Mother of All Peoples is pleased to present this classic treatment on Our Lady’s role as Mediatrix of all Graces by Fr. Armand J. Robichaud, in which the Church’s traditional understanding of the Blessed Mother’s function in the distribution of all graces is well captured. – Ed.
When Our Blessed Lord uttered His Consummatum est on the cross, the bloody immolation of His mortal life drew to its dramatic close. It was then and there that His sacrificial act, embodying the infinite merits and satisfactions of His whole earthly career, definitively sealed what Catholic theologians are wont to call the “objective Redemption” of mankind. Yet the Consummatum est referred only to the first act of the divine drama representing the whole economy of the world’s salvation. The second act would be the enduring process in which the treasury of graces, merited by the Savior through His life and death, is made available and is actually communicated to individual souls to enable them to attain to their supernatural goal.
Our discussion at present centers exclusively on Our Blessed Lady’s active share in the second phase of Christ’s salvific economy, namely, her unique prerogative as Dispensatrix (or Mediatrix) of all graces. (1)
Before endeavoring to establish the fact of Mary’s prerogative, it is well to explain briefly its exact meaning. When we assert that Our Lady is the Dispensatrix of all graces we mean that she actually obtains them for us, through some true causality on her part, the nature of which will be discussed later. By “all graces” we mean sanctifying grace, the infused theological and moral virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all actual graces, the charismatic gifts, and even temporal favors having a bearing on our supernatural end. In brief, everything which produces, conserves, increases, or perfects the supernatural life of man. This universally extends likewise to the beneficiaries of Mary’s mission, for it affects all human beings of all times, including the souls in purgatory. Those who lived before Mary’s time received their graces in view of her future merits; those living after her, particularly after her Assumption into heaven, receive all graces through her actual intercession, or even, according to some, through her physical instrumental causality. Moreover, the doctrine does not mean that Our Lady’s intercession must be invoked as a prerequisite for the reception of graces. Whether we address our petitions to her, or directly to Christ or to some other saint, the favor will be granted in every instance through Mary’s causality.
The doctrine of Mary’s actual share in the dispensation of every single grace has met with unqualified support in Catholic quarters particularly since the seventeenth century. The exceptions to this remarkable consensus are relatively few and far between. To recall the most important: Theophilus Raynaud, S.J. (+ 1663), who claimed that our thesis was only a pious opinion lacking solid foundation in the sources. For him, Our Lady was the “channel of all graces” in the sense that she gave birth to Christ, the Author of all graces. (2) Again, in the eighteenth century, the otherwise learned L. A. Muratori (+ 1751) referred to this teaching as “a sheer exaggeration” and ”an error.” (3) When St. Alphonsus Liguori undertook to defend Mary’s prerogative, he was answered by Muratori’s nephew who, in turn, drew an excellent rebuttal from the Saint entitled Risposta ad un anonimo… (4) More recently, Prof. John Ude, (5) Anton Fischer, (6) and Jean Guitton (7) have expressed similar views on the subject, provoking vigorous protests in certain quarters.
Our treatment, of this question will be divided into two parts, namely: I. the fact of Our Lady’s role as Dispensatrix of all graces; and II. the nature of that office. Our conclusion will contain a brief discussion concerning the theological note to be attached to this thesis, and also its definability.
I. The Fact of Mary’s Role as Dispensatrix of All Graces
Since the truth of our thesis rests completely on the free will of God, the first duty of the theologian is to inquire into the sources of revelation (both proximate and remote) in order to ascertain what God Himself has deigned to disclose to us in this connection. Once we have established the thesis by means of positive theology, we shall endeavor to corroborate it by means of speculative theology. Hence the subdivision of this first part into the following sections: A. The Ecclesiastical Magisterium; B. The Sacred Liturgy, reflecting the mind of the Magisterium; C. Sacred Scripture; D. Tradition; and E. Theological Reasoning.
A. The Ecclesiastical Magisterium
By “ecclesiastical magisterium” we mean the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff and of the bishops under him and with him. Since this constitutes “the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians,” (8) its paramount importance hardly calls for emphasis here. The solemn and extraordinary magisterium having made no decision as yet on our subject, we shall limit ourselves to the consideration of the ordinary magisterium as exercised by the Popes only. (9)
It is particularly within the past century that the Popes have made repeated and very explicit references to Our Lady’s role as Dispensatrix of all graces. However, even in centuries past, we discover occasional indications of an implicit belief in this doctrine as conveyed by titles and expressions such as Mother of grace, Mother of the Church, Mother of men, our Mother, and the like. (10) Thus, for example, Sixtus IV (1471-1484) speaks of Our Lady as the “Mother of grace . . . sedulous and constant intercessor before the King,” and of her “merits and intercession of divine grace.” (11) Again, Benedict XIV (1740-1758) states that Mary is “like a celestial stream through which the flow of all graces and gifts reach the soul of all wretched mortals.” (12) And Pius VII (1800-1823) condenses the whole truth in the significant expression “Dispensatrix of all graces.” (13)
With Pius IX (1846-1878) a new era begins in the field of Mariology. This is particularly so as regards the Marian prerogative we are now discussing. In his encyclical Ubi primum (1849) the Pope of the Immaculate Conception writes: “The foundation of all Our confidence, as you know well, Venerable Brethren, is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary. For God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is His will, that we obtain everything through Mary.” (14)
Again, in his Ineffabilis Deus (1854), Pius alludes to our doctrine in these words:
… since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she petitions, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard. (15)
In Leo XIII (1878-1903), whose contributions to Mariology in general are well known, we find a frequent and vigorous exponent of the thesis that Mary is the channel of absolutely every grace. Our references will be limited to only a few of his most outstanding utterances. In the very first of his memorable Rosary encyclicals, Supremi apostolatus (1883), he styles Our Lady “the guardian of our peace and the dispensatrix of heavenly graces.” (16) A year later, in his Superiore anno, he speaks of the prayers presented to God “through her whom He has chosen to be the dispenser of all heavenly graces.” (17) And a little further: “to her we must fly, to her whom the Church rightly and justly calls the dispenser of salvation, the helper and the deliverer….” (18)
But it is in his encyclical Octobri mense (1891) that Pope Leo has left us his most striking pronouncement of this subject. Having recalled that the eternal Son of God did not wish to accomplish the mystical union between Himself and mankind at the time of the Incarnation without first seeking the free consent of Our Lady as representative of the whole human race, the Pope adds:
With equal truth can it be affirmed that, by the will of God, nothing of the immense treasure of every grace which the Lord has accumulated, comes to us except through Mary. . . . How great are the wisdom and mercy revealed in this design of God. . . . Mary is our glorious intermediary; she is the powerful Mother of the omnipotent God.
. . . This design of such dear mercy realized by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ (Jn. 19:26-27), was understood from the beginning and accepted with the utmost joy by the holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was also the belief and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the Christian peoples of every age accepted it unanimously. . . . There is no other reason for this than a divine faith. (19)
In connection with this remarkable passage we would like to make the following observations:
1. The truth proposed by Pope Leo is: the will of God is that we obtain absolutely everything through Mary.
2. The encyclical is addressed to the whole Church.
3. The Pope appeals to the universal belief of the Church from the Apostles to our own day, thereby officially interpreting tradition. This unanimous consensus of the Ecclesia docens with the Ecclesia discensin a matter that could not be learned except through revelation is a guarantee that God did reveal it.
4. Pope Leo gives us to understand that God implied this truth in the Annunciation pericope (Lk. 1:26-38), and also in the proclamation of Christ from the cross, as narrated in St. John’s Gospel (19:26-27). Therefore, the doctrine is based on the written word of God.
Inspired, no doubt, by the teaching of his predecessor, St. Pius X (1903-1914) found occasion to add the weight of his own authority to the same belief. It is well known that before writing his encyclical Ad diem illum (1904), to commemorate the golden jubilee of the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception, he desired to reread in its entirety the treatise on The True Devotion by St. Louis M. Grignion de Montfort. Little wonder, then, that his admirable encyclical is thoroughly impregnated with the doctrine of Mary’s universal Mediation. For our specific purpose, the most important section of the encyclical reads as follows:
By this union of will and suffering between Christ and Mary, “she merited to become in a most worthy manner the Reparatrix of the lost world” (20) and, consequently, the Dispensatrix of all the gifts which Jesus acquired for us through His death and blood. Indeed, we do not deny that the distribution of these gifts belongs by strict and proper right to Christ… Yet … it was granted to the august Virgin to be together with her Only-begotten Son the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix of the whole world. So Christ is the source…. Mary, however, as St. Bernard justly remarks, is the channel, or she is the neck by which the Body is united to the Head, and the Head sends power and strength through the Body. For she is the neck of our Head, through which all spiritual gifts are communicated to His Body. (21)