Saint Josemaría Escrivá on the Mediation of Mary

In St. Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way, we read: “One always goes to Jesus and one returns to him through Mary.” (1) The teaching is simple, and challenging. Referring to this point, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, his successor at the head of Opus Dei, said: “I once asked our Father, many years ago: ‘I can understand that we always go to Jesus through Mary, but why did you write, and moreover in italics, that one also returns?’ ‘My son,’ our Father answered me, ‘because when a person has the misfortune of separating himself from God through sin, he goes to Mary and She takes us once more to Jesus.'” (2)

Here then we have two statements: first, “One always goes to Jesus through Mary,” then “one returns to him through her.” How so? Let us start with the first one.

We Go to Jesus Through Mary

Mary in the Life of Saint Josemaría

St. Josemaría was brought up in a family with great devotion to Mary. His mother, Maria Dolores, was named after Our Lady. (3) So were his four sisters, Carmen, Asuncion, Lolita and Rosario. (4) At the age of two, he fell seriously ill and was at the point of death. His mother prayed to the Blessed Virgin for him to recover, promising to go on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Torreciudad if he did so. He was cured immediately. Years later, when tragically his three younger sisters died one after the other in ascending order and young Josemaría thought it would be his turn next, his mother reassured him, “Don’t worry, you have been offered to Our Lady of Torreciudad.” (5)

As a seminary student in Saragossa, he used to make daily visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Pilar. (6) His fervor in prayer at that time earned him the nickname “Mystical Rose,” which hurt him deeply as he saw in this an element of mockery against Our Lady. (7) After ordination, he said his First Mass in El Pilar, in the chapel of Our Lady. All the time, he was asking God for light to see what He wanted of him. His prayer was accompanied by petition to Mary: Domina, ut videam! Domina, ut sit! (8) This prayer was materialized in an inscription written with a nail at the bottom of a statue of Our Lady of Pilar, in 1924. (9)

The answer came on 2 October 1928, when God made him see (that was the word he used) Opus Dei: his task was to teach men and women everywhere that God wanted them to be saints in their ordinary life. This took place on the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. Significantly, while not forgetting to be grateful to the Guardian Angels (for whom he always felt a great devotion), Escrivá associated this event more with Mary. It was the bells of the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, ringing out their joy on that feast, that Escrivá heard that day. He said the sound had never ceased to echo in his ears. (10)

The task God had assigned to him (not just to explain the theory of the universal call to holiness—which the Second Vatican Council was to proclaim for the whole Church thirty six years later—but to set up a institution which would put it into practice) seemed humanly impossible. Escrivá set about it with determination. Convinced of his inadequacy he went with great confidence to Our Lady. There was a little statue of the Blessed Virgin in the house where he dwelt and it became his custom to go to the statue each time he went out of the house or returned, to find strength in her. The statue became known as “The Lady of the Kisses.” (11)

Such was his trust in Mary’s help that he told the members of Opus Dei, “My children, you and I have often reflected on the fact that each step in the legal journey of the Work has been taken under the protection of the Mother of God.” (12) He also addressed her with the bold title of omnipotencia suplicante: “Mother of God, you are omnipotent in your petition.” (13)

Opus Dei received its definitive approval from the Holy See in 1950. It had suffered fierce persecution for over a decade prior to that date. This definitive approval was followed by a particularly insidious attack. Escrivá, with what we might call a mother’s keen intuition, felt that something was afoot and, finding no one to turn to on earth, made a penitential pilgrimage to Loreto where he consecrated Opus Dei and all its members and their activities to Our Lady. That was on 15 August 1951.

In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, when together with the sound fruits of renewal desired by the Council there was widespread breakdown of practice, faith and discipline in the Church, Escrivá once more turned to Mary for help. (14) He traveled to Mexico in 1970, to do a novena of prayer at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He also prayed for the Church at numerous other Marian shrines in Europe and North and South America (15) as well as promoting the Shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad near his birthplace in Spain. He was guided by some words which God made ring in his ears, (16) and which were reminiscent of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews: Adeamus cum fiducia ad thronum gloriae, ut misericordiam consequamur. (17) He understood them as referring to Mary, the throne upon whose lap sat Jesus, the glory of God and Savior of Mankind.

A Founder More than a Theologian

Saint Josemaría was a great saint and a profoundly intelligent son of the Church, but he was not in the narrow sense of the word a theologian. He did not see it as his personal job to extend the limits of theological research. His job in the Church was to start and govern an institution (Opus Dei), which would be a school for saints, men and women drawn from all walks of life. One of the features of the institution is its defense of its members’ total freedom in all matters that Mother Church has left to the free discussion of men. Saint Josemaría understood that, as a result, there could be no such thing as an “Opus Dei school of thought” (which, had it existed, would, inevitably, have excluded some people and would have thus gone against God’s wish that Opus Dei be open to everyone). The members of Opus Dei, as individual Catholics exercising their freedom, could set up their own schools of thought in whatever fields they chose to specialize, but those schools would then be their own and not in any way “Opus Dei schools of thought.” Being himself the founder Saint Josemaría was chary in expressing himself in matters of opinion, fully aware that people, if they came to know his opinions, could be inclined to take them up as in some way “Opus Dei opinions.”

On the other hand, when it came to the teachings of the Church, he had no hesitation in expressing his undiluted acceptance of all that Mother Church teaches. Faithfulness to the common patrimony of the Church, the depositum fidei, was to be a feature of Opus Dei and all its members.

Our subject, Mary’s universal mediation, in some respects belongs to the deposit of the faith, it is something which all Catholics must believe in as part of our shared faith. From this point of view, following from what I have said, we can expect to find Saint Josemaría defending, expounding and propagating the Church’s faith for all he is worth. But Mary’s mediation in other respects is also a subject which the Church still leaves to the free discussion of the faithful: in this respect, unlike some theologians or schools of thought who through their expertise or perhaps vocation feel called to push forward the frontiers of the Church’s teaching, Saint Josemaría would be expected not to play a pioneering role.

This said, one would have to add that one could expect that certain aspects of the subject would be closer to being “a teaching of the Church” than “a matter of opinion” and, in this case, one might find that Saint Josemaría would find ways of expressing that fact.

Mary’s Mediation Is a Fact

Let us start by saying that for him (as, I would add, for any sincere Catholic) Mary’s mediation is a fact, a “given.”

We read in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium: “This Motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.” (18)

Mediatrix of Grace. Through the voice of the ordinary Magisterium, the Church confesses that Mary is Mediatrix of grace. “Just as no human mother can limit her task to the generation of a new man but must extend it to the function of nourishing and educating her offspring, thus the Blessed Virgin Mary… now continues to fulfill from heaven her maternal function as the cooperator in the birth and development of divine life in the individual souls of redeemed men” (19) so that, “by the will of God, Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Thus as no man goes to the Father but by the Son, so no man goes to Christ but by His Mother.” (20)

Our Lady’s intercession is so powerful that it cannot fail to be listened to by her Son (21): “For if through His Humanity the divine Word performs miracles and gives graces, if He uses His Sacraments and Saints as instruments for the salvation of men, why should He not make use of the role and work of His most holy Mother in imparting to us the fruits of redemption?” (22) No one has a greater title than she—who is Mother of God and mankind, Coredemptrix, Queen—to be a dispenser of grace. “For from her union with Christ she attains a radiant eminence transcending that of any other creature; from her union with Christ she receives the royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer’s Kingdom; from her union with Christ finally is derived the inexhaustible efficacy of her maternal intercession before the Son and His Father.” (23)

Moreover, Mary’s mediation of grace is not limited merely to intercession. (24) The Blessed Virgin, who is so closely united to Christ by the bonds of motherhood and coredemption, shares—in a far more exalted way than the Angels and the Saints—in the kingly power of leading men towards the heavenly fatherland. “But Mary, as St. Bernard justly remarks, is the channel (cf. St. Bernard, Serm. de temp in Nativ. BVM. de Aquaeductu, 4); or, if you will, the connecting portion the function of which is to join the body to the head and to transmit to the body the influence and volitions of the head—We mean the neck. Yes, says St. Bernardine of Siena, ‘she is the neck of Our Head, by which He communicates to His mystical body all spiritual gifts’ (St. Bernardine of Siena, Quadrag. de Evangel aetern. Serm. X, a.3, c. iii). We are then, it will be seen, very far from attributing to the Mother of God a productive power of grace—a power which belongs to God alone. Yet, since Mary carries it over all in holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and has been associated by Jesus Christ in the work of redemption, she merits for us de congruo, in the language of theologians say, what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno, and she is the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces.” (25)

Already on earth, Our Lord made use of his Mother’s mediation to carry out “his first two miracles: the first, of grace, when the infant leapt for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, when she was greeted by Mary; the second, of nature, when he turned the water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana.” (26) After Mary’s glorious Assumption in body and soul to glory, Saint John witnesses a great portent in heaven: “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (27) “Everyone knows,” St. Pius X comments, “that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, the stainless one who brought forth our Head. The Apostle continues: ‘And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered’ (Apoc 12:2). John therefore saw the Most Holy Mother of God already in eternal happiness, yet travailing in a mysterious childbirth. What birth was it? Surely it was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unending prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect.” (28)

And so, “We believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” (29) “This is a very consoling truth which, by the free will of the most wise God, forms an integral part of the mystery of human salvation, and therefore should be accepted with faith by all Christians.” (30)

Saint Josemaría writes in Friends of God:

It is with good reason that the Popes have called Mary Coredemptrix. “So fully, in union with her suffering and dying Son, did she suffer and nearly die; so fully, for the sake of the salvation of men, did she abdicate her mothers rights over her Son, and immolate him, insofar as it was in her power, to satisfy the justice of God, that it can rightly be said that she redeemed mankind together with Christ” (Benedict XV, Letter Inter sodalicia, 22 March 1918, AAS 10, 1919, 182). This gives us a deeper understanding of that moment in the Passion of Our Lord, which we shall never tire of meditating: Stabat autem iuxta crucem Iesu mater eius, “there, standing by the cross of Jesus, was his Mother” (John 19:25).

I expect you have noticed how some mothers, moved by a legitimate pride, are quick to appear alongside their children when success comes their way, when they receive some public acclaim. But there are other mothers who, even at times like these, stay in the background, showing their love silently. This was Mary’s way, and Jesus knew it. (31)

This was a feature of what St. Josemaría called the “priestly soul,” and which he said is to be found in all true followers of Christ, both men and women. Mary in her priestly soul always leads us to Jesus (never looking for her glory, or her influence).

This genius of Mary’s for passing unnoticed is picked up again by St. Josemaría in Christ is Passing By: “We must imitate her natural and supernatural refinement. She is a privileged creature in the history of salvation, for in Mary ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). But she is a reserved, quiet witness. She never wished to be praised, for she never sought her own glory. Mary is present at the mysteries surrounding the infancy of her Son, but these are ‘normal’ mysteries, so to speak. When the great miracles take place and the crowds acclaim them in amazement, she is nowhere to be found. In Jerusalem when Christ, riding a little donkey, is proclaimed king, we don’t catch a glimpse of Mary. But after all have fled, she reappears next to the cross. This way of acting bespeaks personal greatness and depth, the sanctity of her soul.” (32)

We Return to Jesus Through Mary

St. Josemaría was an immensely practical man. Once, after speaking most movingly to a large audience about the love of God, he seemed to stop in his tracks and then told his listeners: “Resolutions! I am not speaking in vain!” And he explained that they needed to make use of the Sacrament of Confession. It is no good for us to theorize about the love of God and the beauty of our heavenly Mother if we are not striving to be in a state of grace. Similarly, when he went to Chile in 1974, he explained that his journey would have been worthwhile if but one person who had lost touch with Christ and become somewhat lost in his or her faith, came back with a contrite confession.

All the Old Devotions Remain Valid

When errors surfaced, he was quick to counter them. Sometimes he did so in a very direct way.

At other times, his approach was more oblique, especially if what he had to say might seem to be a criticism of those in authority. An example of this second approach comes in a homily published in Friends of God. A layman had complained to him of Vatican II’s somewhat detached approach to Our Lady.

I want to tell you something that was said to me by a good Christian, who has a great love for Our Lady, though he is no expert in theology. I am going to tell it to you just as he said it, because in its simplicity it is the natural reaction of an untutored mind.

“I needed to talk about this to someone,” he said. “I get terribly upset at some of the things that are going on nowadays. In the preparatory meetings for the present Council and during the Council itself proposals were made to include the ‘theme of the Blessed Virgin.’ Just like that, ‘the theme’! Is that the proper way for children to speak of their mother? Is that the way our fathers professed their faith? Since when has love for the Blessed Virgin become a ‘theme’ to be discussed as to whether or not it is appropriate?

“There is nothing more at odds with love than stinginess. I am not afraid of speaking out clearly,” he continued. “In fact, if I didn’t, I would feel I was insulting our Holy Mother. It has been discussed whether or not it was right to call Mary the Mother of the Church. It hurts me to have to spell this out, but surely, since she is the Mother of God and the Mother of all Christians, she must be the Mother of the Church, which gathers together all those who have been baptized and reborn in Christ, the Son of Mary.”

“I can’t understand,” he went on, “where the pettiness comes from which hesitates at giving that title of praise to Our Lady. How different the faith of the Church is! The ‘theme’ of the Blessed Virgin! Do children discuss the ‘theme’ of love for their mother? They love her, and that’s all there is to it. If they are good children, they will love her a lot. Only strangers approaching the matter with clinical coldness, as if it were a case to be studied, could speak about ‘themes’ or ‘drafts.'” That was how that simple and devout soul put it. A well-intentioned and pious outpouring, although not altogether fair. (33)

This said, what did Saint Josemaría have to say about, and how did he approach, Mary’s role as universal mediatrix?

Mary’s Mediation: God Himself Wants It. A “Minuet”

A particularly attractive aspect of Mary’s role as mediatrix is that it brings out the loving relationship between God and his creatures. It is a kind of dance, a minuet. God takes the initiative. He graciously forgoes his power, putting himself, through the words of St. Gabriel, in Mary’s hands. And Mary in turn, with exquisite humility, returns the compliment to God: “I am your hand maiden. Be it done unto me according to thy word.” Later, at Cana, the dance is renewed. To the servants she says, after having won Jesus over to her will: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). This “dance” can have wonderful healing effects on modern society, where the relations between the sexes are so often portrayed in terms of crude brutality.

One of the reasons adduced for not seeing the timeliness of a definition of Mary’s universal mediation is that the Church only defines doctrines when they are in doubt or when some decisive good can come to the Church by the definition. If it is felt that to speak of Mary’s mediation is simply a further title to be added to the many which she already has, it could be argued that, to define it is unnecessary, especially as it can be expected to provoke the objections of Protestants.

I would now like to address this issue, bearing in mind the mission which St. Josemaría Escrivá was given, to teach the universal call to holiness.

We know that Christ is the one mediator. For him this means, that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (34) When we talk of Mary’s cooperation in his task of mediation, perhaps at times we might be forgetting how committing this mediation is. It is not just a title. To be a mediator requires great sacrifice on Jesus’ part. When we bring Mary into it, we are saying that Jesus is asking her to imitate him, on mankind’s behalf, and to do everything she can to bring about the salvation of mankind. The Church believes that Mary’s response to this request from her Son is one of total conformity: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. The Church sees this mediation not as a privilege, an honor, a “bauble”; but as a task given to Mary by Jesus, which she humbly and obediently carries out. St. Josemaría writes: “But don