The term, “Mediatrix,” can refer either to the general category of Mary’s Maternal Mediation with Christ the one Mediator (as already discussed) or to her specific role in the distribution of the graces acquired by Jesus, the New Adam, and secondarily by Mary, the New Eve, at Calvary. Here we will look at the latter doctrine of Mary as the dispenser or Mediatrix of all graces of human redemption.
Mary’s role as dispenser or Mediatrix of the graces of the Redemption follows appropriately from her role as Co-redemptrix. It is important to see that Our Lady dispenses the graces of Jesus because of her special participation in acquiring the graces of Redemption with and under her divine Son.
Mary uniquely participated in the acquisition of the graces of Redemption by Jesus Christ (objective redemption) and, therefore, the Mother of Jesus, above all creatures, fittingly participates in the distributionof these graces of Redemption to the human family (theologically called subjective redemption). By distributing sanctifying grace, Mary is able to fulfill her role as Spiritual Mother, since she spiritually nourishes the faithful of Christ’s body in the order of grace. Mary’s God-given ability to distribute the graces of Redemption by her intercession is an essential element and full flowering of her role as Spiritual Mother. For true motherhood goes beyond the birthing of children to include their nourishing, growth, and proper formation.
The New Testament reveals Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces for us. With the Virgin’s free and active cooperation in the Incarnation (cf. Lk 1:28-38), she mediates to us Jesus Christ, who is himself the Source and the Author of all sanctifying grace. At the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, two events of grace take place because Mary physically mediates the presence of the unborn Christ to Elizabeth and the unborn John: Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s greeting, and the unborn Baptist is sanctified in the womb (cf. Lk 1:41). (1)
The Wedding of Cana is an obvious and explicit scriptural revelation of the role of Mary as the Mediatrix of grace. Mary’s personal mediation to Jesus on behalf of the wedding couple, “They have no wine…do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:3-5), directly leads to an extraordinary release of grace: Jesus’ first public miracle and the beginning of the public ministry of the Christ, a ministry that will end in Calvary and the acquisition of all redemptive graces.
In his commentary on the Wedding of Cana (Jn 2), John Paul explained Mary’s actions as Mediatrix in uniting humanity with her Son:
Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs, and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she “has the right” to do so…. The Mother of Christ presents herself as the spokeswoman of her Son’s will, pointing out those things which must be done so that the salvific power of the Messiah may be manifested. (2)
On Calvary, Mary is given as the Spiritual Mother to all “beloved disciples,” represented by John, and to all humanity. As John Paul II explained, “Mediatrix” is implicit in the title Mother:
We recall that Mary’s mediation is essentially defined by her divine motherhood. Recognition of her role as mediatrix is moreover implicit in the expression “our Mother,” which presents the doctrine of Marian mediation by putting the accent on her motherhood. Lastly, the title “Mother in the order of grace” explains that the Blessed Virgin co-operates with Christ in humanity’s spiritual rebirth. (3)
Intrinsic to her role as Spiritual Mother is her function as Mediatrix of graces, in which she nurtures and nourishes her spiritual children in the order of grace.
This role of Mary as “Mediatrix,” or secondary and subordinate mediator with Jesus, also has a strong foundation in the apostolic tradition as manifested, for example, in this fourth century profession by St. Ephraem (d.373): “After the Mediator, you (Mary) are the Mediatrix of the whole world.” (4)
In sum, the Mother of Jesus mediates all the graces of Jesus to the human family in two regards. First, Mary mediated all graces to humanity by giving birth to Jesus and by bringing the source and author of all graces to the world (theologically referred to as remote mediation). Secondly, Mary mediates all graces by distributing the graces merited on Calvary to the human family by her intercession (theologically called proximate or immediate mediation).
Notice the divine consistency in Mary’s role in the order of grace as designated by God’s perfect will. First of all, Mary is conceived in sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence by a unique act of God’s will. Then Mary gives birth to the source of all graces in Jesus Christ. With this birth of the Head of Grace, she also gives spiritual birth to the Body mystically united with the Head in grace. Furthermore, she participates with her Son in meriting the grace that redeems the world on Calvary. Finally, from Heaven, Mary distributes the graces of the Redemption to grant to each open heart of the human family the saving supernatural life of Our Lord. As Vatican II ascribes to her, Mary is truly “a Mother to us in the order of grace.” (5)
When the Church says that the Mother of Jesus is Mediatrix of all graces, she means that all the graces of Redemption granted by God to fallen humanity reach us through the intercession of Mary. To receive all graces through Mary is simply to continue the perfect plan of God which began with his gift of Jesus Christ, the source of all graces, who likewise came to us through Mary. The Mother of Jesus, subordinate and perfectly conformed to the will of her Son, distributes the graces of Redemption to the human family at least by her willed intercession (theologically referred to as a secondary moral cause).
Does this mean that the graces of Jesus will not be distributed unless we pray directly to the Blessed Virgin? No. It does, however, express the truth that whether we call directly upon the name of Mary or not, we nonetheless receive all graces through her actual and personally willed intercession.
This is analogous to the authentic Catholic understanding of Baptism “of desire” (Catechism of Trent). A person who is not Christian can attain eternal life under specific conditions of charity and contrition through Jesus, the one Redeemer and Mediator to the Father, without actually knowing during his earthly life that it is through the mediation of Jesus. In a similar way, all who receive the graces of Jesus Christ do so through Mary, even if they lack knowledge of the Blessed Virgin’s intercession (the difference between knowledge and causality).
At the same time, we must remember how pleasing it is to God when the human family does affirm his manifest will by directly invoking his appointed distributor of graces by name. It is our human way of saying yes to God’s order of things, which includes Mary as the distributor of graces.
Papal Teaching on Mediatrix of All Graces
The unanimous voices of the popes of the last two centuries on this pivotal Marian doctrine of Mediatrix of all graces manifest nothing short of incontestable consistency and certainty regarding the truth of this doctrine. As we consider some of the more important papal pronouncements and explanations on this doctrine, note particularly the consistent papal teaching that this Marian role includes the mediation of each and every grace of Redemption.
• Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) referred to Mary as the “Dispensatrix of all graces.” (6)
• Bl. Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), the Marian pope who defined Mary’s Immaculate Conception, wrote: “…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.” (7)
• Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) frequently referred to Mary’s role as “Dispenser of all heavenly graces” and boldly professed these words about Mary’s role as Mediatrix of all graces:
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 earliest believers. It was also the belief and teachings 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 divine faith. (8)
This papal instruction of Leo XIII not only articulated the truth that all graces of God come to us through Mary, but also that this belief has been the universal belief of the Church from the apostolic days to our present day. This reality, he said, can only be explained through God’s revelation in “divine faith.”
• Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914) continued the papal consistency by calling Mary “the dispenser of all gifts,” and he discusses theologically how Jesus is the source of all graces, and Mary is the channel of all graces:
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” and consequently, the Dispensatrix of all 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.” (9)
• Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) strongly encouraged the spread of the liturgical celebration of the Mediatrix of all graces doctrine by granting the special liturgical feast of “Mediatrix of all graces” to any bishop who desired to celebrate it in his diocese. (10) Benedict XV also continued the unbroken papal consensus on the Marian doctrine in various papal statements. In one statement, after affirming that Mary redeemed the world together with Christ, he immediately added: “It is for this reason that all the graces contained in the treasury of the Redemption are given to us through the hands of the same sorrowful Virgin.” (11)
During part of the canonization process of St. Joan of Arc in 1926 (referring to a miracle through the intercession of Joan of Arc that took place at Lourdes), Benedict XV explained that the favors received through the intercession of the saints also come through the mediation of Mary:
If in every miracle we must recognize the mediation of Mary, through whom, according to God’s will, every grace and blessing comes to us, it must be admitted that in the case of one of these miracles (referring to Joan of Arc) the mediation of the Blessed Virgin manifested itself in a very special way. We believe that God so disposed the matter in order to remind the faithful that the remembrance of Mary must never be excluded, even when it may seem that a miracle is to be attributed to the intercession or the mediation of one of the blessed or one of the saints. (12)
• Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) several times continued the papal uniformity by making such statements about Mary as: “We have nothing more at heart than to promote more and more the piety of the Christian people toward the Virgin treasurer of all graces at the side of God” (13) and also: “Confiding in her intercession with Jesus, the one Mediator of God and man (1 Tim 2:5), who wished to associate his own Mother with himself as the advocate of sinners, as the dispenser and mediatrix of graces…” (14)
• Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), continued the papal unanimity: “So great was his (St. Bernard’s) confidence in her most powerful intercession, that he did not hesitate to write: ‘It is the will of God that we should have nothing which has not passed through the hands of Mary'” (15) and also: “She teaches us all virtues; she gives us her Son and with him all the help we need, for ‘God wished us to have everything through Mary.'” (16)
• The Second Vatican Council, once again, (under the pontificates of Bl. John XXIII and Paul VI) referred to the Mother of God’s authentic title as “Mediatrix” and her role as intercessor of the graces for eternal salvation: “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…. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the title…Mediatrix.” (17)
Pope John Paul II has referred to Our Lady as the “Mediatrix of all graces” on at least six different occasions during his pontificate, (18) for example, on the occasion of a visit to the shrine dedicated to Our Lady in Benevento, Italy, on July 2, 1990, he made this reflection:
With loving intuition from ancient times you have been able to grasp the mystery of Mary, as Mediatrix of all graces, because she is the Mother of the very Author of Grace, Jesus Christ. That is why the people of Benevento throughout the ages have turned and continue to turn to her, invoking her not only as “Our Lady of Graces,” but often also as “Our Lady of Grace.” (19)
Pope John Paul II used the title, “Mediatrix of Mercy” in reference to the Blessed Virgin at the second coming of her Son:
She also has that specifically maternal role of mediatrix of mercy at his final coming, when all those who belong to Christ “shall be made alive,” when “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). (20)
What is the importance of this survey of two centuries of papal statements on the doctrine of Mediatrix of all graces? It is precisely the conformity and the unanimity of the popes of over the last two hundred years that brings clarity of this role as an official doctrine of the Catholic Church. The pontiffs of the last two centuries, both in the official Church documents and in papal addresses, have assertively taught this Marian truth with a continuity and specificity that, as Pope Leo XIII said referring to its universal acceptance since apostolic times, seems to be explainable by “no other reason…than divine faith.”
Theological Conclusions on Mediatrix
Although this Marian doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces is not yet formally defined, its unquestionable presence in the papal teachings of the ordinary Magisterium bear several significant theological conclusions as have been previously formulated by some of the twentieth century’s most respected Mariologists. (21)
First, the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces, along with its prior foundational and sustaining role of Co-redemptrix, should be received by the Christian faithful with a “loyal submission of the will and intellect,” which “must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra” (Lumen Gentium, No. 25). By its consistent place in the teachings of the ordinary Magisterium, the Marian doctrines of Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces call believers to a religious assent of mind and heart to the manifest mind of the popes.
Secondly, in light of the fact that the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces has been universally taught in the Church by popes of the last two hundred years and by the bishops in union with them (the ordinary Magisterium), and in virtue of this universal teaching of the Church, it has been the opinion of certain modern Mariologists that the doctrine of Mediatrix of all graces already possesses the nature of a defined doctrine of faith (theologically, this can be referred to as de fide divina ex ordinario magisterio). (22) In short, the Marian roles of Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces represent essential Catholic teaching through the order of the ordinary Magisterium. This charism of the universal teaching authority of all bishops who, when in union with the pope, can exercise the ecclesial element of infallibility, is discussed in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, No. 25).
Models of Mary as Mediatrix
There are also several different, though complementary, models and concepts of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces.
St. Maximilian Kolbe saw Mary’s profoundly intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit, her Divine Spouse, as central to her role as Mediatrix. When the Holy Spirit, the “Uncreated Immaculate Conception of God,” as Kolbe refers to him, works to sanctify the world, he does so in profound union with and through Mary, the human and created Immaculate Conception. God’s grace, therefore, flows from the Father, through the Son in the Holy Spirit and through the intercession of Mary. (23)
In terms of a more ecclesial (or church) model, St. Ambrose and Vatican II stressed the Blessed Virgin’s image as “Model of the Church.” (24) One could say that since all the graces of Redemption are obtained and distributed through the Church, and Mary is the perfect model of the Church, then Mary likewise would appropriately be Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of graces par excellence as pre-eminent image of the Church.
Other prominent Mariologists (25) have proposed the position of Mary being called a secondary “instrumental” (or physical) cause in the distribution of graces. This position would hold that after Jesus, Mary not only willed the distribution of grace by her intercession, but also had a direct instrumental cause on the distribution of grace based on a true jurisdiction over graces granted her by God.
The expression “moral cause,” refers to an influence of an agent over the free will of another, for example, Mary’s intercessory prayer moves Jesus to grant the gift of grace. This is more of a condition than a direct cause in the strict sense, because it is Mary’s willed intercession that indirectly leads to Jesus conferring grace, but Mary does not directly cause the release of grace. An instrumental (or physical) cause is one which has a real direct and immediate (proximate) influence on the effect. The word “physical” is not used in the sense of a material or corporeal effect, but rather as a direct and efficient cause on the effect in question. This leads us to the question, does Jesus grant every grace of the Redemption for the sake of Mary, in light of her intercessory prayers and her merits (moral cause); or is Mary a direct proximate cause of the distribution of the graces of Redemption, based on a certain jurisdiction of graces granted her by her divine Son?