We have now reached the fifth and final week of this Marian series. We covered the four Marian dogmas and will now conclude with the one doctrine which the Church teaches regarding our Blessed Mother. If you remember from the first week, the doctrine is to be held as true and a matter of our Faith to be believed, but it has not yet been elevated to the level of dogma, which could be for any number of reasons. This doctrine defines Mary’s spiritual motherhood over the Body of Christ through her three-fold role of co-redemptrix, mediatrix, and advocate. Generally, it makes sense that we should call Mary our own spiritual mother. After all, she gave physical birth to Jesus, who is the head of the mystical body, the Church. If we are all members of that mystical body, joined to the head, then, by extension, she’s a mother to the full-body, not simply just the head. In his encyclical Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum on the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius X says:
For is not Mary the Mother of Christ? Then she is our Mother also. And we must in truth hold that Christ, the Word made Flesh, is also the Savior of mankind. He had a physical body like that of any other man: and again as Savior of the human family, he had a spiritual and mystical body, the society, namely, of those who believe in Christ… Hence, Mary may be said to have also carried all those whose life was contained in the life of the Savior. Therefore, all we who are united to Christ, and…are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Ephes. v., 30), have issued from the womb of Mary like a body united to its head. Hence, though in a spiritual and mystical fashion, we are all children of Mary, and she is Mother of us all. (S. Aug. L. de S. Virginitate, c. 6).Again, notice how this teaching protects the reality of who Jesus is and the cohesive unity that exists between Him and His Church. (IL #10)
We also use Scripture to understand that Jesus gave His mother to all of us before His death. In John 19:25-27, Jesus tells John, “behold your mother” and for His mother to behold her son. It is not uncommon for this passage to be interpreted very literally as Jesus simply making sure His mother is cared for after His death and assigning John with the task. However, it would be highly unlikely that Jesus, knowing far in advance what His fate would be, would not have made provisions for His mother long before He was actually hanging on the cross. It is far more likely that in the final moments before Jesus’ death, he was thinking about all of His people for which He was dying and how they needed a spiritual mother like Mary. Therefore, the Church interprets that passage to mean that John is representing the entire Church and Jesus is giving all of us His mother as a gift. Also note that Jesus’ words are not phrased as an invitation. He is not inviting John, or us, to accept His mother. “Behold your mother” is not ambiguous, rather it is a statement of theological fact. Now we will dive deeper into three specific ways Mary is a spiritual mother to us.
This title, given to Mary by the Church, means that Mary cooperates with Jesus in His redemptive work and she is, therefore, a co-redeemer with Him. Before we go further, let’s clarify the language. The Latin prefix “co-“ literally means “with.” It does not mean “equal to.” Think of it this way: A plane is flown by a captain and a co-pilot. The co-pilot is always subordinate to the captain but works with the captain to fly the plane. Jesus is the Redeemer and no one is equal to Him, but we all participate and cooperate in His work. Mary, as His mother, has a unique and special cooperation with Jesus, earning her the title of “co-redemptrix.” We see in Genesis 3:15, that God tells Satan that a woman and her offspring will destroy him. He could have left the woman out altogether, but He left them together as a cooperative unit. We also see Mary’s very literal cooperation with the Holy Spirit in bringing forth Jesus in the flesh when she gives her fiat in Luke 1:38. Her body is the vehicle by which the Savior enters the world and that only happens because she agrees to cooperate with God’s will. Finally, we see Mary’s cooperation in her own suffering, which is united to her son’s. It is any mother’s natural instinct to want to protect her child from such horrific suffering as what Jesus went through, yet we don’t see Mary pleading with Pontius Pilate or attempting to fight off Roman soldiers. She knows that redemptive work must take place and she silently cooperates to the point that she is standing at the foot of the cross at the very end. Her suffering is severe, but united with Jesus’ suffering it is co-redemptive.
Looking to tradition, we have many examples of how Mary has been understood as working with her Son to bring about salvation. The following are just two of them. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (b. c. 130AD) said, “Just as Eve having disobeyed, became the cause of death for herself and the entire human race, so Mary being obedient became the cause of salvation for herself and the entire human race.” An Eastern Akathist hymn dedicated to Mary from the around 525 AD refers to Mary as “redemption of the tears of Eve.”
Mediatrix of All Graces
To mediate something is to act as a “go-between” for two parties. Christ is the author and source of all grace and Mary mediated between Him and us by agreeing to bring Him forth into the world. It is through her intercession that Christ was brought to us in the first place. We would not have that source of grace had she not agreed, so it is therefore part of her co-redemptive work to mediate grace to us. We see an example of this at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Mary places herself between the couple and her Son to point out their needs and bring about a miracle. Using the couple as a representation of mankind, Pope John Paul II explains in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater:
Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix and not as an outsider, but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she has the right to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind. (RM #21)
We have an abundance of resources from the early Church that show this is not a new understanding of Mary’s role in our lives. St. Irenaeus refers to Mary as the “cause of salvation for herself and the entire human race.” She is the cause of our salvation insofar as she brings us Jesus. From the 4th Century, St. Ephrem says, "after the mediator, you (Mary) are the Mediatrix of the whole world." And from the 8th Century, St. Andrew of Crete refers to her as “Mediatrix of the law and grace.” St. Louis de Monfort (1673-1716) uses the image of an aqueduct through which grace flows from the head to the rest of the body. Another way to think about it is that Mary is the neck of the body, which connects the head to the rest of the members. All the grace that flows from the head passes through her on the way to the rest of the body.
Mary’s third role in her spiritual motherhood is that of Advocate. To advocate for someone is to speak on their behalf. This is an ancient role which finds its precedent in the Old Testament. The kings of the time would often have many wives, so the Queen Mother would be the one to sit at the king’s right, a place of honor. The Queen Mother had three roles: advisor to the king, choosing dynastic succession should the king die, and advocate for the people. 1 Kings 2:19-20 says, “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. Then she said, ‘I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.’ And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.’” In this particular case, the request was refused because unbeknownst to his mother, it would have undermined King Solomon, however, the nature of their relationship is still quite evident in the passage. The king honors his mother and does not wish to deny her anything she asks on behalf of the people. Again, we go back to the wedding at Cana where Mary advocates for the wedding couple and brings their needs to her Son, which He does not deny her. Jesus is God and is not dependent on anyone to tell Him what someone needs. It was not necessary that Mary intercedes for the couple at Cana, but it was Jesus’ will for her role as an advocate to be established at that moment at Cana. Whenever we need something, it is good practice to bring those needs to Mary and allow her to intercede for us and act as our advocate before her Son.
Like all of the other teachings about Mary, there are many examples from Tradition that support her role as Advocate, but I’m simply going to refer to one profound example here. The most ancient prayer to Mary is called the “Sub Tuum Praesidium.” Found on a piece of Egyptian papyrus from the third century, it reads, “We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.” Clearly, there was an understanding amongst early Christians that it was efficacious to ask the Queen Mother to intercede and advocate on their behalf.
Whether you have always had a sense of Mary being your spiritual mother, or if this is a more foreign concept to you, I hope you are inspired to deepen that relationship. After reviewing all of the ways she can be a mother to you, how can you lean into her motherhood and her love for you a little more? Jesus gave you a gift out of divine love in giving you his mother. How might being more receptive to that gift bring you closer to Him and His will for your life?BACK TO LIST