SK 603).
We must search out Jesus through her and nowhere else except in her. We pass with one to the other, not from one to the other (Conference, 25 April, 1937).
Mary, then, in the words of St. Bonaventure, is our Mediatrix with Jesus, because she is His Mother and our Mother.
She is Mediatrix between us and Christ, as Christ is Mediator between us and God the Father (III Sent., d. 3, p. 1, a. 1, q. 2).
As God comes to us through her, so it is necessary for us to return to God through her (Commentary on Lk, 1:70).
In that “our” is included St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, who in being consecrated to Mary has Jesus as his Mediator. And Jesus is our Mediator with the heavenly Father.
We can discern with St. Maximilian how the relation between the mediation of Jesus and Mary reflects the relation between the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. This is why the mediation of Jesus is complemented by that of Mary without in any way affecting its oneness. The mission of the Son terminates in and is made visible in the Incarnation. The mission of the Holy Spirit, uncreated Immaculate Conception, terminates in the created Immaculate Conception of Mary, made visible in her maternal mediation as Mother of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The mission of the Spirit does not involve another hypostatic union or Incarnation, but only what St. Maximilian calls a “quasi-Incarnation,” a kind of personification of the Spirit in another person remaining distinct from him, yet at the same time establishing a perfect communion of spousal love between Creator and creature, Savior and saved. Immaculate Conception is at once the name of the Spirit and the name of the Virgin Mother, who are perfectly united, not in an identity of person or being, but in a communion of perfect love among distinct persons. The maternal mediation of Mary as instrument of the Spirit in the work of salvation is the proximate foundation for the collaboration of all other believers in the saving work of Jesus—His work of mediation—because she, the created Immaculate Conception, is spouse of the Holy Spirit, the uncreated Immaculate Conception. To share in this communion of divine love is to share in the life of divine persons, to be as it were a part of the Trinity (cf. SK 1310; 1318).
The missions of the Word: the Incarnation, and of the Spirit—what St. Maximilian calls the “quasi-Incarnation,” or personification of the Spirit in the person of Mary—reflect the processions of the Son (begetting) and of the Spirit (conception) from all eternity. This suggests, as St. Bonaventure observes, that the circumincessory life of the divine Persons—their in-existence within each other without loss of real distinction as persons—involves some form of mediation, of “middle” persons between other persons in a certain order or relation: first in view of distinction as persons, and then as really distinct persons within perfect communion.
Hence, the joint mediation of Christ and Mary finds its consummation in their joint oblation. St. Bonaventure comments:
By one oblation with a dual matter, the oblation of the Child and purification of the Mother, [Jesus] consummated the sanctification of the redeemed… This is why she wished to offer Him [and why] and He wished to be offered… That consummation includes the reason for both (Sermon II on the Purification).
That is also why the distinctive features of each mediation and their relation to one another—that of Mary subordinated to that of Christ—find their primary explanation, not in created instances of mediation, but in relation to the communion of the three divine Persons, known as circumincession. The concluding article in this series will show how the high priestly mediation of Jesus and maternal mediation of Mary, linked as they are, respectively, to the missions of the Word and Holy Spirit in the work of our salvation, enable us to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity and return to our Father’s house.
Suggested Reading (most of these volumes are available from the Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA, USA):
E. Neubert, My Ideal, Jesus Son of Mary
E. Neubert, Life of Union with Mary
H. M. Manteau-Bonamy, Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit (at Marytown Press)
P. D. Fehlner, St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, Martyr of Charity, Pneumatologist. His Theology of the Holy Spirit