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How Can Catholics Understand Mary as Co-Redemprix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate?
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By Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Our Blessed Lady is rightly venerated under many vivid and enduring titles. Taken compositely, these honorifics bespeak of her relationship with God and with us.
Throughout the last two decades, there has been an increasing interest in three words used to honor Our Blessed Mother and describe her role in our regard: Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. How do we understand Mary as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces and Advocate? Are we required to believe these three Marian teachings that are represented by this trio of titles?
Space does not permit either a thorough recital of the history of these titles or a complete account of their foundations in Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, the Fathers of the Church, the Papal Magisterium and the writings of the Saints, spiritual authors and theologians that identify and explain these distinctions bestowed by God Himself on the Ever-Virgin. The reader would do well to consult the texts listed in the endnotes.
I. How Do We Understand Co-Redemptix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate?
In his helpful Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion1, Deacon Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., Professor of Theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, offers a valuable explanation of this term.
"The title, "Co-redemptix," refers to Mary's unique participation with and under her Divine Son Jesus Christ, in the historic Redemption of humanity. The prefix, "Co," comes from the Latin "cum," which means "with." The title of Coredemptrix applied to the Mother of Jesus never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ, the divine Lord of all, in the saving process of humanity's Redemption. Rather, it denotes Mary's singular and unique sharing with her Son in the saving work of Redemption for the human family. The Mother of Jesus participates in the redemptive work of her Savior Son, who alone could reconcile humanity with the Father in his glorious divinity and humanity."2
Mary's entire existence has been one of cooperation with the Lord. So it was on Calvary. She who was preserved by God from Original Sin at the moment of her conception and heard from the mouth of Simeon that "you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed"3 accepted the salvific death of her Son not with a "hands-off" approach but instead by embracing it. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965), in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) of November 21, 1964, painted this picture of Our Blessed Lady's collaboration with the Almighty, which included her heroic surrender to Christ's ignominious death.
"Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her."4
Deacon Miravalle spells out precisely what Mary did next to her dying Son.
"Mary uniquely participated in the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and in the acquisition of the graces of Redemption for humanity (theologically referred to as "objective redemption"). Mary offered her Son and her maternal rights in relation to her Son to the Heavenly Father in perfect obedience to God's will and in atonement for the sins of the world. Mary's offering of her own Son on Calvary, along with her own motherly compassion, rights and suffering, offered in union with her Son for the salvation of the human family, merited more graces than any other created person. As Pope Pius XII confirmed in his encyclical On the Mystical Body, Mary "offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father, together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and her motherly love, like a New Eve for all children of Adam." 5
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Despite her enormous grief as she watched her Son die, Our Lady generously "yielded" Jesus to the purpose the Father through the Holy Spirit intended, namely the reconciliation of the human race to its Creator. Although what Mary did on Calvary was secondary and subordinate to what Christ did, it was, nevertheless, necessary because God made it so. In His unparalleled wisdom, the Lord required this all-encompassing--and real--sacrifice from Mary, who said her fiat with incredible trust in God as she had at the Annunciation.
Mediatrix of All Graces
The term Mediatrix is used to "refer either to the general category of Mary's Maternal Mediation with Christ the one Mediator . . . or to her specific role in the distribution of the graces acquired by Jesus, the New Adam, and secondarily by Mary, the New Eve, at Calvary."6 For our purposes, we will employ the latter meaning.
The late Marianist Father Emil Neubert, S.T.D. presented a useful discussion of Jesus as Mediator and then Mary as Mediatrix.7 But first, he addressed the significance of "mediator."
"A mediator is one who places himself between two persons in order to unite them, either because there is a reconciliation to be achieved or a favor to be obtained. To fulfill his role, the mediator must be acceptable to both parties that are to be united; the closer he is to them, the easier it will be for him to mediate.
In the supernatural order, the two persons to be brought together are God and man who have become separated by sin."8
Then what about Jesus as the Mediator--in fact, the only Mediator--between God and man?9
"Jesus as man is the perfect mediator between God and man, being hypostatically united to God and constituted by Him the spiritual head of the human race.
Jesus alone is a perfect mediator because He alone was able to merit in all justice our reconciliation with God and the graces which the appeased God was going to give to us. There is only one God, proclaims St. Paul, and only one Mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus become man, who gave Himself as a ransom for all. No other foundation can be laid than the one which has been given, Jesus Christ."10
Having set the stage, Father Neubert plunged into the matter of Mary as Mediatrix.
"This foundation established, the faithful attribute a certain function of mediation to Mary, at the side of Jesus. Mother of God and Mother of men, it seems clear that she too is to serve as a bond between Him and them. But her meditation, far from diminishing that of Christ, results from it and seems to complete it: it is carried out under Christ and in union with Christ from whom it receives all its efficacy."11
Deacon Miravalle continues our theme of Our Blessed Lady as Mediatrix of All Graces by speaking to her part in distributing the grace that Christ won for us by His death.
"Mary uniquely participated in the acquisition of the graces of Redemption by Jesus Christ (objective redemption) and, therefore, the Mother of Jesus, above all creatures, fittingly participates in the distribution of these graces of Redemption to the human family (theologically called "subjective redemption"). By distributing sanctifying grace, Mary is able to fulfill her role as Spiritual Mother, since she spiritually nourishes the faithful of Christ's body in the order of grace. Mary's God-given ability to distribute the graces of Redemption by her intercession is an essential element and full flowering of her role as Spiritual Mother. For true motherhood goes beyond the birthing of children to include their nourishing, growth, and proper formation."12
Clearly, Mary's cooperation in Jesus' redeeming Death (co-redemption) opened her to continuing service to the Mystical Body of Christ as the distributrix of sanctifying grace (mediatrix). As the Mother of the disciple whom Jesus loved13, and by extension, our Mother, Our Blessed Mother had on Calvary and still has in Paradise overflowing concern for her sons and daughters, caring for all her children and especially those who approach her.
We shall see below that God was not finished with the Maiden of Nazareth but instead bestowed upon her another kind of maternal office (munus maternum), namely advocate, that redounds to His glory and our temporal good and everlasting benefit.
In his Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary14, the late Holy Ghost Father Michael O'Carroll, S.T.D. wrote about Our Blessed Lady as Advocate:
"From medieval times the word Advocata signifies Mary's special power of intercession. It is first found in the Latin (largely the only) version of the Adversus Haereses by St. Irenaeus "that the Virgin Mary should become the advocate of the virgin Eve."
(. . . . ) Advocata applied to Mary is certainly found in the twelfth century. It is in the Salve Regina, and was taken up by St. Bernard: "You wish to have an advocate (advocatum) with him [Christ]," he asks in the De Aqueductu and answers, "Have recourse to Mary." In the second sermon for Advent he exclaims: "Our Lady, Our Mediatress, our Advocate (Advocata), reconcile us to your Son, commend us to your Son, represent us before your Son.""15
While there is a longstanding tradition of using "advocate" to refer to the Mother of God, this rich term has also been used to describe Jesus Christ16 and the Holy Spirit17.
Calling the doctrine of Advocate the "third aspect of Our Lady's spiritual motherhood and her mediation at the service of God and man"18, Deacon Miravalle, echoing Father O'Carroll's citation of Saint Irenaeus, weighs in on the meaning of this title:
"The term, "advocate," is derived from the Latin term, "advocare," which means to "speak on behalf of another." This is precisely Mary's motherly role as Advocate, to speak as our principal and most powerful intercessor to her divine Son on behalf of the human race. The title of Advocate for the Mother of God is one of her most ancient titles, dating back to the second century with St. Irenaeus, who called Mary the "Advocate" for Eve, the first Mother of the living."19
The Catholic Faithful have long been used to invoking Mary's celestial intercession. In fact, one of the first lessons learned by Catholic children is that they can always count on the help of their Spiritual Mother in Heaven. Our Blessed Lady's intercession is strong and sure; we daily avail ourselves of it with confidence.
II. Are We Required to Believe These Three Marian Teachings?
That Our Blessed Mother cooperated with her Son's redeeming and saving death on Calvary, distributed the grace Jesus obtained for us through that death and now intercedes for us in Paradise are truths that the Church has taught and continues to teach. Although not defined in the same formal way as the "four Marian dogmas," nevertheless, the Church has not hesitated to teach each of these doctrines.
Theologians differ as to what "theological note" or grade of certainty is attached to Mary's roles as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate. The celebrated Franciscan Father Juniper B. Carol, S.T.D., who spent much of his scholarly work as a labor of love in explaining Our Lady as the Co-redemptrix, asserted his learned opinion about the Coredemption:
"If our interpretation of their (the Pontiffs) repeated utterances on this vital problem is sound and objective, then it would seem safe to conclude that the current doctrine of Mary's direct co-operation in the objective Redemption bears the unmistakable mark of a genuinely Catholic truth authentically developed from the original deposit of revelation."20
The comments of the late Marist Father Armand J. Robichaud, while specifically directed towards the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix, also has applicability to the teachings about Mary as Co-redemptrix and Advocate:
"In this matter, as in others not as yet defined by the Church, we can expect to find a difference of opinion among theologians. We note also that, objectively, the status of a doctrinal proposition remains the same, but in the process of dogmatic evolution our knowledge and appreciation of it will vary. What is considered as "probable" today may well be a "defined dogma" tomorrow."21
Father Robichaud continued:
"With regard to the thesis that Mary is the Dispensatrix of every single grace, some theologians consider it doctrina catholica, that is, a doctrine which is taught in the whole Church, e.g., in papal encyclicals, but which is not always infallibly proposed. The greater number of theologians, however, classify it as fidei proxima, that is to say, a truth which, in the almost unanimous consent of theologians, is contained in the written or orally transmitted word of God."
"While admitting the validity of the above notes, we would like to advance a personal opinion, . . . as de fide divina, that is to say, a truth which is formally contained in divine revelation. (. . . .)"
"(. . . .) As Father (Reginald) Garrigou-Lagrange says, it (Mary's Mediation) is proximately definable".22
The present author concurs with Fathers Carol and Robichaud about the doctrines of Mary as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix as being contained in the deposit of faith, and would add Mary as Advocate to the same list. Hence, this trio of Marian teachings are to be believed by Catholics everywhere.
Deacon Miravalle contends that our three Marian doctrines
"manifest the three principal aspects in which our Spiritual Mother exercises her maternal love for the Church: as the "Mother Suffering" (Co-redemptrix); the "Mother Nourishing" (Mediatrix of all graces), and the "Mother Pleading" (Advocate). Indeed as all earthly mothers are called to suffer, nourish, and intercede for their children, so does the Spiritual Mother of all peoples exercise these same maternal functions for her children on earth."23
As so many jewels in the splendid crown of the Queen of Heaven and earth, the doctrines of Mary as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate increase our awe for God and His unspeakable marvels while inviting us to draw closer to this magnificent Mother whom we love dearly and seek always to imitate.24
1 Goleta, California: Queenship Publishing Company, 2006 (third edition).
3 Holy Gospel of Saint Luke 2:35.
4 Lumen gentium, 58 (my emphasis).
5 Miravalle, 96.
6 Ibid., 102.
7 Mary in Doctrine (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1954).
8 Neubert, 72.
9 See the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy 2:5.
10 Neubert, 72.
12 Miravalle, 102-103.
13 Holy Gospel of Saint John 19:26.
14 Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1986 (second printing of revised edition).
16 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 519. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, is our Advocate Who pleads for us at the right hand of His Heavenly Father.
17 Ibid., 692, 729, 1433, 1848. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, is our Advocate, the Paraclete--the Consoler: "He who is called to one's side," ad-vocatus." (692)
18 Miravalle, 114.
19 Ibid., 114-115.
20 "Our Lady's Coredemption" in Mariology, Volume 2, edited by Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957), 424.
21 "Mary Dispensatrix of All Graces" in Mariology, Volume 2, 459.
22 Ibid., 459-460.
23 Miravalle, 118.
24 What is our response to Mary and her extraordinary privileges? Consecration to her in recognition of her God-given role to lead us to her Divine Son. For an in-depth analysis of consecration and entrustment to Our Blessed Lady, see Arthur Burton Calkins, S.T.D., Totus Tuus: John Paul II's Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment (New Bedford, Massachusetts: Academy of the Immaculate, 1992). Monsignor Calkins has also written extensively about these three Marian doctrines.
Published as a "Faith Fact" from Catholics United for the Faith (International Headquarters, 827 N. 4th St., Steubenville, OH 43952) and may be obtained by calling (740) 283-2484 (http://www.cuf.org/). Reprinted here with permission.
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Blessed Virgin Mary; Co-Redemptrix; Mediatrix of All Graces; Advocate
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