The MOST Theological Collection: Vatican II: Marian Council
"Chapter 4 - Mother of all men"
What a difference a few short words can make. "I do," can change a pair of lives. Mary's "be it done to me," started the process of Redemption. The Council too made a great difference in its Marian teaching by one short three word phrase, "as a result."
Had the Council said simply: "She is our Mother in the order of grace," that would have been the expression of an important, though well known truth. But the Council actually said: "As a result she is our Mother in the order of grace." As a result of what? The Council had just explained, as we saw in the last two chapters. that she shared in an altogether singular way by her obedience and love in the work of restoring supernatural life to souls, that is, in the Redemption itself. In fact, if our deductions in the last chapter are correct, it implies that she shared in the very price of Redemption itself. But whatever be the truth about her relation to the price of Redemption, there is no doubt that the Council did say this: She shared in the work of restoring supernatural life to souls and "as a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace."
In saying that her spiritual motherhood is the result of her cooperation in the Redemption, the Council opens up a rich spiritual perspective. We can approach it by looking at the function of a Mother in the merely natural order of things. A merely human Mother has two functions. First, she shares in bringing a new life into being; then, she takes care of that life, so long as there is need, and so long as she is able.
Now our bodily life is important, even most basic. Yet, in comparison to the life of the soul by which as the second Epistle of Peter says, we are made,1 "sharers in the divine nature," what is that bodily life? St. Paul, who had been given a glimpse of the third heaven,2 exclaims loudly that for the sake of Christ, by whom we share in that divinity,3 "I have taken the loss of all things, and I consider them dung that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him." In comparison to such a divine life, our earthly life seems more like death than life. Now it is precisely that divine life that Mary shared in gaining for us at the Cross. at the cost of immense grief and pain to herself and her Divine Son. No wonder the Council proclaims that "as a result, she is our Mother in the order of grace." For truly she has brought us forth amid terrible birth pains, at the foot of the cross. It is not just in some figurative or metaphorical sense, but in the most real and literal sense, far more than our earthly Mothers, that she deserves the title of our Mother.
A Mother, as we said, should also take care of the new life so long as there is need, so long as she is able. In the natural order, children ordinarily reach a point at which they have no real need of further aid from their earthly Mother. But in the order of grace in which as her Divine Son said:4 "without me you can do nothing," in that realm, one never grows so great, matures so fully, as not to have need of the inflow of divine power. So our need of the grace that our Mother of grace brings us never comes to an end, not even if we come to be the5 "perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." For even then it will still be true that through grace,6 "it is God who works in you both the will and the doing."
A Mother in the ordinary human order does not always live long enough, or even if she lives, she may not be able to help the various needs of her offspring. But our Mother in heaven lives the unending life of eternity, and she is, moreover, able to ask any grace for us with the assurance that it will be given, for she shared in earning all graces for us at the moment of the great sacrifice. This is true precisely because that Sacrifice did earn all graces, and she shared in it, in that which earned not just some, but all graces. So no grace is beyond that which she may rightfully claim for us.
With such a concept in mind the Council wrote beautifully (§ 62): "This motherhood of Mary in the economy of grace continues unceasingly, from the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation, and which she unhesitatingly endured under the-Cross, even until the eternal consummation of all the elect. For after she was assumed into heaven, she did not lay aside this role, but by her manifold intercession continues, winning the gifts [that is, graces] of eternal salvation by her intercession. By her Motherly love, she takes care of the brothers of her Son who are still on the way [to their eternal home] and who are involved in dangers and difficulties, until they are led to the blessed fatherland. For this reason the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church with the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Helper, and Mediatrix."
The Council notes wisely that her motherhood over us really began on the day of the Annunciation, with the conception of Christ. And obviously. For by the very fact that she became the Mother of Christ the Head, she necessarily became at the same time the Mother of the Members of the Whole Christ. Hence the Council speaks of us as the "brothers of her Son," for in conceiving Him physically, she could not do other than also conceive us spiritually at the same time. She began then the process of winning the life of heaven, divine life, for us. That role led her to "endure" the effects of her consent at the Cross. For the Fiat she pronounced when the angel came to her, necessarily committed her to her role on Calvary. And this Motherhood, the Council notes, did not cease when she left this earth. Rather, she continues to exercise her care over us even in heaven, by caring for us who are still in dangers, who have not yet reached the blessed Fatherland. "For this reason," adds the Council, she is invoked under "the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Helper, and Mediatrix."
The Council did not add the words "of all graces" to the title of Mediatrix. Yet that truth is evident in more than one way.
First of all, as we have already noticed, she shared in the great Sacrifice which actually won all graces. Since she shared in earning all graces, certainly in that sense, all are given through her Motherly influence. Pope Paul VI, in his constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina tells us that the Saints, being7 "present before God ... do not cease to intercede with the Father, presenting the merits which they gained on earth." That expression "presenting the merits" is, clearly, a figure of speech. It does not mean that in any literal sense they hold up a paten .. before the face of God, on which are placed their merits. Rather, it means that the force of their prayers rests chiefly on the fact that by their merits on this earth they earned the graces for which they ask. Now Mary, as we have said, shared in the Sacrifice that earned not just some, but all graces. So the merits she "presents" to the Father, do apply to all graces. Obviously then, in at least this sense, she is the Mediatrix of all, not just of some graces.
Further, since she has been divinely assigned the role of Spiritual Mother, it is part of her Motherly function to care for all the needs of her children.
It is not too much to suppose she could know of and ask for all of our spiritual needs. For, on the one hand, the very fact that she was divinely commissioned to the role of Mother of all means that she should be divinely enabled to know what she needs to know in order to carry out that role. Further, any Saint whatsoever is able to see, in the infinite vision in which all knowledge is contained, all that pertains to him. But to her, as Mother of all, do pertain the needs of all. So again, she must be able to see all our needs.
But we need not rely just on our own deductions to determine that she is the Mediatrix of all graces. For, as we saw in chapter 2 the Council reaffirmed in a block all previous papal teachings, on Marian as well as other doctrinal matters. Still further, the Council itself added a footnote to the sentence in which it called her Mediatrix. The note sends us to statements of several Popes. We shall examine just two of them.
Speaking of the intensification of her role of intercession after the Assumption, Pope Leo XIII says:8 "For thereupon, in accord with the divine plan, she began so to watch over the Church, so to be with us and cherish us as Mother that she who had been the helper in the accomplishment of the mystery of human Redemption, should also be the helper in the distribution of the grace coming from it for all time, practically measureless power being given to her."
We note that the Pope distinguishes the two phases of the Redemption which we spoke above in chapter 2, that is, the objective Redemption, which is, briefly, the earning of the inexhaustible treasury of forgiveness and grace for men on Calvary, and the subjective Redemption, which is the giving out of that same treasury. Pope Leo brings the two phrases into parallel: just as she shared in earning grace, so, naturally, she shares in giving it out. But, as we noted above, that objective Redemption, the great Sacrifice, earned all graces. not just some. Hence, since her role is, according to the Pope, parallel in the two phases, she should share in dispensing all. He seems to further suggest the same conclusion at the end of the passage by adding that "practically measureless power" is given to her. That word "measureless" could refer to the question of what kind of graces she could obtain for us: seen under that aspect, it would mean that she can obtain any kind of grace, that nothing is too great. But "measureless" can obviously also imply another aspect, not now the kind, but the number of graces, i.e., does she intervene in the giving out of all graces? The words of Pope Leo are not so clear as to exclude all possibility of a different interpretation: yet they at least seem to imply that her mediation extends to all graces.
Any lingering doubt we might feel after reading the teaching of Pope Leo XIII vanishes completely when we turn to the second of the texts to which the Council refers us, the Ad diem illum of Pope St. Pius X. He wrote this Encyclical to solemnly commemorate the 50th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. After describing the terrible sorrows of Mary with her Son beneath the Cross, the Holy Pontiff continues:9 "Now from this common sharing of will and suffering between Christ and Mary, she 'merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world,' and therefore, Dispensatrix of all the gifts which Jesus gained for us by His death and His blood."
Pope St. Pius X, like his predecessor, brings out the parallel, that since she had shared in earning grace, she similarly shared in dispensing it. But we notice that he states most plainly that she is Dispensatrix not just of some, but of all10 graces.
When we were small children in the merely human order, we tended to think our parents could do practically anything. Later we had to learn that they had their limitations. But in the order of grace, thanks to the goodness of our Father in heaven, we have a Mother whose power to help us is without limit.
Her Divine Son told us:11 "Amen I say to you, if you do not change and become as children, you will not get into the kingdom of heaven." He was speaking to an audience of those who were physically adults. He meant all of us as well. He wanted us to know that when and if we finally do reach the mansions of the Father in Heaven, the basic reason will be, not our merit, but the goodness and generous gift of our Father in Heaven, given us through our spiritual Mother. In the natural order, children receive the love and care of their parents, not because they, the children, are good or earn that love and care. Really, it is too great for them to earn, they could not possibly merit it. But they do not have to earn it: it is given them not because they, the children, are good, but because the parents are good, are lovingly generous.
So too it is in the order of grace. We do, of course merit, and God does reward and punish justly. But that merit of ours is not the basic reason why we are given divine grace in the first place, and finally, heaven itself. The basic reason is unmerited grace. We might put it this way: Grace (sanctifying grace) is as it were our title, (we might almost compare it to a ticket), to enter our Father's house. The basic, the first gift of that grace, as St. Paul12 insists over and over again, is given us with no merit of ours. Really, our very ability to merit depends on our being sons of God. But that status of sons of God is obtained precisely by the first13 gift of sanctifying grace. Obviously, then, we cannot merit the very basis on which we merit. It would be like trying to lift ourselves off the floor by pulling up on our shoelaces.
We see, then, that this teaching of the spiritual Motherhood of Mary is more than just a pleasant. consoling thought. It teaches us how to take the correct, the indispensable attitude to our Father in Heaven, the attitude without which "you will not get into the kingdom of heaven."
Still further, this doctrine helps us to see something that would otherwise be difficult to come to know. We have been told that God is our Father. We tend to think of a Father as one who is loving, but also just, who will punish when that is called for. We tend to think of a Mother as one who is also loving and just, but with this difference: she is, we feel, specially inclined to hold off from punishing, to use painful measures only as a last resort.
Now if we had read that God is our Mother14 as well as our Father, it would have been likely to confuse us. Yet, His love for us does hew that motherly quality of persistence, of being unwilling to resort to stern measures if they can be avoided. For that reason our Master Himself as He wept over the hardness of Jerusalem, exclaimed: "How often have I wanted to gather together your children, as a hen15 does her chicks, but you were not willing."
But Divine Wisdom found a means of bringing out both aspects of the truth clearly and without confusion. For we are taught that we have not only a good Father in heaven, but also a Mother, who shared in bringing us to the divine life of grace, who takes care of us with a power that is practically speaking limitless, in giving out to us, her children all the graces we ever receive, since she shared, at such dread cost, in earning all of them for us.
The thoughts we have just dwelt on consider her as the Mother of each individual man. We should add that Pope Paul VI, at the closing of the third session of the Council, also proclaimed her as "Mother of the Church." The reasoning is obvious. As we said above, she, being the Mother of Christ the Head, is, automatically, by that very fact, the Mother of the Members of Christ. This is true not only of them individually: the Mother of the Head must be the Mother of the Body. But that Body, the Mystical Body of Christ, is the Church. Vatican II itself said it explicitly, echoing St. Paul:16 "He is the Head of the Body, which is the Church."
Really, then, the declaration of Pope Paul VI was not something new: it was bringing out that which was very evidently implied in the teaching of the Council itself.17