As we bring the month of May, Mary’s month, to a close, I thought I would honor her here while also replying to a question I received about her role as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix.
Many misunderstand this role, of course. The Scriptures are clear that “there is but one Mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ.” And certainly the Catholic Church affirms this. But often Protestants, in their polemical haste, will rashly try to oppose ideas which really involve no contradiction. For example, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, yet He also speaks of Peter in this sense; similarly, Christ is the only Savior and only God can forgive sins, yet St. James says in his epistle that Christians who convert a sinner “shall save his soul from death and shall cover over a multitude of sins” (‘cover over’ being an Hebrew way of saying ‘forgive’ – cf. Ps. 31:1; 84; 3). The Apostles are also given the explicit power to forgive sins, but nobody would confuse this with God’s prerogatives.
Even so, with the Redemption and Christ’s Mediation, there is nothing contradictory in saying that there are other, mediating roles which God allows men to fulfill by His grace – priests, the saints, etc. “Intercede” is practically a synonym of “mediate,” and certainly we pray and intercede for each other. So, while our Lord fulfills the role of Mediator in many capacities for us, the way in which He is the sole, natural Mediator by right between God and man, is related to His Incarnation and the theandric (“divine-human”) acts consequent thereto, first and foremost the Redemption.
The Fathers speak of how our Lord’s fasting in the wilderness opposed the temptation and fall of our first parents; they speak of how He offered worship and obedience to God in the flesh, above the natural man’s ability to offer; they speak of how He, by condescending to be made of our mud, raised our nature up with Him to the heights of God’s own throne; as God and Man, he bore God’s decree against man. Christ’s role as Mediator and Redeemer is founded upon His role as the one who could reconcile man to God, being Himself both God and Man.
By grace, He shares this dignity with Christians – even to the point of allowing them to participate in some sense in His Passion, which is central to man’s Redemption, by grace. There are many statements to this effect in the Scriptures, speaking of the union of the Christian with Christ as a member of His Body, and hence a sharer in His life, death and Resurrection: i.e., “all ye who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” and “I fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church,” and “now I live, not I, but Christ liveth in me,” and “I hope that I may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God, justice in faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead. Not as though I has already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if I may by any means apprehend, wherein I am also apprehended by Christ Jesus.”
An immense privilege, if one ponders it for a moment, and one that should encourage us to put away sin completely and give ourselves as living holocausts to our Redeemer. The theme is clear: the Christian is a “little Christ” and is in some sense a partaker of Christ’s theandric acts, of His sufferings, of His victories, of His justice, by grace. In this sense, Christ is the sole Mediator as the only God-Man by nature; yet He lends to His members a kind of participation and compassion with Him in this role by grace, through the adoption of the Holy Ghost.
But a moment’s reflection will reveal that one member of the Church has a singular and unparalleled share in this. Whereas all other Christians receive everything of their participation in Christ, the Virgin alone made an indispensable contribution of her own self to Christ. She contributed her own flesh to her Son in His Incarnation, and thus all of His theandric acts, are done in the flesh he received from Mary; she is present to us in all of them. The flesh baptized in the Jordan, is the flesh taken entirely from Mary; as we emerge from the font and “put on Christ,” His mother becomes ours; the flesh that suffered on the Cross, that rose from the sepulcher, that even now sits glorified in the heavenlies at the Father’s right hand, is the integral flesh taken from the Virgin.
Hence, the Virgin’s participatory role in the theandric acts of her Son is obviously of a singular and proactive quality, far in excess of any other Christian’s merely received participation. Though all Christians, as “little Christs,” can truly be said to participate with Christ in offering their sufferings up with Him for a redemptive purpose (but only secondarily and by the participation given them from Christ), the Virgin’s unique role in this makes her to be the Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix par excellence.
Moreover, as St. Alphonsus Liguori and many others point out, Mary received a further role as Mediatrix. Though in the order of things we can say that all graces have come to us through the Blessed Virgin, since all graces have come to us in Christ, it is also understood that the Virgin was granted the unique privilege of being the one, for whose sake all graces are always given – such that no grace passes to men but it passes through her hands, first. This is a great mystery bound up in the foreknowledge of God, and I won’t speak much about it, largely because it is beyond me. There is a passage in Proverbs, which the Fathers have always taken to refer both to our Lord and our Lady, to Wisdom and the Seat of Wisdom, one by nature the other by analogy and by grace:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth:
He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times, playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. – Proverbs 8:22-31
“The Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the universe,” is slain only in the flesh taken from the Virgin. The Virgin is inseparable from this mystery of Christ, slain before the beginning. She is foreseen and is, in a certain sense, the especially studied and most perfect work of God, for whose sake alone the Redemption would have been fitting, and intended by God. All the graces intended by God through this Lamb, slain from the beginning, are not intended apart from the Virgin’s consent and direct participation, nor apart from the favour and the great delight He took in her. Thus, while our Lady is the Mediatrix in the natural order, since through her came Christ, the source of all graces, it is also the case that God has chosen to give all actual graces through her mediation and for her sake in a secondary sense.
Indeed, when I hear Protestants argue that “full of grace” is better translated “highly favored one,” in St. Gabriel’s words to our Lady, I can’t help but think that they are missing the point. Those who understand the authentic teaching on Predestination, and the scriptural teaching that mortal men have no merits of their own, but are debtors always to the grace of God for whatever is good in them, will understand that to have God’s favor is the same thing as to have the gifts of God’s grace. What does God favor in us, if not the operation of His own grace? There is a reason the New Testament uses the same word for both! As St. Augustine says: “If, then, your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as yours, but as His own gifts.” (Augustine, On Grace and Free Will 6. 15).
So, then, if our Lady is “highly favored” with God, to the point of being the chosen matrix of the Incarnation, bringing forth the Source of all graces and the Paradigm of all beauty, glory and perfection, what else can this mean, but that our Lady is truly “full of grace?” That in her, He placed the utmost possible plenitude of Himself and of His favour and election, even to the point of abiding in her and being flesh of her flesh? “Full of grace” indeed! Hail holy Virgin, “that ravyshedest doun fro the Deitee the Holy Ghost that in th’alighte!” Here is the paradigm of a man’s pure love for woman.
And one can find a more detailed explanation of all this in St. Alphonse’ Glories of Mary. None of this is to say that she is a God-Woman or a Redemptrix in her own right – God forbid! This is to stress that her role is not merely of the same kind as that of other Christians, albeit to a superior degree; rather, hers is a truly unique role. No man comes to the Father but by Christ; but Christ comes to men only by His mother. As nothing comes to the body from the head without passing through the neck, even so our lady has been chosen to occupy the highest place after God. May she save us by her prayers and by the mighty power which she has from her Son so dear; and may He, the Heaven-King, bring us all to bliss. Amen!