Mary’s mediation in heaven which she has exercised since the Assumption has as purpose to obtain for us the application at the appropriate time of Jesus’ merits and hers, acquired during their life on earth and especially on Calvary. …
Mary’s Power of Intercession
Even during her life on earth, Mary appears in the gospels as distributing graces. Jesus sanctifies the precursor through her when she comes to visit her cousin Elisabeth. Through her he confirms the faith of his disciples at Cana by performing the miracle for which she asked. Through her he confirms John’s faith on Calvary, saying: “Son, behold thy mother.” Through her finally the Holy Spirit gave himself to the Apostles, for we read in the Acts (Acts 1:14) that she prayed with them in the Cenacle while they prepared themselves for the apostolate and for the light and strength and graces of Pentecost.
With still greater reason is Mary powerful in her intercession now that she has entered heaven and has been lifted up above the choirs of the angels. The Christian sense of the faithful assures us that a mother in heaven knows the spiritual needs of the children she has left behind her on earth, and that she prays for their salvation. It is a universal for the faithful to recommend themselves to the prayers of the saints in heaven. As St. Thomas says (1), when the saints were on earth, their charity led them to pray for their neighbor. With still greater reason do we say that in heaven they pray for their neighbor since when their charity is inflamed by the beatific vision it is greater than it was on earth: Their charity in heaven is uninterrupted in its acts and proceeds from a fuller realization of human needs and the value of life eternal.
The Council of Trent defined that the saints in heaven pray for us and that it is useful to invoke them (Denz. 984). Their merits and their expiation have ceased, but not their prayer—no longer a prayer of tearful supplication but one now of intercession.
St. Paul tells us that our Blessed Lord does not cease to make intercession for us (2). He is the principal and necessary intercessor. But Jesus himself wishes that we should have recourse to Mary so that our prayers may have greater value through being presented by her.
As Mother of all men Mary knows the spiritual needs of all men, knows all that concerns their salvation. Because of her immense charity she prays for them. And since she is all-powerful with her Son because of the love by which they are united, she obtains from him all the graces for which she asks—that is to say, all the graces we receive.
This power of Mary’s intercession is proclaimed by the faithful each time they recite the Hail Mary.
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Theology explains the belief of the faithful by pointing to three fundamental reasons for Mary’s power of intercession.
The first of these is that since Mary is Mother of men she knows all their spiritual needs. It is a principle admitted by all theologians that the happiness of the blessed in heaven would not be complete if they did not know what happens on earth to the extent to which it concerns them by reason of their office, their role, or their relations with men. Such knowledge is the object of a legitimate desire which must find its satisfaction in beatitude, and with all the more reason when the knowledge they desire is of men’s spiritual needs and is therefore desired in charity: it is in charity that the saints desire men’s salvation so that they may glorify God with them for all eternity and share thus in their happiness. Fathers and mothers, for example, know from heaven the needs of their children, especially those which bear on their salvation. The same may be said of the founders of religious institutes. With all the more reason may the same be said of Our Lady, who has the highest degree of glory after her Son: as Mother of all men she must know everything which bears directly or indirectly on the supernatural life which she has been commissioned to give us and to nourish in us. This universal knowledge, certain and detailed, of all that concerns our destiny—our thoughts, desires, the dangers in which we are, the graces we need, temporal affairs which have some connection with our salvation—is a prerogative which belongs to Mary because of her motherhood of God and her spiritual motherhood of men (3).
Knowing our spiritual needs and even the temporal needs which are connected with our salvation Mary is obviously impelled by her great charity to intercede for us. If a mother but suspects that her child needs her help she flies to its side. There is no question here of Mary’s acquiring new merits in heaven but simply of her obtaining that her merits—and her Son’s—be applied to us at the appropriate moment.
Is Mary’s prayer omnipotent? Tradition has honored Mary with the title, Omnipotentia supplex, omnipotence in the order of supplication (4).
In support of the title, we may refer to the principle that the intercession of the saints is proportioned to their degree of glory in heaven, or of union with God (Cf. IIa IIae, q. 83, a. II). It follows then that Mary, whose glory surpasses that of all the saints, must have all power in intercession. Even before the 8th century, this is the explicit teaching of St. Ephrem. In the 8th century, the most clear-cut statements are those of Andrew of Crete, of St. Germanus of Constantinople, and of St. John Damascene. Towards the end of the 11th century, St. Anselm and his disciple Eadmer affirm Mary’s intercessory omnipotence, a doctrine explained by St. Bernard and transmitted to succeeding generations of theologians.
Bossuet brings out the underlying principles very well in his sermon on the Compassion of Our Lady, when he recalls the two texts: “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16) and “He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all good things?” (Rom 8:32). Mary in her turn has loved God and souls to the extent of delivering up her Son, Jesus, on Calvary. She is in consequence all-powerful with God the Father and with Jesus to obtain all that is necessary for the salvation of those who turn to her mediation.
One paragraph of the sermon deserves to be quoted:
Intercede for us, O Blessed Virgin Mary: you have in your hands, if I may so speak, the key that opens the treasury of the divine blessings. That key is your Son: He closes and no one can open: He opens and no one can close: It is his innocent blood which makes us to be inundated with heavenly graces. And to whom will he give the right to that blood, if not to her from whom he drew all his blood. … For the rest, you live in such perfect union of love with him that it is impossible that your prayer should not be heard.
It is enough, as St. Bernard says, if Mary speaks to the Heart of Jesus.
The teaching of Tradition, thus formulated by Bossuet, has been proclaimed by Leo XIII in his first encyclical on the Rosary, September 1, 1883, in which he calls Mary the dispenser of heavenly graces, coelestium administra gratiarum. In the Encyclical Jucunda Semper, September 8th, 1894, the same Pope makes his own the two statements of St. Bernard: that God in his great mercy has made Mary our Mediatrix and that he has willed that all graces should come to us through her. The same teaching will be found in the encyclical Ad Diem Illum, February 2, 1904, where Mary is spoken of as “the dispenser of all the graces which have been acquired for us by the Blood of Jesus.” Jesus is the source of these graces: Mary is, as it were, the aqueduct, or—to use another image—as it were the neck which unites the Head to the members and transmits the vital impulse to them: “Ipsa est collum capitis nostri, per quod omnia spiritualia dona corpori ejus mystico communicantur.” Benedict XV has consecrated this teaching by approving the Mass and the liturgical Office of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, for the universal Church.
As Fr Merkelbach indicates (5), three points are to be noted.
First of all, it is of faith that Mary prays for us, and even for each one of us, in her capacity as Mother of the Redeemer and of all men, and that her intercession is very useful for us. This follows from the general dogma of the intercession of the saints (Council of Trent: Session 25). In support of this assertion we may refer to the practice of the Church in praying, Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis: Holy Mary, pray for us. Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi: dogma and prayer have one and the same law (Denz. 139).
In the second place, Tradition teaches us as certain that Mary’s powerful intercession can obtain for all those who invoke her with the proper dispositions all the graces required for salvation (6) and no one is saved without her intervention. Thus the Church repeats: Sentiant omnes tuum juvamen: Let all be cognizant of your assistance.
In the third place, it is common and safe doctrine, taught by different Popes, by the liturgy, and by preachers throughout the world, that no grace is granted us without Mary’s intervention. This is contained clearly in the Mass and Office of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, and it would be at least rash to deny it.
Historically, this doctrine will be found implicit in the doctrine of Mary’s universal mediation up to the 8th century. It becomes more explicit as we draw nearer to the 15th century, in the form of the affirmation that all God’s gifts come to us through Mary as intermediary. From the 16th century onwards, the question has been examined under all its aspects. Even the graces of the sacraments are considered to fall under Mary’s universal mediation in the sense that the dispositions which we must bring to the reception of the sacraments are obtained through her intercession (7). Besides, if Mary has merited de congruo all that Jesus has merited for us de condigno, it follows that she has merited the sacramental graces themselves.
It is clear therefore that Mary’s intercession is much more powerful and efficacious than that of all the other saints—even taken all together—for the other saints obtain nothing without her. Their mediation is included under her universal mediation, while hers is, in its turn, subordinated to that of Jesus. There is another point to be noted: it is that Mary has merited all the graces which she asks for us, whereas the saints often ask for graces for others which they have not merited themselves. Their prayer could not then have the same efficacy as Mary’s.
Regarding the efficacy of Mary’s prayer, a principle which applies to the prayer of Christ may well be recalled. The prayer of Christ is always heard when the thing prayed for is asked absolutely and in conformity with the divine intentions which he knows so well (8); it is not so heard, however, when the thing prayed for is asked conditionally, as happened in the case of the prayer of the Garden of Olives. In the case of Mary’s prayer, she obtains infallibly from her Son all that she asks absolutely and in conformity with the divine intentions: these intentions she knows, and her will is in complete accord with them.
What has been said in this section is sufficient to show that Mary’s omnipotence in intercession, resting as it does on the merits of the Savior and on his love for his Mother, is far from derogating from his own universal mediation. On the contrary it is one of its brightest manifestations, and throws into clearer relief the marvelous way in which Jesus redeemed and adorned her who was so intimately associated with him in the redemption of men.
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964), consultor to the Holy Office and other Congregations, taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960 and authored over 500 books and articles. This article was excerpted from The Mother of the Savior and Our Interior Life, Tan, 1993.
1. IIa IIae, q. 85, a. II.
2. Rom 8:34; Heb. 7:25.
3. Cf. E. Dublanchy, Dict. Theol Cath., art. Marie, col. 2412: “Can it be said that even on earth Mary knew in detail all that concerned the salvation and sanctification of all men? It would appear that no satisfactory proof can be given to support an affirmative answer to the question, especially in regard to universal knowledge extending to all the details concerning every individual. But Mary has this perfect knowledge in heaven where she exercises her universal intercession and mediation for all the graces which follow from the redemption.”
4. For a list of extracts and references we refer the reader to Hugon, O.P., Marie pleine de grâce, 5th edit., 1926, pp. 160-166; also to Merkelbach, Mariologia, pp. 345-371.
5. Mariologia, pp. 345-349.
6. An obstacle to grace may arise through lack of proper dispositions or, if the prayer be for another, through that other’s lack of dispositions. It should be noted that for the exercise of Mary’s mediation of intercession it is not necessary that one pray explicitly to her. By the fact that one prays to God or to the saints, one prays implicitly to Mary according to the present plan of our redemption. Besides, many graces are given us without our praying for them at all, for example, the actual grace required to begin to pray. However, prayer offered explicitly to Mary with the proper dispositions has a greater guarantee of calling down God’s grace.
7. Cf. Dict. Theol Cath., art. Marie, col. 2403.
8. Cf. IIIa, q. 21, a. 4.