One of the most controversial doctrines of the Catholic Church always attacked by ignorant people is the role of Mary in the salvation of mankind. Those who do not know the official position of the Church in relation to devotion to Mary, Mother of God, always think and conclude that Catholics have placed Mary in the same position as Jesus. Others even say that we have substituted Mary for Jesus. They say that we regard Mary as our Saviour and mediator in defiance of the scriptures. Others say we give the role the Holy Spirit is playing in the salvation of mankind to Mary.
Mary's role in the salvation of mankind is a vocation which God gave her from all eternity. Her physical and moral gift of body to Jesus, the Redeemer, constitutes a concrete, real and inner participation in the work of salvation.
Because she gave the body which Jesus used in saving us to the Redeemer she participates in a unique way in redeeming us. The intimacy of the mother and the son in the work of salvation can be seen at the very moment of the virginal conception of Mary because that conception has nothing in view other than the salvation of the world. She can be a co-redeemer in sub-ordination to her son because she provided Jesus body to him.
The work of redemption reached its apex on the Cross, and there as well, Mary was not a passive onlooker. She was actively engaged as if nailed com¬pletely with Jesus. It is as a result of her suffering with her son that the Church calls her “Queen of martyrs”. She was a spiritual martyr. In being a spiritual martyr at the foot of the Cross she contributed to our salvation.
“Mary assumes a unique role in our salvation”, says Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi OP of Ilorin Diocese because, “First, she is our spiritual Mother. Second, she is to be a mediatrix with Jesus as she is a co-redemptrix and third she is to be our advocate for the salvation of the world”. Mary is subordinate to her son in distributing graces for our salvation. She does not take the role of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit was the one respon¬sible for her virginal conception by overshadowing her so also He continues to overshadow her to mediate the graces of Jesus to us. She was instrumental in interceding efficaciously for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Mary is the best instrument of the Holy Spirit for giving graces to mankind because she is the one “full of grace” and who gave herself totally for the redemption of the world. According to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, “the Blessed Virgin Mary … under the guidance of the Holy Spirit made a total dedication of herself for the mystery of redemption of men”.
The Bible, as well as the Tradition of the Church, shows the role of Mary in the plan of salvation. The Old Testament, in the very first book, spoke about her prophetical role in bringing about salvation. She was spoken of in the promise of victory over the serpent.
“I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel” (Proto-Evangelium)
Isaiah 7:14 prophesied of her:
“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, whose name shall be called Emmanuel”.
And Prophet Micah prophesied: 5:2
“But you, (Bethlehem) Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; his origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old”.
“Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet: The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call Him Emmanuel”.
After a long period of waiting, God's plan was materialized in her when she consented to be the mother of the saviour. God did not force divine maternity on her. He sought her assent when the Angel Gabriel was sent to her. This is quite understandable. God wanted her consent to be freely given as the mother of His Son “so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life”. It is through Mary that God gave to the world the author of life that makes all things new and that has come to give us “abundant life” (John 10:10). Because of her role as Mother of God and Mother of the Church God preserved her from all stain of sin from the first instant of her conception. She was given a unique holiness so as to be well equipped for her role in the salvation of mankind. This is the reason why the angel greeted her “Hail full of grace” (Lk 1:28).
After the angel had delivered her message and explained how God would bring about the humanly impossible conception without mating or test-tube fertilization, Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your words” (Lk 1:38). By these words, Mary, the daughter of Adam consenting to the word of God, became the Mother of Jesus, and part and parcel in a secondary role of the redemption of mankind. Since she gave her assent whole heartedly to God's plan for redeeming mankind, she is also an instrument in bringing about salvation to the whole world.
The intercessory role that Mary played during her life time she continues to play today in a pre-eminent way in the Church. There was no time when she was not united with her son's work of salvation right from the moment of her virginal conception till the death, the resurrection and ascension of the Lord.
She participated and associated with her Son's sacrifice on the Cross in her own mother's heart. She lovingly consented to her Son's most painful death on the cross. As our Lord stayed dying on the cross, Mother Mary was interceding for the world. She is still doing that today. “She is present at every Holy Mass”, says Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi OP, “because she never left the foot of the cross”. Before our Lord died He said to John the Evangelist “Behold your mother, and to Mary He said “Woman, behold you Son” (Jn 19:26-27). Theology has interpreted this to mean that Jesus gave Mary to us as our Mother; that John represented us at the foot of the Cross, that is, all who seek to be the beloved disciple of Jesus.
It is Jesus who makes Mary Our Mother. The Church says in the Document of Vatican II on the Church:
This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sus¬tained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment 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 salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her son, who still journey on earth sur¬rounded by dangers and difficulties until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.
All these titles are to be looked upon as being carried out by our Blessed and Most Holy Mother, Virgin and Queen in a subordinate way to her Son Jesus. Jesus is the only one who has the executive power which He commissions to Mary. It should therefore be understood that Mary's role as our Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix does not take away anything nor add anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ as the one Mediator between God and Man.
No one is more concerned than Mary that no single person redeemed in the blood of Christ should be lost and God listens to the most humble intercession of the Virgin Mary. In the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena we read about the salvation of a soul which merited nothing but condemnation. Almighty God said that He saved that particular soul because of his devotion to Mary His only Begotten Son's most gentle mother.
For I have not forgotten the reverence and love he had for Mary my only Begotten Son's most gentle mother. For my goodness in deference to the word, has decreed that anyone at all, just or sinner, who holds her in due reverence will never be matched or devoured by the infernal demon. She is like a bait set out by my goodness to catch my creatures.
When we speak of the merit of the Blessed Virgin Mary we should understand this in connection with the redeeming work of her Son. As far as the merit for our salvation is concerned in the fullest and fundamental sense of the term only Jesus merited for us in strict justice all that is necessary for our salvation. St. Thomas is quoted to have said: “Properly speaking, the office of a mediator is to join together those between whom he mediates, for extremes are united by an intermediary. Now to unite men to God perfectly belongs to Christ, through whom men are reconciled to God according to 2 Cor. 5:19. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and consequently, Christ alone is the perfect Mediator of God and men, inasmuch as, by His death, He reconciled the human race to God. Hence the Apostle, after saying 'Mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus' added: 'Who gave Himself a redemption for all'. However, nothing hinders others from being called mediators, in some respect between God and man, for-as-much as they co¬operate in uniting men to God, dispositively or ministerially”.
Jesus is the unique Mediator between God and man but there is nothing to prevent others from being mediators below Christ, and subordinate to Him as secondary mediators such as were the prophets, the priests of Old Law for the chosen people. We cannot even compare the mediation of Mary with the prophets and priests of the Old Dispensation, because Mary is not for the Jews alone. Rather, she is the universal mediatrix for all races and colours. St. Albert speaks of the mediation of Mary as superior to that of the Prophets when he says; 'Mary was chosen by the Lord, not as a minister but to be associated in a very special and quite intimate manner in the work of redemption of the human race'.
Mary shows mercy to her children by extending to us the mercy of Jesus Christ. Tradition has upheld the universal mediating role of Mary. She mediates for us but in a manner sub-ordinate to Christ.
As Mary offered the sacrifice of the Cross with Jesus Christ for us, she merits for us by making reparation in an ascending order. This is her ascending mediation. Her descending mediation consists in obtaining for us graces from Christ its source, and distributing them to us as the mother of divine grace.
The Church does not mince words in calling Mary the dispenser of God's grace and it is only in doing this that she fulfils her role as Mother of all races, nations, and languages, Mother of the entire universe.
Pope Pius IX said:
“God has committed to her the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace and all salvation. For this is his will, that we obtain everything through Mary”.
In the same vein Pope Leo XIII said:
“The recourse we have to Mary in prayer follows upon the office she continually fills by the side of the throne of God as Mediatrix of divine grace”.
In any miracle witnessed, in any prayer answered, in any intercession granted, the heart of Mary is always involved because God grants all prayers by her intercession through Christ our Lord.
Pius X said:
“It is by means of her, of her who is the mirror of justice and the seat of wisdom that Almighty God ordained that we should receive everything”.
Ten years later Pope Benedict XV said:
If in every miracle we must recognise the mediation of Mary by means of whom according to the divine will all graces and favours come to us, no one can deny that in one of the mir¬acles approved by us this mediation of the Blessed Virgin has been manifested in a very special manner. Mary is all powerful with her divine Son who grants all graces to mankind through her.
We are not saying that Mary is the maker of grace, it is only God who can cause and make grace but in His divine concession, He gives grace to us through Mary. Pius XI confirmed this when He said:
God alone gives grace according to the measure which in His infinite wisdom He foresees, but though that grace comes from God, it is given through Mary, our advocate and mediatrix, since motherly affection on the one hand finds response in filial devotion on the other. Mary is the mediatrix and the dispenser of graces; she gave us Jesus, himself the source of graces.
It is our Catholic belief that God is the source of graces that Jesus wins for us in His blood and it is the will of God that these graces should come to us through Mary! Why? That is how God wills it. Since Jesus Christ who is the original grace of God was given to us through Mary, is there anything illogical if all other graces come to us through Her? In an encyclical on the Rosary, Leo XII said: According to the will of God, nothing is granted to us except through Mary, and as no one can go to the Father except through the Son, so generally no one can draw near to Christ except through Mary”.
Our Blessed Mother Mary has been given to us as hope for all and sundry. When we call her our hope we do not mean that she has become our God. Many take exception to this title on the ground that God alone is our hope. They even quote the Bible to buttress their argument: “Cursed be the man that puts his trust in man” (Jeremiah 17:5). They say Mary is a creature, and how can a creature be our hope? Despite this objection, the Church maintains the titles: 'Our Hope' and 'Hope for all'.
St. Thomas Aquinas says: “there are two ways of placing our hope in a person: as a principal cause and as a mediate one. Those who hope for favour from a king expect it from him as a Lord, they hope for it from his minister or favourite as an intercessor. If the favour is granted it comes primarily from him but it comes through the intermediary of his favourite, and in this cause the beneficiary of the favour is right to call his intercessor his hope. Almighty Jesus and most beneficent King desires in his gratuitous giving to endow us with his graces and because He doesn't want us to be fearful of Him, He restores our confidence by giving us His Mother to be our Mother and Advocate and to her He has given all power to help us, and it is His will that we should not lose our hope of salvation when we repose our confidence in Mary. In fact He wants us to receive every blessing from Him. We repose our hope in Mary not independent of God. Those that place their hope in creatures independent of God's power are those cursed by the word of God. We repose our hope in Mary because she is the Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth”. And consequently since she is closest to God more than any creature we believe that we shall obtain through her intercession whatever we may not obtain through our own unaided prayers”.
In a vision the Blessed Virgin Mother revealed to St. Bridget “that there is no sinner in the world, however much he may be at enmity with God who does not return to Him and recover His grace, if he has recourse to her and asks her assistance”. The same saint heard Jesus say of His Mother one day “that she would be ready to obtain the grace of God for Lucifer himself if only he humbled himself so far as to seek her aid”. Would Lucifer do that? Never! If he would do that the all compassionate mother would be ready to come to his aid.