The Instrumentality & Sacramentality of the Blessed Virgin Mary

It can be said that from Mary the Church also learns her own motherhood: she recognizes the maternal dimension of her vocation, which is essentially bound to her sacramental nature . . . if the Church is the sign & instrument of intimate union with God, she is so by reason of her motherhood, because, receiving life from the Spirit, she “generates” sons and daughters in the human race to a new life in Christ (Redemptoris Mater, n. 43)

This statement by the Holy Father reflects the Second Vatican Council’s insight (L.G. n. 1) that the Church is, by analogy, in the nature of a sacrament—a sacrament of Christ.

This insight by the Council Fathers with regard to the sacramental nature of the Church provides an insight with regard to the nature of Mary’s maternal mediation that will be the focus and end goal of this article.

The nature of Mary’s mediation has been in the forefront of discussion for some time now. How does Mary exercise her maternal, mediatorial role? This becomes particularly important when she is invoked under the traditional title of “Mediatrix of all Graces.” Is her mediation by intercession alone, or is it more immediate and direct? Does she pray and graces are then “released” if you will (sometimes referred to as a “moral” cause of grace, as in the case of the saints in general), or is it by a direct maternal action? Most will agree that Mary exercises par excellence some true causality in the actual dispensation of graces, but the type of causality (a physical instrumentality, or merely a moral causality) and the manner in which it is exercised is a central question.

While a future solemn definition of Mary’s maternal mediation might not specify the modality, as Trent did not specify the particular causality with regard to the production of grace in the sacraments, this does not mean this issue of causality is not important! It seems to this author that this issue directly impinges on our response to Mary as our true mother. Did Christ’s words from the Cross have merely a symbolic meaning, that Mary has a maternal mission only resembling a mother, or is Mary our mother in the strict sense of the term in the supernatural order, just as our earthly mother is in the natural order? As Pope St. Pius X in Ad diem illum (n. 10) teaches, we truly are children of Mary!

It is important to render Mary’s role effective in the life and perfection of the Church. Mariology has the same pivotal role as the hypostatic union in Christology and must include both a distinction in the order of being and in the order of operation. We must not only know who she is, but what she does. We must understand how she exercises her role—as a “Mother to us in the order of grace”—as Mediatrix, as our spiritual Mother.

What is the causal relationship between Mary and the Redeemer? Mariology will not achieve its full development until this relationship is more clearly understood and developed.

To get there, to shed some light on what causal relationship exists, we will take a slightly different approach: We will use as the starting point the Council Statement that “the Church is a sacrament of Christ.” Can we also say, in a similar way, that Mary is a sacrament of Christ?

It is interesting to note that it was a Protestant theologian, Erwin Reisner, who, in 1951, stated that Our Lady’s role is much the same as that played by “the Church, the sacraments, and even the Incarnation itself.” If this is so—that Mary, like the Church, is a sacrament of Christ—what would the implications of this be? How would this illuminate our understanding of Mary’s maternal vocation with regard to the causal relationship between Mary and the Redeemer?

To support this inquiry, we will lean on St. Thomas, the