El Greco, "Annunciation"

See also Part I, Part II

First, we noted the strange episode of the Visitation (Lk 1:39-56) and reflected on its peculiarities, both with reference to Mary and to possible extrapolations applying to motherhood in general. Mary mediates Christ to Elizabeth by virtue of her motherhood, and by extension she is thought to do the same with us. These reflections led us to ask what occurs in the Catholic imagination when it approaches Mary in Scripture. The chronological distance between Scripture and the present collapses, so that current experience relates directly to and is governed by Scriptural paradigms. Thus: Mary is not only still Christ’s mother, but also our own. This is the form of her mediation.

The Catholic Scriptural imagination, which is what I called this attitude toward Scripture, is founded first of all in the Eucharist. Stephen rightly indicated this in his comment on Part II. In the Eucharist, the “distance” between the crucifixion, resurrection, and the celebration of the Mass is overcome and each is encountered as a single, unified whole. (This is why the Mass is not a re-sacrifice, because it participates in the one sacrifice of the cross and does not re-accomplish that sacrifice.) The Eucharistic link also implies that this Catholic “imagination” is not a sensibility rooted in sheer fancy, or dreams. This is not “imagination” in the sense of “invention.” It is imagination in the sense that it creatively relates known realities by understanding them anew. As G.K. Chesterton would have it, “The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.”

And yet my descriptive account of Mary’s mediation does not serve as a systematic, theological explanation of that mediation. It is no argument for or against the doctrine. My reasoning describes the basic structure of an attitude, and not its reasonableness. So, now I propose to give at least some account of Christ’s status as sole Mediator and how Mary’s subordinate mediation does not interfere with Christ’s own. This what Catholics hold, and so we must ask how it may be true.

But here is the caution: I am by no means attempting to prove anything. Marian doctrine, while true, is entirely dependent on prior positions – namely, on the Incarnation. On a quite specific sense of the Incarnation. So, also, Marian doctrine depends on ecclesiology, a quite specific sense of ecclesiology. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in a work collected in Mary: The Church at the Source:

…we cannot assign Mariology to Christology alone or to ecclesiology alone (much less dissolve it into eccesiology as a more or less superfluous exemplification of the Church). Rather, Mariology underscores the nexus mysteriorum – the intrinsic interwovenness of the mysteries in their irreducible mutual otherness [Gegenüber] and their unity. (29)

Because Mariology “underscores the nexus mysteriorum,” it cannot be laid out in a manner similar to the Incarnation, the Trinity, or ecclesiology. All three of these have scores of arguments, and their reasonableness can be argued alongside their mysteriousness. Mariology is central yet secondary, by which I mean it rests at the heart of Catholicism but only in as much as is threaded through the heart. It is dependent. Hans Urs von Balthasar, writing in Theo-Drama III, would say that this dependence cannot be forgotten, and makes Mariology at once vital and impossible to isolate. For, he says, its very isolation would distort it.

But let us try and see if we can’t at least lay the foundation for a proper theology of Mary’s mediation. I will begin with two nonnegotiable rules (1) Mary is not God, (2) anything Mary does do must have its source in her Son. The first point essentially means that Mary must continue to be fully human, even when acting through grace. The second means all that she does, all that she is – again, even in the supernatural order – is due to and enabled by Christ.

Thus, in the case of Mary’s mediation, we must first examine Christ’s own.

Jesus is the “one mediator” (1 Tim 2:5). But what does that mean? What does a mediator do, anyway? A mediator shows us someone we do not know, and brings us into union with the one being mediated. It is much as in John, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9, cf. 12:45). Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation” (Col 1:15).  He is the one who goes before us to meet the Father in the heavenly tabernacle (my favorite description of this is probably Heb 9:24-28). A mediator, first of all, brings together.

Christ brings together God and creation through his humanity and his divinity. (I am not going to take the space of a blog to descend into high-level systematics on this last point.) He does so in a singular way, a way that only he could. Through Christ, we come to know God himself in himself. And this is something only the Incarnation can accomplish. That is what must be and is the sole mediator between God and men.

But that need not mean that his mediation cannot embrace other mediations within its own bounds. A frequent Protestant argument understands Christ’s mediation as exclusive. His mediation is singular because only he does the “work,” so to speak. Catholics understand Christ’s mediation as inclusive. Its singular perfection is such that it can admit other, secondary mediations without threatening Christ’s primacy.

Mary functioning as mediatrix, as mediator, must be understood as a secondary mediation admitted within – and made possible by – Christ’s own. The Visitation is a great example, and I find Mary’s attitude about it to be the perfect paradigm: the whole of her existence turns toward her Lord. She is no threat at all. She is an instrument.

But Mary is not the only one. Paul expressly says to the Corinthians, “be imitators of me, just as I am also of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1; cf. 4:16). These are daring words, to be made by one confident that what he does is indeed an image of Christ. He through his actions mediates Christ to the Corinthians, as well as through his preaching. Paul does not imagine that he obscured Christ from the Corinthians; indeed, quite the opposite.

Mary’s mediation of Christ to us is admittedly unique in its own respect. This is because she is his mother, and thus intimately related to Christ in ways the rest of the biblical figures are not. Her unique relationship to Christ, itself a product of God’s grace, is the mode of her service to God and to us. She mediates Christ to us, in other words, as his mother. Always as his mother. Her soul magnifies the glory of the Lord.

And so we encounter Mary everywhere in the life of faith, as our mother. Bringing Christ to us. We encounter a hundred medations together in a hundred moments – every saint, every sacrament, every word of Scripture – and Mary most of all. Most of all because she knew him best, and loved him as a mother would, and mothers love for him in us.