Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mary, Mediatrix

There are days when I belong remedial Catholic education of some sort. Those are the days where I know, to some extent, what the Church teaches, but as it starts to dawn on me what the teaching actually means I realize that I am a Catholic flunky and have been for years. This is no more obvious than in the way that I left Mary in the box.

I assented to the teachings of the Church. I felt that Mary should be honored. I knew that we didn't worship her. At the same time, I always had a vague discomfort about Mary. I didn't like the way that she was treated as some sort of "super creature". These things seem a little contradictory, but I got around it by ignoring it. Oh the beauty of unexamined thoughts! No need to worry about whether they make sense or not.

This only worked until it became glaringly obvious that I was facing a contradiction in my thoughts and actions. I could say that Mary should be honored, but I ignored her. I also fully recognized that honor of Mary should never interfere with our relationship with Christ, yet I belong to a Church that unabashedly calls Mary "Mediatrix" of graces.

I have not been a fan of that title. Outwardly, I could explain that Mary is a conduit of Christ's grace, and not the source. Therefore, it does not interfere with fact that Christ is the one mediator (1 Tim 2:5). Inwardly, my reaction was more along the lines of, "What. The. Heck. Just because you technically can call her that, why would you?"

In the last month or so, the whole thing started to make a lot more sense. One thing that helped me a lot was Young Mom's post here, as well as some of the great comments that she got. In the last couple of weeks, I am moving past seeing this title as merely acceptable, and starting to see how it is an amazing gift.

It is true that Mary has special graces and privilege; she is the Mother of God. There is no other. There is another part of the reason that we honor of Mary that I have somehow missed. The clue is in Luke 11: 27-28:

"As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, 'Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.'
"He replied, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'"

We do and should honor Mary as the Mother of God, a unique role that no one else can fill. However, our greater honor is due to her words recorded in Luke 1:38:

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

It is her faithfulness we prize most highly; her "yes" to God that holds nothing back. That utter abandon to His will does not make her something other than human, it is what makes her perfectly human. It is what we strive for as well. We honor her as we hope to emulate her and become a conduit of His grace to the world as she was.

When I thought of Mary as Mediatrix, I was stuck on this verse:

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).

As a Catholic, I am very familiar and comfortable with intercessory prayer. One of the words in the thesaurus for "mediator" is "intercessor". If Paul is saying that we have no part in Christ's mediation, then he would be saying that we should never be praying for anyone else. Clearly he is not saying that, especially since verse one of this very chapter says, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone." He is talking about prayers to bring all to salvation in Christ, "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth." (v. 4). I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds like we are all to have a part in the mediation of Christ. The source of salvation is always Christ. I could finally see that Mary was not something different than this type of mediation, but rather the perfect human example of it for the rest of us to emulate. That is why she was honored with that particular title.

These is something else. In a general audience given by John Paul II in October of 1997, he said, "We recall that Mary's mediation is essentially defined by her divine motherhood." She is Mediatrix because she is mother. She is the Mother of God; as such, her "yes" is intimately connected with Christ's life on the earth and therefore all of the graces that come from Him. It is true that God did not need her, but He chose her.

She is also my mother in a spiritual sense. Think for a moment of physical motherhood. A woman receives a seed of new life. For the next 9 months, she nurtures that life within her, and when that child is born, she continues to nurture that life. She will do anything for that child, including giving her life if necessary. How many mothers do you know of that spend hours on their knees for their children? Interceding for them. Mediating for them. Because of their love for that child. Our spiritual life is only possible in Christ, but Mary's mother-heart is constantly interceding for us, nurturing us. Again, we do not need her like we need Christ, but what an amazing gift!

There you have it. Suddenly a title that has bothered me for years has led me to a greater understanding of Mary, which in turn leads to a greater understanding of who we are to be in Christ. What do you think of this title? I love to hear thoughts of those that agree and can lead me to deeper understanding, but I also really love to hear thoughts from people that don't agree or understand. Either way, I think further discussion would help my understanding of this!

Note: I also recommend Lumen Gentium, chapter VIII, if you want to see a little more about what the Church actually says about this title.


  1. I have never really questioned Mary, her role, or the Church's devotion. But I sincerely enjoyed reading this. I feel very deeply connected with Mary, but have difficulty putting it into words as you did.

  2. I am so glad that you posted this! I have actually been working on a post about Mary as Mediatrix since seeing the comments on Young Mom's post. Anyway, now I don't feel the need to say so much. Great job!

  3. I have shared your thoughts exactly...but never wanted to voice that I was uncomfortable with Mary...and I really appreciate these insightful posts. Well written, and more importantly, honestly true.

  4. Thanks for posting this! The idea that all of us are mediators was a new one after my post last month, all of this has been fascinating to think about and has really helped to understand Mary in a bigger way. I love your quote from John Paul 2 as well!

  5. Lovely, lovely post!
    Thank you so much for sharing this, I really enjoyed it and it has given me much to think and reflect on.

  6. Yikes. The co-redemptrix and co-mediatrix stuff is probably the thing in Catholicism that pushes my husband away the most.

  7. Rae- any and all perspectives are still welcome! I wouldn't say that I have it all figured out yet! :)

    Katie- I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one that struggles with this!

    Young Mom- I was thinking about this before you posted, but your post definitely helped me to clarify better what I was thinking.

    Kacie- Yikes is right! I can't say that I blame Isaac. Notice that I still couldn't say anything about co-redemptrix. I can barely say that out loud. As far as I can tell, some of the same reasoning applies to that title, but I'm still highly uncomfortable with it. At the moment, I have a lot of questions about Mary. On the one hand, I'm appreciating her on levels that I never have before. On the other, now I have to face all of the questions that I put on the back burner and there are some things I just don't understand!

  8. I really appreciate this post as I also struggle to figure out Mary. One thing I noticed was your use of the Luke 11 passage, which people have often taken as a rejection of Mary, but which Catholics take as a further elevation of her. There are a couple of passages like that (marriage at Cana, etc.), where from a Protestant view he's downplaying her, and yet Catholics take the complete opposite view. I would love to hear your thoughts on some of those, if you have any!

  9. What a beautiful post! I've always been enamored with Mary, and haven't ever really questioned the Church's teaching, but I just love reading your thoughts on her.
    My husband, who is a convert, had some Mary issues before he converted, but he said that just "taking a leap" and praying the rosary helped him to overcome them. :)

  10. I'm not Catholic, but I really enjoyed this post. I have a lot of Catholic friends (having gone to a Catholic high school for lack of other Christian schools in my hometown), and none of them, including my high school religion teachers, has ever articulated their understanding of Mary this way.

    I have always been a little uneasy about the way the Catholic church elevates Mary, but I totally "get" this explanation. Thank you from this protestant lurker. :)

  11. Elizabeth- That's a great idea for a post!

    Beck- Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad it made sense; kind of makes it worth stumbling around my own understanding for a while. :)

  12. I think I would have been totally lost on this one had our "Little Blue Book" not focused a lot on the role of Mary and her obedience to God and that is one of the reasons to honor her. Thank-you for expanding on this.

    And Elizabeth - so truly put, it does often seem that Protestant Religions put Mary down, yet we as Catholics honor her.