MARY: MOTHER OF GOD, AND OUR MOTHER
REV. FR. JOSEPH M. DE TORRE
At a Mariological Congress held at Czestochowa, August 18-24, 1996, a commission was established in response to
a request by the Holy See, which had asked for the opinion of the scholars present at the Congress regarding the
possibility and the opportuneness of defining a new dogma of faith regarding Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and
Advocate. In recent years, the Holy See has received petitions requesting such a definition. The response of the
commission, deliberately brief, was unanimous and precise: it is not opportune to abandon the path marked out by
the Vatican Council II and proceed to the definition of a new dogma. Although a new dogmatic definition is not
in the pipeline Catholics still invoke the Mother of God and their Mother as a Mediatrix
THE ISSUE HAS been raised recently of the advisability or opportuneness of a papal definition of the Marian titles
given to the Blessed Virgin by Vatican Council II and amply elaborated by the Pope in his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater, in the Apostolic Letter Tertio
Millennio Adveniente of 1994, where we read that the `Blessed Virgin ... will be
as it were "indirectly" present in the whole preparatory phase' for the Jubilee year 2000 (no. 43), as
well as in countless other pronouncements, most notably in his catechetical series (Wednesday
Audiences) running from September 6, 1995 to November 12, 1997. In August 1996, a
theological commission appointed by the Holy See gave a negative opinion on the issue and recommended that it be
left as a quaestio disputata (an open question).
Are there two mediations?
One of the Protestant charges against the Catholic faith is that the latter contradicts the biblical doctrine about
the fact that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man: `For there is one God, and one Mediator between
God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, bearing witness in his own time.' (1
Some Protestants claim that the Catholic faith contradicts this doctrine by saying that Mary is also Mediatrix
between us and Jesus. Not unlike other Protestant charges, this one is based on a misunderstanding. Once this misunderstanding
is cleared up it will be seen that Protestants and Catholics are not really in disagreement. Another step will
have been taken along the ecumenical road towards that unity of all Christians so ardently desired by Jesus (cf.
Jn 17:20-23) and doubtless by his Blessed Mother.
While Christ's mediation is one of salvation, Mary's is a mediation of solidarity; while the former is constitutive,
the latter is consequential; while the former is vertical, the latter is horizontal. There is really no conflict
between the two, but rather complementarity.
In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:
Christ alone is the perfect mediator between God and man, inasmuch as he reconciled
mankind with God by his death ... but there is nothing to prevent others in a certain way from being called mediators
between God and man, insofar as they, by preparing or serving (dispositive
vel ministerialiter), cooperate in uniting men to God.
Mary's mediation of solidarity is based on her cooperation in the Incarnation, her spiritual motherhood and her
intimate participation in the work of her divine Son. The Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus
Deus of November 1, 1950, proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption, stated that Mary
is 'the sublime associate of our Redeemer.'
Vatican Council II teaches that:
We have but one Mediator, as we know from the words of the Apostle: 'For there
is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all'
(1 Tim 2:5?6). The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ,
but rather shows its power. For all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin on men originate, not from some
inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. They flow forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ,
rest on his mediation, depend entirely on it, and draw all their power from it. In no way do they impede the immediate
union of the faithful with Christ. Rather, they foster this union.
How Mary was redeemed
By the Bull Ineffabilis Deus of December 1854, Pope Pius
IX proclaimed the doctrine that the Blessed Virgin Mary, through the foreseen infinite merits of her divine Son,
had been preserved from the stain of original sin at the moment of her conception in her mother's womb. She was
therefore redeemed from sin by Christ like everybody else: Christ is the sole universal mediator of salvation by
virtue of his divinity and through the instrumentality of his humanity. Mary herself attests to this: `My soul
magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour....'(Lk 1:46?47)
She was redeemed, however, in a unique manner, as required by her unique role of divine motherhood, namely by being
`preserved' from sin. Thus she would provide for her divine Son a humanity entirely new and free from the guilt
of sin (cf. Jn 8:46, 1 Pet 2:22, Heb 4:15, Lk 23:41, etc.). While the stain of original sin has affected all men,
for in Adam we `all have sinned' (Rom 5:12.), and so we are saved through a radical cure of the wound inflicted
which removes the stain, Mary was saved by preventing that stain from touching her before she came into existence,
so that her conception was immaculate, that is, without stain (macula = stain).
A new humanity
Thus she became the origin of a new humanity, as a new Eve, a humanity which now the Son of God took to himself
and joined to his own divine Person. This is called the hypostatic union (the union of the two natures, divine
and human, in the one divine Person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity). In Jesus Christ, divinity and humanity
are united without confusion or blurring; but also distinguished without separation, for he is only one Person,
as taught by the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus in 431, and of Chalcedon in 451. Our solidarity in sin has become
a new solidarity in the new humanity redeemed by Christ, and Mary is the first-fruits of this universal redemption,
and thus the Mediatrix between us and Christ:
It is she who, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, that is, of the Divine Love by her divine motherhood makes Christ
our brother; and, as she is the Mother of Christ in the flesh, so she is, by spiritual solidarity, the Mother of
the Mystical Body of Christ, which we all are: she is the Mother of the Church.
Mary's mediation as Mother of the Church
It was also Vatican Council II which stated that:
Redeemed in a specially sublime manner by reason of the merits of her Son,
and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the supreme office and dignity of being
the Mother of the Son of God. As a result she is also the favourite daughter of the Father and the temple of the
Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all other creatures, both in heaven and on
At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all human beings in their
need for salvation. Indeed she is 'clearly the mother of the members of Christ ... since she cooperated out of
love so that there might be born in the Church the faithful, who are members of the Christ their Head' (St Augustine,
De sacra virginitate, 6). Therefore
she is also hailed as a preeminent and altogether singular member of the Church, and as the Church's model and
excellent exemplar in faith and charity. Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church honours her with filial
affection and piety as a most beloved mother.
The above teaching gave rise to the official bestowal on Mary of the title 'Mother of the Church' by Pope Paul
VI at the closing of the third session of the Council on November 21, 1964, a title which has since been incorporated
into the Litany of the Holy Rosary: very significantly between the titles 'Mother of Christ' and 'Mother of Divine
Mary - the key
Bishop Fulton has written as follows:
He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on the
human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate
between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father. One look at her, and we know that a human who is
not good can become better; one prayer to her, and we know that, because she is without sin, we can become less
As we study His Divine Life, seeing Him as the first refugee persecuted by a cruel government, working as a carpenter,
teaching and redeeming, we know that it all began when He took on our human nature and became man. If he had never
taken on our human flesh, we would never have heard His Sermon on the Mount, nor have seen Him forgive those who
dug His Hands and Feet with nails on the Cross. But the Woman gave our Lord His human nature. He asked her to give
him a human life (to give Him his hands with which to bless children, feet with which to go in search of stray
sheep, eyes with which to weep over dead friends, and a body with which to suffer) that He might give us a rebirth
in freedom and love.
It was through her that He became the bridge between the Divine and the human. If we take her away, then either
God does not become man, or He that is born of her is a man and not God. Without her we would no longer have Our
Lord! If we have a box in which we keep our money, we know that one thing we must always give attention to is the
key; we never think that the key is the money, but we know that without the key we cannot get our money. Our Blessed
Mother is like the key. Without her we can never get to Our Lord, because He came through her. She is not to be
compared to Our Lord, for she is a creature and He is the Creator. But if we lose her, we cannot get to Him. That
is why we pay so much attention to her; without her we could never understand how that bridge was built between
Heaven and earth.
Mary, Mediatrix of all graces
Having spoken of the two great dogmas about Mary defined by the Church in modern times - her Immaculate Conception
(1854), and her Assumption into Heaven (1950) - Bishop Sheen then remarked:
[To say] anything else might seem to be an anticlimax after she is declared
to be in heaven, body and soul. But actually there is one other truth left to be defined, and that is, that she
is the Mediatrix, under her Son, of all graces. As St Paul speaks of the Ascension of Our Lord as the prelude of
his intercession for us, so we, fittingly, should speak of the Assumption of Our Lady as a prelude to her intercession
for us. First, the place, heaven; then, the function, intercession. The nature of her role is not to call her Son's
attention to some need, in an emergency unnoticed by Him, nor is it to 'in' a difficult consent. Rather it is to
unite herself to his compassionate Mercy and give a human voice to His infinite love. The main ministry of Mary
is to incline men's hearts to obedience to the Will of her Divine Son. Her last recorded words at Cana are still
her words in the Assumption: 'Whatsoever He shall say to you, that do ye.'
A channel of grace
To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Bull Ineffabilis Deus of Pius IX defining the Immaculate Conception, Pope St. Pius X issued his second Encyclical Ad Diem Illum, a few months after his election, on February 2, 1904. It
contains the famous comparison of Mary to the neck of the Mystical Body of Christ, as link between Head and members.
The full text runs as follows:
We do not deny that the distribution of these gifts (salvation by redemption)
belongs by strict and proper right to Christ. They are the fruit He alone acquired for us by His Death. He is in
His own right the Mediator between God and man. However, that community of suffering and sorrow between the Mother
and her Son (which we have already described) has merited the venerable Virgin to be 'with her only -begotten Son
the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix of the whole world' (Pius IX, Bull Ineffabilis
Deus). Christ, therefore, is the source, 'and of his fullness we have
all received' (Jn 1:16). 'From him the whole body (being closely joined and knit together through every joint of
the system....) derives its increase to the building up of itself in love' (Eph 4:16). Mary, however, as St Bernard
rightly observes, is 'the channel' or the neck which unites the Body to the Head and through which the Head sends
power and a strength into the Body. 'For she is the neck of our Head, through which all spiritual gifts are communicated
to His Body' (St Bernardine of Siena). This should make it clear that we are certainly very far from attributing
to the Virgin the power of producing supernatural grace. Only God can do that. However, she surpasses all creatures
in holiness and in the degree of her union with Christ. She was chosen by Christ to be his associate in the work
of human salvation. She has therefore, merited for us congruously (de
congruo), as they say, what Christ has merited for us in strict justice
(de condigno). She is the principal
minister of the graces to be distributed. He has 'taken his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Heb
1:13) and Mary as Queen stands at his right hand. 'She is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of
all who are in danger. Under her guidance, patronage, kindness and protection nothing is to be feared or despaired.'
(Pius IX, Bull Ineffabilis Deus)
Mary's maternal mediation
In effect, Mary's mediation is intimately linked with her motherhood. It possesses a specifically maternal character,
which distinguishes it from the mediation of the other creatures who in various and always subordinate ways share
in the one mediation of Christ, although her own mediation is also a shared mediation.
For this reason Blessed Josemaría always recommended that we foster a childlike devotion to the Mother of
God and our Mother:
Mary continually builds the Church and keeps it together. It is difficult
to have devotion to our Lady and not feel closer to the other members of the mystical body and more united to its
visible head, the Pope. That's why I like to repeat: All with Peter to Jesus through Mary! By seeing ourselves
as part of the Church and united to our brothers in the faith, we understand more deeply that we are brothers of
all mankind, for the Church has been sent to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19) .... Those who think that
devotions to our Lady are a thing of the past seem to have lost sight of the deep Christian meaning they contain.
They seem to have forgotten the source from which they spring: faith in God the Father's saving will; love for
God the Son who really became man and was born of a woman; trust in God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us with
his grace. It is God who has given us Mary, and we have no right to reject her. We should go to her with a son's
love and joy.... If we have this filial contact with Mary, we will not think only about ourselves and our problems.
Selfish personal problems will find no place in our mind. Mary brings us to Jesus, and Jesus is 'the first born
among many brothers' (Rom 8:29). And so, if we know Jesus, we realize that we can live only by giving ourselves
to the service of others. A Christian cannot be caught up in personal problems; he must be concerned about the
universal Church and the salvation of all souls.
Path to unity
So, our separated Protestant brethren need not be apprehensive about the Catholic understanding of Mary's mediation
between us and Christ. I'm sure they share the Catholic belief deep in their filial hearts. We can pray together
that we may realize that solidarity of which the present Pope has spoken of so many times, a brotherly solidarity
of all the disciples of Christ, of the entire human race, of the entire universe created by the infinite Love of
the Father in heaven:
May the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin, his Immaculate Temple, sustain our prayer
so that through it the Kingdom of God may draw near to us and to all of creation!
* * * * *
1. Cf. Jn. 2:5 As for the Catholic Church, the present Pope has been consistently and solemnly declaring that she
is irrevocably committed to this ecumenical goal of the union of all Christians, set by the Second Vatican Council.
The 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint bears striking witness
to this commitment of the Catholic Church.
2. Summa Theologiae, III, 26, l. (Benziger
3. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium
6 (Abbott Edition).
4. John Paul II, At the Sanctuary of Divine Love, Rome, 1 May 1979.
5. Lumen Gentium 53.
6. The World's First Love, Image Book, Doubleday, New York, 1956, p. 16 (italics in text).
Later in the same book, he goes on to say:
'Christ is a Mediator between God and humanity; Mary is the Mediatrix between
Christ and us. Our Lord is a Mediator between God and man. A Mediator is like a bridge which unites two opposite
banks of a river, except that here the bridge is between Heaven and earth. As you cannot touch the ceiling without
a stepladder acting as a mediator, so sinful man could not in justice reach God, except by One Who mediated, and
was both God and Man. As Man, He could act in our name, take on our sins; as one of us, He redeems us on the Cross
and gives us new life in His Resurrection. But as God, His Words, miracles, and death have an infinite value, and
therefore He restores more than we lost. God became man without ceasing to be either God or man, and therefore
is our Mediator, Our Saviour, Our Divine Lord.'
7. Ibid., pp. 62-63.
8. Ibid., p. 121.
'This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which
she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross. This maternity
will last without interruption until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect . For, taken up to heaven, she did
not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal
salvation. By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded
by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy fatherland. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked
by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. These, however, are to be so
understood that they neither take away from nor add anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.'(Lumen Gentium 62).
9. Pius X, Ad diem illum
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange makes the following commentary:
'Mary, who merited the title of Co?redemptrix and that of universal Mediatrix,
is the model of reparatory souls through her sufferings at the foot of the cross. By them she merited congruously
for us, or by a merit of propriety based on charity, all that the Word made flesh merited for us in strict justice.
His Holiness Pius X (Enc. Ad diem illum,
February 2, 1904) approved this common teaching of theologians, and Pope Benedict XV ratified her title of Co-redemptrix
(saying that `Mary, in union with Christ, redeemed the human race' (ASS, X, 182, Letter, March 22, 1918). Thus
Mary became the spiritual mother of all men.' (Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. II, Herder, St. Louis &
London, 1964, p. 497.
10. Pope John Paul II, Enc. Mary, Mother of the Redeemer 38
11. Christ Is Passing By, nos. 139, 142 and 145. (italics in text)
'We have all of us this instinct about our Blessed Lady, that she is not merely
the Mother of all our fallen race, but the Mother of each of us individually; not our Mother, but my Mother. Protestants
sometimes laugh at us because we address ourselves now to our Lady of Perpetual Succour, now to our Lady of Good
Counsel, now to our Lady of Lourdes, and so on, as if they were so many different people. But the case is far worse
than that, if they only knew; every individual Catholic has a separate 'our Lady' to pray to, his Mother, the one
who seems to care for him individually, has won him so many favours, has stood by him in so many difficulties,
as if she had no other thought or business in heaven but to watch over him.' (Ronald Knox,. Retreat for Priests,
Sheed & Ward, London, 1955, p. 175.(Italics in text.)
12. John Paul II, Angelus Message, July 22, 1984: L'Osservatore Romano, English, July 30, 1984,
'This Synod earnestly exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word
that in treating of the unique dignity of the Mother of God, they carefully and equally avoid the falsity of exaggeration
on the one hand, and the excess of narrow-mindedness on the other. Pursuing the study of sacred Scripture, the
holy Fathers, the doctors, and the liturgies of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church's teaching authority,
let them rightly explain the offices and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which are always related to Christ, the
Source of all truth, sanctity and piety.'
'Let them painstakingly guard against any word or deed which could lead separated
brethren or anyone else into error regarding the true doctrine of the Church. Let the faithful remember moreover
that true devotion consists neither in fruitless and passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity. Rather,
it proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and are moved to
a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues.'(Lumen Gentium 67.)
Biographical Information - REV. FR. JOSEPH M. DE TORRE
Born in Madrid on 25 May 1932, and educated in Spain and Italy, Prof. Joseph M. de Torre, B.A., University of Barcelona,
M.A. Angelicum, Ph.D. (Philosophy), Angelicum, Rome, was ordained priest in 1955 for the Opus Dei prelature, and
spent the next thi
While heading the department of Social Ethics at the graduate school of CRC since 1970, he was responsible for
injecting a strong moral and social awareness in all the economists, businessmen, educators, public officials and
other professionals taking
He was consultor to the late Cardinal Julio Rosales in the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of
Canon Law, to the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Bruno Torpigliani, and to Cardinal Jaime Sin, who
appointed him delegate.
He has given many public lectures in universities and other schools and institutions, and has participated in many
conferences and congresses here and abroad. In 1995 he got an award in the category of books in English of the
Catholic Mass media Awards
He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (USA), of the American Catholic Philosophical Association
(USA), of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (USA), of the American Maritain Association (USA), of the Royal
Institute of Philosophy
As a result of his experience and work in the teaching of theology and the humanities, and both personal collective
spiritual counselling, he has published more than twenty books and hundreds of articles and essays, since 1966,
mainly on Vatican II subjects.
Some his well-known books are Christian Philosophy; The Roots of Society;
The Humanism of Modern Philosophy; Work, Culture, Liberation; Freedom, Truth and
Love; Person, Family and State;
The Divinity of Jesus Christ; Christ
and the Moral lIfe; Generation and Degeneration; A Survey of Ideologies; Openness To Reality;
Some of the Journals and newspapers in which he has published contributions
Doctrine and Life, Ireland The Perspective Dossier, Australia
Annales Theologici, Italy PhilippineDaily Inquirer, Philippines
Economics and Society, Philippines Meridian, Philippines
Business World, Philippines The Manila Journal, Philippines
Catholic Position Papers, Japan Crisis, USA
The Manila Bulletin Philippines Scripta Theologica, Spain
Position Papers, Ireland FCS Newsletter, USA
Mod Filipina, Philippines Cor Manila, Philippines
Scepter Bulletin, UK The Manila Chronicle, Philippines
The DDM Journal, Philippines Unitas, Philippines
Philippine Panorama, Philippines FCS Proceedings, USA
Newsday, Philippines Documentation Service, Philippines
Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas, Philippines Vera Lex, USA
Homiletic and Pastoral Review, USA Synergia, Philippines
Bulletin Today, Christian Order, UK
He has also contributed essays to the following books:
Vatican II on the Church, ed. Austin Flannery, O.P., Scepter
Books, Dublin, Ireland, 1966
The Church in the World, ed. Denys Turner, Scepter Books,
Dublin, Ireland, 1968
My Words Will Not Pass Away, Introduction, Sinag-tala,
Economic, Social and Moral Questions for the Next Administration, CRC, Manila, 1992
Freedom, Virtue, and the Common Good, American Maritain
Association, CUA, Washington D.C., 1995.
Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy, Ditto., 1997
The Catholic Social Science Review, Vol. II, Society of Catholic Social Scientists, Steubenville, Ohio, 1997.
Manila, February 1999
This article originally appeared in Position Papers, Ireland.
Version: 7th March 2001