Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, in the Papal Magisterium of Pope John Paul II



This article, which looks at the Marian dimension of John Paul II’s pontificate, elucidates his many beautiful and powerful words about Our Lady in her role as Coredemptrix and Mediatrix of All Graces. We are only now beginning to unravel the great teachings left us by our beloved Holy Father. This article was excerpted from Mary at the Foot of the Cross – VII: Coredemptrix, Therefore Mediatrix of All Graces, Academy of the Immaculate, 2008.– Assistant Ed.


I. Introduction: The Post-Conciliar Situation


Pope Saint John Paul II has left to the Church a huge body of Marian teaching, which, in its quantity alone, is greater than that of all of his predecessors and which, in its quality and consistency, I believe is his greatest single legacy to the Church. While various aspects of this vast output have already been the object of numerous scholarly and popular studies, I would hazard to say that its rich doctrinal content, its inner coherence, and its clarity have barely begun to be appreciated. And perhaps even less appreciated is the fact that this vast and rich corpus of Marian teaching is not just the work of a noted theologian or preacher, but that, 1) when it occurs in a document of major importance, 2) when it can be shown to constitute a consistent and frequently repeated theme, or 3) when it is stated in a deliberate way which unmistakably indicates his intention to teach, it constitutes the ordinary magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff {footnote}Cf. Lumen Gentium #25. Cf. also Arthur Burton Calkins, Totus Tuus: John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 1992) hereafter cited as Totus Tuus 265-270; Totus Tuus: Il Magistero Mariano di Giovanni Paolo II. Scelta antologicee introduzioni di Arthur Burton Calkins (Siena: Cantagalli, 2006) hereafter cited as TTMM 33-35.{/footnote}.


Indeed, on 16 October 2005, the anniversary of the election of John Paul II to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI stated in an interview granted to Polish Television

Initially, in speaking of the Pope’s legacy, I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us—14 encyclicals, many Pastoral Letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure; they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future {footnote}The text of the entire interview was made available on the Internet site of Vatican Radio on the evening of 16 October 2005 in the original Italian, and with translations in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Emphasis my own.{/footnote}.


My intention here is precisely to investigate the rich and multifaceted doctrine of John Paul II on the topic of Mary’s role as Mediatrix as it occurred in the course of his ordinary teaching, the greater part of which is not yet well-known and, consequently, has not yet been duly assimilated.


Without any doubt, Our Lady’s mediatorial role was particularly downplayed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council 1) because of the battles which had taken place on the council floor and behind the scenes {footnote}Cf. Ralph M. Wiltgen, SVD, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1985) 90-95, 153-159.{/footnote}, 2) because the Marian title Mediatrix was employed only once in Lumen Gentium in a very relativized context {footnote}Lumen Gentium #62. Cf. Mich ael O’Carroll, CSSp, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc.; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1982) cited hereafter as Theotokos 242-245; Idem., “Still Mediatress of All Graces?” in Miles Immaculatae 24 (1988) 114-132; Idem., “Mary’s Mediation: Vatican II and John Paul II” in Ignazio M. Calabuig, OSM (ed.), Virgo Liber Verbi: Miscellanea di Studi in Onore di P. Giuseppe M. Besutti (Rome: Edizioni «Marianum», 1991) 543-559.{/footnote}, and 3) above all, because of the minimalist and one-sided interpretation of the council’s Marian teaching which predominated in the immediate post-conciliar period and continues to do so in many academic centers of mariology {footnote}Cf. TTMM 12-22.{/footnote}. Although he had already made any number of important statements on Marian mediation in the early years of his pontificate and would continue to do so until its very end, with his Marian Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II single-handedly re-launched the theological discussion of this topic which many leading mariologists had thought was already successfully superceded {footnote}Cf. Totus Tuus 182-188.{/footnote}. Even quite recently and quite unfortunately, the Pontifical International Marian Academy issued a publication entitled La Madre del Signore on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of 2000 which stated that


In our opinion such study (of Marian mediation) should not be conducted by re-proposing the presuppositions, the terminology and the metaphors used by many theologians before the Second Vatican Council, but rather according to the lines traced by the Constitution Lumen Gentium. Within this ambit John Paul II has amply considered the cooperation of the Virgin in the Trinitarian work of salvation under the categories of ‘mediation in Christ’ and of ‘maternal mediation,’ that is, as a particular function of the universal motherhood of Mary in the order of grace; to many theologians this way of presenting the question of the mediation of Mary appears more rich, based on a good biblical foundation (cf. Jn 19:25-27), more in conformity with the sensus fidelium, less subject to controversy {footnote}La Madre del Signore. Memoria, Presenza, Speranza. Alcune questioni attuali sulla figura e la missione della b. Vergine Maria (Vatican City: Pontificia Accademia Mariana Internationalis, 2000) hereafter cited as La Madre del Signore 80 (my trans.).{/footnote}.


Here it is necessary to make some very pointed comments. 1) To the uninitiated, at first glance this statement might seem unexceptionable, but, in fact, it not so subtly suggests that the entire millennial Catholic tradition of understanding and elucidating Our Lady’s unique mediatorial role by saints, mystics, and theologians, along with the papal magisterium of Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, Saint Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, and Pius XII, which has put this matter in ever sharper relief {footnote}Cf. Theotokos 238-242; Gabriele M. Rosch ini, OSM, Maria Santissima nella Storia della Salvezza, Vol. II (Isola del Liri: Tipografia Editrice M. Pisani, 1969) 198-235; Brunero Gherardini, La Madre: Maria in una sintesi sotricoteologica (Frigento: Casa Mariana Editrice, 1989) 287-324; Arthur Burton Calkins, “Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate in the Contemporary Roman Liturgy,” in Mark I. Miravalle, STD, (ed.), Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations: Towards a Papal Definition? (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1995) 68-82.{/footnote}, is to be side-stepped. 2) This statement insinuates that the pre-conciliar methodology employed in exploring this topic is “less rich” than the conciliar treatment found in Lumen Gentium and is based on less solid biblical foundations.


Such a vague statement, of course, simply begs the question. 3) Even more gratuitously and without a shred of supporting evidence, the authors of this communication inform us that their approach is in greater conformity to the sensus fidelium {footnote}Cf. Lumen Gentium #12, 34; Dei Verbum #10; Catechism of the Catholic Church #889; Theotokos 322-323.{/footnote}. 4) They also assure us that their proposed methodology is less subject to controversy, but that is only because, by prescribing the methodology to be used, they have effectively eliminated any opposition. 5) Without stating it in so many words here, the authors are also obviously concerned about avoiding controversy on the ecumenical level, as they clearly indicate elsewhere {footnote}Cf. La Madre del Signore 112-116.{/footnote}.Specifically, they state that students of mariology– should abstain from the will to impose on brethren not in communion with the Catholic Church ‘other obligations beyond those which are indispensable (cf. Acts 15:28),’ that is, doctrinal questions about the Mother of the Lord which are quæstiones disputatæ among Catholic theologians;

– should proceed to a supervised and correct use of terms and formulae (purification of language); the use of formulae and terms which, on the one hand, are not ancient nor accepted by many Catholic theologians and on the other hand provoke grave discomfort in brothers and sisters who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church is certainly not useful for reciprocal understanding; rather it is wise to use a terminology which expresses doctrine with exactness and efficacy, but which does not provide grounds for false interpretations {footnote}La Madre del Signore 115 (my trans.).{/footnote}.


This kind of language is not slightly disturbing. In the name of a deceptive “ecumenical” correctness cleverly camouflaged as “purification of language,” the authors want to impose silence on Catholics about matters which were not fundamentally “quæstiones disputatæ among Catholic theologians” until after the Council. They are concerned about not “provoking grave discomfort in brothers and sisters who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church,” but not among their own Catholic brothers and sisters.


The dossier published in Marianum regarding the request for the dogmatic definition of Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate takes the very same line as what has just been quoted above, with even more specific indications about terminology, which it says that the Second Vatican Council wished to avoid. This is quite evidently because the same persons were involved in the redaction of these documents. In that dossier, the late Father Ignazio Calabuig, OSM, the principal redactor, goes on to state that the Council consciously and deliberately renounced


– using the title Coredemptrix and the term coredemptio with reference to the Blessed Virgin; to the latter the Council preferred cooperatio and this because since it has an ecclesial point of reference with a biblical foundation (cf. 1 Cor 3:9), it could effectively designate the collaboration given by Mary, in faith, obedience and love, to the formation both of the body of Christ in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and of his mystical body, the Church, which is indissolubly linked to Christ the Head and from whose life she herself lives;


– making use of a terminology of Western scholastic coinage: objective and subjective, mediate and immediate redemption, merit de congruo and de condigno, terms alien to the theological tradition of the East; such terminology could certainly have continued to be used in theological research, but it was unthinkable that an ecumenical council would make its own these terms which of themselves recall the disputes of the schools;– defining in conceptual terms the association of Mary in the redemptive work of Christ, preferring to have recourse to the category of salvation history: thus describing the acts which, from the Incarnation all the way to the death on the cross, show the Mother intimately united to the redemptive work of the Son (cf. LG, #61);


– using the term mediatio with reference to the Virgin, employing in its place expressions like ‘maternal function’ (munus maternum) and ‘saving influence’ (salutaris influxus) or words like ‘cooperation’ (cooperatio), in passages in which it was legitimate to expect the word ‘mediation’ to be used with regard to the requirements of parallelism (cf. LG, #61, 63).


– configuring the ‘mediatorial action’ of Mary in geometric or spatial terms or in symbolic terms like ladder or neck, as if between Christ and the faithful there were a rampart which they could only surmount by means of the mediatorial intervention of the Virgin.


– the use of any expressions like that of ‘Mediatrix of all graces’ which, although recurring in papal documents previous to the Council, were the object of dispute among theologians; and the use of expressions such as ‘Mediatrix with the Mediator,’ ‘Christ and Mary’ in contexts which could produce the impression that the grace of the redemption is attributable, almost at the same level, to Christ and to the Virgin of Nazareth {footnote}Ignazio M. Calabuig, OSM, “Riflessione sulla richiesta della definizione dogmatica di ‘Maria corredentrice, mediatrice, avvocata’ ” in Marianum LXI (1999) hereafter cited as Calabuig 154-155 (my trans.)..


The underlying principle in all of this discussion about what is to be avoided, is precisely the idea that a general council of the Church can simply renounce the Church’s patrimony and banish the use of any terminology which was not used in the Council documents and thus comes to be regarded as “ecumenically” incorrect.


Indeed, it is the doctrine taught by the Council which is of ultimate importance. The study of the background from which the document emerged is also of value, precisely insofar as it indicates how and why matters were treated in a particular way. Thus a study like Ermanno Toniolo’s {footnote}Ermanno M. Toniolo, OSM, La Beata Maria Vergine nel Concilio Vaticano II: Cronistoria del capitolo VIII della Constituzione Dogmatica “Lumen Gentium” e sinossi di tutte le redazioni (Rome: Centro di Cultura Mariana «Madre della Chiesa», 2004).{/footnote}, which furnishes a great deal of background information on how chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium arrived at its final form, is of great value, but the methodology followed in establishing the final form of chapter 8 need not become ipso facto the methodology which must be followed by all who work in the field of mariology. This will to impose a particular approach and methodology and to effectively rule out the employment of terminology and systems of thought that have developed in the Church in the course of centuries and even millennia, is a fundamental component of what I refer to as “Vatican II triumphalism” {footnote}Cf. TTMM 15-22.{/footnote}.


“Vatican II triumphalism” is a partial and one-sided interpretation of the documents of the council which favors positions sustained by certain parties at the time of the council while carefully avoiding mention of every affirmation in the council documents which could counterbalance the “favored” position. In the case of chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium on “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church,” the “favored” position gives great prominence to the role of Mary as model of the Church. This reflects the rediscovered approach of ecclesiotypical mariology which highlights the analogy between Mary and the Church, a theme which was emerging again at the time of the Council and is certainly valid in itself. At the same time the practitioners of this interpretation largely ignore the elements of cristotypical mariology, which underscores the analogy between Christ and Mary in chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium, and prefer to dismiss these elements as deductive and “privilege-centered” {footnote}Cf. the comments of Fathers George F. Kirwin, OMI and Thomas Thompson, S.M. in Donald W. Buggert, O.Carm., Louis P. Rogge, O.Carm., Michael J. Wastag, O.Carm. (eds.), Mother, Behold Your Son: Essays in Honor of Eamon R. Carroll, O.Carm. (Washington, DC: The Carmelite Institute, 2001), 17, 202.{/footnote}.


Obviously there were many theological insights which had come to the fore in the period preceding the Council due largely to scholarly research which had begun in the nineteenth century in the area of biblical, liturgical, patristic, and ecclesiological studies. Many of these found expression in the documents of the Council and specifically in the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium. All too often, however, an exaggerated emphasis on some of these insights on the part of the majority of the commentators, along with the total exclusion of balancing insights has, in fact, led to a “low mariology” which focuses almost exclusively on Mary as “woman of faith,” “disciple,” “sister” and “model” while largely ignoring her role as “spiritual mother,” “associate of the Redeemer” in the work of our salvation, “Mediatrix” and intercessor and, thus, tends to minimize the importance of the papal magisterium of the past two centuries. All too often, the virtually exclusive emphasis on ecclesiotypical mariology is accompanied by a whole-hearted acceptance of the historical-critical method of biblical exegesis and “lowest common denominator” of ecumenism {footnote