Having looked at the Four Marian Dogmas of the Catholic faith, I thought I'd briefly reflect on another belief about Mary which is rather controversial in the dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics: That is, the notion of Mary as "Mediatrix". While this Marian title is not "Dogma" per se, it is, nevertheless, a frequently occurring thought and belief in Catholic writings and devotion, and a source of much misunderstanding regarding Mary for non-Catholics. In fact, it could be argued that this title of Mary, or at least its misunderstood meaning, is perhaps the source of the controversy surrounding Mary between Catholics and non-Catholics. An incorrect understanding of Mary's mediatorial role is the reason why so many accuse the Catholic Church of divinising Mary, of minimising Christ, and of perverting the Gospel.
The Fifth Marian Dogma?
While not a Dogma of the Church, it is still important to reflect on this teaching because it does have great import for our faith as Catholics. Moreover, many feel that it may soon become the fifth Marian Dogma. Others are, in fact, petitioning for that very thing (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was among them during her lifetime). For myself, I think defining the teaching as Dogma would be good, because in so doing, the Church would be handing down the definitive definition of Mary as Mediatrix--the title's proper meaning and the limits of that meaning--in a manner that Catholics can be confident has been given to us free from error. Such a dogmatic definition, then, rather than widening the rift between Catholics and non-Catholics, could rather, in fact, help to repair it by giving concrete expression to an otherwise often misunderstood teaching.
Mary, Our Mother
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraphs 967-970, discuss Mary's mediatorial role in the context of her Motherhood of all the Church. We discussed this Motherhood in the article Mary, Mother of God, stating that we have been adopted through Christ as sons and daughters of God and made a part of the divine family. We have the Father as Our Father, the Son as our Brother, and His Mother for our Mother, which Scripture confirms when Jesus gave Mary into the care of John, the "Beloved Disciple" who stands as a type of all of us (John 19:26-27), and who himself would call Mary the mother of all those "who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17).
...she is our Mother in the order of graceAccording to the Catechism, therefore, we see that Mary's role as "Mediatrix" refers to her willing cooperation in God's plan of Salvation. It was through her that Jesus came to the world as a Man, in order to die for us. In that sense, then, she "mediated" Him to us. As the Catechism continues to say, she functioned in this role from the moment of the Annunciation, through Jesus' birth, all the way to her motherly suffering with Him at the Cross, when the sword of sorrow pierced her heart. Yet it goes on to assure us that Mary didn't leave this role when she was assumed to heaven, but continues to mediate for us through her prayers and intercessions for us.
967 By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity. Thus she is a "preeminent and...wholly unique member of the Church"; indeed, she is the "exemplary realization" (typus) of the Church.
968 Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. "In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace."
969 "This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. 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 titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix."
970 "Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin's salutary influence on men...flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it." "No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source."
It is here that those who do not agree with this doctrine usually bring up 1 Timothy 2:5, which says, "For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and humanity, himself a human being, Christ Jesus." If there is only one mediator, the objection goes, and that mediator is Jesus, then it cannot be Mary. For Catholics to thus invoke Mary as Mediatrix is a direct contradiction with Scripture!
However, in examining the issue, one must clearly keep in mind what the text of 1 Timothy actually says, in context. Starting at verse 1 of chapter 2, we find St. Paul urging all Christians to intercede for the needs of others. Such intercession is precisely what is referred to in the Catechism as Mary's primary mediatorial role. Thus, if we can intercede for each other, how is it then unbiblical for Mary to do so? Secondly, pay close attention to what Jesus' sole mediation refers to: He is the "one mediator between God and humanity." That is, Jesus reconciles us to God. He acts as the go-between for us, in inaugurating the New Covenant in His blood. This is not what the Church claims about Mary--that she mediates between us and God. Rather, in bearing Jesus to us, she mediates to us the Mediator. In praying for us, she brings our needs to that One Mediator. When Jesus listens to her pleas on our behalf and gives His grace to us, "the gifts of eternal salvation", as the Catechism says, they are mediated to us through Mary as a result of her intercession for us. In other words, the graces won for us by Jesus on the Cross flow to us through Mary, who bestows them on us with a Mother's loving touch.
Sharing In, Not Competing With
This is why, in paragraph 970, the Catechism tells us that Mary's mediation in no way obscures the sole mediation of Jesus. Her power and role as mediatrix comes directly from Jesus, as she shares in His divine life--just as the Priest's power and authority are but a sharing in Christ's high priestly ministry. Looking at it from the other direction, just as we are all called to mediate Jesus to the world through our prayers, good works, and testimony of the faith--and this mediation is derived solely from Jesus' salvific work--so Mary is the mediatrix par excellence, performing this task in a more complete and perfect manner than we could. The superiority of her mediatorship is more tangible, too, in the fact that she alone bore Christ and gave Him to us.
Understood in this way, we see, on the one hand, that Mary's mediatorial role is not a lesser sort of the same kind as Christ's--in that she mediates us to God the Father as the bringer of the Covenant. On the other hand, we see that Mary's mediatorial role is, in fact, of the same kind as our own, but far superior, as she literally brought Christ into the world, and continues to bring Christ to the world, and the world to Christ, through her prayers and intercessions.
The Humble Way to Jesus
This is why we as Catholics turn to Mary in our prayers, asking her to intercede for us. Many accuse us of going to Mary instead of to Jesus, objecting to such a course by saying that we have the right to go straight to Him. And this is true, we do indeed have access to the Throne of Grace because of Him, and can indeed boldly enter in. No one denies that, and Catholics often do approach Christ directly, such as at Mass, where we receive Him physically and tangibly in the Eucharist. When she appeared to the children at Fatima, Portugal, Mary herself taught them this prayer, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy." This sums up Mary's role--to lead us to Jesus, to tell us, as she told the servants at Cana, "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).
Yet, the fact remains that "God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). There are times when a humble awareness of who we are, of our sinfulness, would make us realise what a bold act of presumption it would actually be to approach Christ directly. While He has made the way for us, we have not always made ourselves worthy to walk in that way. Thus, it is unarguably more humble to ask others to go to Him on our behalf--and Queen among those others, the one we can be most sure that Jesus will listen to, is Mary, His own Mother and ours, who is always ready to plead our case with Him. There is no competition, for when we go to Mary, she brings us to Jesus. And when we have gone to Jesus, He gives us His Mother to be our own.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Mary, Mother of God.)