Almost one hundred years ago, the prominent Belgian prelate Cardinal Desire Mercier began an international petition drive for the papal definition of Our Lady as the Universal Mediatrix of all graces. By 1918, the renowned pioneer of both Marian and ecumenical realms had collected over 300 cardinal and bishop petitions directed to the reigning pontiff, Pope Benedict XV, for this requested fifth Marian Dogma. By the early 1920’s, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe and his nascent “Militia Immaculatae” (“Army of the Immaculate”) joined in the movement to proclaim the Mother of Jesus as the Spiritual Mother of all peoples.
What inspired Mercier and St. Maximilian to initiate a global call of support to the Holy Father to make an infallible statement regarding Mary’s relationship with you and me?
Grace and Precedence.
Of the four existing Marian dogmas, Mary’s Motherhood of God, her Perpetual Virginity, her Immaculate Conception, and her Assumption, the last two dogmas have been solemnly proclaimed only after a lengthy petition drive from the People of God to the Roman Pontiff.
Before the papal definition of the Immaculate Conception by Bl. Pius IX in 1854, millions of petitions from the Catholic world came into the Vatican, with particular perseverance coming from Spain and its Catholic government. In the case of the Assumption, infallibly declared by Pius XII in 1950, over 8 million petitions spanning 95 years were documented by the Holy Office in support of this Marian dogmatic crown.
Petition drives for Marian dogmas are simply Catholic precedence. It’s not a democratic power play seeking to force the Pope’s hand. It is rather a manifestation of the sensus fidelium (the “common consensus of the faithful”) in encouraging the Holy Father to a particular course of action which the faithful discern to be for the good of the Church. An authentic Catholic petition drive must always be founded and sustained on two pillars: 1) the request is something that conforms to the faith and morals teachings of the Church; 2) that the object of petition be submitted with an unconditional obedience to the ultimate discernment and decision of the Vicar of Christ.
On December 1, 1950, an international association of mariologists gathered in Rome to petition Pius XII for the solemn definition of Mary’s universal mediation, and this just one month after he declared the dogma of the Assumption. Why did they ask for so much more so soon?
Their reasoning was simple: now that the four earthly perogatives of Mary have been solemnly defined as dogmas, the last remaining Marian doctrine, her relationship as our spiritual mother from heaven, should also be defined as a dogma. In a certain sense, the existing four dogmas which articulate her relationship with Jesus and her special personal gifts lose some of their immediate relevance for us if she is not also our spiritual mother.
How precisely is Mary our Spiritual Mother? In three ways.
First, Mary uniquely shared in the work of Jesus to redeem the human family, both by giving Jesus his body, the very instrument of Redemption (cf. Lk. 1:38; Heb. 10:10), and by suffering with Him at Calvary in a way unparalleled by another other creature (cf. Jn. 19:25-27). For this extraordinary role with Jesus in saving souls, Mary has been called the “Co-redemptrix” in the Church since the 14th century. Fear not—“co” means “with” not “equal.” Mary’s not a goddess on a level or equality with Jesus. She is the unique immaculate human co-redeemer with Jesus, just as every Christian is called to be a “co-redeemer in Christ,” to use the expression of Bl. John Paul II.
Secondly, Mary nurtures us in the order of grace by distributing the graces obtained at Calvary to the human family through her role as the Mediatrix of all graces. The papal Magisterium of the last two centuries has consistently taught this Marian role, and Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus published this same title on the day he announced his resignation (Feb. 11, 2013). The Wedding of Cana (Jn. 2:5) reveals to us what the Second Vatican Council teaches us: that the Mother of Jesus “intercedes for the gifts of eternal life” (LG 62).
Thirdly, Mary, as Spiritual Mother, pleads for us before the throne of Christ the King as our Advocate. Her most ancient title (from the second century), Our Lady’s role as Advocate simply confirms that this Mother intercedes for our wants and needs with a maternal perseverance and power beyond that of any of the other saints.
By why a dogma? If Mary’s role as our Spiritual Mother is already a doctrine of the Catholic Church, what’s the benefit of a papal definition of the same truth?
Because history verifies that with every Marian dogma declared, historic graces have been poured forth upon the Church.
Take, for example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The historic situation of the papacy and the Church during the time immediately preceding this Marian definition was bleak. Pope Pius IX had been chased out of the Vatican by Masonic forces from the South. While in exile in Gaeta, two cardinals approached the beleaguered Holy Father with the remedy to this dire situation: proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Bring Our Lady’s powerful intercession into this situation, and the papacy and the Church will be fully restored. Acquiescing to their request, Pius IX from exile, wrote to the world’s bishops, stating his intention to proclaim this new Marian Dogma.
The result? The dogma was proclaimed. The papacy was restored. The Vatican and Church secured. Ultimately, this Marian dogma led to the later declaration of Papal infallibility, which then cemented the unity and vitality of the Church under the authority of Jesus’ Vicar on earth.
When Marian dogmas happen, graces happen.
Could we—our contemporary Church and world situation—not benefit from a historic outpouring of grace right now?
Since Mary’s motherly titles are also her motherly functions of grace for the Church, the more solemnly we acknowledge these motherly roles, the more powerfully she can exercise these motherly roles. When these roles are infallibly proclaimed by the Petrine keeper of the keys as the highest authority on the planet, this proclamation will lead to the fullest possible release of heavenly graces by the Mediatrix of all graces.
Pope Francis has been on a blessed tirade of Marian teaching and witness. Starting with his very first papal act of going to St. Mary Major’s Basilica to thank and honor Our Lady; to his request to have his papacy consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima on May 13; to his return visit to St. Mary Major’s Basilica on May 4, where Pope Francis prayed the Rosary and presented a lengthy and inspiring homily on our very subject: Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood.
During this month of May 2013, an international letter writing campaign to Pope Francis for the solemn definition of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood is happening on all the continents of the world. Cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, and laity are writing to this extremely Marian pope in support of Pope Francis to proclaim this fifth Marian Dogma.
If you feel called to join in with Catholic faithful the world over in writing a brief, respectful few lines to our beloved Holy Father in support of Pope Francis to proclaim this fifth Marian Dogma, you can easily do so by mailing your note to: Pope Francis, Vatican City, 00120 (3 postage stamps gets your letter from the US to the Vatican).
The precedence is clear: with Marian dogmas come historic graces.
Our ecclesial and global situation is clear: we need historic graces from above to remedy the unprecedented challenges facing both the Church and in the world today—graces which call for the most powerful intercession possible by the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all peoples.
Prayerfully consider participating by your prayers and your own personal letter to Pope Francis to contribute in bringing about this fifth Marian definition of Our Lady’s Spiritual Motherhood, and thus to bring to full completion Mary’s own scriptural self-prophecy:“ All generations shall call me blessed” (Lk.1:48).
Dr. Mark Miravalle
Professor Theology and Mariology
Franciscan University of Steubenville