Rogier van der Weyden, "Visitation of Mary"

I write this inspired by the hope of Eric Vanden Eykel’s forthcoming series of reflections, and by the struggles of a friend.

Is there a way in which Christ can be sole Mediator, and yet Mary also mediator? Is this the universe in which we find ourselves? To suggest that Mary mediates grace to us, at all, is to many a most disturbing proposition. It is Christ who brings us to the Father, and him alone. To say otherwise is tantamount to blasphemy.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. – 1 Tim 2:5-6 (RSV)

And yet…

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” – Lk 1:41-45 (RSV)

This striking passage – and here I can only bow to the richness to which I allude – portrays Elizabeth’s amazed reaction to Mary’s greeting. The young woman smiles, says “hello,” or something of that kind, and Elizabeth’s response extends far beyond the enthusiastic. “Blessed are you among women!” surpasses a soft “hello,” don’t you think? Elizabeth takes it a step further: she expresses unworthiness at Mary’s arrival (“why is this granted me?”), and is stirred to admiration by the presence of the Lord that Mary carries in her womb. There is little doubt here that the prenatal Christ is the source of every excess in this passage. Mary here is greeted precisely as the Mother of the Lord, and Mary herself will rejoice only on the grounds that “he who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:49). All the same, we cannot avoid the simple fact that Mary has brought the Lord to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth rejoices over Mary as much as Christ. “Blessed is she who believed.”

Blessed indeed. We underestimate, I think, what it means to say that Mary believed. Elizabeth perhaps knows something we forget. Her joy outpaces our own. For her part, Mary will speak of her blessedness only in terms of the God who “has regarded the lowly state of his handmaiden,” who thereby has made it possible that “all generations will call me blessed” (1:48). Her concern, even in the narration of the passage, remains with the God for whom nothing is impossible (cf. 1:37).

Mary mediates Christ to Elizabeth. There is no avoiding it.

But this was all before Jesus was born. Once he is born, once the world can see his infant face, the logic of many would have us leave behind this rather interesting pericope in Luke. Her mediation ceases.

Right?

Her motherhood certainly doesn’t end. Not until Christ is an adult – or, at the very least, twelve and able to hold his own with the elders at the Temple. (If motherhood ever can be said to end, and I do not think it does.) If I might make a small philosophical point here, it seems to me that mothers, all mothers, mediate their children to the rest of the world. It is hard to get to know a child without his or her mother. Not impossible, I’ll grant you, but the strange illogical patterns of children are best deciphered by those who know them best. By those who the children themselves trust most. It cannot help but be true: mothers mediate their children. Especially very young children.

Even so. If Mary did continue to mediate Jesus throughout his young life, we are safe from her clutches when he reaches adulthood.

Right?

In one sense: of course. Jesus often travels without her. The Gospels only rarely mention her. Paul never mentions her (the closest he gets is acknowledging that Jesus was born of a woman, as in 1 Cor 11:12, which must involve a mother). Mary has little concretely, by which I mean overtly and specifically, to do with Jesus’ ministry. Besides, there is only one Incarnation. Not two.

So, I say: of course she does not mediate as Christ does.

In another sense: she still mediates him. Let us not pretend, even in our own lives, that our mothers do not cease to haunt us in adulthood. This is why many women fear becoming their mothers, and good sons deliberately live far away from their mothers. We instinctively understand that our mothers never leave us. This can be terrible. This can be wonderful. Why should Jesus be any different? Is he superhuman enough to overcome his parents?

No one is interested in a superhuman Christ. Only the truly human one. The one with a mother.

In the Catholic mind, Mary’s mediation does not cease when she gives birth to Christ. It never ceases because she is his true mother. In my next post, I will explore some of the distinctive qualities of the Catholic imagination that help to make this so. This has a great deal to do with an imaginative – by which I do not mean “falsifying” – regard for Scripture.

Click here for Part II, here for Part III.

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