The Case for Defining Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood

Updated: May 30, 2020

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.