One Consequence of Mary’s Position in the Body of Christ the Church Is Being Channel or Mediatrix of All Graces Which Flow from Christ the Head into the Body
Focusing now more specifically upon the Catholic doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces, which is not yet a dogma (essential doctrine) of Catholic Christian faith, but which has a long and powerful weight of Christian tradition behind it and is consistent with the rest of the 2000-year-long Catholic Christian reflection upon the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ the God-man through Mary’s Virgin Birth and all its consequences:
Christ the Head (through His death and Resurrection) is the source and author of all graces which flow into His mystical Body the Church (and from His Body are mediated out in love to the world). The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (Acts 16:7, Philippians 1:19) sends all these graces won by Christ the Head into the rest of the Body through the neck (the first merely human part of the Body, which is now glorified body and soul in heaven, in perfect communion with the Holy Spirit). So the saving and sanctifying graces sufficient for all humanity which were won by Christ at Calvary are distributed to all the members of the Body by the Holy Spirit through the instrument of the glorified first member of the Body, closest to Christ because she is uniquely bound to Him in a true human mother-son relationship, His mother (and therefore mother of His entire Body which also mediates these graces to the world of humanity). As channel and instrument of these blessings of the Holy Spirit, Mary as our mother in Christ’s family nourishes us, as all mothers nourish their family. Hence among all of the members of the Body of Christ the Church, who all mediate God’s graces from, with, and in Christ, Mary, Christ’s mother, is uniquely known as “mediatrix of all graces.”
Just in the Incarnation Mary mediates all the graces which flow into the Body of Christ, by being the co-redemptrix who gave Christ (the source of all graces) the instrument of our salvation, His human body (Hebrews 10:10 – “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”). For everything that distinguishes Mary from the other human members of the Body is related to the Incarnation of God in Christ through her. Mary is mediatrix of all graces because she is first co-redemptrix – she helped save the world with her ‘yes’ to God. Not by her ‘yes’ in itself, but because of Christ coming in the flesh through her willing and obedient ‘yes.’
The Ongoing Mediation of Mary (And All Members of the Body of Christ the Church)
However, Mary’s role as human mediatrix of all graces from Christ the Head into the rest of the human Body of Christ is not only due to her past role in the Incarnation but, based on her ongoing unique relationship with Jesus Christ as His true mother and therefore mother of His Body, it remains an active role within the living Body of Christ, the Church. Although such images are used in the long tradition of Mary Mediatrix within the Eastern and Western Christian Churches, Mary is not just a channel of grace like an aqueduct or canal is a channel, because she is a person. As a person, she can be asked for prayer intercession for the sending of graces (as can living members of the Body on Earth, and as can the other members of the Body in Heaven, but with more confidence in her intercession’s ability to move the Trinity to grant the request, since any grace that God sends in response to prayer will enter the Body through her as first member and nourishing mother of the Body1 in any case). The Early, Heroic Church, in its times of greatest need during the centuries of Roman persecution, instinctively made such requests for intercessory prayer to Mary, notably during the great Empire-wide persecution under Emperor Decius in 250 AD which produced the formal sub tuum prayer, which is also an early example of Christians referring to Mary as Mother of God.
The Early Church even recognized this specially comprehensive and effective intercessory prayer mediation of Jesus’ mother within the Body of Christ the Church to the point that the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (the greatest theologian of the Early Eastern Church),2 written during the early centuries of the Church as a protection against the many Trinitarian and Christological heresies of the times and still the main Liturgy used by the Eastern, Byzantine churches (Catholic and Orthodox), includes the prayer to Jesus, “through the prayers of the Mother of God, O Savior, save us” (Synod, 19, 21). In this prayer, Jesus’ saving act is specifically linked to the prayer intercession of His mother. This is no cause for scandal as long as one remembers the Bible’s revelation of the Mystery of the Body of Christ, established in Volume II Chapter 2 (and well understood and lived by the Early Church). We (including Mary) are in Christ and Christ is in us (including Mary), such that Christ does nothing except through His Body (the first member of which is Mary). To object to Jesus’ saving act being linked to Mary’s prayer is to object to all the prayers of Christians for anyone’s salvation. All Christians in fact pray that God will bring the gift of salvation to our non-Christian friends and family and we are not wasting our breath when we utter such prayers, for the same reason that the Byzantine Churches pray for salvation “through the prayers of the Mother of God” – both she and we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ through whom Christ the Head prays for, intercedes for, loves and draws people into God’s Family the Church. The Byzantine Christian faithful in their Liturgy acknowledge that Mary’s prayers for human salvation are effective for the same reason that our own Christian prayers for human salvation are effective: We are all part of the Body of Christ Himself.
In the same Liturgy, the Byzantine Christian faithful also pray for Mary (Miravalle, CMA I, 27) who is a fellow member of the Body (since all Christians are called to pray for each other). Cognizant of this Mystery of the Body of Christ and of Jesus’ mother Mary’s role in the Body, Byzantine Christians are occasionally known to express, “Mother of God, save us.” A Russian Orthodox theologian explains of this phrase: “where is Christ? Christ is in Mary and Mary is in Christ, without confusion, without separation, in the same Mystery of salvation” (Miravalle, CMA II, 207). Such expressions are part of “the Mystery of Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27) which makes it legitimate for Paul to call those saved through his ministry and prayers “his children,” as if Paul had saved them. “It is no longer [Paul] who lives, but Christ who lives in [Paul]” (Galatians 2:20).3 Thus likewise, and all the more so than Paul because she is already glorified body and soul in Heaven, “it is no longer Mary who lives, but Christ who lives in Mary.” Her union, as a human being, with God in Heaven is so perfect, she lives the life of God so much as a “partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), that the members of the Body of Christ still on Earth can even express “Mother of God, save us” because of “the Mystery of Christ in Mary” (cf. Colossians 1:27) as a member of Christ’s Body. As discussed in Volume II Chapter 2, in the Bible 1 Timothy 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 7:16 both use the language of Christians personally “saving” themselves and others. So it cannot possibly be wrong for Christians to occasionally use the language of individual Christians “saving” people as Eastern Orthodox Christians do of Mary, since the Bible itself uses such language. It is permissible to speak of Mary or other members of the Body of Christ “saving” other people, as long as one recognizes that members of the Body “do all things through Christ” the Head of the Body. The Head and the Body make the “whole Christ,” as Saint Augustine said, the Head and the Body share the same life, the same Mystery, and thus it is permissible to speak of or to members of the Body as one would speak of or to Christ the Head, as long as one is cognizant of the distinctions between Head and members of the Body (including Mary the “neck”), as long as one recognizes that the Body draws its whole life from and is entirely dependent upon Christ the Head.
The Early Church was very aware of these distinctions, and thus the same early Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which asks Jesus to save “through the prayers of the Mother of God” also repeatedly affirms that Byzantine Christians “worship the Undivided Trinity for having saved us” – recognizing that salvation is a Trinitarian event (God the Father sent God the Son to give us God the Holy Spirit, the Divine indwelling Spirit of adoption into God’s Family through which we are saved from being outside of God’s Family). Mary’s participation is simply that of being part of the human mystical Body of God the Son Incarnate (Jesus Christ), and all Christians likewise participate in this mystery of co-redeeming with Christ as members of His Body: through our suffering with patient love which participates in and “completes what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24); through our prayers for the world which mediate between God and men (in union with Christ the “one mediator” whose Body we are); and through our witness to Christ in the world and our acts of love through which Christ Jesus Himself reaches out in love to the world through us His Body.
[Note: I have begun a more thorough theological analysis of the Byzantine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and its many Marian insights which relate Mary to the Holy Trinity. Though not strictly necessary to this work, I intend in future to add more quotations from the Byzantine Liturgy here (as well as more Vatican II quotations) to further demonstrate the distinctions spoken of here, of how the early Christian Church in its defense of the true faith against the heretics had sophisticated insights into the inter-relations between the God-Man Jesus, His human mother, His Divine Father and Holy Spirit, and His human body the Church.]
Mary, the Only Christian as Yet Glorified Both Body and Soul in Heaven Due to Her Assumption (Which Is Necessitated by Her Immaculate Conception Which Is Necessitated by Her Role in the Incarnation), Lives Most Fully the Life of the Holy Spirit Which Indwells All Christians
The Holy Spirit is the “Soul” of the Body of Christ, supplying it with its Divine Life of Grace (cf 2 Peter 1:4) and the Spirit of Sonship (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6) of which the whole Body partakes, making all its human members (including Mary) children of God, adopted sons/daughters by their union with Christ the Only-Begotten Son as His Body. The Holy Spirit animates the Body of the Bride the Church, of which Mary is the first member. In the thought of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Mary, who is body and soul in Heaven, “lives fully the life of the [Holy] Spirit” (Manteau-Bonamy, 67), which is a key to theologically explaining why Mary is Mediatrix of all graces or “neck” of the Body. She is a human being, but she is the only human being as yet glorified both body and soul in Heaven, fully living the life of the Holy Spirit which animates the entire Body of Christ the Church.4 She was prepared for this most intimate union with the Holy Spirit in her earthly life, since the Holy Spirit preserved her from the stain of Original Sin (thus the angel greeted her in Luke 1:28 as Kecharitomene, the Greek perfect participle of charis, grace, showing that Mary was already “graced,” “full of grace” or “transformed by grace” [Miravalle, CMA I, 185]) and later overshadowed her so that she would conceive God the Word in her womb. She grew in the life of grace in the Holy Spirit during her earthly life, as we do, and now, glorified body and soul in Heaven, she is so perfectly unified with God the Holy Spirit that her will is never contrary to His (as eventually ours will also be when we are glorified in Heaven, and sin no more). Thus Kolbe’s thought indicates that the Holy Spirit, who is the Soul of the Body, never does anything except through Mary, first member of the Body (and Mary never resists the Holy Spirit, but enacts His will as she did on Earth, “may it be done to me as You have said”), and this is what makes Mary the channel of all the graces of the Holy Spirit from Christ the Head of the Body, this is what makes her the “neck” of the Body of Christ, the mediatrix of all graces which flow into the Body of Christ the Church and from the Church to the world.
Even this Most Exalted Title Catholic Christians Attribute to Mary Is Merely a Function of the Church as the Body of Christ, a Function Shared by All Christians
It is important to note that even in this theological explanation of that which is surely the most exalted role and title which the Catholic Church gives to Mary, “Mediatrix of All Graces,” even this is merely a function of the Body of Christ, which follows the general rule given above that “what is true of Christ is true of Christ’s Body the Church by extension, and uniquely true of Mary, first member of the Church, by virtue of her unique relationship with Christ as His true mother.” Christ the Head, the one, primary mediator between God and men is God the Son, in His Divinity perfectly united with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Eternal Holy Trinity, and in His humanity most sublimely one with the Holy Spirit through whose overshadowing of Mary He was conceived. All human members of the Body of Christ are mediators of God’s Grace to the world with and in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit who gives them spiritual life and empowers them for this function. Mary Mediatrix likewise mediates graces in and with Christ, as a human being uniquely mediating all graces because (as the logical result of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth) she uniquely is now body and soul in Heaven, the one member of the Body of Christ in perfect and complete human heavenly union with the Holy Spirit who distributes the graces to the Body. This too is a case of Mary as first member of the Body going before us where we will go: we too will be perfectly unified with God in Heaven such that our will is never contrary to His and we will sin no more; in the meantime all graces are ministered to us in the Body through Mary as the first member and “neck” of the Body by virtue of her unique role in the Incarnation. This is why in Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s thought, “inseparable as she is from the Holy Spirit, Mary the Immaculata is the Church par excellence” (Manteau-Bonamy, 83). The Divine Holy Spirit is the soul and life of the human Church, and thus Mary, perfectly united to the Holy Spirit in Heavenly glory, is the most complete member of the human Church so far. Thus “the Church…recognizes herself in Mary” (Miravalle, CMA II, 190). Mary the first member of the Church lives now the destiny of the entire Church, and thus the Catholic Church in the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) declares “in the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that Perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle” (LG 65, quoting Ephesians 5:27). Mary, as first member and representative of the Church, is already where we will be.
“In declaring that our Lady was the “sanctuary” of the Holy Spirit, [the Vatican II Council Fathers] were stating what is true of every Christian.” (Miravalle, CMA I, 125). Thus Mary “In dependence upon the unique Redeemer, [is] constantly urging all the other coredeemers [all Christians] in their dependence upon Him” (Miravalle, CMA I, 4), and the Catholic Church in Vatican II clarifies,
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 originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It 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. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it. (LG 60, emphasis added)
Mark Miravalle scripturally elaborates on this theme, in the context of the whole Church (including Mary), demonstrating from Scripture how Mary and all human members of the Body of Christ the Church which she models as its first member share in the mediation of Christ the one (primary, not exclusive) Mediator:
God has called each person to share in the one mediation of Christ [in] the life of grace as “sons of God” (1John 3:1) in the one and only begotten Son. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is precisely by sharing in the one Sonship of Christ, that we become sharers in the life of grace as children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God” (1John 3:1), and we become children of God through the power of the only begotten Son in faith: “but to all who received Him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12)… the Christian life of Grace is a true participation in the one Christ and in his divine nature. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), and to share in the life of the one mediator is to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) by participation. Our humble sharing in the life of Christ the one Mediator, certainly does not diminish his divine nature nor his Sonship with the Father, but rather manifests its power and glory throughout creation, for we become living witnesses that “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). (Miravalle, CMA I, 273, final 2 emphases added)
The Flow of Grace to and Through the Body of Christ
The following diagram, The Flow of Grace to and Through the Body of Christ, attempts to illustrate the Mediatrix of All Graces doctrine. It thus shows how God’s Divine Life of Grace (indicated by red arrows) flows from the Divine Holy Trinity through the Divine and human Christ the Head of the Body and from Him, through Mary the merely human “neck” of the Body, to the rest of the human Body of Christ the Church, and from that Body of Christ the Church out to the world of unsaved people who need to come to know Jesus the Head and be incorporated into His Body the Church themselves, through their own “belief and baptism” (Mark 16:16) by which they too can become members of Christ’s Body. Mary is “Mediatrix of all Graces” and the “neck” of the Body, the member of the human Body closest to Christ the Divine and human Head, because she is His true Mother and because she (due to this) is the only member of the human Body as yet glorified both body and soul in Heaven, and because she therefore is the only member of the human Body of Christ who as yet lives most fully in loving union with the indwelling Holy Spirit of God who distributes all graces and who is Himself the Spirit of Adoption by which Christians are adopted into God’s Family, who is Himself the indwelling Divine Life of Grace which animates the Body of Christ in which we live as individual Christians. The Holy Spirit of Grace acts in the Body, distributing all graces, through Mary as channel or conduit of His Grace, because she is the only member of the Body as yet in full heavenly communion with Him!
This position of Mary “the neck,” closest to her son “Christ the Head,” mediating grace from Christ the Head to the rest of His Body, is actually prefigured in the Bible, in the Queen Mothers of Israel who sat in thrones at the “right hand” of their sons, the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 2:19) – the Queen Mother also, like Mary, sat in the position closest to her son the King and mediated between the King and his subjects through intercession before the King on their behalf.
In the next chapter, which demonstrates how things pertaining to the Mother of the Messiah (Mary!), who has such an important role in Salvation History, are in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, we will see that while Mary’s mediating role as “Mediatrix” is a special function of the mediating role of every Christian, who, like Mary, are members of the Body of Christ “the one Mediator,” this special mediating role of Mary is prefigured in the Old Testament Queen Mothers of Israel, who, like Mary the Mother of King Jesus, were the mothers of the reigning King and who, like Mary, had a special function in the Kingdom of interceding for or mediating between the King her son and the King’s people.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
1 Remember, Saint Augustine pointed out that she was mother of the whole Christ, head and members.
2It may be said with little argument that Saint Augustine is the greatest theologian of the Early Western Church and Saint John Chrysostom is the greatest theologian of the Early Eastern Church. Certainly they are the two most voluminous of the respected theologians and Doctors of the Early Church.
3Even Protestant and Evangelical Christians, encouraged by this passage, will sometimes refer to the person through whose witness and ministry they were brought to Christ as their “spiritual father” or “father in Christ,” without fearing it contradicts Jesus’ words to “call no man father” in its proper context. Protestant Christians often have instincts very close to those of Catholic Christians even when their formal doctrine differs. See Volume II Appendix I.
4Obviously, the members of the Body of Christ here on Earth are not yet near as full of the Holy Spirit as Mary, our wills are not near as perfectly conformed to His. The members of the Body of Christ undergoing the purification of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (the Biblical state of the saved being prepared for entering Heaven where “nothing impure will ever enter” (Revelation 21:27) which Roman Catholic tradition calls Purgatory — which Evangelicals believe in but call by a different name – see Volume II Appendix I) are similarly as yet imperfectly conformed. The members of the Body in Heaven who intercede in prayer for us are still not quite as close to Jesus as Mary His true mother, and they still await their glorified bodies in the final resurrection.