Mediatrix of Mercy

Published on March 12, 2005 by in Papal Excerpts

During the years of Jesus’ hidden life in the house at Nazareth, Mary’s life too is “hid with Christ in God” (cf. Col. 3:3) through faith. For faith is contact with the mystery of God. Every day Mary is in constant contact with the ineffable mystery of God made man, a mystery that surpasses everything revealed in the Old Covenant. From the moment of the Annunciation, the mind of the Virgin-Mother has been initiated into the radical “newness” of God’s self-revelation and has been made aware of the mystery. She is the first of those “little ones” of whom Jesus will say one day: “Father, …you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Mt. 11:25). For “no one knows the Son except the Father” (Mt. 11:27). If this is the case, how can Mary “know the Son”? Of course she does not know him as the Father does; and yet she is the first of those to whom the Father “has chosen to reveal him” (cf. Mt. 11:26-27; 1 Cor. 2:11). If though, from the moment of the Annunciation, the Son—whom only the Father knows completely, as the one who begets him in the eternal “today” (cf. Ps. 2:7) was revealed to Mary, she, his Mother, is in contact with the truth about her Son only in faith and through faith! She is therefore blessed, because “she has believed,” and continues to believe day after day amidst all the trials and the adversities of Jesus’ infancy and then during the years of the hidden life at Nazareth, where he “was obedient to them” (Lk. 2:51). He was obedient both to Mary and also to Joseph, since Joseph took the place of his father in people’s eyes; for this reason, the Son of Mary was regarded by the people as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt. 13:55).

The Mother of that Son, therefore, mindful of what has been told her at the Annunciation and in subsequent events, bears within herself the radical “newness” of faith: the beginning of the New Covenant. This is the beginning of the Gospel, the joyful Good News. However, it is not difficult to see in that beginning a particular heaviness of heart, linked with a sort of “night of faith”—to use the words of St. John of the Cross—a kind of “veil” through which one has to draw near to the Invisible One and to live in intimacy with the mystery. (1) And this is the way that Mary, for many years, lived in intimacy with the mystery of her Son, and went forward in her “pilgrimage of faith,” while Jesus “increased in wisdom…and in favor with God and man” (Lk. 2:52). God’s predilection for him was manifested ever more clearly to people’s eyes. The first human creature thus permitted to discover Christ was Mary, who lived with Joseph in the same house at Nazareth.

However, when he had been found in the Temple, and his Mother asked him, “Son, why have you treated us so?” the twelve-year-old Jesus answered: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And the Evangelist adds: “And they (Joseph and Mary) did not understand the saying which he spoke to them” (Lk. 2:48-50). Jesus was aware that “no one knows the Son except the Father” (cf. Mt. 11:27); thus even his Mother, to whom had been revealed most completely the mystery of his divine sonship, lived in intimacy with this mystery only through faith! Living side by side with her Son under the same roof, and faithfully persevering “in her union with her Son,” she “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith,” as the Council emphasizes. (2) And so it was during Christ’s public life too (cf. Mk. 3:21-35) that day by day there was fulfilled in her the blessing uttered by Elizabeth at the Visitation: “Blessed is she who believed.”

This blessing reaches its full meaning when Mary stands beneath the Cross of her Son (cf. Jn. 19:25). The Council says that this happened “not without a divine plan”: by “suffering deeply with her only-begotten Son and joining herself with her maternal spirit to his sacrifice, lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim to whom she had given birth,” in this way Mary “faithfully preserved her union with her Son even to the Cross.” (3) It is a union through faith—the same faith with which she had received the angel’s revelation at the Annunciation. At that moment she had also heard the words: “He will be great…and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33).

And now, standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary is the witness, humanly speaking, of the complete negation of these words. On that wood of the Cross her Son hangs in agony as one condemned. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows…he was despised, and we esteemed him not” as one destroyed (cf. Is. 53:3- 5). How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God’s “unsearchable judgments”! How completely she “abandons herself to God” without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will” (4) to him whose “ways are inscrutable” (cf. Rom. 11:33)! And how powerful too is the action of grace in her soul, how all-pervading is the influence of the Holy Spirit and of his light and power!

Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying. For “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” precisely on Golgotha “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil. 2:5-8). At the foot of the Cross Mary shares through faith in the shocking mystery of this self-emptying. This is perhaps the deepest “kenosis” of faith in human history. Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death; but in contrast with the faith of the disciples who fled, hers was far more enlightened. On Golgotha, Jesus through the Cross definitively confirmed that he was the “sign of contradiction” foretold by Simeon. At the same time, there were also fulfilled on Golgotha the words which Simeon had addressed to Mary: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (5)

Yes, truly “blessed is she who believed”! These words, spoken by Elizabeth after the Annunciation, here at the foot of the Cross seem to re-echo with supreme eloquence, and the power contained within them becomes something penetrating. From the Cross, that is to say from the very heart of the mystery of Redemption, there radiates and spreads out the prospect of that blessing of faith. It goes right hack to “the beginning,” and as a sharing in the sacrifice of Christ—the new Adam—it becomes in a certain sense the counterpoise to the disobedience and disbelief embodied in the sin of our first parents. Thus teach the Fathers of the Church and especially St. Irenaeus, quoted by the Constitution Lumen Gentium: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.” (6) In the light of this comparison with Eve, the Fathers of the Church—as the Council also says—call Mary the “mother of the living” and often speak of “death through Eve, life through Mary.” (7)

In the expression “Blessed is she who believed,” we can therefore rightly find a kind of “key” which unlocks for us the innermost reality of Mary, whom the angel hailed as “full of grace.” If as “full of grace” she has been eternally present in the mystery of Christ, through faith she became a sharer in that mystery in every extension of her earthly journey. She “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” and at the same time, in a discreet yet direct and effective way, she made present to humanity the mystery of Christ. And she still continues to do so. Through the mystery of Christ, she too is present within mankind. Thus through the mystery of the Son the mystery of the Mother is also made clear….

The Church knows and teaches with Saint Paul that there is only one mediator: “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” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). “The maternal role of Mary towards people in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power”: (8) it is mediation in Christ.

The Church knows and teaches that “all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin on mankind originate…from the divine pleasure. They flow forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rest on his mediation, depend entirely on it, and draw all their power from it. In no way do they impede the immediate union of the faithful with Christ. Rather, they foster this union.” (9) This saving influence is sustained by the Holy Spirit, who, just as he overshadowed the Virgin Mary when he began in her the divine motherhood, in a similar way constantly sustains her solicitude for the brothers and sisters of her Son.

In effect, Mary’s mediation is intimately linked with her motherhood. It possesses a specifically maternal character, which distinguishes it from the mediation of the other creatures who in various and always subordinate ways share in the one mediation of Christ, although her own mediation is also a shared mediation. (10) In fact, while it is true that “no creature could ever be classed with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer,” at the same time “the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise among creatures to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this unique source.” And thus “the one goodness of God is in reality communicated diversely to his creatures.” (11)

The teaching of the Second Vatican Council presents the truth of Mary’s mediation as “a sharing in the one unique source that is the mediation of Christ himself.” Thus we read: “The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. She experiences it continuously and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that, encouraged by this maternal help, they may more closely adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.” (12) This role is at the same time special and extraordinary. It flows from her divine motherhood and can be understood and lived in faith only on the basis of the full truth of this motherhood. Since by virtue of divine election Mary is the earthly Mother of the Father’s consubstantial Son and his “generous companion” in the work of redemption “she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” (13) This role constitutes a real dimension of her presence in the saving mystery of Christ and the Church.

From this point of view we must consider once more the fundamental event in the economy of salvation, namely the Incarnation of the Word at the moment of the Annunciation. It is significant that Mary, recognizing in the words of the divine messenger the will of the Most High and submitting to his power, says: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). The first moment of submission to the one mediation “between God and men”—the mediation of Jesus Christ—is the Virgin of Nazareth’s acceptance of motherhood. Mary consents to God’s choice, in order to become through the power of the Holy Spirit the Mother of the Son of God. It can be said that a consent to motherhood is above all a result of her total selfgiving to God in virginity. Mary accepted her election as Mother of the Son of God, guided by spousal love, the love which totally “consecrates” a human being to God. By virtue of this love, Mary wished to be always and in all things “given to God,” living in virginity. The words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” express the fact that from the outset she accepted and understood her own motherhood as a total gift of self, a gift of her person to the service of the saving plans of the Most High. And to the very end she lived her entire maternal sharing in the life of Jesus Christ, her Son, in a way that matched her vocation to virginity.

Mary’s motherhood, completely pervaded by her spousal attitude as the “handmaid of the Lord,” constitutes the first and fundamental dimension of that mediation which the Church confesses and proclaims in her regard (14) and continually “commends to the hearts of the faithful,” since the Church has great trust in her. For it must be recognized that before anyone else it was God himself, the Eternal Father, who entrusted himself to the Virgin of Nazareth, giving her his own Son in the mystery of the Incarnation. Her election to the supreme office and dignity of Mother of the Son of God refers, on the ontological level, to the very reality of the union of the two natures in the person of the Word (hypostatic union). This basic fact of being the Mother of the Son of God is from the very beginning a complete openness to the person of Christ, to his whole work, to his whole mission. The words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” testify to Mary’s openness of spirit: she perfectly unites in herself the love proper to virginity and the love characteristic of motherhood, which are joined and, as it were, fused together.

For this reason Mary became not only the “nursing mother” of the Son of Man but also the “associate of unique nobility” (15) of the Messiah and Redeemer. As I have already said, she advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and in this pilgrimage to the foot of the Cross there was simultaneously accomplished her maternal cooperation with the Savior’s whole mission through her actions and sufferings. Along the path of this collaboration with the work of her Son, the Redeemer, Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation, becoming ever more imbued with “burning charity” towards all those to whom Christ’s mission was directed. Through this “burning charity,” which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of “supernatural life to souls,” (16) Mary entered, in a way all her own, into the one mediation “between God and men” which is the mediation of the man Christ Jesus. If she was the first to experience within herself the supernatural consequences of this one mediation—in the Annunciation she had been greeted as “full of grace”—then we must say that through this fullness of grace and supernatural life she was especially predisposed to cooperation with Christ, the one Mediator of human salvation. And such cooperation is precisely this mediation subordinated to the mediation of Christ.

In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation, based upon her “fullness of grace,” which was expressed in the complete willingness of the “handmaid of the Lord.” In response to this interior willingness of his Mother, Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their “mother in the order of grace.” This is indicated, at least indirectly, by certain details noted by the Synoptics (cf. Lk. 11:28; 8:20-21; Mk. 3:32-35; Mt. 12:47-50) and still more so by the Gospel of John (cf. 2:1-12; 19:25-27)…. Particularly eloquent in this regard are the words spoken by Jesus on the Cross to Mary and John.

After the events of the Resurrection and Ascension Mary entered the Upper Room together with the Apostles to await Pentecost, and was present there as the Mother of the glorified Lord. She was not only the one who “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” and loyally persevered in her union with her Son “unto the Cross,” but she was also the “handmaid of the Lord,” left by her Son as Mother in the midst of the infant Church: “Behold your mother.” Thus there began to develop a special bond between this Mother and the Church. For the infant Church was the fruit of the Cross and Resurrection of her Son. Mary, who from the beginning had given herself without reserve to the person and work of her Son, could not but pour out upon the Church, from the very beginning, her maternal self-giving. After her Son’s departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as maternal mediation: interceding for all her children, the Mother cooperates in the saving work of her Son, the Redeemer of the world. In fact the Council teaches that the “motherhood of Mary in the order of grace…will last without interruption until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.” (17) With the redeeming death of her Son, the maternal mediation of the handmaid of the Lord took on a universal dimension, for the work of redemption embraces the whole of humanity. Thus there is manifested in a singular way the efficacy of the one and universal mediation of Christ “between God and men.” Mary’s cooperation shares, in its subordinate character, in the universality of the mediation of the Redeemer, the one Mediator. This is clearly indicated by the Council in the words quoted above.

“For,” the text goes on, “taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation.” (18) With this character of “intercession,” first manifested at Cana in Galilee, Mary’s mediation continues in the history of the Church and the world. We read that Mary “by her maternal charity, cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy homeland.” (19) In this way Mary’s motherhood continues unceasingly in the Church as the mediation which intercedes, and the Church expresses her faith in this truth by invoking Mary “under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix.” (20)

Through her mediation, subordinate to that of the Redeemer, Mary contributes in a special way to the union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the eschatological and heavenly reality of the Communion of Saints, since she has already been “assumed into heaven.” (21) The truth of the Assumption, defined by Pius XII, is reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which thus expresses the Church’s faith: “Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19:16) and the conqueror of sin and death.” (22) In this teaching Pius XII was in continuity with Tradition, which has found many different expressions in the history of the Church, both in the East and in the West.

By the mystery of the Assumption into heaven there were definitively accomplished in Mary all the effects of the one mediation of Christ the Redeemer of the world and Risen Lord: “In Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22-23). In the mystery of the Assumption is expressed the faith of the Church, according to which Mary is “united by a close and indissoluble bond” to Christ, for, if as Virgin and Mother she was singularly united with him in his first coming, so through her continued collaboration with him she will also be united with him in expectation of the second; “redeemed in an especially sublime manner by reason of the merits of her Son,” (23) she also has that specifically maternal role of mediatrix of mercy at his final coming, when all those who belong to Christ “shall be made alive,” when “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).” (24)

Connected with this exaltation of the noble “Daughter of Sion” (25) through her Assumption into heaven is the mystery of her eternal glory. For the Mother of Christ is glorified as “Queen of the Universe.” (26) She who at the Annunciation called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” remained throughout her earthly life faithful to what this name expresses. In this she confirmed that she was a true “disciple” of Christ, who strongly emphasized that his mission was one of service: the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). In this way Mary became the first of those who, “serving Christ also in others, with humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to that King whom to serve is to reign,” (27) and she fully obtained that “state of royal freedom” proper to Christ’s disciples: to serve means to reign!

“Christ obeyed even at the cost of death, and was therefore raised up by the Father (cf. Phil. 2:8-9). Thus he entered into the glory of his kingdom. To him all things are made subject until he subjects himself and all created things to the Father, that God may be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:27-28).” (28) Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, has a share in this Kingdom of the Son. (29) The glory of serving does not cease to be her royal exaltation: assumed into heaven, she does not cease her saving service, which expresses her maternal mediation “until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.” (30) Thus, she who here on earth “loyally preserved in her union with her Son unto the Cross,” continues to remain united with him, while now “all things are subjected to him, until he subjects to the Father himself and all things.” Thus in her Assumption into heaven, Mary is as it were clothed by the whole reality of the Communion of Saints, and her very union with the Son in glory is wholly oriented towards the definitive fullness of the Kingdom, when “God will be all in all.”

The above article is an excerpt from the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, March 25, 1987.

Endnotes

(1) Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1. II, Ch. 3, 4-6.

(2) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 58.

(3) Ibid., 58.

(4) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 5.

(5) Concerning Mary’s participation or “compassion” in the death of Christ, cf. Saint Bernard, In Dominica infra octavam Assumptionis Sermo, 14: S. Bernardi Opera, V, 1968, 273.

(6) Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III, 22, 4: S. Ch. 211, 438-444; cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 56, Note 6.

(7) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 56, and the Fathers quoted there in Notes 8 and 9.

(8) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 60.

(9) Ibid., 60.

(10) Cf. the formula of mediatrix “ad Mediatorem” of Saint Bernard, In Dominica infra oct. Assumptionis Sermo, 2: S. Bernardi Opera, V, 1968, 263. Mary as a pure mirror sends back to her Son all the glory and honor which she receives: Id., In Nativitate B. Mariae Sermo-De Aquaeductu, 12: ed. cit., 283.

(11) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 62.

(12) Ibid., 62.

(13) Ibid., 61.

(14) Ibid., 62.

(15) Ibid., 61.

(16) Ibid., 61.

(17) Ibid., 62.

(18) Ibid., 62.

(19) Ibid., 62; in her prayer too the Church recognizes and celebrates Mary’s “maternal role”: it is a role “of intercession and forgiveness, petition and grace, reconciliation and peace” (cf. Preface of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Mediatrix of Grace, in Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine, ed. typ. 1987, I, 120).

(20) Ibid., 62.

(21) Ibid., 62; cf. Saint John Damascene, Hom. in Dormitionem, I, 11; II, 2, 14; III, 2: S. Ch. 80, 111f.; 127-131; 157-161; 181-185; Saint Bernard, In Assumptione Beatae Mariae Sermo, 1-2: S. Bernardi Opera, V, 1968, 228-238.

(22) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 59; cf. Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1 November 1950): AAS 42 (1950) 769-771; Saint Bernard presents Mary immersed in the splendor of the Son’s glory: In Dominica infra oct. Assumptionis Sermo, 3; S. Bernardi Opera, V, 1968, 263f.

(23) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 53.

(24) On this particular aspect of Mary’s mediation as implorer of clemency from the “Son as Judge,” cf. Saint Bernard, In Dominica infra oct. Assumptionis Sermo, 1-2: S. Bernardi Opera, V, 1968, 262f; Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Epistle Octobri Mense (22 September 1891): Acta Leonis, XI, 299-315.

(25) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 55.

(26) Ibid., 59.

(27) Ibid., 36.

(28) Ibid., 36.

(29) With regard to Mary as Queen, cf. Saint John Damascene, Hom. in Nativitatem, 6; 12; Hom. in Dormitionem, 1, 2, 12, 14; II, 11;III, 4: S. Ch. 80, 59f.; 77f.; 83f.; 113f.; 117; 151f.; 189-193.

(30) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 62.