A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The sources of the interior life and its end (cont)


Ch 6: The Influence of Mary Mediatrix

When the bases of the interior life are considered, we cannot discuss the action of Christ, the universal Mediator, on His mystical body without also speaking of the influence of Mary Mediatrix. As we remarked, many persons delude themselves, maintaining that they reach union with God without having continual recourse to our Lord, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Another error would consist in wishing to go to our Lord without going first to Mary, whom the Church calls in a special feast the Mediatrix of all graces. Protestants have fallen into this last error. Without going as far as this deviation, there are Catholics who do not see clearly enough the necessity of having recourse to Mary that they may attain to intimacy with the Savior. Blessed Grignion de Montfort speaks even of "doctors who know the Mother of God only in a speculative, dry, sterile, and indifferent manner; who fear that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is abused, and that injury is done to our Lord by honoring too greatly His holy Mother. If they speak of devotion to Mary, it is less to recommend it than to destroy the abuses that have grown up around it." (1) They seem to believe that Mary is a hindrance to reaching divine union. According to Blessed Grignion, we lack humility if we neglect the mediators whom God has given us because of our frailty. Intimacy with our Lord in prayer will be greatly facilitated by a true and profound devotion to Mary.

To get a clear idea of this devotion, we shall consider what must be understood by universal mediation, and also how Mary is the mediatrix of all graces, as is affirmed by tradition and by the Office and Mass of Mary Mediatrix which are celebrated on May 31. Much has been written on the subject in recent years. We shall here consider this doctrine in its relation to the interior life.(2)


St. Thomas says: "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 II 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 certain others from being called mediators, in some respect, between God and man, forasmuch as they cooperate in uniting men to God, dispositive or ministerially."(3) In this sense, adds St. Thomas,(4) the prophets and priests of the Old Testament may be called mediators, and also the priests of the New Testament, as ministers of the true Mediator.

St. Thomas explains further how Christ as man is the Mediator: "Because, as man, He is distant both from God by nature, and from man by dignity of both grace and glory. Again, it belongs to Him, as man, to unite men to God, by communicating to men both precepts and gifts, and by offering satisfaction and prayers to God for men." (5) Christ satisfied and merited as man by a satisfaction and a merit which drew an infinite value from His divine personality. This mediation is twofold, both descending and ascending. It consists in giving to men the light and grace of God, and in offering to God, on behalf of men, the worship and reparation due to Him.

As has been said, there is nothing to prevent there being mediators below Christ, subordinated to Him as secondary mediators, such as were the prophets and priests of the Old Law for the chosen people. It may thus be asked whether Mary is the universal mediatrix for all men and for the distribution of all graces in general and in particular. St. Albert the Great 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 the redemption of the human race: 'Faciamus ei adjutorium simile sibi.' " (6)

Is not Mary in her quality as Mother of God completely designated to be the universal mediatrix? Is she not truly the intermediary between God and men? She is, indeed, much below God and Christ because she is a creature, but much above all men by the grace of her divine maternity, "which makes her attain the very frontiers of the divinity," (7) and by the plenitude of grace received at the moment of her immaculate conception; a plentitude which did not cease to grow until her death. Not only was Mary thus designated by her divine maternity for this function of mediatrix, but she received it in truth and exercised it. This is shown by tradition,(8) which has given her the title of universal mediatrix in the proper sense of the word,(9) although in a manner subordinated to Christ. This title is consecrated by the special feast which is celebrated in the universal Church. To have a clear understanding of the meaning and import of this title, we shall consider how it is becoming to Mary for two principal reasons: because she cooperated by satisfaction and merit in the sacrifice of the cross; and because she does not cease to intercede for us, to obtain for us, and to distribute to us all the graces that we receive. Such is the double mediation, ascending and descending, which we ought to ponder in order daily to draw greater profit from it.


During the entire course of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin cooperated in the sacrifice of her Son. First of all, the free consent that she gave on Annunciation day was necessary for the accomplishment of the mystery of the Incarnation, as if, says St. Thomas, (10) God had waited for the consent of humanity through the voice of Mary. By this free fiat, she cooperated in the sacrifice of the cross, since she gave us its Priest and Victim. She cooperated in it also by offering her Son in the Temple, as a most pure host, at the moment when the aged Simeon saw by prophetic light that this Child was the "salvation. . . prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel" (11) More enlightened than Simeon, Mary offered her Son, and began to suffer deeply with Him when she heard the holy old man tell her that He would be a sign which would be contradicted and that a sword would pierce her soul.

Mary cooperated in the sacrifice of Christ, especially at the foot of the cross, uniting herself to Him, more closely than can be expressed, by satisfaction or reparation, and by merit. Some saints, in particular the stigmatics, have been exceptionally united to the sufferings and merits of our Savior: for example, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena, and yet their share in His suffering cannot be compared with Mary's. How did Mary offer her Son? As He offered Himself. By a miracle, Jesus could easily have prevented the blows of His executioners from causing His death; He offered Himself voluntarily. "No man," He says, "taketh it (My life) away from Me: but I lay it down of Myself. And I have power to lay it down: and I have power to take it up again." (12) Jesus renounced His right to life; He offered Himself wholly for our salvation. Of Mary, St. John says: "There stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother," (13) surely very closely united to Him in His suffering and oblation. As Pope Benedict XV says: "She renounced her rights as a mother over her Son for the salvation of all men." (14) She accepted the martyrdom of Christ and offered it for us. In the measure of her love, she felt all the torments that He suffered in body and soul. More than anyone else, Mary endured the very suffering of the Savior; she suffered for sin in the degree of her love for God, whom sin offends; for her Son, whom sin crucified; for souls, which sin ravishes and kills. The Blessed Virgin's charity incomparably surpassed that of the greatest saints. She thus cooperated in the sacrifice of the cross by way of satisfaction or reparation, by offering to God for us, with great sorrow and most ardent love, the life of her most dear Son, whom she rightly adored and who was dearer to her than her very life.

In that instant, the Savior satisfied for us in strict justice by His human acts which drew from His divine personality an infinite value capable of making reparation for the offense of all mortal sins that ever had been or would be committed. His love pleased God more than all sins displease Him.(15) Herein lies the essence of the mystery of the redemption. In union with her Son on Calvary, Mary satisfied for us by a satisfaction based, not on strict justice, but on the rights of the infinite friendship or charity which united her to God.(16)

At the moment when her Son was about to die on the cross, apparently defeated and abandoned, she did not cease for a moment to believe that He was the Word made flesh, the Savior of the world, who would rise in three days as He had predicted. This was the greatest act of faith and hope ever made; after Christ's act of love, it was also the greatest act of love. It made Mary the queen of martyrs,

for she was a martyr, not only for Christ but with Christ; so much so, that a single cross sufficed for her Son and for her. She was, in a sense, nailed to it by her love for Him. She was thus the coredemptrix, as Pope Benedict XV says, in this sense, that with Christ, through Him, and in Him, she bought back the human race. (17)

For the same reason, all that Christ merited for us on the cross in strict justice, Mary merited for us by congruous merit, based on the charity that united her to God. Christ alone, as head of the human race, could strictly merit to transmit divine life to us. But Pius X sanctioned the teaching of theologians when he wrote: "Mary, united to Christ in the work of salvation, merited de congruo for us what Christ merited for us de condigno." (18)

This common teaching of theologians, thus sanctioned by the sovereign pontiffs, has for its principal traditional basis the fact that Mary is called in all Greek and Latin tradition the new Eve, Mother of all men in regard to the life of the soul, as Eve was in regard to the life of the body. It stands to reason that the spiritual mother of all men ought to give them spiritual life, not as the principal physical cause (for God alone can be the principal physical cause of divine grace), but as the moral cause by merit de congruo, merit de condigno being reserved to Christ.

The Office and Mass proper to Mary Mediatrix assemble the principal testimonies of tradition on this point with their scriptural foundations, in particular the clearcut statements of St. Ephrem, the glory of the Syriac Church, of St. Germanus of Constantinople, of St. Bernard, and of St. Bernardine of Siena. Even as early as the second and third centuries, St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian insisted on the parallel between Eve and Mary, and showed that if the first concurred in our fall, the second collaborated in our redemption.(19)

This teaching of tradition itself rests in part on the words of Christ, related in the Gospel of the Mass for the feast of Mary Mediatrix. The Savior was about to die and, seeing "His mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He saith to His mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, He saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own." (20) The literal meaning of these words, "Behold thy son," points to St. John, but for God, events and persons signify others; (21) here St. John represents spiritually all men purchased by the sacrifice of the cross. God and His Christ speak not only by the words They use, but by the events and persons whose masters They are, and by whom They signify what They wish according to the plan of Providence. The dying Christ, addressing Mary and John, saw in John the personification of all men, for whom He was shedding His blood. As this word, so to speak, created in Mary a most profound maternal affection, which did not cease to envelop the soul of the beloved disciple, this supernatural affection extended to all of us and made Mary truly the spiritual mother of all men. In the eighth century we find Abbot Rupert expressing this same idea, and after him St. Bernardine of Siena, Bossuet, Blessed Grignion de Montfort, and many others. It is the logical result of what tradition tells us about the new Eve, the spiritual mother of all men.

Finally, if we studied theologically all that is required for merit de congruo, based not on justice, but on charity or supernatural friendship which unites us to God, we could not find it better realized than in Mary. Since, in fact, a good Christian mother by her virtue thus merits graces for her children,(22) with how much greater reason can Mary, who is incomparably more closely united to God by the plenitude of her charity, merit de congruo for all men.

Such is the ascending mediation of Mary in so far as she offered the sacrifice of the cross with Christ for us, making reparation and meriting for us. We shall now consider the descending mediation, by which she distributes the gifts of God to us.


That Mary obtains for us and distributes to us all graces is a certain doctrine, according to what we have just said about the mother of all men. As mother, she is interested in their salvation, prays for them, and obtains for them the graces they receive. In the Ave Maris Stella we read:

Salve vincla reis,
Profer lumen caecis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.(23)
Break the sinner's fetters,
To the blind give day,
Ward all evils from us,
For all blessings pray.

In an encyclical on the Rosary, Leo XIII says: "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." (24)

The Church, in fact, turns to Mary to obtain graces of all kinds, both temporal and spiritual; among these last, from the grace of conversion up to that of final perseverance, to say nothing of those needed by virgins to preserve virginity, by apostles to exercise their apostolate, by martyrs to remain firm in the faith. In the Litany of Loreto, which has been universally recited in the Church for many centuries, Mary is for this reason called: "Health of the sick, refuge of sinners, comforter of the afflicted, help of Christians, queen of apostles, of martyrs, of confessors, of virgins." Thus all kinds of graces are distributed by her, even, in a sense, those of the sacraments; for she merited them for us in union with Christ on Calvary. In addition, she disposes us, by her prayer, to approach the sacraments and to receive them well. At times she even sends us a priest, without whom this sacramental help would not be given to us.

Finally, not only every kind of grace is distributed to us by Mary, but every grace in particular. Is this not what the faith of the Church says in the words of the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen"? This "now" is said every moment in the Church by thousands of Christians who thus ask for the grace of the present moment. This grace is the most individual of graces; it varies with each of us, and for each one of us at every moment. If we are distracted while saying this word, Mary, who is not distracted, knows our spiritual needs of every instant, and prays for us, and obtains for us all the graces that we receive. This teaching, contained in the faith of the Church and expressed by the common prayers (lex orandi lex credendi), is based on Scripture and tradition. Even during her earthly life, Mary truly appears in Scripture as the distributor of graces. Through Mary, Jesus sanctified the Precursor when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and sang the Magnificat. Through His mother, Jesus confirmed the faith of the disciples at Cana, by granting the miracle that she asked. Through her, He strengthened the faith of John on Calvary, saying to him: "Behold thy mother." Lastly, by her the Holy Ghost came down upon the apostles, for she was praying with them in the cenacle on Pentecost day when the Holy Ghost descended in the form of tongues of fire.(25)

With even greater reason after the assumption and her entrance into glory, Mary is the distributor of all graces. As a beatified mother knows in heaven the spiritual needs of her children whom she left on earth, Mary knows the spiritual needs of all men. Since she is an excellent mother, she prays for them and, since she is all powerful over the heart of her Son, she obtains for them all the graces that they receive, all which those receive who do not persist in evil. She is, it has been said, like an aqueduct of graces and, in the mystical body, like the virginal neck uniting the head to its members.

When we treat of what the prayer of proficients ought to be, we shall speak of true devotion to Mary as it was understood by Blessed Grignion de Montfort. Even now we can see how expedient it is frequently to use the prayer of mediators, that is, to begin our prayer by a trusting, filial conversation with Mary, that she may lead us to the intimacy of her Son, and that the holy soul of the Savior may then lift us to union with God, since Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. (26)



1. Blessed Grignion de Montfort, Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, chap. 2, a. I, § I. See also The Secret of Mary, by the same author. It is a summary of the preceding treatise.

2 Cf. St. Bernard, Serm. in Dominic. infra. Oct. Assumpt., no. 1 (PL, CLXXXIII, 429). Serm. in Nativ. B. V. Mariae De aquaeductu, nos. 6-7 (PL, CLXXXIII, 440). Epist. ad Canonicos Lugdunenses de Conceptione S. Mariae, no. 2 (PL, CLXXXII, 333). St. Albert the Great, Mariale sive Quaestiones super Evangelium: Missus est (ed. A. Borgnetj Paris, 1890-99, XXXVII, q. 29)' St. Bonaventure, Sermones de B. V. Maria, De Annuntiatione, serm. V (Quarrachi, 1901, IX, 679). St. Thomas, In Salute. angel. expositio. Bossuet, Sermon sur la Sainte Vierge. Terrien, S.T., La Mere de Dieu et la Mere des hommes, III. Hugon, O.P., Marie pleine de grace. J. Bittremieux, De mediatione universali B. Mariae V. quoad gratias, 1926, Beyaert, Bruges. Leon Leloir, La mediation mariale dans la theologie contemporaine, 1933, ibid. P. R. Bernard, O.P., Le mystere de Marie, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1933, This excellent book ought to be meditated upon. See also P. G. Friethoff, O.P., De alma Socia Christi mediatoris, Rome, 1936. J. V. Bainvel, S.J., Le saint coeur de Marie, 1919. P. Joret, O.P., Le Rosaire de Marie, an annotated translation of the Encyclicals of Leo XIII on the Rosary, 1933.

3. See IIIa, q.26, a.1.

4. Ibid., ad 1um.

6 Ibid., a.2.

6. Mariale, 42.

7. Cajetan.

8. Ct. J Bittremieux, op. cit.

9. Ct. G. Friethoff, O.P., Angelicum (October, 1933), pp 469-77

10. See IIIa, q. 30, a. 1.

11. Luke 2:30-31.

12. John 10: 18.

13. Ibid., 19:25.

14 Litt. Apost., Inter sodalicia, March 22, 1918. (Act. Ap. Sed., 1918, p. 182; quoted in Denzinger, 16th ed., no. 3034, n.4.)

15. See IIIa, q.48, a.2: "He properly atones for an offense who offers somethmg which the offended one loves not less, or even more, than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than. was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. . . . First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He uffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of one who was God and man; thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured."

16. "Satisfactio B. M. Virginis fundatur, non in stricta justitia, sed in jure amicabili." This is the common teaching of theologians.

17. Benedict XV, Litt. Apost., citat.: "Ita cum Filio patiente et moriente passa est et paene commortua, sic materna in Filium jura pro hominum salute abdicavit placandaeque Dei justitiae, quantum ad se pertinebat, Filium immolavit, ut dici merito queat, ipsam cum Christo humanum genus redemisse." Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 3034, n4.

18. Cf. Piux X, Encyclical, Ad diem ilium, Feb. 2, 1904 (Denzinger, Enchiridion, 3034): "Quoniam universis sanctitate praestat conjunctioneque cum Christo atque a Christo ascita in humanae salutis opus, de congruo, ut aiunt, promeruit nobis, quae Christus de condigno promeruit, estque princeps largiendarum gratiarum ministra." It should be remarked that merit de congruo, which is based in jure amicabili seu in caritate is a merit properly so called, although inferior to merit de condigno. The word "merit' is used for both according to an analogy of proper and not only metaphorical proportionality.

19. St. Irenaeus, who represents the Churches of Asia where he was trained, the Church of Rome where he lived, and the Churches of Gaul where he taught, wrote (Adv. haeres., V, 19, I): "As Eve, seduced by the discourse of the (rebellious) angel, turned away from God and betrayed His word, so Mary heard from the angel the good tidings of the truth. She bore God in her bosom because she obeyed His word. . . . The human race, enchained by a virgin, was delivered by a virgin. . .; the prudence of the serpent yielded to the simplicity of the dove; the bonds which chained us in death were broken."

In a prayer used in the second nocturn of the Office of Mary Mediatrix, St. Ephrem concludes from this parallel between Eve and the Mother of God, that "Mary is, after Jesus, the mediator par excellence, the mediatrix of the entire world, and that it is through her that we obtain all spiritual goods (tu creaturam replesti omni genere beneficii caelestibus laetitiam attulisti, terrestria salvasti).

St. Germanus of Constantinople (Oratio 9, pa, XCVIII, 377 ff., quoted in the same nocturn of the Office) even says: "No one is saved except by thee, O most holy; no one is delivered except through thee, O most immaculate; no one receives the gifts of God except through thee, O purest."

St. Bernard says: "O our mediatrix, O our advocate, reconcile us with thy Son; recommend us to thy Son; present us to thy Son" (Second sermon adventu, 5). "It is the will of God that we should have everything through Mary" (On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, no. 7). "She is full of grace; the overflow is poured out on us" (Sermon II on the Assumption, no. 1).

20. John 19:16f.

21. See Ia q. I, a.10: "The author of Holy Scripture is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as men also can do), but also by things themselves."

22. See Ia IIae, q.114, a.6: "It is clear that no one can merit condignly for another his first grace, save Christ alone. . . inasmuch as He is the head of the Church and the author of human salvation. . . . But one may merit the first grace for another congruously; because a man in grace fulfills God's will, and it is congruous and in harmony with friendship that God should fulfill man's desire for the salvation of another, although sometimes there may be an impediment on the part of him whose salvation the just man desires."

23. The Jansenists altered this verse in order not to affirm this universal mediation of Mary.

24. Encyclical on the Rosary, Octobri mense, September 11, 1891 (Denzinger, no. 3033).