The Throne of Grace: Mary's Universal Mediation

Chapter 12 of Mother of God by Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali O.C.D.

Read the other chapters here.

I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth: in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me; and be filled with my fruits.” (Eccli. xxiv, 24-26)

“Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace, what we may obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable time.”[1] With this encouraging invitation the Church commences the Mass on the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of Grace. The Divine Office starts with the same jubilant note: “Come, let us adore Christ the Redeemer, who willed that we receive all good things through Mary!” This gesture of the Church must dispel the last vestige of doubt lingering in the minds of over-sceptical critics. Mary has been officially proclaimed the Throne of Grace, a title the early Fathers loved to confer on her. Among the precious objects of the Old Testament there was one thing closely associated with the Ark of the Covenant and symbolizing Our Lady in a special way. It was a golden crown surmounting the Ark and sheltered by the wings of two adoring Cherubs. It was called the Propitiatory or the Throne of Mercy, for the glory of God appeared over it whenever He heard the prayers of His people or blessed them. That is what Mary is in the New Law. The words of the Archangel: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee,” is a perfect description of what used to take place when the majesty of God descended over the Propitiatory from time to time. But whereas the Propitiatory of the Old Law only received the passing glory of God on rare occasions, this new Propitiatory bodily enshrined the fullness of the Divinity for nine months and possessed Him spiritually at all times and in a manner surpassing the presence of God in Heaven itself. When Solomon had installed the Propitiatory in the Temple he had built, he declared that thenceforward all who wished for graces shall go to it and no one should approach it in vain. But God granted many graces even apart from it. But in the New Law this Propitiatory is the only and universal means of grace. So that the most natural thing for any one to do who wishes to receive graces from God is to approach this Divine Throne of Grace. And that was precisely what the ignorant folk of the neighbourhood and the Wise Men from far off did when not the majesty of God but His very substance appeared first on earth.

But Mary is infinitely more than the Propitiatory. For she is not merely the throne from which God administers His mercy and grace, but she is under God the very Queen and Mistress of the whole economy of grace. Her central position between God and creatures and her extraordinary relations with all of them demand that the whole order of grace be somehow centred round her. St. Bernard calls her the very centre of the universe, because, he says, “to her as to the centre, as to the Altar of God, as to the cause of things, and as to the economy of the ages do they look who are in heaven and those in hell, and those who have gone before us, and those who are now, and who shall follow!” Her all-round mediatory function is thus explained by Him: “Mary is made for all…That out of her fullness all may receive: the captive, liberation; the infirm, health; the sad, consolation; the sinner, pardon; the just, grace; the angel, joy; finally the whole Trinity, glory; and the person of the Son, human flesh: so that there is none who escapes the warmth of her rays.”[2] Mary’s super-effluence of grace is another unmistakable indication of her high destiny as Mediatrix of Grace. “She is full of grace already, and how is it that she still finds grace?” asks St. Bernard, and he answers: “Indeed she deserves to find more grace, because her own grace is not sufficient for her, nor can she be satisfied with her own good….The Holy Ghost, the Angel said, shall come upon thee and that precious ointment shall flow into thee in such copiousness and fullness that it may abundantly overflow in all directions….With our whole heart and with all earnestness let us venerate Mary, because such is the will of Him who has decreed that we receive everything through Mary.”[3]

But Mary’s divine Maternity has positively made her the fountain-head of grace in its entirety. For she presented to the world the Author of Grace, Christ, and to Him the instrument of grace, His Sacred Humanity. If, as Bossuet argues from St. Paul, “The gifts of God are without regret”,[4]  we may safely conclude that he who started the whole work of grace through Mary will not continue or complete it without her. This is how that celebrated preacher and theologian sums up the Catholic tradition: “God willed to give us Jesus Christ through the Blessed Virgin Mary, and since God is faithful in His gifts, this order does not change. It is and always will be true that having received the universal principle of grace through her charity, we now receive, through her mediation, its various applications in all the different states of Christian life. Having in her maternal charity contributed to our salvation through the mystery of the Incarnation, which is the universal principle of grace, Mary will contribute eternally in all other operations of grace which are necessarily dependent upon it.” “He that spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things,” asks St. Paul.[5] A very compelling argument. If God gave us His Son, He cannot refuse us anything. And Saints have formulated another argument on similar lines: If God has given us His Son only through Mary, How can He give us anything else without her? If the greatest of His gifts came through her, how can His lesser gifts, which are only fruits of the first, follow another course? This simple logic of propriety alone urges us to assume that Mary is the mediatrix of all graces. “Why is it that the mystery of the Incarnation is not realised without Mary’s consent?” asks St. Ireneus, and he answers: “Because God wants her to be the source of all graces.”[6] St. Bernardine of Siena presented the argument in a most striking perspective when he wrote: “Since it appears that the whole divine nature, that is, His will, power, knowledge, His whole being and existence, is enclosed  in the Virgin’s womb, I do not fear to say that this Virgin had a certain jurisdiction over the outflow of all graces, for from her womb, as from an ocean of divinity, flowed streams and rivers of graces….And because the Mother of the Son of God, who produced the Holy Ghost, is so exalted…all gifts, virtues, and graces of the same Holy Ghost are administered by her hands to whomsoever she desires, when, in what manner, and in what degree she wishes.”[7]

This title of Mediatrix of Graces which belongs to Mary by reason of her central position and above all her Divine maternity, is still further enriched by her intimate co-operation in the work of Redemption as Second Eve. For, if as Mother of God she became the general and remote source of all graces, as Second Eve she co-operated in every individual act of the Saviour so that with Him she too merited for us every item of redemptive grace. “The community of power and activity between Christ and Mary is so close and all-embracing,” wrote Scheeben, “that nowhere on earth can a perfect likeness of it be found in the co-operation of any two persons. It can be understood and valued aright only by the supernatural prototype which it has in the community of action between the Holy Ghost and the Logos, between the humanity and the divinity of Christ, as well as by the wonderful community of life between Christ and Mary before His birth. In the natural order, the co-operation and mutual influence on each other of head and heart provide the only fitting analogue. Or rather, the dynamic and mutual relation of acting and suffering existing between the head and the heart finds here its most perfect realisation in the dynamic relation of both person.”[8] Hence St. Germanus says to her: “There is none who is saved but through thee, O most holy One; there is none who is freed from evil but through thee, O purest One; there is none who receives a gift but through thee, O most chaste Virgin; there is no one who receives the grace of mercy but through thee, O most righteous One!”[9]

This truth has been enunciated by Marian theologians and confirmed by Saint Pope Pius X in these words: “Mary merited for us de congruo whatever Christ has merited for us de condigno.”[10] The merit of Christ is merit of strict equity demanding its object by right of justice; the merit of Mary is merit of congruity, but a true merit all the same, effectively obtaining its object from the goodness of God. The meaning is that whatever grace Christ has obtained for us remains unapplied until His Mother merits it and grants it to us. It has to become hers first before it can be ours. “Such is the will of God,” concludes St. Bernard, “who wills that we receive all things through Mary; so that whatever hope, or whatever grace is in us, we know has overflowed to us from her.”[11] And the efficacy and necessity of her mediating merits are not restricted to the times following her or to human beings only, but extend to all times and to all creatures. “I do not doubt,” wrote St. Bernardine of Siena, “but that all the mercy and pardon granted to any one in the Old Testament, was granted by God solely for the love and reverence He bears this Blessed Virgin.”[12] And in another place he wrote that by that fundamental fecundity she received from God the Father, Mary generated to the life of grace “all the elect, even the very angels”.

But Mary’s Universal Mediation means not only that under God she is the co-efficient cause and fountainhead of all graces, but that in the present economy of God, the whole dispensation of grace is committed entirely her. Esther is her type here also. When the queen had defeated the arch-enemy of her people, the king granted her plenipotentiary powers by allowing her the free use of his seals. He put the whole kingdom at her disposal. “No grace descends to souls from heaven,” says St. Bernardine of Siena, “but is dispensed by the Virgin Mary.”[13] This becomes clear when we study her place in the mystical body of Christ. This is how Scheeben explains her organic unity with Christ and mediatory function in the mystical body: “By her position as mother of Christ and of Christians, Mary shares the quality of spiritual vine of that portion of mankind which is endowed with grace. We may also regard her in Christ and with Christ as the cornerstone on which the latter rests; more closely, as that cornerstone through which the whole structure is connected with the primary cornerstone.

“As there exists between Mary and Christ the same organically mutual relation as there is between heart and head, there also takes place in Mary an organic mediation between the Head and the other members, as the heart does in physical bodies. In particular, Mary as the heart of the mystical body, appears as the privileged seal of the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Head to animate the entire body; as the member in whom the entire life of the head is reflected in the most perfect manner and whose functions condition and support in many ways the influence of the Head on the other members.

“Moreover, in Mary this representation strikingly characterizes her personal position, full of life, in the internal organism of the body of Christ, as contrasted with that place which belongs to the official representatives of Christ in the external organism of the Church.”[14]

Her function therefore is clear. It is through her that the head rules the whole body and gives it life. She is the heart that circulates the life-giving fluid throughout the body and puts the remotest little finger in organic connection with the head. And there is a peculiar characteristic of the heart which is very suggestive of Mary’s exceptional function. While the head gives life to the heart and directs every throbbing of it, it is the heart that supplies food to the head and keeps it in life. This reciprocal action between the head and the heart is duplicated in the mystical body too, though on an entirely different plane. While Christ gives Mary all her supernatural and natural being, Mary is privileged to supply Him with His human life and substance. But to the members of Christ she communicates supernatural life.

Thus her function of dispensing grace is a natural and necessary consequence of her being the Organ of the Holy Ghost. If Redemption is the work of the Second Person, the continuation of it, or sanctification, is the work of the Third Person. And if Mary co-operated in the Redemption as Mother of God and Second Eve, she co-operates in the work of sanctification as the Spouse of the Holy Ghost and His authoritative and dynamic organ. As Scheeben remarks again, the Holy Ghost makes use of her in the same manner as the Logos makes use of the Sacred Humanity of Christ, so much so that she appears henceforward as His very embodiment. This union between her and the Holy Ghost is intimate and lasting, as the idea of espousals traditionally applied to it by the Church implies. But the idea as applied here is eminently supernatural and far more real than its type in the natural order. As true Spouse of the Holy Ghost she was fully and substantially co-principle with Him in the production of the Sacred Humanity of Christ, which function she continues to exercise spiritually in the production and development of the members of Christ’s mystical body This is the meaning of her universal mediation in the whole economy of grace. “All the gifts of the Holy Ghost,” says St. Bernardine of Siena, “are administered by the hands of this virgin to whom she wishes, when she wishes, how she wishes and as much as she wishes.”[15] We find the same idea expressed by great Fathers like St. Jerome, St. Methodius, St. Damascene and St. Chrysippus.

From the moment the Blessed Virgin received the fullness of the Holy Ghost in her soul and the incarnate Word of God substantially in her body, the Scriptures invariably represent her as a bearer of God and a dispenser of graces. Her first act after the Annunciation and her consequent transformation is thus described by St. Luke: “And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.”[16] It is a multifold marvel of grace that we find taking place in the house of Zachary at the entry of this Throne of Grace. Her next move is the flight to Egypt when the Lord visited that land of darkness carried on a “light cloud”. And we know that, not long after, the deserts of Egypt, that were even more barren spiritually, blossomed forth into veritable gardens of sanctity. Her next visit recorded is that to the wedding at Cana. The Evangelist tells us that “the Mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus was also invited and His disciples”.[17] The whole context suggests that the disciples were bidden to the feast out of compliment to their Master and the Master Himself out of compliment to His Mother. The exceptional graces resulting from this presence of the Mother of Jesus have already been discussed in a previous chapter. But the most significant incident relating to her official position as the Organ of the Holy Ghost was her presence in the Cenacle at the advent of the Holy Ghost. There she was solemnly set up in the Holy of Holies of the New Synagogue as the universal and everlasting Throne of Grace, the Propitiatory of the New Testament. “And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men; and He will dwell with them. And they shall be His people: and God Himself with them shall be their God.”[18] Thus wrote a modern theologian: “In the Cenacle, where by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost the Church was definitely founded, Mary begins to exercise visibly, in the midst of the apostles and the disciples gathered together, a role which she will continue ever after to exercise in a more secret and intimate manner: that of uniting hearts in prayer and of giving life to souls through the merits of her all-powerful intercession.”[19] “Her role would have been incomplete,” wrote Fulton Sheen, “if she had not been in the very centre of the tongues of fire which the Spirit of her Son sent upon the Apostles to make them burn with His message even to the consummation of the world.”[20]

To recapitulate briefly, the doctrine of Mary’s universal mediation means that every grace coming to creatures, though fundamentally merited for them by Christ, has nevertheless to be appropriated by Mary and applied to them. It does not mean that Our Lord Jesus Christ is unable or unwilling to intercede for us Himself or grant us graces direct; but it means that according to the order fixed by Christ Himself, in consideration of our infirmity, His merits and intercessions will not reach us without Mary’s co-operating intercession, and that, accordingly, every grace is granted only as conjointly obtained by her. Even the graces we immediately receive from the Sacraments are really from Christ and therefore obtained for us by Mary. Pope Leo XIII has put it in very clear terms: “Of the magnificent treasure of grace brought to us by Christ, nothing, according to the eternal designs, is to be distributed to us except through Mary. Hence it is through her we must go to Christ, almost in the same way as through Christ we approach our Heavenly Father.”[21] The Holy Father Pope Pius XII in his thrilling broadcast to the pilgrims assembled at Fatima for the crowning of Our Lady’s statue, declared among other things: “She has been associated with the King of Martyrs, as Mother and minister, in the ineffable work of human redemption, and she remains associated with Him for ever, with, as it were, an infinite power in the distribution of those graces that flow from the redemption.” This doctrine does not mean that we do not receive any grace unless we ourselves beg Mary’s intercession; she obtains for us graces even without our asking for it or knowing it. It means only that no prayer is answered without the assistance of her intercession, and that a culpable and positive exclusion of that intercession in the intention of the one who prays must most certainly endanger the granting of the petition. On the other hand, humbly acknowledging this merciful disposition of God and making use of this God-given means in our approach to Him must evidently increase the efficacy of our prayers and bring us richer gifts from God. This is why a special devotion to Our Lady is regarded by saints and masters of spirituality as an almost sure sign of predestination and a total absence of it as a very dangerous  symptom indeed. “What a blessing for the good thief and what an eternal loss for the bad thief,” exclaimed the fiery Portuguese orator Vieyra, “that Our Lady stood between the cross of the good thief and the Cross of Christ. Christ was between both thieves, but when the Mother of God was between the sinner and God, then only was the sinner saved; when She was not there, the sinner was lost.” It is in the power of every sinner to bring Our Lady between him and Christ, and, more often than not, the whole difference between predestination and reprobation turns round this one point.

The late Cardinal Mercier, through whose efforts the feast of Mary Mediatrix of all graces was established and who presented the Office for it, was the leader of a great movement to obtain the solemn definition of this doctrine. Under his initiative a petition was addressed to Pope Benedict XV, begging him “to pronounce as Catholic Dogma the traditional belief of the Christian people in the universal intercessory Mediation of Mary with the unique Mediator of Justice, Jesus Christ”. The Pope inscribed the feast on his own Calendar and appointed a commission “to prepare, to promote, and to obtain the solemn definition”. But so far it has not been defined. Possibly, the truth is not questioned seriously enough to provoke the Church to define it.

Let us conclude with the tender words of St. Ephrem which the Church has included in the Divine Office for the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of Graces: “My Lady, most holy Mother of God, full of Grace, inexhaustible abyss of God’s unseen gifts and largesses, the channel of all graces, next to the Holy Trinity mistress of all things, after the Paraclete a second consoler, and after the Mediator the mediatrix for the whole world, behold my faith and my desire given me by God. Do not despise my unworthiness, nor let the malice of my actions impede thy immense mercy. O Mother of God, O name most delightful to me! There is no securer trophy than thy help. For thou hast wiped away all tears from the face of the earth; thou hast filled all creation with every kind of good; thou hast brought joy to those in heaven; thou hast saved those on earth. Through thee we hold the surest pledge of resurrection; through thee we hope to obtain the kingdom of heaven. Through thee, O Immaculate Virgin, the Apostles, the Prophets, the just and humble of heart from the first Adam even to the consummation of the world, have obtained, do obtain and will obtain all glory, honour and sanctity; and in thee, O Mary full of grace, does rejoice all creation.”[22]



[1] Hebr. iv, 16.

[2] Serm. de 12 praerog, B.M.V.

[3] In Nativ. B.M.V., de Aquaeductu.

[4] Rom. ix, 29.

[5] Rom. viii, 32.

[6] Contra Valent., lib. 3, cap. iii.

[7] De Nat, B.V., cap. viii.

[8] Mariology, Vol. II, Chap. ix.

[9] Oratio de Zona.

[10] Encycl. “Ad illum diem”, 2 Febr. 1904.

[11] Serm. de Nat. B. Virg.

[12] Tom. 4, Serm. 61, c, 8.

[13] De Gloria Nom. Mariae, art. 3, cap. ii.

[14] Mariology, Vol. I, Chap. xi.

[15] Sermo v.

[16] Luke I, 39-41.

[17] John, II, 1-2.

[18] Apoc. xxi, 3.

[19] Mura: Le Corps Mystique du Christ.

[20] Sheen. The Mystical Body of Christ.

[21] Encyclical on the Rosary, 1891.

[22] Oratio ad Deip. (iv lectio Festi).