The Mother of the Savior by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange
Selections of The Mother of  the Savior
by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.
Nihil Obstat  and Imprimi Potest 1941 and 1948

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The Dominican theologian-author's work, THE MOTHER OF THE SAVIOR, is not just another pious book about Mary, although there would not be a diminishment of the honor due Mary if it were, but this work is considered one of the finest summations of the Catholic Church's teaching about the Mother of God. From the pen of the probably the twentieth century's greatest theologian, this work is filled with the spirit of faith and inspired by love begotten of sanctity. It is "an exposition of the principal theses of Mariology in their bearing on our interior life." The doctrines presented here are based not the author's personal ones, but on on that of the school of St. Thomas Aquinas.

It's purpose is aimed at increasing in us a love for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary by teaching us more about her. The Book is divided into three main sections, The Divine Maternity and the Plenitude of Grace, and Mary, Mother of All Men and Her Universal Mediation and Our Interior Life.

Catholic Tradition has selected a large extract culled from each section, covering several chapters. The selected chapters include Garrigou-Lagrange's section on Mary's perpetual Virginity because this teaching of the Church is under serious incessant attack these days, a grave insult to the Mother of God and to Our Savior. Originally there was included a chapter on St. Joseph, which is exquisite and so worthy of this most cherished Saint of popular devotion, the Chaste Spouse of Mary and Foster-Father of our Lord Savior.

The Mother of the Savior can be read online HERE.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
by Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.

Translated by Father Bernard J. Kelly, C.S.Sp., D.D.

“O God, who art the greatness of the humble, reveal to us Mary’s humility, which is proportioned to the elevation of her charity.” —2 Timothy 4:3–4

1949, by B. Herder Book Company, St. Louis, Missouri, US.

Nihil Obstat:
Michael L. Dempsey, S.T.D.
Theol. Censor Deputatus

I-John Carol
Archbishop of Dublin,
Primate of Ireland Dublin,
December 8, 1948

Imprimi Potest:
Patrick O’Carroll, C.S.Sp.
Provincial Superior Dublin,
December 2, 1948

Imprimi Potest:
Fr. Bernard Marie, O.P.
Vicar Provincial of the Free Zone
July 8, 1941

Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. was professor of Dogma and Mystical Theology in the Angelico, Rome.

Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God and Our Mother who placed all Her greatness in God and was filled by Him with good things, in token of profound gratitude and filial obedience.



A theologian of the eminence of Father Garrigou-Lagrange does not himself need to be introduced to the public, This present work of his would, however, seem to invite a few words of explanation.

It is not a devotional book in the ordinary sense of the term: it is too openly theological for that. On the other hand, it is no mere theological treatise: the author’s aim has been to inflame hearts no less than to enlighten minds. The result is a work which demands more intellectual application than many others on Our Lady. But, by way of compensation, it touches the will at a deeper and more spiritual level than would a work of less rich content. The author’s insistence—a fully justified one—on the doctrinal side of his subject has, of course, left little room for mere literary ornament. But this lack, if lack it be, will not turn away any reader who is sincerely desirous to know Our Lady better.

As for the translation itself, though care has been taken not to attribute to Father Garrigou-Lagrange anything he did not write, it has not been possible always to translate the original with literal fidelity. Theologians who wish to use the book for strictly scientific purposes would be well advised to compare passages they intend to quote with the original. The translator will be glad to supply it, if necessary, as far as possible.

Holy Ghost Missionary College, Kimmage,
Corpus Christi, May 27th, 1948.


This book is intended to be an exposition of the principal theses of Mariology in their bearing on our interior life. While writing it I have noticed more than once how often it has happened that a theologian admitted some prerogative of Our Lady in his earlier years under the influence of piety and admiration of her dignity. A second period then followed when the doctrinal difficulties came home to him more forcefully, and he was much more reserved in his judgement. Finally there was the third period, when, having had time to study the question in its positive and speculative aspects, he returned to his first position, not now because of his sentiment of piety and admiration, but because his more profound understanding of Tradition and theology revealed to him that the measure of the things of God—and in a special way those things of God which affect Mary—is more overflowing than is commonly understood. If the masterpieces of human art contain unsuspected treasures, the same must be said, with even more reason, of God’s masterpieces in the orders of nature and grace, especially when they bear an immediate relation to the Hypostatic Order, which is constituted by the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. I have endeavoured to show how these three periods may be found exemplified in the process of St Thomas’ teaching on the Immaculate Conception.

These periods bear a striking analogy to three others in the affective order. It has often been noticed that a soul’s first affective stage may be one of sense-perceptible devotion, for example to the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Virgin. This is followed by a stage of aridity. Then comes the final stage of perfect spiritual devotion, overflowing on the sensibility. May the Good God help the readers of this book who wish to learn of the greatness of the Mother of God and men to understand in what this spiritual progress consists.

The doctrines proposed in this book are not personal ones: it has been my aim to give what is most commonly held by theologians—especially those of the Thomistic school—and to explain the various points in the light of St. Thomas’s principles.1 Lastly, every effort has been made to avoid merely metaphorical expressions. There are sometimes too many of them in books on Our Lady. A bibliography is given with each question treated.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre


THE two truths which stand out like mountain peaks in the chain of revelation concerning Our Blessed Lady, and around which cluster all other truths we hold about her, are her divine maternity and her fullness of grace, both of which are affirmed in the Gospels and in the Councils of the Church. To grasp their importance it will be well to compare them, asking which of the two comes first, and gives, as it were, the true Pisgah view of all Mariology. In that spirit have theologians enquired which was the greater of Mary’s prerogatives, her divine maternity (her motherhood of God) or her fullness of grace.


There have been theologians2 who have declared Mary’s fullness of grace her greatest prerogative. The words spoken to Jesus by a certain woman as He passed in the midst of the people, and His answer, have led them to adopt this position: “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But He said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11: 27–28). On their view the Saviour’s answer implies that the fullness of grace and of charity which was the principle of Mary’s supernatural and meritorious acts was superior to her divine maternity, a privilege in itself of the corporeal order only.

According to many other theologians3 the reason given just now is not conclusive. Their arguments are many. They say that the woman in question did not speak precisely of the divine maternity: she thought of Jesus less as God than as a prophet whose words were heard eagerly, who was admired and acclaimed, and she was thinking therefore of a natural motherhood according to flesh and blood: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the paps that gave thee suck.” She did not speak of the divine maternity as of something which included a supernatural and meritorious consent to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation. That was why Our Blessed Lord answered as He did: “Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” For it was precisely by hearing the word of God and believing in it that Mary became Mother of the Saviour. She said her fiat generously and with perfect conformity of will to God’s good pleasure and all it involved for her, and she kept the divine words in her heart from the time of the Annunciation onwards. Elisabeth, for her part, expressed this when she said: “Blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things be shall accomplished which were spoken to thee by the Lord” (Luke 1:45). What a contrast with Zachary who was struck dumb for not having believed the words of the Angel Gabriel: “And behold thou shalt be dumb . . . because thou hast not believed my words.” (Luke 1:20).

Nothing said so far, therefore, is sufficient to solve the problem: which was the greater, the divine maternity as realized in Mary or her fullness of grace and charity?

We must search deeper for a solution. To make the terms of the problem still more precise, it should be noted that the maternity proper to a creature endowed with reason is not the maternity according to flesh and blood which is found in the animal kingdom, but something which demands by its very nature a free consent given by the light of right reason to an act which is under the control of the will and is subject to the moral laws governing the married state: failing this, the maternity of a rational being is simply vicious. But the maternity of Mary was more than rational. It was divine. Hence her consent needed to be not free only, but supernatural and meritorious: and the intention of divine providence was that in default of this consent the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation would not have taken place—she gave her consent, St. Thomas says, in the name of mankind (Ilia, q. 30, a. 2).

Hence the maternity we are discussing is not one which is merely of flesh and blood, but one which by its nature included a supernatural consent to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation which was about to be realized, and to all the suffering it involved according to the messianic prophecies—especially those of Isaias—all of which Mary knew so well. There can, in consequence, be no question of any divine maternity for Mary except a worthy one: in the designs of God she was to be a worthy Mother of the Redeemer, united perfectly in will to her Son. Tradition supports this by saying that her conceiving was twofold, in body and in soul: in body, for Jesus is flesh of her flesh, the flame of His human life having been lit in the womb of the Virgin by the most pure operation of the Holy Ghost: in soul, for Mary’s express consent was needed before the Word assumed our nature in her.

To the problem so stated the great majority of theologians answer that tradition teaches that the divine maternity, defined in the Council of Ephesus, is higher than the fullness of grace, and that Mary’s most glorious title is that of Mother of God. The reasons for their answer are as follows. We ask the reader’s special attention for the first few pages. Once they have been grasped the rest follows quite naturally.


Let us examine first the primary object in the predestination of Mary, and the sense in which it was absolutely gratuitous.


This proposition may appear a little too profound for a beginning. In reality it is quite easy to understand. Most people admit it, at least implicitly. Besides it throws a flood of light on all that follows.

Pius IX affirmed it in effect in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, by which he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, when he said that God the Father predestined Jesus to natural divine sonship—so superior to adoptive sonship—and Mary to be Mother of God, in one and the same divine decree. The eternal predestination of Jesus included not only the Incarnation itself as object but also all the circumstances of time and place in which it would be realized, and especially the one expressed by the Nicene Creed in the words: “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine.”4 By the same eternal decree, therefore, Jesus was predestined to be Son of the Most High and Mary to be Mother of God.5 It follows that as Christ was predestined to natural divine son-ship before (in signo priori) being predestined to the summit of glory and to the fullness of grace (the germ of glory) so also the Blessed Virgin Mary was predestined first to the divine maternity, and in consequence to a very high degree of heavenly glory and to the fullness of grace, in order that she might be fully worthy of her mission as Mother of the Saviour. This second predestination was all the more necessary seeing that, as His Mother, she was called to closest association with Jesus, by perfect conformity of her will with His, in His redemptive work. Such, in substance, is the teaching of Pius IX in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus.6

Thus, just as in Jesus the dignity of Son of God, or Word made flesh, surpasses that of the plenitude of created grace, charity, and glory, which He received in His sacred soul as a result of the hypostatic union of two natures in Him by the Incarnation, so also in Mary the dignity of Mother of God surpasses that of the plenitude of grace and charity, and even that of the plenitude of glory which she received through her unique predestination to the divine maternity.

It is the teaching of St. Thomas and many other theologians when treating of the motive of the Incarnation (for the redemption of mankind) that Mary’s predestination to be Mother of the Redeemer depended on the divine foreknowledge and permission of Adam’s sin. As St. Thomas explains (Ilia, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3), that sin was permitted in view of a greater good, namely that through the redemptive Incarnation “where sin abounded, grace (might) more abound” (Rom. 5:20).7 Just as God wills the human body for the sake of the human soul, and yet, since He wills that the soul give life to the body, does not create a soul till there is a body ready to receive it, so also God allowed in view of the greater good of the redemptive Incarnation that there should be a sin to be atoned for, and He willed the redemptive Incarnation for the sake of the regeneration of souls: thus in the actually existing order of divine providence there would have been no Incarnation had there been no sin. And in this order everything is subordinated to Christ and His Holy Mother, so that it is true to say with St. Paul (1 Cor. 3:23): “All things are yours . . . And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”8 Thus the greatness of Christ and of His Mother are in no way lessened by their dependence on Adam’s sin.

Mary was therefore predestined first to the divine maternity. This dignity appears all the greater if we recall that Mary, who was able to merit glory, was not able to merit the Incarnation nor the divine maternity, for the Incarnation and the divine maternity lie outside the sphere of merit of the just, which has as outer limit the beatific vision.9

There is also another conclusive reason: the principle or beginning of merit cannot itself be merited. Since original sin, the Incarnation is the principle of all the graces and merits of the just; it cannot therefore be itself merited. Neither, then, could Mary merit her divine maternity de condigno nor de congruo proprie, for that would have been to merit the Incarnation.10

As St. Thomas very accurately indicates, what Mary could merit by the first fullness of grace which she received gratuitously in view of the foreseen merits of her Son, was an increase of charity and that higher degree of purity and holiness which was becoming in the Mother of God.11 Or, as he says elsewhere: “Mary did not merit the Incarnation (nor the divine maternity) but, granted that the Incarnation had been decreed, she merited (merito congrui, not condigni) that it should come to pass through her, since it was becoming that the Mother of God should be most pure and perfect.”12 That is to say, she merited the degree of sanctity which it was becoming for the Mother of God to have, a degree which no other virgin had in fact merited, or could merit, since none other had received nor was entitled to receive the initial fullness of grace and charity which was the principle of Mary’s merits.

This first reason for the eminent dignity of the Mother of God, based on her gratuitous predestination to that glorious title, is clear beyond question. It contains three truths which are, as it were, stars of first magnitude in the heavens of theology: 1st—that by one and the same decree the Father predestined Jesus for natural divine sonship and Mary for the divine maternity; 2nd—that Mary was predestined for the divine maternity before being predestined to the glory and the grace which the Father prepared for her that she might be the worthy Mother of His Son; 3rd—that though Mary merited Heaven de condigno she could not merit13 the Incarnation, nor the divine maternity, since these lie outside the sphere and purpose of human supernatural merit which does not extend beyond gaining eternal beatitude.

Many theologians have considered the argument just given as conclusive. It implies the arguments we shall expose in the following article, which really are but its developments, much as the history of a predestined soul is the unfolding of what was implied in its predestination.14


A few additional remarks about the uniqueness of Mary’s predestination will make its gratuitousness all the more apparent.

Among men Jesus is the first of the predestined, since His predestination is the model and cause of ours. As St. Thomas shows (Ilia, q. 24, a. 3 and 4), He merited for us all the effects which follow on our predestination. But the man Jesus was predestined, as we have said, to natural divine sonship, even before being predestined to glory and grace. Hence, His first or primary predestination is none other than the decree of the Incarnation. This eternal decree covers not only the Incarnation taken in the abstract—its mere substance—but also all circumstances of time and place in which it was to be put into execution, including the fact that Jesus was to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary “espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” (Luke 1:27). Mary’s predestination to the divine maternity being thus included in Jesus’s predestination to natural divine sonship, it follows that it precedes her predestination to glory, since Jesus is the first of those so predestined. A striking confirmation of the thesis of the preceding pages!15

It is no less clear that Mary’s predestination, like that of Jesus, was gratuitous. Jesus did not merit His predestination to natural divine sonship for the reason that His merits presuppose His Person, which is that of the Son of God by nature. Being therefore the principle of all His merits, His Divine Sonship could not itself be merited: else it would be cause and effect at the same time and under the same respect.16

In the same way Mary’s predestination to the divine maternity is gratuitous or independent of her merits, for we have seen that to merit it would involve meriting the Incarnation itself, which is the principle of all the merits of mankind since the Fall. That is the reason for Mary’s words in the Magnificat: “My soul doth magnify the Lord. . . . Because He hath regarded the humility (the lowly condition) of His handmaid.” Her predestination to glory and grace is clearly gratuitous also, since it is a result or morally necessary consequence of her predestination to be Mother of God. This does not however involve a denial that she merited Heaven. On the contrary, we affirm that she was predestined to gain Heaven by her merits.17 For the whole question of Mary’s predestination cf. Diet. Theol. Cath., article Marie, col. 2358.18

The sequence or order of the divine plan is therefore clear: 1st—God willed to manifest His goodness; 2nd—He willed Christ and His glory as Redeemer—in which will the permission of original sin for the sake of the greater good is included; 3rd—He willed Our Blessed Lady as Mother of the Redeemer; 4th—In consequence He willed her glory; 5th—He willed the grace and merits by which she would attain to glory; 6th—He willed the glory and grace of all the other elect.

The predestination of Mary appears now in all its sublimity. We can understand why the Church extends to her the application of the words of the Book of Proverbs, 8:22–35: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made . . . when He prepared the Heavens was present . . . when He balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with Him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times; playing in the world, and my delights were to be with the children of men . . . He that shall find me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord.” Mary had been promised as the woman who would triumph over the serpent (Gen. 3:15), as the Virgin who would bear Emmanuel (Is. 7:14); she had been prefigured by the ark of alliance, the house of gold, the tower of ivory. All those testimonies show that she was predestined first of all to be Mother of God. And the precise reason why the fullness of glory and grace was given her was to make her the worthy Mother of God—“to make her fit to be mother of Christ, as St. Thomas expresses it (Ilia, q. 27, a. 5, ad 2), This doctrine appeared to him so certain that we find him saying in the same article (corp. art.): “The Blessed Virgin Mary came nearer than any other person to the humanity of Christ, since it was from her that He received His human nature. And that is why Mary received from Christ a plenitude of grace which surpassed that of all the saints.”

Pius IX speaks in the same sense at the beginning of the Bull Ineffabilis Deus: “From the beginning and before all ages God selected and prepared for His only Son the Mother from whom, having taken flesh, He would be born in the blessed fullness of time; He loved her by herself more than all creatures, and with such a love as to find His delight in a singular way in her. That is why, drawing from the treasures of His divinity, He endowed her, more than all the angels and saints, with such an abundance of heavenly gifts that she was always completely free from sin, and that, all beautiful and perfect, she appeared in such a plenitude of innocence and holiness that, except God’s, no greater than hers can be conceived, and that no mind but the mind of God can measure it.”19


We have seen that by the decree of the Incarnation ex Maria Virgine the Blessed Virgin was predestined first of all to the divine maternity and by way of consequence to glory and grace. There are still other reasons, which we shall now bring forward, which show that the divine maternity surpassed the plenitude of grace.


Since the value or worth of a relation depends on the term which it regards and which specifies it—as, for example, the dignity of the beatific knowledge and love of the elect depends on their object, which is the divine essence known intuitively—the dignity of the divine maternity is to be measured by considering the term to which it is immediately referred. Now this term is of the hypostatic order, and therefore surpasses the whole order of grace and glory.

By her divine maternity Mary is related really to the Word made flesh. The relation so set up has the uncreated Person of the Incarnate Word as its term, for Mary is the Mother of Jesus, who is God. It is not precisely the humanity of Jesus which is the term of the relation, but rather Jesus Himself in Person: it is He and not His humanity that is Son of Mary.20 Hence Mary, reaching, as Cajetan says, even to the frontiers of the Divinity,21 belongs terminally to the hypostatic order, to the order of the personal union of the Humanity of Jesus to the Uncreated Word. This truth follows also from the very definition of the divine maternity as formulated in the Council of Ephesus.22

But the order of the hypostatic union surpasses wonderfully that of grace and glory, just as this latter surpasses that of nature—of human nature and of angelic nature, created or possible. The three orders distinguished by Pascal in his Pensees, that of bodies, that of spirits with their powers sometimes amounting to genius, and that of supernatural charity, are separated by an immeasurable distance from each other. The same is true of the hypostatic order and that of glory and grace, considering the latter even as found in the greatest saints. “The earth and its kingdoms, the firmament and all its stars, are not worth a single thought: all spirits taken together (and all their natural powers) are not worth the least movement of charity, for it belongs to another and an entirely supernatural order.” Similarly, all the acts of charity of the greatest saints, men or angels, and their heavenly glory, are far below the personal or hypostatic union of the Humanity of Jesus to the Word. The divine maternity which is terminated by the uncreated Person of the Word made flesh surpasses therefore immeasurably, because of its term, the grace and glory of all the elect, and even the plenitude of grace and glory received by Mary herself.

St. Thomas says (la, q. 25, a. 6, ad 4): “The Humanity of Christ since it is united to God, the beatitude of the elect since it is the possession of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary since she is the Mother of God—all these have a certain infinite dignity from their relation to God Himself, and under that respect there can be nothing more perfect than them since there can be nothing more perfect than God.” St. Bonaventure supports this when he says: “God could make a greater world, but He cannot make a more perfect mother than the Mother of God.” (Speculum, c. 8).

As Fr. E. Hugon, O.P, says: “The divine maternity is by its nature higher than adoptive sonship. This latter produces only a spiritual and mystic relationship, whereas the maternity of the Blessed Virgin establishes a relationship of nature, a relationship of consanguinity with Jesus Christ and one of affinity with the entire Trinity. Besides, adoptive sonship does not impose, as it were, such obligations on God: for the divine maternity imposed on Jesus those obligations of justice which ordinary children contract naturally in regard to their parents, and it confers on Mary that dominion and power over Him which are the natural right accompanying the dignity of motherhood.”23

By way of corollary it may be mentioned that the divine maternity surpasses all the gratiae gratis datae or charismata, such as the gift of prophecy, knowledge of the secrets of hearts, the gift of miracles or of tongues, for all these graces are in some way exterior and lower in dignity than sanctifying grace (cf, la Ilae, q. 3, a. 5). It should be noted also that the divine maternity cannot be lost, whereas grace can be lost on earth.

The eminent dignity of the divine maternity has been set in striking relief by Bossuet in his sermon on the Conception of the Blessed Virgin (towards the end of the first point): “God so loved the world, said Our Saviour, as to give His only begotten Son (John 3:16) . . . (But) the ineffable love which He had for you, O Mary, made Him conceive many other designs in your regard, He ordained that He should belong to you in the same quality in which He belonged to Himself: and in order to establish an eternal union with you He made you the Mother of His only Son and Himself the Father of yours. O prodigy! O abyss of charity! what mind does not find itself lost to consider the incomprehensible regard He had for you; you come so near to Him, through this Son common to you both, this inviolable bond of your sacred alliance, this pledge of your mutual love which you have given so lovingly to each other, the Father giving Him in His impassible divinity, and you giving Him in the mortal flesh in which He was obedient.”

God the Father communicated to His Son the divine nature. Mary gave Him a human nature, subject to pain and death, in which to redeem us. But Mary’s Son is the only-begotten of the Father, and in that consists the whole grandeur of her maternity.


The eminent dignity of the divine maternity is revealed in a new light if we consider that it is the reason why the fullness of grace was given to Mary, that it is the measure and end of that fullness, and that it is superior to it.

The reason why Mary was given a fullness of grace from the first instant was that she might be enabled to conceive the Man-God in holiness, by uttering her fiat with the utmost generosity on the day of the Annunciation in spite of the sufferings which she knew had been foretold of the Messiah; it was given her, too, that she might bring forth her child while remaining a virgin, that she might surround Him with the most motherly and most holy devotion; it was given her, finally, that she might unite herself to Him in closest conformity of will, as only a most holy mother can, during His hidden life, His apostolic life, and His suffering life—that she might utter her second fiat most heroically at the foot of the Cross, with Him, by Him, and in Him.

As Fr. Hugon has so well put it: “The divine maternity postulates intimate friendship with God. Since a mother is bound both by a law of nature and an express precept to love her son, and he to love her, Mary and Jesus love each other mutually; and since the maternity in question here is supernatural the love must be of the same order. But this means that it is a sanctifying love, since by the fact that God loves a soul He makes it lovable and sanctifies it.”24 There is thus the most complete conformity between the will of Mary and her Son’s oblation which was, as it were, the soul of the sacrifice of the Cross.

It is clear that it was for the reason we have given and for none other that Mary was given an initial plenitude of grace followed by a consummated plenitude in glory. The same reason or end was the measure of her grace and glory: therefore it surpassed them. Admittedly it is not possible to deduce from the divine maternity each and every one of the privileges received by Mary,25 but all derive ultimately from it. If, finally, she was predestined from all eternity to the highest degree of glory after Jesus, the reason is that she was predestined first of all to be His most worthy mother, and to retain that title during eternity after having enjoyed it in time. The saints who contemplate in Heaven the sublime degree of glory, so far surpassing that of the angels, in which Mary is enthroned, know that the reason why she was predestined to it is that she might be and might remain for eternity the most worthy Mother of God: Mater Creatoris, Mater Salvatoris, Virgo Dei Genetrix.

Such was the teaching of St. Albert the Great on more than one occasion.26 The poets have sung it in their verses. We refer in a note to one of their most recent tributes.27


A last consideration, which will be found in the works of many theologians, can be adduced in favor of our thesis.

It is because she is Mother of God rather than because she is full of grace that Mary is entitled to the cult of hyperdulia, a cult superior to that due to the saints highest in grace and glory. In other words, hyperdulia is due to Mary not because she is the greatest of the saints but because of her divine maternity. It would not have been her due had she been raised to her present degree of glory without having been predestined to be Mother of God. This is the express teaching of St. Thomas.28

In the Litanies of the Blessed Virgin the first title of glory mentioned is the Sancta Dei Genetrix. All the others follow as something which pertains to Mary as Mother of God: Sancta Virgo Virginum, Mater divinae gratiae, Mater purissima, Mater castissima, Mater inviolata, Mater intemerata, Mater amabalis, Mater admirabilis, Mater boni consilii, etc.


It follows from what has been said thus far that, simpliciter loquendo, purely and simply, the divine maternity, even considered in isolation, is superior to the plenitude of grace, consummated no less than initial. The ultimate reason for this assertion is that by its term the divine maternity belongs to a higher order, that of the hypostatic union.29

Thus the rational soul which, considered even in isolation, pertains to the order of substance, is superior to its faculties of intellect and will: it is their end, for they proceed from it as accidents and properties in order that it may have the power of knowing and willing. In a somewhat similar way, the divine maternity, considered in isolation from Mary’s other dignities, is the end and reason of her fullness of grace, and is therefore higher than it.

It is now clear why Mary was predestined first to be Mother of God before being predestined to the highest degree of glory after Jesus. The dignity of a relation is to be judged more by its term than by anything else; but the divine maternity is something relative to the Person of the Word made Flesh. In much the same way the mother of a king is nearer to him than the most able of his lawyers.

However, under a certain respect—secundum quid, as theologians say—sanctifying grace and the beatific vision are more perfect than the divine maternity. As regards sanctifying grace, it makes its bearer holy in the formal sense of the term, whereas the divine maternity, being only a relation to the Word made flesh, does not sanctify in that way.30 The beatific vision, for its part, unites the intellects of the elect to the divine essence without the intermediary of the Sacred Humanity.31

It is evident that the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, considered absolutely, surpasses the beatific vision, even though the latter includes a perfection in the order of knowledge not found in the former. In a similar way, and with all due reservations, the divine maternity, if considered absolutely or simpliciter, surpasses the plenitude of grace and glory, even though this latter is more perfect in a secondary way, or secundum quid. For the divine maternity, being but a real relation to the Incarnate Word, is not enough of itself to sanctify Mary. But it called out for, or demanded, the fullness of grace which was granted her to raise her to the level of her singular mission. She could not have been predestined to be any other kind of mother to the Saviour than a worthy one.32 Everything follows from that certain truth. All Mariology is dominated by it just as all Christology is dominated by the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.33

Since Mary pertains by the term of her maternity to the hypostatic order, it follows that she is higher than the angels; higher also than the priesthood, which participates in that of Christ.34 Of course, not having the priestly character, Mary could not consecrate as does the priest at the altar. But none the less, her dignity is higher than that of the priest and of the bishop, since it is of the hypostatic order. The Victim offered on the Cross, and whom the priest offers on the altar, was given us by Mary. The Principal Offerer of our Masses was given us by her. She was more closely associated with Him at the foot of the Cross than anyone else—more than even the stigmatics and the martyrs. Thus, had Mary received the priestly ordination (but it did not form part of her mission), she would have received something less than what is implied in her title of Mother of God. As St. Albert the Great so well expressed it: “The Blessed Virgin was not called by God to be a minister, but a consort and a helper, in accordance with the words ‘Let us make him a help like unto himself’” (Mariale, 42 and 165). Mary was chosen to be not the minister of the Saviour but His associate and helper in the work of redemption.

The divine maternity is therefore, as is commonly taught, the foundation, source, and root of all Mary’s graces and privileges, both those that preceded it as preparation, and those that accompanied it or followed from it as its consequence. It was by way of preparation for the divine maternity that Mary was the Immaculate Conception, preserved from the stain of original sin by the future merits of her Son. He redeemed her as perfectly as was possible; not by healing her, but by preserving her from the original stain before it touched her soul for even an instant. It was because of her maternity that Mary received the initial fullness of grace which ceased not to increase till it reached its consummated plenitude. And because of the same maternity she was exempt from all personal fault, even venial—and from all imperfection, for she never failed in promptitude to obey the divine inspirations even when they came to her by way of simple counsels.35 The dignity of Mary surpasses therefore that of all the saints combined.

Recall, too, that Mary had a mother’s authority over the Word of God made flesh. She contributed therefore to His knowledge: not, of course, to His beatific or infused knowledge, but to the progressive formation of His acquired knowledge, which knowledge lit up the acquired prudence in accordance with which He performed acts proportioned to His age during His infancy and hidden life. In this way the Word made flesh was subject to Mary in most profound sentiments of respect and love. How, then, could we fail to have the same sentiments in regard to the Mother of Our God?

In one of the most beautiful books written about Mary, the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St. Grignon de Montfort says (ch. 1, a. 1): “God made Man found liberty in being enclosed in her womb; He showed His power by allowing Himself to be carried by her, young maiden though she was; He found glory, and His Father found glory too, in hiding His splendor from all creatures of earth, so as to reveal them to Mary alone; He glorified His majesty and His independence by depending on the Virgin in His conception, His birth, His presentation in the temple, His hidden life of thirty years—and even up to the time of His death, for she was present then, and He offered one only sacrifice in union with her, and was immolated to the eternal Father with her consent as once Isaac was immolated to the divine will by the consent of Abraham. . . . It is she who nourished and supported Him, who brought Him up and then sacrificed Him for us. . . . Finally, Our Lord remains as much the Son of Mary in Heaven as He was on earth.”

Such is the first reason for the cult of hyperdulia which we owe her. It explains why the voice of tradition, and especially the Council of Ephesus and Constantinople, insisted, before everything else concerning Mary, on the fact that she was the Mother of God, thereby affirming afresh against Nestorianism that Jesus was God.

To conclude this chapter we should note that many Christians find it so evident that Mary’s greatest title is that of Mother of God, and that all her other titles follow from and are explained by it, that they do not understand why time should be devoted to proving the point. It is quite clear to them that had we, for our part, been in a position to do so, we should have given our mother every gift at our disposal. That is why St. Thomas is content to state quite simply (Ilia, q. 27, a. 5, corp. et ad 2): “To be the worthy Mother of God, Mary needed to receive fullness of grace.” Bossuet repeats this in his sermon on the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin (1st point, end): “Since God disposes things with wonderful aptness, it was necessary that He should imprint on the heart of the Blessed Virgin a love going far beyond nature even to the last reaches of grace, so that she might have for her Son sentiments worthy of a Mother of God and of a Man-God.”
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre


Hail, full of Grace” (Luke 1:28.)

HAVING seen the nobility of Mary’s title, Mother of God, it is now appropriate to examine the meaning and implications of the words spoken to her by the Angel Gabriel on the day of the Annunciation: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28). As a help to understanding these words spoken in God’s name we shall consider: 1st—the different plenitudes of grace; 2nd—the privilege of the Immaculate Conception; 3rd—the sublimity of Mary’s first grace,


According to the usage of Holy Scripture, which becomes more and more explicit in the New Testament, it is grace in the strict sense of the term which is implied in the term “fullness of grace”—that is to say, grace which is really distinct from nature, both human and angelic, grace which is a free gift of God surpassing the natural powers and exigencies of all nature, created or creatable.36 Habitual or sanctifying grace makes us participate in the very nature, in the inner life of God, according to the words of St. Peter (2 Peter 1;4): “By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature.” By grace we have become adopted children of God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17); by grace we are “born of God.” (John 1:13). It prepares us to receive eternal life as a heritage and as a reward of the merits of which it is itself the principle. It is even the germ of eternal life, the semen gloriae as Tradition terms it, since by it we are disposed in advance for the face to face vision and the beatific love of God.

Habitual grace is received into the very essence of the soul as a supernatural graft which elevates and deifies its vitality. From it there flows into the faculties the infused virtues, theological and moral, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, all of which supernatural organism constitutes a sort of second nature of such a kind as to enable us to perform con-naturally the supernatural and meritorious acts of the infused virtues and the seven gifts. We have, too, by habitual grace the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us as in a temple where They are known and loved, even as it were experimentally. And at times we do know Them in this quasi-experimental fashion when by a special grace They make Themselves known to us as the life of our life, for “ . . . you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba (Father).” (Rom. 8:15). Then does the Holy Ghost inspire us with filial love, and in that sense “ . . . the spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:16).

While habitual grace makes us thus children of God, actual or transitory grace first of all disposes us for adoptive childhood, and subsequently makes us act, through the infused virtues and gifts working separately or both together, in a manner becoming God’s children. This new life of grace, virtues and gifts, is none other than eternal life begun on earth, since habitual grace and charity will outlive the passage of time.

Grace—call it, if you will, a participation in the divine nature—was no less gratuitous for the angels than for us. As St. Augustine says (De Civ. Dei, XII, c. 9): “God created them, at the same instant forming their nature and endowing them with grace.” When creating the angels God conferred grace on them, to which grace their nature, richly endowed though it was, could lay no claim. The angels, and man also, could have been created in a purely natural condition, lacking the divine graft whence issues a new life.

The grace intended in the words “Hail, full of grace” addressed to Our Lady is therefore something higher than nature or the exigencies of nature, created or merely possible. It is a participation in the divine nature or in the inner life of God, which makes the soul to enter into the kingdom of God, a kingdom far surpassing all the kingdoms of nature—mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and even angelic. So elevated is grace that St. Thomas could say: “The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe.”2 The least degree of grace in the soul of a newly baptised child is worth more than all created natures, including those that are angelic. Being a participation in the inner life of God, grace is something greater than all miracles and exterior signs of divine revelation or of the sanctity of God’s favored servants. And it is of this grace, germ and promise of glory, that the angel spoke when he said to Mary: “Hail, full of grace.” Gazing at Mary’s soul, he saw that, though he himself was in the possession of the beatific vision, Mary’s grace and charity far surpassed his for she possessed them in the degree required to become at that instant the Mother of God.

Mary, of course, had received from the Most High natural gifts of body and soul in wonderful perfection. Judged even from the natural level, the soul of Jesus united in itself all that there is of beauty and nobility in the souls of the great poets and artists, of men of genius and of men of generosity. In an analogous way the soul of Mary was a divine masterpiece because of the natural perfection of her intelligence and will and sensibility. There is no shadow of doubt that she was more gifted than anyone who has ever struck us as remarkable for penetration and sureness of mind, for strength of will, for equilibrium or harmony of higher and lower faculties. Since she had been preserved from original sin and its baneful effects, concupiscence and darkness of understanding, her body did not weigh down her mind but rather served it. When forming the body of a saint, God has in mind the soul which is to vivify it: when forming Mary’s body He had in mind the Body and the infinitely holy Soul of the Word made flesh. As St. Albert the Great loves to recall, the Fathers of the Church say that Mary, viewed even naturally, had the grace of Rebecca, the beauty of Rachel, and the gentle majesty of Esther. They add that her chaste beauty never held the gaze for its own sake alone, but always lifted souls up to God.

The more perfect these gifts of nature in Mary, the more elevated they make her grace appear, for it surpasses them immeasurably.

When speaking of fullness of grace it is well to note that it exists in three different degrees in Our Lord, in Mary, and in the just. St. Thomas explains this a number of times.37

There is, first of all, the absolute fullness of grace which is peculiar to Jesus, the Saviour of mankind. Taking into consideration only the ordinary power of God, there can be no greater grace than this. It is the eminent and inexhaustible source of all the grace which all men have received since the Fall, or will receive till the end of time. It is the source also of the beatitude of the elect, for Jesus has merited all the effects of our predestination.38

There is, in the second place, the fullness of superabundance which is Mary’s special privilege, and which is so named since it is like a spiritual river which has poured of its abundance upon the souls of men for almost two thousand years.

There is finally the fullness of sufficiency which is common to all the just and which makes them capable of performing those meritorious acts—they normally become more perfect in the course of years—which lead them to eternal life.

These three fullnesses have been well compared to an inexhaustible spring, to the stream or river which flows from it, and to the different canals fed by the river, which irrigate and make fertile the whole region they traverse—that is to say, the whole Church, universal in time and space. The river of grace proceeds from God through the Saviour, as we read “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour.” (Is. 14:8). And then finally it rises once more to God, the Ocean of peace, in the form of merits, prayers, and sacrifices.

To continue the image: the fullness of the spring has not increased; that of the river, on the contrary, which flows from it has increased. Or, to speak in plain terms, the absolute fullness of Our Saviour knew no increase, for it was sovereignly perfect from the first instant of His conception by reason of the personal union with the Word. For, from the first instant, the lumen gloriae and the beatific vision were communicated to Jesus’s soul, so that the second Council of Constantinople could say (Denz. 224) that Christ did not grow more perfect by reason of His meritorious acts: “Ex profectu operum non melioratus est.” Mary’s fullness of grace, however, did not cease to increase up to the time of her death. For that reason theologians usually speak of, 1st—her initial fullness or plenitude; 2nd—the fullness of her second sanctification at the instant of the conception of the Saviour; 3rd—the final fullness (at the instant of her entry into glory), its extent, and its superabundance.5


The initial fullness of grace in Mary presents two aspects. One is negative, at least in its formulation: her preservation from original sin. The other is positive: her conception, absolutely pure and holy by reason of the perfection of her initial sanctifying grace in which were rooted the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.


The definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX on December 8th, 1854, reads as follows: “We declare, announce, and define that the doctrine which states that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of God Omnipotent and because of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, free from all stain of original sin, is revealed by God and must therefore be believed firmly and with constancy by all the faithful” (Denz. 1641).

This definition contains three especially important points: 1st—It affirms that the Blessed Virgin was preserved from all stain of original sin from the first instant of her conception. The conception meant is that known as passive or consummated—that in which her soul was created and united to her body—for it is then only that one can speak of a human person, whereas the definition bears on a privilege granted to the person of Mary. The definition states also that the Immaculate Conception is a special privilege and an altogether singular grace, the work of divine omnipotence.

What are we to understand by original sin from which Mary has been preserved? The Church has not defined its intrinsic nature, but she has taught us something about it by telling us its effects: the divine hatred or malediction, a stain on the soul, a state of non-justice or spiritual death, servitude under the empire of Satan, subjection to the law of concupiscence, subjection to suffering and to bodily death in so far as they are the penalty of the common sin.39 These effects presuppose the loss of the sanctifying grace which, along with integrity of nature, Adam had received for us and for himself, and which he lost by sin, also for us and for himself.40

It follows therefore that Mary was not preserved free from every stain of original sin otherwise than by receiving sanctifying grace into her soul from the first instant of her conception. Thus she was conceived in that state of justice and holiness which is the effect of the divine friendship as opposed to the divine malediction, and in consequence she was withdrawn from the slavery of the devil and subjection to the law of concupiscence. She was withdrawn too from subjection to the law of suffering and death, considered as penalties of the sin of our nature,41 even though both Jesus and Mary knew suffering and death in so far as they are consequences of our nature (in came passibili) and endured them for our salvation.

2nd—It is affirmed in the definition, as it was already affirmed in 1661 by Alexander VIII (Denz. 1100) that it was through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, that Mary was preserved from original sin. Hence the opinion held by some 13th-century theologians—that Mary was immaculate in the sense of not needing to be redeemed, and that her first grace was independent of the future merits of her Son—may no longer be admitted. According to the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, Mary was redeemed by the merits of her Son in a most perfect way, by a redemption which did not free her from a stain already contracted, but which preserved her from contracting one. Even in human affairs we look on one as more a saviour if he wards off a blow than if he merely heals the wound it inflicts.

The idea of a preservative redemption reminds us that Mary, being a child of Adam and proceeding from him by way of natural generation, should have incurred the hereditary taint, and would have incurred it in fact had not God decided from all eternity to grant her the unique privilege of an immaculate conception in dependence on the future merits of her Son.

The liturgy had already made this point in the prayer proper to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was approved by Sixtus IV (1476): “Thou hast preserved her (Mary) from all stain through the foreseen death of this same Son.” The Blessed Virgin was preserved from original sin by the future death of her Son, that is to say, by the merits of Christ dying for us on the Cross.

It is therefore clear that Mary’s preservation from original sin differs essentially from that of the Saviour. Jesus was not redeemed by the merits of another, not even by His own. He was preserved from original sin and from all sin for two reasons: first because of the personal or hypostatic union of His humanity to the Word in the very instant in which His sacred soul was created, since it could not be that sin should ever be attributed to the Word made flesh; secondly, since His conception was virginal and due to the operation of the Holy Ghost, so that Jesus did not descend from Adam by way of natural generation.42 These two reasons are peculiar to Jesus alone.

3rd—The definition proposes the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as revealed, that is, as contained at least implicitly in the deposit of Revelation—in Scripture and Tradition, or in one at least of those two sources.


The Bull Ineffabilis Deus quotes two texts of Scripture, Genesis 3:15, and Luke 1:28, 42.

The privilege of the Immaculate Conception is revealed as it were implicitly or confusedly in the book of Genesis in the words spoken by God to the serpent, and thereby to Satan (Gen. 3:15): “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” The pronoun we translate as “she” in “she shall crush thy head” is masculine in the Hebrew text, and stands for the posterity or seed of the woman; this is true also of the Septuagint and the Syraic versions. The Vulgate however has the feminine pronoun “ipsa,” referring the prophecy directly to the woman herself. However there is no essential difference of meaning between the two readings since the woman is to be associated with the victory of Him Who will be the great representative of her posterity in their conflict with Satan throughout the ages.

Taken by themselves these words are certainly not sufficient to prove that the Immaculate Conception is revealed. But the Fathers of the Church, in their comparison of Eve and Mary, have seen in them an allusion to it, and it is on that account that the text is cited by Pius IX.

To the naturalist exegete the text means no more than the instinctive revulsion man experiences towards the serpent. But to the Jewish and Christian tradition it means much more. The Christian tradition sees in that promise—it has been termed the protoevangelium—the first sketch of the Messiah and His victory over the spirit of evil. For Jesus is pre-eminently the posterity of the woman in conflict with the posterity of the serpent. But if Jesus is termed the posterity of the woman, that is not because of His remote connection with Eve, who was able to pass on to her descendants only a fallen and wounded nature, deprived of the divine life. Rather is it because of His connection with Mary, in whose womb He took a stainless humanity. As Fr. F. X. le Bachelet says, in col. 118 of the article referred to already, “We do not find in Eve the principle of that enmity which God will put between the race of the woman and the race of the serpent; for Eve, like Adam, is herself fallen a victim to the serpent. It is only between Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, that enmity ultimately exists. Hence the person of Mary is included, though in a veiled manner, in the protoeuangelium, and the Vulgate reading “ipsa” (she) expresses something really implied in the sacred text, since the victory of the Redeemer is morally, but really, the victory of His Mother.”

For that reason early Christianity never ceased to contrast Eve who shared in Adam’s sin by yielding to the serpent’s suggestion with Mary who shared in the redemptive work of Christ by believing the words of the angel on the morning of the Annunciation.43

The promise of Genesis speaks of a victory that will be complete: “She shall crush thy head.” And since the victory over Satan will be complete, so also the victory over sin which makes the soul slave and the devil master. But as Pius IX teaches in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, the victory over Satan would not be complete if Mary had not been preserved from original sin by the merits of her Son: “De ipso (serpente) plenissime triumphans, illius caput immaculato pede (Maria) contrivit.”

The Immaculate Conception is contained therefore in the promise of Genesis as the oak is contained in the acorn. A person who had never seen an oak could never guess the value of the acorn, nor its final stage of development. But we who have seen the oak know for what the acorn is destined, and that it does not yield an elm nor a poplar. The same law of evolution obtains in the order of progressive divine revelation.

The Bull Ineffabilis quotes also the salutation addressed by the angel to Mary (Luke 1:28): “Hail, full of grace . . . blessed are thou among woman,” as well as the similar words uttered by St. Elisabeth under divine inspiration (Luke 1:42). Pius IX does not state that these words are sufficient by themselves to prove that the Immaculate Conception is revealed; for that, the exegetic tradition of the Fathers must be invoked.

This tradition becomes explicit with St. Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373).44 Among the Greeks it is found on the morrow of the Council of Ephesus (431), especially in the teaching of two bishop-opponents of Nestorious, St. Proclus who was a successor of St. John Chrysostom in the chair of Constantinople (431–446) and Theodore, bishop of Ancyra. Later we find it in the teaching of St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634–638), Andrew of Crete (d. 740), St. John Damascene (d. towards the middle of the 8th century). These different testimonies will be found at length in the article Marie of the Diet. Apol., cols. 223–231.

Understood in the light of this exegetic tradition, the words of the angel to Mary “Hail, full of grace”—that is “Hail, thou art fully pleasing to God and loved by Him”—are not limited temporally in their application in such a way as to exclude even the initial period of Mary’s life. On the contrary, the Blessed Virgin would not have received complete fullness of grace had her soul been even for an instant in the condition of spiritual death which follows on original sin, had she been even for an instant deprived of grace, turned away from God, a daughter of wrath, in slavery to the devil. St. Proclus says that she was “formed from stainless clay.”45 Theodore of Ancyra says that “the Son of the Most High came forth from the Most High.”46 St. John Damascene writes that Mary is the holy daughter of Joachim and Anne “who has escaped the burning darts of the evil one,”47 that she is a new paradise “to which the serpent has no stealthy access,”48 that she is exempt from the debt of death which is one of the consequences of original sin,49 and that she must therefore be exempt from the common fall.

If Mary had contracted original sin her fullness of grace would have been diminished in this sense that it would not have extended to the whole of her life. Thus, Our Holy Mother the Church, reading the words of the angelic salutation in the light of Tradition and with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, saw revealed implicitly in it the privilege of the Immaculate Conception. The privilege is revealed in the text not as an effect is in a cause which could exist without it, but as a part is in a whole; the part is actually contained in the whole at least by way of implicit statement.


Tradition itself affirms the truth of the Immaculate Conception more and more explicitly in the course of time. St. Justin50, St. Irenaeus,51 Tertullian,52 contrast Eve, the cause of death, and Mary, the cause of life and salvation. This antithesis is constantly on the lips of the Fathers53 and is found also in the most solemn documents of the Church’s magisterium, especially in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus. It is presented as perfect and without restriction; thus, Mary must always have been greater than Eve, and most particularly at the first moment of her life. The Fathers often say that Mary is stainless, that she has always been blessed by God in honour of her Son, that she is intemerata, intacta, impolluta, intaminata, illibata, altogether without spot.

Comparing Mary and Eve, St. Ephrem says: “Both were at first simple and innocent, but thereafter Eve became cause of death and Mary cause of life.”54 Speaking to Our Blessed Lord, he continues: “You Lord and Your Mother are the only two who are perfectly beautiful under every respect. In You there is no fault, and in Your Mother there is no stain. All other children of God are far from such beauty.”55

In much the same way St. Ambrose says of Mary that she is free from every stain of sin “per gratiam ab omni integra labe peccati.”56 St. Augustine’s comment is well known: “The honour of the Lord does not permit that the question of sin be raised in connected with the Blessed Virgin Mary.”57 If however the question be put to the saints “Are you sinless? he affirms that they will answer with the Apostle St. John (i John, 1:8): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” There are two other texts which seem to show that St. Augustine meant his words to be understood in the sense of the Immaculate Conception,58 Many other texts of the Fathers will be found in the works of Passaglia,59 Palmieri60 and Le Bachelet.61

It should not be forgotten that the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated in the Church, especially in the Greek Church, since the 7th and 8th centuries. The same Feast is found in Sicily in the 9th, in Ireland in the loth, and almost everywhere in Europe in the 12th century.

The Lateran Council, held in the year 649 (Denz., 256) calls Mary “Immaculate.” In 1476 and 1483 Pope Sixtus IV speaks favorably of the privilege in connection with the Feast of the Conception of Mary (Denz., 734 sqq.). The Council of Trent (Denz., 792) declares, when speaking of original sin which infects all men, that it does not intend to include the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary. In 1567 Baius is condemned for having taught the contrary (Denz., 1073). In 1661 Alexander VII affirmed the privilege, saying that almost all Catholics held it, though it had not yet been defined (Denz., 1100). Finally, on December 8th, 1854, we have the promulgation of the solemn definition (Denz., 1641).

It must be admitted that in the 12th and 13th centuries certain great doctors, as, for example, St. Bernard,62 St. Anselm,63 Peter Lombard,64 Hugh of St. Victor,65 St. Albert the Great,66 St. Bonaventure67 and St. Thomas Aquinas appear to have been disinclined to admit the privilege. But this was because they did not consider the precise instant of Mary’s animation, or of the creation of her soul, and also because they did not distinguish, with the help of the idea of preservative redemption, between the debt to contract the hereditary stain and its actual contraction. In other words, they did not always distinguish sufficiently between “debebat contrahere” and “contraxit peccatum.” We shall see later that there were three stages in St. Thomas’s doctrine and that though he appears to deny the Immaculate Conception in the second, he admits it in the first, and probably in the third also.


The principal argument ex convenientia, or from becomingness, for the Immaculate Conception, is an elaboration of the one which St. Thomas (Ilia, q. 27, a. 1) and others give for Mary’s sanctification in her mother’s womb before birth. “It is reasonable to believe that she who gave birth to the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, received greater privileges of grace than all others. . . . We find however that to some the privilege of sanctification in their mother’s womb has been granted, as for example to Jeremias . . . and John the Baptist. . . . Hence it is reasonable to believe that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified before birth.” In a. 5 of the same question we read also: “The nearer one approaches to the source of all grace the more grace one receives; but Mary came nearest of all to Christ, Who is the principle of grace.”68

But this argument ex convenientia needs to be expanded before it will prove the Immaculate Conception.

It is Scotus’s glory (Thomists should consider it a point of honour to admit that their adversary was right in this matter) to have shown the supreme becomingness of this privilege in answer to the following difficulty which St. Thomas and many other theologians put forward: Christ is the universal Redeemer of all men without exception (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, 19; Gal. 3:22; Cor. 5:14; 1 Tim. 2:16); but if Mary did not contract original sin she would not have been redeemed; hence, since she was redeemed, she must have contracted original sin.

Duns Scotus answers this objection69 by referring to the idea of a redemption which is preservative, not liberative. He shows how reasonable this idea is, and in some places at least does not link it up with his peculiar doctrine concerning the motive of the Incarnation, so that it can be admitted independently of what one thinks about the second matter.

This is his line of argument.

It is becoming that a perfect Redeemer should make use of a sovereign mode of redemption, at least in regard to the person of His Mother who was to be associated more closely with Him than anyone else in the work of salvation. But the sovereign mode of redemption is not that which liberates from a stain already contracted, but that which preserves from all stain, just as he who wards off a blow from another saves him more than if he were simply to heal a wound that has been inflicted. Hence it was most becoming that the perfect Redeemer should, by His merits, preserve His Mother from original sin and all actual sin. This argument can be found in embryo in Eadmer.70

The Bull Ineffabilis gives this argument, in a somewhat different form, along with others. For example, it states that the honor and dishonor alike of parents affect their children, and that it was not becoming that the perfect Redeemer should have a mother who was conceived in sin. Also, just as the Word proceeds eternally from a most holy Father, it was becoming that He should be born on earth of a mother to whom the splendor of sanctity had never been lacking. Finally, in order that Mary should be able to repair the effects of Eve’s fall, overcome the wiles of the devil, and give supernatural life to all, with, by, and in Christ, it was becoming that she herself should never have been in a fallen condition, a slave to sin and the devil.

If it be objected that Christ alone is immaculate, it is easy to answer: Christ alone is immaculate of Himself, and by the double title of His Hypostatic Union and His virginal conception; Mary is immaculate through the merits of her Son.

The consequences of the Immaculate Conception have been developed by the great spiritual writers. Mary has been preserved from the two baneful fruits of original sin, concupiscence and darkness of understanding.

Since the definition of the Immaculate Conception we are obliged to hold that concupiscence has been not only bound, or restrained, in Mary from the time she was in her mother’s womb, but even that she was never in any sense its subject. There could be no disordered movement of her sensitive nature, no escape of her sensibility from the previous control of reason and will. Her sensibility was always fully subject to her rational powers, and thereby to God’s Will, as obtained in the state of original innocence. Thus Mary is virgin of virgins, most pure, “inviolata, intemerata,” tower of ivory, most pure mirror of God,

Similarly, Mary was never subject to error or illusion. Her judgment was always enlightened and correct. If she did not understand a thing fully she suspended her judgment upon it, and thus avoided the precipitation which might have been the cause of error. She is, as the Litanies say, the Seat of Wisdom, the Queen of Doctors, the Virgin most prudent, the Mother of good counsel. All theologians realise that nature spoke more eloquently to her of the Creator than to the greatest poets. She had, too, an eminent and wonderfully simple knowledge of what the Scriptures said of the Messiah, the Incarnation, and the Redemption. Thus she was fully exempt from concupiscence and error.

But why did the Immaculate Conception not make Mary immune from pain and death since they too were consequences of original sin?

It should be noted that the pain and death which Jesus and Mary knew were not consequences of original sin as they are for us. For Jesus and Mary they were consequences of but human nature, which, of itself, and like the animal nature in general, is subject to pain and death of the body: it was only because of a special privilege that Adam had been exempt from them in the state of innocence. As for Jesus, He was conceived virginally in passible flesh in order to redeem us by dying, and when the time came He accepted suffering and death, its consummation, freely for love of us. Mary, for her part, accepted suffering and death voluntarily in imitation of Him and to unite herself to Him; she was one with Him in His expiation and in His work of redemption.

There is one wonderful thing, one delight of contemplatives, which we should not overlook. It is that the privilege of the Immaculate Conception and the fullness of grace did not withdraw Mary from pain, but rather made her all the more sensitive to suffer from contact with sin, the greatest of evils. Precisely because she was so pure, precisely because her heart was consumed by the love of God, Mary suffered pains to which our imperfection makes us insensible. We suffer if our self-love is wounded, or our pride, or our susceptibilities. Mary, however, suffered from sin, and that in the measure of her love of God Whom sin offends, and her love of Her Son Whom sin crucifies; she suffered in the measure of her love of us, whom sin wounds and kills. Thus the Immaculate Conception increased Mary’s sufferings and disposed her to bear them heroically. Not one of them did she squander. All passed through her hands in union with those of her Son, thus to be offered up for our salvation.


As certain commentators have suggested, three periods may be distinguished in St. Thomas’s teaching.

In the first—that of 1253–1254, the beginning of his theological career—he supports the privilege, probably because of the liturgical tradition which favored it, as well as because of his pious admiration for the perfect holiness of the Mother of God. It is in this period that he wrote (I Sent., d. 44, q. I, a. 3, ad 3): “Purity is increased by withdrawing from its opposite: hence there can be a creature than whom no more pure is possible in creation, if it be free from all contagion of sin: and such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin who was immune from original and actual sin.” This text states therefore that Mary was so pure as to be exempt from all original and actual sin.

During the second period St. Thomas, seeing better the difficulties in the question—for the theologians of his time held that Mary was immaculate independently of Christ’s merits—hesitated, and refused to commit himself. He, of course, held that all men without exception are redeemed by one Saviour. (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, 19; Gal. 3:22; 2 Cor. 5:14; 1 Tim. 2:6). Hence we find him proposing the question thus in Ilia, q. 27, a. 2: Was the Blessed Virgin sanctified in the conception of her body before its animation? for, according to him and many other theologians, the conception of the body was to be distinguished from the animation, or creation of the soul. This latter (called today the consummated passive conception) was thought to be about a month later in time than the initial conception.

The holy doctor mentions certain arguments at the beginning of the article which favor the Immaculate Conception—even taking conception to be that which precedes animation. He then answers them as follows: “There are two reasons why the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot have taken place before her animation: 1st—the sanctification in question is cleansing from original sin . . . but the guilt of sin can be removed only by grace (which has as object the soul itself) . . . 2nd—if the Blessed Virgin had been sanctified before animation she would have have incurred the stain of original sin and would therefore never have stood in need of redemption by Christ. . . . But this may not be admitted, since Christ is Head of all men. (1 Tim. 2:6).”

Even had he written after the definition of 1854 St. Thomas could have said that Mary was not sanctified before animation. However, he goes further than that here, for he adds at the end of the article: “Hence it follows that the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin took place after her animation.” Nor does he distinguish, as he does in many other contexts, between posteriority in nature and posteriority in time. In the answer to the second objection he even states that the Blessed Virgin “contracted original sin.”71 However, it must be recognised that the whole point of his argument is to show that Mary incurred the debt of original sin since she descended from Adam by way of natural generation. Unfortunately he did not distinguish sufficiently the debt from actually incurring the stain.

Regarding the question of the exact moment at which Mary was sanctified in the womb of her mother, St. Thomas does not make any definite pronouncement. He states that it followed close on animation—cito post are his words in Quodl. VI, a. 7. But he believes that nothing more precise can be said: “the time of her sanctification is unknown” (Ilia, q. 27, a. 2, ad 3).

St. Thomas does not consider in the Summa if Mary was sanctified in the very instant of animation. St. Bonaventure had put himself that question and had answered it in the negative. It is possible that St. Thomas’s silence was inspired by the reserved attitude of the Roman Church which, unlike so many other Churches, did not celebrate the Feast of the Conception (cf. ibid., ad 3). This is the explanation proposed by Fr. N. del Prado, O.P., in Santo Tomas y la Immaculada, Vergara, 1909, by Fr. Mandonnet, O.P, Diet. Theol. Cath., art. Freres Precheurs, col. 899, and by Fr. Hugon, O.P, Tractatus Dogmatici, t. II, ed. 5, 1927, p. 749. For these authors the thought of the holy doctor in this second period of his professional career was that expressed long afterwards by Gregory XV in his letters of July 4th, 1622: “Spiritus Sanctus nondum tanti mysterii arcanum Ecclesiae suae patefecit.”

The texts we have considered so far do not therefore imply any contradiction of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. They could even be retained if the idea of preservative redemption were introduced. There is however one text which cannot be so easily explained away. In III Sent., dist. Ill, q. 1, a. 1, ad 2am qm, we read: “Nor (did it happen) even in the instant of infusion of the soul, namely, by grace being then given her so as to preserve her from incurring the original fault. Christ alone among men has the privilege of not needing redemption.” Frs. del Prado and Hugon explain this text as follows: The meaning of St. Thomas’s words may be that the Blessed Virgin was not preserved from original sin in such a way as not to incur its debt, as that would mean not to stand in need of redemption. However, one could have expected to find in the text itself the explicit distinction between the debt and the fact of incurring the stain.

In the final period of his career, when writing the Exposito super salutatione angelica—which is certainly authentic72—in 1272 or 1273, St. Thomas expressed himself thus: “For she (the Blessed Virgin) was most pure in the matter of fault (quantum ad culpam) and incurred neither original nor mortal nor venial sin.” Cf. J. F. Rossi, C.M., S. Thomae Aquinatis Expositio salutationis angelieae, Introductio et textus. Divus Thomas (PL), 1931, pp. 445–479.73 In this critical edition of the Commentary on the Ave Maria, it is stated, pp. 11–15, that the passage quoted just now is found in sixteen manuscripts out of nineteen consulted by the author, who concludes that it is authentic. He gives photographs of the principal manuscripts in an appendix. Let us hope that the same conscientious work will be performed on the other opuscula of St. Thomas!74

In spite of the objection raised by Fr. P. Synave75 the text appears to be authentic. If it is, then St. Thomas returned towards the end of his life—moved, we may believe, by his love of the Mother of God—to the position he had adopted when he affirmed the Immaculate Conception in his Commentary on the Sentences. Nor is the text we are considering the only indication of such a return.76

Such an evolution of doctrine is not rare among theologians. At first they propose a thesis which they accept from tradition without seeing all its difficulties. Later reflection leads them to adopt a more reserved attitude. Finally they return to their first position, realising that God is more bounteous in His gifts than we can understand and that we should not set limits to Him without good reason. In the case of St. Thomas, we have seen that the reasons he invoked against the privilege are not conclusive, and that they even support it when considered in the light of the idea of preservative redemption.77


The Council of Trent78 has defined that “after his justification a man cannot avoid, during the whole course of his life, every venial sin, without a special privilege such as the Church recognises was conferred on the Blessed Virgin.” The soul in the state of grace can therefore avoid any venial sin considered separately, but cannot avoid all venial sins taken together by keeping itself always free from them. Mary however avoided all sin, even the least grave. St. Augustine affirms that “for the honour of her Son Who came to remit the sins of the world, Mary is never included when there is question of sin.”79 The Fathers and theologians consider, to judge from their manner of speaking, that she is free even from every voluntary imperfection, for, according to them, she never failed in promptness to obey a divine inspiration given by way of counsel. Though a minor lack of generosity is not a venial sin, but simply a lesser good, or an imperfection, not even so slight a shortcoming was found in Mary. She never elicited an imperfect (remissus) act of charity, that is to say, one that fell short in intensity of the degree in which she possessed the virtue.

St. Thomas gives the reason for this special privilege when he says: “God prepares and disposes those whom He has chosen for a special purpose in such a way as to make them capable of performing that for which He selected them.”80 In that God differs from men, who sometimes choose incapable or mediocre candidates for important posts. “Thus,” continues St. Thomas, “St. Paul says of the Apostles (2 Cor. 3:6), “It is God Who has made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter, but in the spirit.” But the Blessed Virgin was divinely chosen to be the Mother of God (that is to say, she was predestined from all eternity for the divine maternity). Hence, it cannot be doubted that God fitted her by grace for her mission, according to the words spoken her by the angel (Luke 1:30): “Thou hast found grace with God. Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.” But Mary would not have been a worthy Mother of God had she ever sinned, for the honor and dishonor of parents is reflected on the children according to the words of the Book of Proverbs: “The glory of children are their fathers.” Besides, Mary had a special affinity to Jesus, from Whom she took flesh, but “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:15). Finally, the Son of God, Who is Divine Wisdom, inhabited Mary in a very special manner, not in her soul only but in her womb also; and it is said (Wisdom 1:4): “Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins.” Hence it must be said without any reservation that the Blessed Virgin committed no sin, mortal or venial, so that the words of the Canticle of Canticles are fully verified in her regard (Cant. 4:7): “Thou art all fair, my love, and there is not a spot in thee.”’

Mary had therefore impeccantia (the term is parallel to inerrantia) or freedom from sin, and even impeccability. Her title to these endowments is not however the same as her Son’s. In her case it was a matter of preservation from every sin through a special privilege.81 This privilege includes first of all a very high degree of habitual grace and charity, which gives the soul a strong inclination to the act of love of God and withdraws it from sin. It includes also confirmation in grace, which when granted to a saint is had normally through an increase of charity, especially that proper to the state of transforming union, and an increase of actual efficacious graces which preserve the soul de facto from sin and move it to ever more meritorious acts. Thus Mary enjoyed a special assistance of Divine Providence. This assistance—more effective than even that which belonged to the state of innocence—preserved all her faculties from faults, and kept her soul in a state of the most complete generosity. Just as confirmation in grace is an effect of the predestination of the saints, so this preservative assistance granted to Mary was an effect of her peculiar predestination. Far from diminishing her liberty or free will, the effect of this preservation from sin was to confer on her full liberty in the order of moral goodness, with no inclination to evil (just as her mind never tended to error). Hence her liberty, following the example of that of Jesus, was a faithful and most pure image of God’s liberty, which is at once sovereign and incapable of sin.

If human masterpieces of art, in architecture, painting and music, and if the precision instruments produced by human skill all reach such perfection, what must not be the perfection of God’s masterpieces? And among these, if the works of the natural order are so perfect—the majesty of the ocean and the high mountains, the structure of the eye and ear, the human mind and the mind of the angels—how perfect must not the works of the supernatural order be, among which so remarkable a place is held by the soul of Mary which was adorned with every choice gift from the first moment of her existence?


The problem82 has been taken from its proper context by the casuists. It is one which concerns interior souls, advanced in the spiritual life, and careful to avoid every more or less venial sin. Those who consider the problem in relation to less advanced souls run the risk of taking for imperfection what is really a venial sin.

At one time the problem was closely associated with another one: is it possible to commit no more than a simple imperfection by resisting a religious vocation? The answer ordinarily given to this question is that though the religious vocation does not oblige under pain of sin, sin is always involved in rejecting it for the reason that religion is a way of life that embraces the whole of life, and the other ways of life, being less safe than it, are never chosen in preference to it except through some inordinate attachment to the things of this world, as is seen in the example of the rich man in the Gospel. Thus, the rejection of a vocation involves an inordinate attachment (which is forbidden by divine precept) and not only a lack of generosity.

To see the problem of an imperfection as distinct from a venial sin in its proper perspective, it must be viewed in its relation to very generous souls, and still more in relation to the impeccability of Christ and the sinlessness of Mary. Here we may ask: Was there any voluntary imperfection in the lives of Jesus and Mary? The question is obviously a most delicate one.

The answer usually given to this problem is that there was never any imperfection, however slightly voluntary, in the lives of Jesus and Mary, for they never failed in their prompt obedience to every divine inspiration given by way of counsel. But if there had been any lack of promptitude, it would have been a mere lack of generosity, not a moral disorder in the strict sense of the term, as is an inordinate attachment to the things of this world.

As regards interior souls, it may be said that as long as they have not taken the vow of always doing the most perfect thing, they are not bound under pain of venial sin to act always with the maximum of generosity possible to them at any given instant.83 It is becoming, however, that those more advanced should, without binding themselves by vow, promise the Blessed Virgin always to do what will appear to them evidently the most perfect in any given circumstance.


The habitual grace which the Blessed Virgin received at the instant of the creation of her holy soul was a fullness or plenitude to which the words of the angel on the Annunciation day might have been applied: “Hail, full of grace.” This is what Pius IX affirms when he defines the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He even says that, from the first instant, Mary “was loved by God more than all creatures, (prae creaturis universis), that He found most extreme pleasure in her, and that He loaded her in a wonderful way with His graces, more than all the angels and saints.”84 Many texts might be quoted from tradition to the same effect.85

St. Thomas explains the reason of this plenitude of grace when he says86: “The nearer one approaches to a principle (of truth and life) the more one participates in its effects. That is why St. Denis affirms (De caelestia hierarchia) that the angels, who are nearer to God than man is, participate more in His favors. But Christ is the principle of the life of grace; as God He is its principal cause and as Man (having first His humanity is, as it were, an instrument always united to the Divinity: ‘Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17). The Blessed Virgin Mary, being nearer to Christ than any other human being, since it is from her that He received His humanity, receives from Him therefore a fullness of grace, surpassing that of all other creatures.” It is true that St. John the Baptist and Jeremias were sanctified, according to the testimony of Sacred Scripture, in their mother’s womb, without, however, being preserved from original sin. But Mary received grace from the very first instant in a degree far excelling theirs, and received as well the privilege of being preserved from every fault—even venial—a privilege we find accorded to no other saint.87

In his Expositio super salutatione angelica St. Thomas describes Mary’s plenitude of grace (and his words are applicable to the initial plenitude) in terms of which the following is a summary:

Though the angels do not manifest special respect for men, being their superiors by nature and living in holy intimacy with God, yet the Archangel Gabriel when saluting Mary, showed himself full of veneration for her. He understood that she was far above him through her fullness of grace, her intimacy with God, and her perfect purity.

She had received fullness of grace under three respects. First, so as to avoid every sin, however slight, and to practice all the virtues in an eminent degree. Secondly, so as to overflow from her soul upon her body and prepare her to receive the Incarnate Son of God. Thirdly, so as to overflow upon all men88 and to aid them in the practice of all the virtues.

Further, she surpassed the angels in her holy familiarity with the Most High. On that account, Gabriel saluted her saying: “The Lord is with thee.” It was as if he said: “You are more intimate with God than I. He is about to become your Son, whereas I am but His servant.” In truth, Mary, as Mother of God, is more intimate with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, than are the angels.

Finally, she surpassed the angels in purity, even though they are pure spirits, for she was both pure in herself and the source of purity to others. Not only was she exempt from original sin89 and from all mortal and venial sin, but she escaped the curse due to sin, namely, “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children . . . into dust thou shalt return” (Gen. 3:16, 19). She will conceive the Son of God without loss to her virginity, she will bear Him in holy recollection, she will bring Him forth in joy, she will be preserved from the corruption of the tomb and will be associated by her Assumption with the Ascension of the Saviour.

Already she is blessed among women, for she alone, with and through her Son, will lift the curse which descended on the human race, and will bring us blessings by opening the gates of Heaven. That is why she is called the Star of the Sea, guiding Christians to the harbour of eternity.

Elisabeth will say to her: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Whereas the sinner looks for that which he cannot find in the object of his sinful desires, the just finds everything in what he desires holily. From this point of view, the fruit of the womb of Mary will be thrice blessed.

Eve desired the forbidden fruit, so as to have the knowledge of good and evil, and thereby to become independent and free from the yoke of obedience. She was deceived by the lying promise “You will be as God,” for far from becoming like God, she was turned away from Him. Mary, on the contrary, found all things in the blessed fruit of her womb. In Him she found God, and she will lead us to find God in Him.

By yielding to the temptation, Eve sought joy and found sadness. Mary, on the contrary, found joy and salvation for herself and us in her Divine Son.

Finally, the fruit sought by Eve had beauty only for the senses, whereas the fruit of Mary’s womb is the splendor, the eternal and spiritual glory of the Father. Mary is blessed herself, and still more blessed in her Son, Who has brought all men blessing and salvation.

The preceding is a synopsis of what St. Thomas has to say of Mary’s fullness of grace in his commentary on the Hail Mary. He has in mind most of all the fullness of the Annunciation day. But what he says is applicable also to her initial fullness, just as what is said of the stream is applicable also to its source.


It has been asked if Mary’s initial grace was greater than the final grace of the greatest of angels and men, or even than the final grace of all angels and men taken together. The question is usually understood not of the final and consummated grace of Heaven, but of the grace which is final in the sense that it immediately preceded entry into glory.90

As for the first part of the question, theologians commonly hold that Mary’s initial grace was greater than the final grace of the highest of angels and men. This is the teaching, for example, of St. John Damascene,91 Suarez,92 Justin of Miechow, O.P.,93 Contenson,94 St. Alphonsus,95 Fathers Terrien,96 Godts, Hugon, Merkelbach, etc. Today, all textbooks of Mariology are unanimous in considering this teaching certain. It can even be found expressed by Pius IX in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus in the passage we have quoted already. The principal argument in favor of this teaching is arrived at from a consideration of the divine maternity, which is the reason for all the privileges conferred on Mary. There are two ways of outlining it: from the point of view of the end to which Mary’s initial grace was ordained, and from the point of view of the divine love which was its cause.

Mary’s initial grace was given her as a worthy preparation for the divine motherhood—to prepare her to be a worthy Mother of the Saviour, said St. Thomas (Ilia, q. 27, a. 5, ad 2). But even the consummated grace of the other saints is not a worthy preparation for the divine maternity, for it pertains to the hypostatic order. Hence the first grace of Mary surpasses the consummated grace of the other saints. Pious authors express this truth by taking in an accommodated sense the words of Psalm 86: “The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains.” They say that the summit of the perfection of the other saints is not as yet the beginning of the perfection of Mary.

The same conclusion is reached by considering the uncreated love of God for the Blessed Virgin. Since grace is the effect of the active love of God which makes us pleasing in His eyes as adoptive children, the more a person is loved by God the more grace he receives. But Mary, since she was to be the Mother of God, was more loved by Him in the first instant of her being than any angel or saint. Hence she received from the first instant a greater gift of grace than any of them, however favored.

Was Mary’s First Grace higher than the Final Grace of all the Angels and Saints taken together?

A number of theologians, both ancient and modern, have answered this question in the negative.97 However, the affirmative answer, which is given by Ch. Vega, Contenson, St. Alphonsus, Godts, Monsabre, Billot, Sinibaldi, Hugon, L. Janssens, Merkelbach and others, is at least probable.

For it there is, first of all, the argument from authority. Pius IX favors it in his Bull Ineffabilis Deus, when he says: “Deus ab initio . . . unigenito filio suo Matrem . . . elegit atque ordinavit, tantoque prae creaturis universis est prosecutus amore, ut in ilia una sibi propensissima voluntate complacuerit. Quapropter illam longe ante omnes angelicos Spiritus, cunctosque Sanctos coelestium omnium charismatum copia de thesauro Divinitatis deprompta ita mirifice cumulavit, ut . . . earn innocentiae et sanctitatis plenitudinem prae se ferret, et qua major sub Deo nullatenus intelligitur, et quam praeter Deum nemo assequi cogitando potest.” (This text is translated on page 14.) Taken in their obvious sense all these expressions, especially the “cunctos sanctos,” mean that Mary’s grace surpassed that of all the saints together from the first instant mentioned in the text. If Pius IX wished to say that Mary’s grace surpassed that of each angel and saint individually, he would have said “longe ante quemlibet sanctum et angelicum” rather than “longe ante omnes angelicos Spiritus cunctosque sanctos.” Nor would he have said that God loved Mary above all creatures, “prae creaturis universis,” and that He took greater delight in her alone, “ut in ilia una sibi propensissima voluntate complacuerit.” It cannot be contended that in all this there is no question of the first instant of Mary’s existence since Pius IX goes on to say, immediately after the passage just quoted, “Decebat omnino ut beatissima Virgo Maria perfectissimae sanctitatis splendoribus semper ornata fulgeret.”

A little further on in the same Bull, we are told that, according to the Fathers, Mary is higher by grace than the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and the whole Heavenly Host (omni exercitu angelorum)—that is to say, all united. Though it is universally admitted that these words refer to Mary in Heaven, it must yet be recalled that one’s degree of heavenly glory is proportionate to the preceding grace or charity at the hour of death. And in the case of Mary, this latter was proportionate to her dignity as Mother of God, a dignity for which she had been prepared from the very first instant of existence.

To the argument from the authority of the Bull Ineffabilis, two theological reasons can be added. They are based on the divine maternity, considered as the end towards which Mary’s first grace was ordained and on the uncreated love which was its cause. As a help to grasping them, it is necessary to remark that even though grace is a quality and not a quantified thing, there are many to whom it is not at once evident that if Mary’s first grace surpassed that of the highest of the saints, it must also surpass that of all angels and saints united. They say, for example, that though the eagle’s vision is more acute than that of the most keen-sighted man, it does not follow that an eagle sees more than all men taken together. Of course, in this example an element of quantity—that is, of extension and distance—enters in, which is not found in the case of Mary’s grace, so that it is really irrelevant. But, at the same time, it may be well to clarify the question still more.

1st—Since Mary’s first grace prepared her to be the worthy Mother of God, it must have been proportionate, at least remotely, to the divine maternity. But the final consummated grace of all the saints together is not proportionate to the divine maternity, since it belongs to an inferior order. Hence the final consummated grace of all the saints united is less than the first grace received by Mary.

This argument—even though not admitted by all theologians—seems to be quite conclusive. The objection has been raised that Mary’s first grace was not a proximate preparation for the divine maternity and hence was not necessarily of a different order from the grace of all the saints. To this it may be answered that, though not a proximate preparation, Mary’s first grace was a worthy and proportionate preparation, according to the teaching of St. Thomas (Ilia, q. 27, a. 5, ad 2): “The first perfection of grace (was) as it were dispositive, making the Blessed Virgin worthy to become the Mother of Christ.” But the consummated grace of all the saints united is not proportionate to the divine maternity, which is of the hypostatic order. The argument therefore retains its force.

2nd—The person who is more loved by God than all creatures united receives grace surpassing theirs, for grace is the effect of uncreated love and is proportionate to it. As St. Thomas says (la, q. 20, a. 4): “God loves one more than another by the fact that He wills him a higher good, for the divine will is the cause of the good that is in creatures.” But God has loved Mary from all eternity more than all creatures united, as being she whom He was to prepare from the first instant of her conception to be the worthy Mother of the Saviour. In the words of Bossuet: “He always loved Mary as His Mother, and considered her as such from the moment she was conceived.”98 This does not, of course, exclude the possibility that Mary advanced in holiness, or grew in grace. For grace, being a participation in the divine nature, can always increase though still remaining finite; Mary’s final fullness of grace is limited, while yet being so full as to overflow on all souls.

To these two arguments, taken from the divine maternity, another may be added, which will become increasingly evident as we speak of Mary’s universal mediation. It is that Mary could obtain by her merits and prayers—even on earth, and from the time when she could first merit and pray—more than all the saints together, for they obtain nothing except through her universal mediation. Mary is, as it were, the aqueduct which brings us grace; in the mystical body she is, as it were, the neck which joins the members with the Head. In short, from the time she could merit and pray, Mary could obtain more without the saints than they could without her. But merit corresponds in degree to charity and sanctifying grace. Hence Mary received from the beginning of her life a degree of grace superior to that which the saints and angels united had attained to before their entry into Heaven.

There are other indirect confirmations, or more or less close analogies. For example, a precious stone—a diamond—is worth more than a number of other stones united; a saint like the Cure of Ars could do more by his prayers and merits than all his parishioners together; a founder of an order like St. Benedict surpasses all his first companions by the grace he has received, for without him they could not have made the foundation whereas, had they failed him, he could have enlisted others to take their place; the intellect of an archangel surpasses that of all inferior angels united; the intellectual worth of St. Thomas is greater than that of all his contemporaries; the power of a king is greater, not only than that of his prime minister, but also that of his ministers combined.

Early theologians did not examine the question of the degree of Mary’s first grace, but that is probably because its solution appeared evident to them. They taught, for example, at the end of the treatises on grace and charity that whereas a ten-franc piece is worth no more than ten one-franc pieces, the charity signified by the ten talents of the parable is worth more than ten charities of one talent.99 That is why the devil tries to keep souls called to high sanctity by their priestly and religious vocation at the level of mediocrity. He wishes to prevent the growth of their charity, knowing that one man of great charity will do much more than many whose charity is at a lower, lukewarm level.100 Thus Mary, in virtue of the first grace which disposed her for the divine maternity, was worth more in God’s eyes than all the apostles, martyrs, confessors, and virgins united, more than all men and all angels created from the beginning.

The thought of the marvellous instruments which human skill can produce is a reminder of what the Divine Artist can do in this soul of His special choice, in her of whom it is said “Elegit earn Deus et praeelegit earn,” in her who the liturgy tells us was raised above all the angelic choirs. The first grace she received was already a worthy preparation for her divine maternity and her exceptional glory which is inferior only to that of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Nor should we forget that she suffered proportionately as He did, for she was called to be a victim with Him so as to be victorious with and by Him.

These reasons permit us to get some glimpse of the dignity and elevation of Mary’s first grace.

One more point before concluding. The classics in the literature of every country mean much more to us when we take them up in mature age, than they did when we first read them at the age of fifteen or twenty years; and the same is true of the works of the great theologians, of St. Augustine and St. Thomas. Must there not, then, be beauties hidden as yet from our eyes in God’s masterpieces, in those composed immediately by Himself, and especially in that masterpiece of nature and grace, the soul of Mary, God’s Mother? This thought alone is enough to make one begin by affirming the richness of her initial grace. Perhaps the next thing will be, to wonder if the affirmation has not been too hasty, if a probability has not been made into a certainty. But last of all, there will come a return to the first position; not now because it is beautiful, but because careful study has shown that it is true; not because it has a merely theoretical becomingness but because its becomingness acted as a motive in determining the choice that God actually made of it.


From the instant of her conception, Mary’s initial plenitude of grace included the infused virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are the different parts or functions of the spiritual organism. Even from before St. Thomas’s time, habitual grace was called “the grace of the virtues and the gifts” because of its connection with them; for the infused virtues, theological and moral, flow from grace (in a degree proportioned to its perfection) as its properties, just as the faculties flow from the substance of the soul.101 The gifts flow from it also (in a similar proportionate degree) as infused permanent dispositions which make the soul docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, somewhat as the sails of a boat make it docile to a favorable wind.102

Furthermore, the infused virtues and the gifts are linked up with charity which makes their acts meritorious,103 and they keep pace with it in their growth as do the five fingers of the hand with one another.104 It may well happen that the gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, which are both speculative and practical, will manifest themselves in one saint more in their practical and in another more in their speculative roles. But normally all seven exist in every soul in the state of grace in a degree proportionate to its charity—the charity itself being proportionate to the sanctifying grace of the soul.

From these principles, which are commonly accepted in treatises on the virtues in general and the gifts, it is usually deduced that Mary had the infused theological and moral virtues and the gifts from the first instant of her conception, and that they flowed from and were proportionate to her initial fullness of grace. Mary—destined even then to be Mother of God and men—could not have been less perfect than Eve was at her creation. Even if she did not receive in her body the privileges of impassibility and immortality, she must have had in her soul all that pertained spiritually to the state of original justice—all, and more, even, since her initial fullness of grace surpassed the grace of all the saints together. Her virtues in their initial state must, therefore, have surpassed the heroic virtues of the greatest saints.105 Her faith, lit up by the gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, was unshakably firm and most penetrating. Her hope was unconquerable, proof against presumption and despair alike. Her charity was most ardent. In fine, her initial holiness, which surpassed that of God’s greatest servants, was born with her, and did not cease to grow all through life.

The only difficulty in this matter is that of the exercise of the infused virtues, already so perfect, and the gifts. Their exercise demands the use of reason and of free will. We must, therefore, ask if Mary had the use of her rational faculties from the first instant.

All theologians admit that the holy soul of Christ had the use of intellect and will from the beginning.106 They admit too that He had the beatific vision, or the immediate vision of the divine Essence,107 a doctrine which the Holy Office declared on June 6th, 1918, to be certain. Jesus is the Head in the order of grace, and therefore He enjoyed from the first instant, as a consequence of the personal union of His humanity to the Word, the glory He was to give to the elect. He had also infused knowledge similar to that of the angels, but in a much more perfect degree than it has been found in some of the saints—in those, for example, who had the gift of understanding and speaking languages they had never learned.108 Theologians teach that these two knowledges—the beatific and the infused—were perfect in Jesus from the beginning. It was only the knowledge which He acquired by experience and reflection which developed. Jesus, the sovereign priest, judge, and king of the universe, offered Himself for us, says St. Paul,109 from the moment of His entry into the world and knew everything in the past, present and future, that could be submitted to His judgement.110

Though there is little serious difference of opinion among theologians regarding Jesus” knowledge, the problem of Mary’s knowledge is much disputed. It would appear that there is no reason to assert that she had the beatific vision here on earth, especially from the first instant of her conception.111 But many theologians hold that she had per se infused knowledge from the beginning, at least from time to time—though some contend that she had it in a permanent way. On this view she would have had the use of her intellect and of her free will in her mother’s womb—on certain occasions at least—and would, in consequence, have had the use of the infused virtues and the gifts which she possessed in so high a degree. One can hardly deny this view except by asserting that Mary’s intellect, will and infused virtues remained as it were asleep, as they do in other children, and did not wake up till she attained the ordinary age of the use of reason.

For our part, we may say, first of all, that it is at least very probable, according to the teaching of the majority of theologians, that Mary had the use of her free will through her infused knowledge from the first instant of her conception, at least in a passing manner. Such is the teaching of St. Vincent Ferrer,112 St. Bernardine of Sienna,113 St. Francis de Sales,114 St. Alphonsus,115 Suarez,116 Vega,117 Contenson,118 Justin de Miechow,119 and most modern theologians.120 Fr. Terrien goes so far as to say that he found only two opponents of the doctrine: Gerson and Muratori.121

The following are the reasons that can be adduced in favor of the privilege:

1st—It is not becoming to hold that Mary, Queen of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and all the saints, lacked a privilege granted to St. John the Baptist.122 We read of him in Luke 1:41 and 44, while he was still in the womb: “When Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb,” and Elisabeth herself said: “For as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Leo the Great, and St. Gregory the Great have noted that the joy of St. John the Baptist before his birth was not merely of the sense order, but was elicited by the coming of the Saviour, Whose precursor he was.123 Thus Catejan notes that this joy, being a spiritual order, presupposes the use of reason and will, and at the time there could be no question of acquired but only of infused knowledge (Comment, in Ilia P., q. 27, a. 6). The church too sings in her liturgy, in the hymn for Vespers of St. John the Baptist “Senseras Regem thalamo manentem . . . Suae regenerationis cognovit auctorem: You have recognised your kind and the author of your regeneration.” If, therefore, St. John the Baptist had the use of reason and will before birth, because of his vocation as precursor of Christ, the same privilege can hardly be denied to Christ’s mother.

2nd—Since Mary received grace and the infused virtues and the gifts in the first instant in a degree higher than that of the final grace of the saints, she must have been sanctified in the way proper to adults, that is, by disposing her through actual grace for habitual grace, and by using this latter as a principle of merit from the moment she received it; in other words, she offered herself to God as her Son did on His entry into the world. “Then I said: Behold I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9). Mary did not, of course, know then that she would be one day the Mother of God, but none the less she would accept all that the Lord asked and would yet ask of her.

3rd—Mary’s initial fullness of grace, virtues, and gifts which surpassed already the final fullness of all the saints, could not have remained inactive at the beginning of her life. Such inactivity would appear opposed to the sweet and generous dispositions of Divine Providence in favor of the Mother of the Saviour. But unless she had the use of her free will through infused knowledge, the virtues and gifts which she possessed in so high a degree would have remained inactive for a considerable part of her life (that is, the beginning).

Almost all present-day theologians admit that it is at least very probable that, in her mother’s womb, Mary had the use of her free will through infused knowledge—transitorily, at any rate. They admit too that she had the use of this infused knowledge on certain occasions, such as the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, the Ascension; also that she had the use of it for the purpose of acquiring a more perfect knowledge of the divine perfections and of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. There is all the more reason for admitting that Mary had this privilege when we recall that infused knowledge was given to the apostles on the first Pentecost when they received the gift of tongues, and that the great St. Teresa, after arriving at the Seventh Mansion, had frequent intellectual visions of the Trinity such as can only be explained by infused ideas. Even those theologians who are most conservative in their views do not hesitate to admit this much of Mary.124 It is in fact the least that may be attributed to the Mother of God who enjoyed the visit of the Archangel Gabriel, who was on terms of saintly familiarity with the Incarnate Word, who was constantly enlightened by Him during the hidden life, who must have received special revelations during and after the Passion, and who received on the day of Pentecost the light of the Holy Ghost in more abundant measure than the apostles themselves.


According to St. Francis de Sales,125 St. Alphonsus,126 and theologians of the standing of Sauve,127 Terrien95 and Hugon,128 Mary’s use of her privilege was uninterrupted. Fr. Merkelbach and other theologians assert that there is no convincing argument in proof of that thesis.129 It is our opinion that though it cannot be demonstrated with certainty that Mary enjoyed the uninterrupted use of reason and free will in her mother’s womb, it is seriously probable and difficult to disprove that she had it. For if it be conceded that she had it in the first instant, it follows that she would become less perfect when deprived of it. But it does not appear becoming that so holy a creature should fall in any way without guilt on her part, all the more so since her dignity demanded that she should progress continuously and that her merit should be unbroken.130

It has been objected that St. Thomas regards the privilege as peculiar to Christ.131 Certain it is that Christ’s permanent exercise of reason and will belongs to Him alone as a strict right and consequence of the beatific vision. Mary cannot lay any such claim to the privilege. But it appears altogether becoming that the future Mother of God should have been granted it as a special and most appropriate favor. Besides, St. Thomas’s words may be explained by the fact that the Immaculate Conception had not been defined in his time and, in consequence, prominence had not been given to the motives we have adduced for admitting the privilege in Mary’s case.132 Today, however, after the Bull Ineffabilis, we realise that Mary was favored from the first instant more than all the saints united. Besides, as we have said, almost all theologians admit that she had the privilege at least transitorily from the first instant. If so, it is hard to see why it should ever have been withdrawn, interrupting her merit and progress, and leaving the initial plenitude, as it were, unproductive and sterile—all of which is opposed to the sweet and strong way in which Providence cared for Mary.

Such was the initial fullness of grace which accompanied the Immaculate Conception, and such were its first consequences. More and more can we see the implications of the angelic salutation: “Hail, full of grace.”
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre


IN this chapter we shall speak of Mary’s spiritual progress up to the Annunciation, of the increase of grace at that instant, of her perpetual virginity, of her growth in charity on certain important occasions which followed—notably on Calvary; finally we shall speak of Mary’s wisdom, of her principal virtues and charismatic gifts.


The method which we have adopted in this book is first to treat principles, bringing out their force and their sublimity, and then to apply them to the Mother of God. Hence we begin this article by recalling that spiritual progress is, most of all, progress in charity, the virtue which inspires, animates, and renders meritorious the other virtues. All the other infused virtues are connected with charity, and grow to the rhythm of its growth, just as the five fingers of a child’s hands grow proportionately.133

In the sections that follow we shall see why and how charity developed in Mary, and examine the stages of its growth.


Why is it that charity grew in Mary up to the time of her death? First of all, because such growth is in accordance both with the nature of the charity which is tending to eternity and with the divine precept: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength”—a precept which is so worded as to denote progress. This divine precept, which takes precedence over all other precepts and counsels, obliges all Christians to tend towards the perfection of charity and the other virtues in the manner appropriate to their condition of life—some in the married state, others in the priestly or the religious state. Not all are obliged to the practice of the three evangelical counsels. But all are obliged to strive to acquire their spirit, which is one of detachment from self and the things of this world in view of closer union with God.

Of Our Blessed Lord alone can it be said that He never grew in grace or charity, for He alone received the complete fullness of them both at His conception in consequence of the hypostatic union. Thus, the Second Council of Constantinople declares that Jesus did not develop spiritually through progress in good works,134 even though He followed the normal sequence in performing the acts of virtue peculiar to each period of life. Mary, however, was continually growing in grace all through her life. What was still more, her growth was an accelerated one, in accordance with the principle formulated by St. Thomas a propos the text: “ . . . comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” (Heb. 10:25). In his commentary in loc, he writes: “It may be asked why we should thus always progress in faith and love. The reason is that a natural (or connatural) movement always becomes more rapid the nearer it approaches its term (the end which attracts it). With violent or unnatural movement, it is quite different.” [Today we remark that the downward movement of a falling body is uniformly accelerated while the upward movement of one thrown into the air is uniformly slowed down.] “But,” continues St. Thomas, “grace perfects the soul and makes it tend to the good in a natural way (like a second nature); it follows then, that those who are in the state of grace should grow more in charity according as they come nearer to their final end (and are more strongly attracted by it). That is why it is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘Not forsaking our assembly . . . but comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching’—that is to say, the end of your journey approaching. We read elsewhere: ‘The night is passed, and the day is at hand.’ (Rom. 13:12). ‘But the path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even to perfect day.’” (Prov. 4:18).135

St. Thomas wrote this at a time when the law of universal gravitation was not yet known, and the rate of acceleration of falling bodies had not been calculated accurately. Nevertheless, his genius enabled him to find in the little that had been observed a symbol of the accelerated progress of the saints who gravitate towards the Sun of justice and the Source of all good. His point is, therefore, that the intensity of the life of the saints increases, that they move more promptly and generously towards God, the nearer they come to Him. That is the law of universal attraction in the spiritual life. Just as bodies attract one another in proportion to their mass and in inverse proportion to the square of their distances, so souls are attracted to God in proportion to their holiness and their nearness to Him. The trajectory of the spiritual motion of the saints is towards a zenith from which it does not descend. There is no twilight for them. Age weakens only their bodily powers. Their progress in love is even more rapid in their last years. They advance, not with a regular, but with an ever hastening step, in spite of the weight of years, and their “youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s.” (Ps. 102:5).

Mary’s progress was the most continuous of all. It encountered no obstacle, was not halted nor delayed by attachment to self or to the things of this world. It was the most rapid of all, because the rate at which it commenced was determined by Mary’s fullness of grace and therefore surpassed that of all the saints. Thus there was in Mary (especially if, as is probable, her infused knowledge gave her the use of reason and will during her hours of sleep) a wonderful increase in the love of God of which the accelerated motion of bodies under the force of gravitation is but a distant image.

Modern physical science tells us that the velocity of a falling body increases uniformly. This is an image of the growth of charity in a soul which allows nothing to hold it back, and which moves faster towards God according as increasing nearness to Him increases His attraction. Such a soul usually makes each sacramental or spiritual communion more fervently, and in consequence more fruitfully, than the preceding one. The movement of a stone thrown in the air, which grows uniformly slower and finally falls back, is a symbol of the lukewarm soul, especially if through a growing attachment to venial sin its communions become less fervent.

The principles outlined in this article show what must have been Mary’s spiritual progress from the time of her Immaculate Conception, especially if she had, as is probable, the uninterrupted use of reason and will in her mother’s womb and afterwards.136 Besides, since it appears that Mary’s initial fullness of grace surpassed that of all the saints, her subsequent progress cannot but exceed our powers of description.137 Nothing held her back, neither the consequences of original sin, nor any venial sin, neither negligence, nor distraction, nor imperfection. She was like a soul which, having taken the vow always to do the most perfect thing, proved completely faithful to it.

Saint Anne must have been struck by the unique holiness of her child. But she could not have suspected the Immaculate Conception nor the future divine maternity. Her child was much more loved by God than she thought. In a somewhat similar way, each soul in the state of grace is more loved by God than it thinks. To know fully how much it is loved, it would need to understand grace, and the glory of which grace is the germ, just as to know the full value of the acorn it is necessary to have seen a fully developed oak tree. The greatest things often lie concealed in the most insignificant, as in a mustard seed, or in the tiny trickle which is the beginning of a mighty river.


If Mary’s charity grew uninterruptedly in accordance with the great law of love, we may ask what were the sources of its growth. They were merit, prayer, and a certain spiritual communion with God who was present in Mary’s soul from the first moment of her existence.

It must be recalled first of all that it is not precisely in extension that charity grows, for even the least degree of charity extends to God and to all men without exception—though it is true that we can and do extend the field of our active goodwill. Charity grows most of all in intensity. It takes ever deeper root in the will, or, to lay metaphor aside, it makes the will determined to avoid both evil and that which is less good and to tend generously to God. The growth of charity is not quantitative—as is that of a heap which grows by having more added to it—but qualitative, as is the growth of knowledge which, even if no fresh conclusions are drawn, can become more penetrating, more profound, more unified, more certain. Charity grows by tending to love God above all things, more perfectly, more purely, and more firmly, and our neighbour as ourselves, so that all may be united in glorifying God in time and in eternity. This growth brings the formal object and motive of charity into fuller relief than it usually is at the beginning of a spiritual life. At first, we love God more for what He has given and for what we hope He will yet give, and less for His own sake. But gradually we come to realise that the Giver is greater and more lovable than the gift, and that He deserves to be loved for the sake of His own Infinite Goodness.

In our case, a number of different influences contribute to the growth of charity—merit, prayer, the sacraments. We shall now consider the first of these in relation to Mary.

A meritorious act, proceeding from charity or from a virtue inspired by it, establishes a right to a supernatural reward, and first of all to the reward of an increase of habitual grace and charity itself. The increase of grace and charity is not caused directly by the meritorious act, for grace and charity are not acquired but rather infused habits. God alone can produce them, for they participate in the depths of His life; He alone can increase them. That is why St. Paul says: “I have planted (by preaching and baptism), Apollo watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6); and again: “He will . . . increase the growth of the fruits of your justice.” (2 Cor. 9:10).

But though our acts do not directly increase charity, they contribute in two ways to its growth: morally, by meriting it; physically, by disposing for it. Meritorious acts confer on the soul the right to receive from God an increase of charity so as to love Him more purely and more firmly. Besides, they dispose the soul for this increase by opening out in some way, or by unfolding, its higher faculties, enabling the divine life to enter them, to elevate them, and to purify them.

It often happens that our meritorious acts remain imperfect—remiss, as theologians put it—that is to say, below the level or degree in which the virtue of charity exists in us. Oftentimes, though we have a charity of three talents, we act as if we had one of but two, It is as when an intelligent man is careless and does not apply himself seriously to what he is doing. Remiss acts are meritorious. But St. Thomas and the older generation of theologians teach that they do not obtain for the soul at once the increase of charity which they merit, precisely because they do not dispose it to receive it.138 A person who, having three talents of charity, acts as if he had only two, is obviously not preparing or disposing himself to have his charity increased to four talents. He will receive the increase he merits only when he disposes himself for it by a more generous or more intense act of charity or of one of the virtues which it controls.

These few principles throw a flood of light on what has been said about Mary’s progress by way of merit.

She never performed a remiss or imperfect meritorious act, for that would have been a moral imperfection, a lack of generosity in God’s service such as theologians declare she was never guilty of. Hence her meritorious acts were rewarded at once by the increase of charity which they merited.

But there is something more. Theologians tell us that God is more glorified by a single act of charity of ten talents, than by ten acts of one talent. Similarly, one devout soul gives more glory to God than many who are lukewarm. In the spiritual order especially, quality means more than quantity. Hence, Mary’s merits grew continuously in perfection. Her most pure heart dilated, and her capacity for the divine increased, as is described in Psalms 118:32: “I have run the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart.” Whereas we often forget that we are journeying towards eternity and treat this world as if it were to last for ever, Mary never withdrew her eyes from the goal of her life, God Himself, and never wasted a moment of the time He gave her. Each instant of her life on earth entered into the single instant of eternity through her accumulating ever richer merits. She saw the present not along the horizontal line of time which ends in a future on earth, but along the vertical line which ends in an eternity that never passes.

Another thing to be noted is that, according to the teaching of St. Thomas, no deliberate act really performed in the course of a lifetime is ever indifferent. For an act which is indifferent in itself, such as to take a walk or to teach mathematics, becomes good or bad in performance because of the end to which it is directed, and a reasonable being is obliged always to act for a reasonable or good end, and not simply for self-gratification or for some other disordered purpose.139 From this it follows that every deliberate act of a person in the state of grace which is not a sin is morally good; in consequence, it is virtually ordained to God, the final end of the just, and is meritorious. “Every act of those who have charity is either meritorious or de-meritorious” (De Malo, a. 5, ad 17). This is an additional reason for saying that all Mary’s deliberate acts were good and meritorious. And we may add that none of the acts she performed during her waking hours were indeliberate or machine-like, but all were under the control of her intellect and her grace-directed will.

When we meditate on the outstanding occasions in Mary’s life, it is especially in the light of the preceding principles that we should do so. And since, just now, we are concerned with those which preceded the Incarnation, let us turn to her Presentation in the Temple, when she was as yet a child, or to her participation in the great feasts of Israel, or to her reading of the Messianic prophecies—those particularly of Isaias—which increased so wonderfully her faith, her hope, her love of God, and her longing for the advent of the Messiah. How much she must have penetrated the depth of meaning in Isaias’ words: “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace.” (Is. 9:6). Though she was still so young, Mary’s vivid faith must have grasped better than even Isaias did the meaning of the words “God the Mighty.” She understood already that the plenitude of the divine power would be in that Child, that the Messiah would be an eternal and immortal King, always the Father of His people.140

The life of grace increases not by merit only but by prayer as well, which has its own peculiar efficacy (of impetration). For that reason, we pray every day to grow in the grace of God, saying: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name; Thy Kingdom come (more and more in us); Thy Will be done (may Your precepts be better observed by us).” Similarly, the Church makes us pray on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost: “Grant us, O Lord, an increase of faith, hope and charity.”

After justification, one can therefore grow in grace both by the way of merit—which is based on the divine justice, and gives a right to a reward—and by the way of prayer—which relies on the divine mercy. Prayer is efficacious in the degree in which it is humble, confident, persevering, and desirous of an increase of virtue rather than of temporal favors: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given to you.” And it can happen that the soul in the state of grace will receive at once, in answer to fervent prayer, more than it merits. In other words, a person may, on occasion, receive an increase of grace through the impetratory power of a prayer which exceeds that due to prayer’s meritorious value.141

Mary’s prayer was most efficacious from her very childhood, not only because of its meritorious value, but also because of its wonderful impetratory value, proportionate to her humility, her confidence, and her perseverance in a continually growing generosity. Through it she grew continuously in the pure and strong love of God. She obtained also all the actual efficacious graces which cannot be merited strictly, such as those which incline to new meritorious acts, or the special inspiration which is the principle of infused contemplation. This must certainly have happened when she repeated in her prayer the words of the Book of Wisdom 7:7: “Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me: and I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison with her . . . for all gold in comparison of her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect of her shall be counted as clay.” In this way, the Lord came to her to nourish her with Himself, and each day gave Himself more fully to her by prompting her to give herself more fully to Him.

More appropriately than anyone else except Jesus, she said with the psalmist: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; that I may see the delight of the Lord . . . (Ps. 26:4). Day after day brought her a fuller understanding of the infinite goodness of God to those who seek Him and to those who find Him. Even before the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, Mary enjoyed, therefore, that spiritual communion which consists in the simple and intimate prayer of the soul in the unitive stage when it enjoys God present within it as in a spiritual temple: “O taste and see that the Lord is sweet.” (Ps. 33:9).

The psalmist expresses his thirst for God in burning words: “As the hart panteth after the fountains of waters; so my soul panteth after thee, O God. My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God.” (Ps. 41:2). What must have been Mary’s thirst for God from the moment of the Immaculate Conception up to the day of the Incarnation!

St. Thomas tells us that Mary’s progress in charity was not such that she merited the Incarnation, for the Incarnation is the principle of all merit since the sin of Adam, and could not itself be merited by one who was redeemed. Nevertheless, her progress merited for her gradually (as a result of the first grace which came from the future merits of her Son) that eminent degree of charity, humility, and purity which made her, on the Annunciation day, the worthy mother of the Saviour.142

Neither did she merit the divine maternity; that would have been equivalently to merit the Incarnation. She did, however, merit the degree of charity which was the proximate disposition for being made Mother of God. This proximate disposition must have been an unimaginable summit of holiness, since even the remote disposition—Mary’s first fullness of grace—surpassed the united holinesses of all the saints.

Finally, we may add that Mary’s years in the temple accelerated her growth in the grace of the virtues and the gifts in a way with which the growth of the most generous of souls is quite unworthy to be compared.

It is, of course, possible to exaggerate Mary’s growth in grace and to attribute to her a perfection which belongs only to her Son. But even if we are careful to confine ourselves to what were really her prerogatives, we are utterly incapable of forming a worthy idea of the elevation of her beginning and her progress in the spiritual life. The most we can do is to attain to some small measure of understanding of so sublime a mystery.


According to St. Thomas,143 every act of charity of the “wayfarer” is meritorious, meriting an increase of this virtue and disposing the soul, at least in a remote manner, to receive it; but only fervent acts dispose one proximately, i.e. acts at least equal in intensity to the degree of the infused virtue from which they proceed. Therefore only fervent acts obtain immediately the increase of charity that they merit.


One might think that it is as soon as a fervent meritorious act is made. However, there is a difficulty, for whereas this act certainly obtains the increase due to it and to which it disposes one proximately, it is not certain that it obtains at the same time the increase due to the less fervent meritorious acts which have preceded it and which has not yet been given.

One way by which these arrears can be obtained is by fervent acts of charity which are themselves meritorious, and which also dispose one to receive already in the present life not only what they merit themselves but even more than they merit.

This is the case with the fervent act of charity by which one prepares oneself for a good communion, which confers “ex opere operato” an increase of charity corresponding to the actual fervent disposition and to the “arrears.” This must be quite frequent with good priests and good Christians, especially at the more fervent communions which they make on certain feast-days or on the First Friday of the month. More so must this take place when, with good dispositions, one receives Holy Communion as Viaticum, or with Extreme Unction, which, effacing the remains of sin (reliquiae peccati), produces an increase of charity in proportion to the fervour with which it is received; it can therefore produce also the “arrears” merited but not yet obtained.

One’s “arrears” may be obtained also by a fervent prayer for an increase of charity; for this prayer is at once meritorious, inasmuch as inspired by charity, and impetratory; and on this latter score it obtains more than it merits and can dispose one proximately to receive the “arrears” already merited but not obtained. Finally, it remains probable that the soul which may not have obtained its “arrears” during this life by any of the means we have mentioned, can dispose itself proximately to receive them by its fervent acts in Purgatory, acts which, however, are no longer meritorious. It is certain that these souls in Purgatory, as their purification advances, make more and more fervent acts (non-meritorious), which attain at least to the degree of intensity of the infused virtue from which they proceed. These acts do not merit an increase of this virtue, but it is probable that they dispose one actually to receive the “arrears” already merited “in via” and not yet obtained. Thus a soul which entered Purgatory with a charity of five talents, could leave it with a charity of seven, the degree of glory corresponding always to the degree of merit.

And if this is true, it would appear to be true especially with regard to the final act by which the soul disposes itself (in genere causae materialis) to receive the light of glory, an act which is produced (in genere causae efficientis et formalis) under the influence of this light at the exact moment of its infusion, just as the last act which immediately disposes one for justification proceeds from charity at the exact moment of its infusion. Thus the “arrears” would be obtained at least at the last moment, on one’s entry into glory.144


As St. Thomas explains,145 it was becoming that the mystery of the Incarnation should be announced to the Blessed Virgin so as to instruct her in its meaning and that she might give her consent to it. Thereby she conceived the Word spiritually, as the Fathers say, before conceiving Him physically. And St. Thomas adds that her supernatural and meritorious consent was given in the name of the whole human race which stood in need of the promised Redeemer.

It was becoming also that the Annunciation should have been made by an angel, coming as ambassador of the Most High. A rebellious angel had caused the Fall; a holy angel, the highest of the archangels, announces the Redemption.146 Becoming, as well, that Mary should have been enlightened before St. Joseph about the mystery, for by her predestination she was greater than he. Becoming, in the last place, that the Annunciation should have taken the form of a corporeal vision accompanied by an intellectual illumination, for the corporeal vision is, in itself, more certain and reliable than the imaginative one, and the grace of the intellectual illumination revealed with certainty the meaning of the words spoken.147 Joy and confidence succeeded reverential fear and astonishment as the angel spoke: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. . . . The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” And the angel adds, both as sign and as explanation of what is to come to pass: “And behold thy cousin Elisabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God.”

And Mary consented, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” Bossuet tells us in his Elevations on the Mysteries, 12th Week, 6th Elevation, that Mary manifested principally three virtues in her consent: virginity, by her noble resolution to renounce the joys of the senses for ever; perfect humility in regard to God who so favored her; and faith, by conceiving the Son of God in her soul before she conceived Him in her body—which is why Elisabeth saluted her: “And blessed art thou that hast believed, because these things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.” She manifested also confidence in God and courage, for she was not ignorant of the messianic prophecies—those especially of Isaias—which foretold the great sufferings of the Messiah in which she was called to share.

Many interior souls are struck most by Mary’s total self-forgetfullness at the Annunciation, and see in it the highest humility. She thought only of God’s will, of all that the Incarnation would do for His glory and for our salvation. And God, Who is the greatness of little ones, regarded her humility, and made her faith, her confidence, and her generosity all they were called to be by her participation in our redemption. There are men who think that their greatness consists in their genius and their gifts of nature. Mary, the greatest of creatures, turned her gaze from herself, and sought her greatness in God. Deus humilium celsitudo, God, who art the greatness of the humble, reveal to us the greatness of Mary, the loftiness of her charity.148

St. Thomas tells us149 that Mary’s fullness of grace increased notably at the Incarnation, through the presence of the Word of God made flesh. If she had not been already confirmed in grace, she would have been so from that moment.


Three reasons have been given for Mary’s increase in the divine life at the Incarnation: the finality, or purpose, of her grace; the cause of her grace; the mutual love of Jesus and His Mother.

In the first place, an increase in grace and charity was most becoming as a proximate and immediate preparation for the dignity of the divine motherhood. It is a general principle that the proximate preparation (ultimate disposition) for any perfection is proportionate to it. But the divine maternity is superior by its term—which is of the hypostatic order—to every other dignity of nature or of grace. Hence, Mary must have received as proximate preparation for it a special increase of her fullness of grace. This special increase made her proximately worthy to be the Mother of God and to take her unique place in regard to the Word made flesh.

In the second place, the Son of God owed it to Himself to enrich Mary with a still greater grace when He became present in her by the Incarnation. For by His Divinity He is principal cause of grace, and by His Humanity He is its meritorious and instrumental cause. But Mary was, of all creatures, the one who entered into closest contact with Him in His Humanity since He took flesh in her womb. Hence, it was appropriate that she should have received a notable increase of grace at the Incarnation. Receiving the Word into her womb, she must have experienced all—and more than all—the benefits of a fervent sacramental communion. Jesus gives Himself to us in the Blessed Eucharist under the appearances of bread; He gave Himself to Mary in His true form, and by an immediate contact which produced, ex opere operato, an increase in her participation in the divine life more bounteous than even that produced by the greatest of the sacraments.

There is one remarkable point of dissimilarity between Jesus’ gift of Himself to Mary and His gift of Himself to us in Holy Communion. He gives Himself to us that we may live by Him. But, though He nourished Mary’s soul and gave Himself to her by the Incarnation, in His human nature, He lived by her and received from her the nourishment which His sacred Body required.

In the third and last place, the mutual love of Jesus and Mary demanded an increase of Mary’s fullness of grace. As we have said, grace is an effect of God’s active love for His creature. But if the Word made Flesh loves all the men for whom He is prepared to shed His blood, if He loves in a special way the elect and among them in a still more special way the apostles and the saints, His love for Mary, who was to be the most closely associated with Him in His work for souls, is the greatest of all. But Jesus is God. Hence His love for her produces grace in her soul—such an abundance of grace as to be capable of overflowing on souls. He is man too, and as man has merited all the effects of our predestination.150 Hence, in His love for her, He communicated to her the effects of her special predestination, most particularly that increase of charity which brought her nearer to the final fullness that was to be hers in glory. We must remember too that Mary was never in the slightest degree unresponsive to Jesus’ love for her; on the contrary, her maternal love for Jesus answered most fully to Jesus’ love for her. On that account it was possible for Him to give Himself to her much more fully than to any of the great saints. To form some idea of Mary’s maternal love for Jesus, we have only to think of the heroic love and of the immense sacrifices of which mothers are capable for their children in their hour of trial and suffering. Think too of how loving Mary’s pure virgin heart was; and of how she loved her Son as her God; and of how her love was supernatural as well as natural, growing continuously in intensity. Such thoughts will enable you to glimpse Mary’s love in a distant way.

Speaking of the time when the Body of the Saviour was formed in Mary’s virginal womb, Fr Hugon says:151 “She must have made uninterrupted progress in grace during those nine months—ex opere operato, as it were—through her permanent contact with the Author of holiness. If her plenitude of grace is incomprehensible at the time of the Incarnation, what must it have been at the Nativity. . . . Each time she fed him at her virginal breast, she was nourished with grace. . . . When she held Him in her arms and gave Him the kisses of a virgin-mother, she received from Him the kiss of the divinity, which made her still purer and holier.” These words are but an echo of the liturgy.152 Even when physical contact with Jesus in her womb had ceased, Mary’s charity and motherly love continued to grow, and this up to the hour of her death. In her case, grace perfected nature in a degree which will remain for ever beyond the powers of the human tongue to express.



After the Annunciation the Blessed Virgin went to visit her cousin, St. Elisabeth. As soon as Elisabeth heard Mary’s salutation, the child she bore leaped in her womb for joy, and she was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.” In the light of divine revelation Elisabeth understands that the Fruit of Mary’s womb is beginning to bless men through His mother. She knows that it is the Lord Himself who comes to her. The Son of God comes, through His mother, to His precursor; and the precursor, through his mother, recognized the Son of God.

St. Luke gives the canticle of the Magnificat in the verses which follow. The context, the authority of the great majority of the best manuscripts, and the unanimous voice of the oldest and most learned Fathers (Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, etc.) all point to Mary as its author.

What strikes one most of all in the Magnificat is its simplicity and its dignity. In substance it is a song of thanksgiving, which recalls that God is the greatness of the humble, that He lifts them up even while He casts down the pride of the mighty. Bossuet sums up well what the Fathers say about the Magnificat in his Elevations on the Mysteries, 14th week, 5th Elevation. We shall follow him in the next few pages.153


“My soul doth glorify the Lord.” Mary leaves self, as it were, to glorify God alone and to find in Him all her joy. She is in perfect peace, for no one can take from her Him of whom she sings.

“My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” What Mary cannot find in herself she finds in God, who is the Supreme Treasure. She rejoices “because He hath rewarded the humility of His handmaid.” She does not think herself capable of attracting His gaze, for she is nothing. But He, in His goodness, has turned towards her, and now she has a sure ground for confidence—the Divine mercy. No longer does she fear to recognise all she has received freely from Him: rather is that a debt of gratitude to be paid. “For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”—a prophecy which is still fulfilled after two thousand years with each “Hail Mary” that men say.

And now she sees that her joy will be the joy of all men of good will: “He that is mighty hath done great things to me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation unto generation, to them that fear Him.” He who is mighty has performed in her the greatest work of His might—the redemptive Incarnation: He has given a Saviour to the world through her, while yet leaving her virginity intact.

The Most High is holy, is Holiness. This is all the more evident to us who believe that the Son of God, who is also the Son of Mary, has bestowed mercy, grace and holiness on men of so many different times and nations who feared God with that childlike fear which is the beginning of wisdom, and accepted the yoke of His commandments by grace.


To explain these wonderful effects Mary appeals to the Divine Power: “He hath showed might in His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.” God did all she mentions when He sent His only Son to confound the proud by the preaching of His gospel, and to make use of the weakness of the apostles, confessors and virgins, to bring the strength of a proud paganism to naught. His sublime mysteries He has hidden from the wise and revealed to little ones. (Matt. 11:25). Mary is herself an example of what God does by the little ones. He raised her above all because she looked on herself as the least of all. The Son of God chose for His dwelling not the rich palaces of kings but the poverty of Bethlehem, and He manifested His power by the very weakness in which He came to exalt the little ones.

“He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.” Jesus in His turn will say: “Blessed are ye that hunger now, for you shall be filled. . . . Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger.” (Luke 6:21, 25). In Bossuet’s words, it is when the soul sees the glory of the world in ruins and God alone great that it finds peace.

The Magnificat concludes as it began, with thanksgiving: “He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy: As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.” We should make our own the words of St. Ambrose: “Let Mary’s soul be in us to glorify the Lord; let her spirit be in us that we may rejoice in God our Saviour.”154 May His Kingdom come in us through the accomplishment of His will.


The Church teaches three truths concerning Mary’s virginity: that she was a virgin in conceiving Our Saviour, that she was a virgin in giving Him birth, and that she remained a virgin her whole life through. The first two truths were defended against the Cerinthians and the Ebionites towards the end of the 1st century; against Celsus, who was refuted by Origen; in the 16th century against the Socinians, whom Paul IV and Clement VIII condemned; and recently against the rationalists—Strauss, Renan, and the Pseudo-Herzog in particular.155 The second truth was attacked by Jovinian, who was condemned in 390. The third truth was denied by Helvidius and defended by St. Jerome.156


Mary’s virginity in the conception of her Son was foretold by Isaias (Is. 7:14): “A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” The virginal conception is clearly the literal sense of this text; otherwise, as St. Justin pointed out to Tryphon,157 there would be no question of a sign, as Isaias had promised. Gabriel also gave testimony to the virginal conception at the Annunciation: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” The message given by the angel to St. Joseph is to the same effect: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary, thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20). And St. Luke says of Jesus: “ . . . being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph.” (Luke 3:23).

Tradition confirms that the conception of Christ was virginal, as can be learned from the testimonies of St. Ignatius the Martyr, Aristides, St. Justin, Tertullian, St. Irenaeus. All the creeds teach that the Son of God made flesh “was conceived by the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost.”158 It was defined by the Lateran Council under Pope Martin I in 649159 and it was reaffirmed by Paul IV against the Socinians.160

The arguments which show the appropriateness of the virginal conception are exposed by St. Thomas161: 1—It is appropriate that He who is the natural Son of God should have no father on earth, but only in Heaven; 2—The Word, conceived eternally in the most complete purity, should be conceived virginally when being made flesh; 3—That the human nature of the Saviour be exempt from original sin it was appropriate that it should not be formed by the ordinary process of human generation, but virginally; 4—By being born of a virgin Christ showed that His members should be born by the Spirit of His virginal and spiritual spouse, the Church.


St. Ambrose bears witness to the virginal birth when commenting on the text of Isaias: “A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son;” she will be a virgin, he says, in giving birth as well as in conceiving.162 The same had been said earlier by St. Ignatius the Martyr,163 Aristides,164 Clement of Alexandria.165 It was defined by the Lateran Council.166 St. Thomas gives the following arguments to show the appropriateness of the virginal birth: 1—The Word, who is conceived and who proceeds eternally from the Father without any corruption of His substance, should, if He becomes flesh, be born of a virgin mother without detriment to her virginity; 2—He who came to remove all corruption should not by His birth destroy the virginity of her who bore Him; 3—He who commands us to honor our parents should not Himself diminish by His birth the glory of His holy mother.


The Lateran Council affirmed this point of doctrine in 649, as did Paul IV later against the Socinians.167

Among the Greek Fathers two deserve special mention as having explicitly taught it: Origen168 and St. Gregory the Wonderworker.169 The expression semper virgo—“always a virgin”—is common in the 4th century, especially in the works of St. Athanasius and Didymus the Blind.170 It was also used by the 2nd Council of Constantinople.171 The Latin Fathers are represented by Saints Ambrose,172 Augustine,173 and Jerome.174 St. Ephrem voices the mind of the Syriac Church.175

St. Thomas’s arguments to show the appropriateness of the perpetual virginity are as follows (Ilia, q. 28, a. 3): 1—Helvidius’s error is opposed to the dignity of Christ Himself, for just as He is the only Son in eternity of the Father so also He ought to be the only Son in time of the Virgin; 2—It is opposed also to the dignity of the Holy Ghost who sanctified once and for ever the virginal womb of Mary; 3—It is opposed to the dignity and holiness of the Mother of God as it would imply that she was dissatisfied with having borne such a Son; 4—Finally, St. Joseph would have been guilty of the greatest presumption had he violated the virginity of her whom he knew, by the angel, to have conceived of the Holy Ghost.176

St. Thomas explains also (Ilia, q. 28, a. 4) the commonly accepted teaching that the Blessed Virgin had taken a vow of perpetual virginity. Her words to the angel prove the point: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” Tradition is summed up in the phrase of St. Augustine’s: “Virgo es, sancta es, votum vovisti.”43


These mysteries are those especially which the Rosary proposes for our consideration.


Mary grew in humility, poverty and love of God by giving birth to her Son in a stable. His cradle was but a manger. But, by contrast, there were the angels there to sing “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” Those words were sweet to the ears of the shepherds and of St. Joseph, and still more sweet to the ears of Mary. They were the beginning of a Gloria which the Church does not cease to sing at Mass while this world endures, and the liturgy of eternity has not yet replaced that of time.

It is said of Mary that she kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. Though her joy at the birth of her Son was intense, she treasured it up in silence. St. Elisabeth alone received her confidences. God’s greatest actions defy human expression. What could Mary say to equal what she had experienced?


Mary said her Fiat in peace and holy joy on the day of the Annunciation. There was sorrow too in her heart at the thought of the sufferings which Isaias had foretold would befall her Son. Still more light is thrown for her on the mystery of the Redemption when the holy old man Simeon speaks of the Child Jesus as the “Salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles.” Mary remains silent in wonder and thanksgiving. Simeon continues: “This child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted.” Jesus, come for the salvation of all, will be the occasion of the fall of many, He will be a stumbling block (Is. 8:14) for many of the Jews, who, refusing to recognise Him as the Messiah, will fall into infidelity and thence to eternal ruin. (Rom. 9:32; 1 Cor. 1:3). Jesus Himself will say later: “Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me.” (Matt. 11:6).

Turning then to Mary herself, Simeon addressed to her the prophetic words: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” Mary will have a share in the Saviour’s trials. His sufferings will be hers. Her very heart will be pierced by a sword of sorrow.

Had the Son of Man not come thus on earth we should never have known the full malice of pride’s revolt against truth. The hidden thoughts of hypocrisy and false zeal were revealed when the Pharisees cried out for the crucifixion of Him Who is Holiness.

Jesus’ fullness of grace had two apparently contradictory effects: the most perfect peace of soul; the will to offer Himself as a redemptive victim. Mary’s grace produced two similarly contrasting effects: the pure joys of the days of the Annunciation and the Nativity; the desire to be united most generously to the sufferings of her Son for our salvation. Thus, presenting Him in the temple, she already offers Him for us. Joy and sorrow are wedded in the heart of the Mother of God who is already the Mother of all who will believe in her Son.


St. Matthew tells us how, after the Magi had come to adore, an angel appeared to Joseph in his sleep saying: “Arise, and take the Child and his mother, and fly into Egypt; and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy him.” True to the angel’s prophecy, Herod ordered the massacre of all the children of two years and under, in and around Bethlehem.

It is Jesus whom this king fears. He fears where there is no reason to fear, and despises God’s anger which he should hold in dread. Mary and Joseph are called to share in Jesus’ sufferings. “Before, they had lived in peace and earned their bread without anxiety by the labour of their hands. But as soon as Jesus is given to them their tranquil calm is broken . . . they must share in His Cross.”177 The Holy Innocents share also in the Cross. Their massacre shows us that they were predestined from all eternity for the glory of martyrdom.

When Herod has died, an angel appears again to Joseph to tell him that the time has come to go to Nazareth in Galilee.


Mary grew continuously in grace and charity as she carried the Infant in her arms, fed Him, embraced Him and was caressed by Him, heard His first words, guided His first steps.

“Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men.” Arrived at the age of twelve years, He accompanied Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for the Pasch. When the day of departure came, He remained in the city unknown to His parents. It was only after three days that they found Him in the midst of the doctors. And He said to them: “How is it that you sought me: did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” But Mary and Joseph “understood not the word that he spoke to them.”

Mary accepted in faith what she could not as yet understand. The depth and the extent of the Mystery of the Redemption will be revealed to her only gradually. She is glad to have found Jesus again. But in her joy sounds many an overtone of sadnesses yet to come.

Bossuet has some remarkable reflections on the hidden life, which lasted up to the time of Jesus’ public ministry.178

“There are some who feel ashamed for Jesus’ sake that He should have endured the wearisomeness of so long a retirement. They experience much the same feelings in regard to Mary, and try to enliven her period at Nazareth by attributing continual miracles to her. Rather let us pay heed to the words of the gospel: “Mary kept all these words in her heart.” Was not that a task worthy of her? And if the mysteries of His infancy were so rich a subject for her meditation, what of the mysteries that succeeded them? Mary meditated on Jesus . . . she remained in perpetual contemplation, her heart melting, as it were, in love and longing. What then shall we say to those who invented so many pretty fables about Our Lady? What, if not that humble and perfect contemplation did not seem enough in their eyes? But if it was enough for thirty years of Mary’s—and of Jesus’—life, it was enough for the other years too. The silence of the Scriptures about Mary is more eloquent than all discourses. Learn, O man, in the midst of your restless activity, to be satisfied to think of Jesus, to listen to Him within, to hear again His words. . . . Of what are you complaining, human pride, when you say you count for little in this world? Did Jesus count for much there? Or Mary? They were the wonder of the world, the sight that ravished God and angels. And what did they do? What name did they bear? Men wish to bear an honored name, to take part in brilliant movements. They do not know Jesus and Mary. . . . You say you have nothing to do. The salvation of souls is in your hands—in part, at least! Do you not know enemies whom you could help to reconcile, quarrels you could mend? Are there not souls in misery you could save from blasphemy and despair? And even if you have nothing of all that, have you not the work of your own salvation, which is for every soul the true work of God?”

Reflecting on the hidden life of Nazareth and on Mary’s spiritual progress in its silence, and reflecting by way of contrast on what the world terms progress, we are forced to conclude: men never talked more of progress than since they began to neglect its most important form, spiritual progress. And what has been the result? That the baser forms of progress, sought for their own sake, have brought pleasure, idleness and unemployment in their train, and prepared the way for a moral decline towards materialism, atheism—and even barbarism, as the recent world wars prove. In Mary, on the contrary, we find the ever more perfect realization of the gospel words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” The further she advances the more she loves God with all her heart, for the more she sees the opposition to Jesus growing in the course of His ministry up to the consummation of the mystery of the Redemption.


What was the profound cause of Mary’s sorrows on Calvary? Every Christian soul for whom practice has made the Stations of the Cross familiar will answer: the cause of Mary’s sorrows, as of those of Jesus, was sin. Happy the souls for whom that answer is a vital truth, who experience true sorrow at the thought of their own sins—a sorrow that only grace can produce in them.

We understand but little of the sorrows of Mary, for little grieves us except what wounds our bodies, our self-love, our vanity, or our pride. We suffer too from men’s ingratitude, from the afflictions of our family or our native land. But sin grieves us but little. We have but little sorrow for our faults considered as offenses against God. In theory, we admit that sin is the greatest of evils since it affects the soul itself and its faculties, and since it is the cause of the disorders which we deplore in society; it is only too evidently the cause of the enmity between classes and nations. But in spite of that we do not experience any great sorrow for the faults whereby we contribute more or less ourselves to the general disorder. Our superficiality and our inconstancy prevent us from seeing what an evil sin is; precisely because it strikes so deep it cannot be known by those who look only at the surface. In its manner of ravaging souls and society, sin is like one of those diseases which affect vital but hidden organs, and which the sufferer is ignorant of even while they near a crisis.

To experience salutary grief, grief for sin, it is necessary truly to love God whom sin offends and sinners whom it destroys. The saints suffered from sin in the degree in which they loved God and souls. St. Catherine of Siena recognized souls in the state of mortal sin by the insupportable odor which they exhaled. But to know just how far grief for sin can go, one must turn to the heart of Mary. Her grief sprang from an unequalled love for God, for Jesus crucified, and for souls—a love which surpassed that of the greatest saints, and even of all the saints united, a love which had never ceased to grow, a love which had never been restrained by the slightest fault or imperfection. If such was Mary’s love, what must her grief have been! Unlike us who are so superficial, she saw with piercing clarity what it was that caused the loss of so many souls” the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, the pride of life. All sins combined to add to her grief; all revolts against God, all outbursts of sacrilegious rage, such as that which reached its paroxysm in the cry “Crucify Him” and in utter hatred of Him who is the Light Divine and the Author of Salvation.

Mary’s grief was deep as was her love, both natural and supernatural, of her Son. She loved Him with a virginal love, most pure and tender; loved Him as her only Son, miraculously conceived, and as her God.

To understand Mary’s dolours, one would need to have received, as did the stigmatics, the impression of the wounds of the Saviour; one would need to have relived with the mystics His physical and moral sufferings, and to have shared with Him the hours of His Passion and Death. We shall try once more to speak of this matter when considering Mary as Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix, and the reparation which she offered with, and by, and in her Son.

Mary’s love in her dolours was meritorious for us and for her also. By her sufferings she grew in charity as well as in faith, and hope, and religion; she grew in fact in all the virtues—those of humility, and meekness, and supernatural courage suggesting themselves especially to the mind. Her virtue in suffering was heroic in the highest degree. Thereby she became Queen of Martyrs.

On the hill of Calvary, grace and charity overflowed from the Heart of Jesus to the heart of His mother. He it was who sustained her, just as it was she who sustained St. John. Jesus offered up her martyrdom as well as His own, and she offered herself with her Son, who was more dear to her than her own life. If the least of the acts of Nazareth increased Mary’s charity, what must have been the effect of her participation in the Cross of Jesus!


The glorious resurrection of Our Saviour and His different apparitions all marked new stages in Mary’s spiritual growth. She saw in them the realization of so many of Jesus’ prophecies. She saw in them too His victory over death, a sign of Good Friday’s victory over Satan.

The mystery of the Ascension raised Mary’s thoughts still higher heavenwards. The evening of that day, when she withdrew to the Supper-room with the Apostles (Acts 1:14) she must have felt, as they too did, how empty the world was without Jesus. The difficulty of converting the pagan world loomed up in all its magnitude. The presence of Our Lady helped the Apostles to face it. In union with Jesus she merited, de congruo, the graces they were about to receive in this room where the Blessed Eucharist had been instituted, where they had been ordained priests, and where the Master had appeared to them after His Resurrection.

The day of Pentecost comes. The Holy Ghost descends on Mary and on the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire, to give the final enlightenment concerning the mysteries of man’s salvation, and to impart the strength needed for the immense and arduous task that awaited its accomplishment. On that day, the Apostles were confirmed in grace. St. Peter went forth to manifest by his preaching that he had received fullness of knowledge of the mystery of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Author of newness of life. One and all, from being fearful the apostles became courageous, rejoicing to suffer for the name of Jesus. How marvellous must not Mary’s progress have been—she who was to be on earth, as it were, the heart of the infant Church!

Now that Jesus has ascended to Heaven no one will participate as she in His love for His Father and for souls. By her prayer, her contemplation, her ceaseless generosity, she will, in some way, sustain the souls of the Twelve, following them as a mother in the labours and difficulties of their apostolate, right up to the crown of martyrdom. They are her sons. The Church will later call her Queen of Apostles.

Even now she cares for them and makes their work fruitful by a continual oblation of herself in union with the sacrifice of Jesus perpetuated on the altar.


It is most becoming to insist here a little on what Holy Mass and Holy Communion, received from the hands of St. John, must have meant for Our Blessed Lady.

Why had Mary been committed to St. John on Calvary rather than to the holy women who were also at the foot of the Cross? The reason was that St. John was a priest and had a treasure which they could not give her, the treasure of the Eucharist.

Why among the Apostles was John chosen rather than Peter? One reason is that John alone remained at the Cross, drawn and held there by a strong sweet grace. Another is that he is, as St. Augustine remarks, the model of the contemplative life, of the interior and hidden life which had always been that of Mary and which would be hers till death. Mary’s life will be cast in a very different mould from that of Peter, for she will have no share in ruling the Church. Her vocation will be to contemplate and to love Our Saviour in His sacramental presence, and to obtain by her unceasing prayer the spread of the faith and the salvation of souls. She will be thus in a very real sense the heart of the infant Church, for none other will enter as she into the depths and the strength of the love of Jesus.179

Let us consider her in this hidden life, especially at the hour when John celebrated Holy Mass in her presence. Mary has not the priestly character; she cannot perform the priestly functions. But she has received, in the words of M. Olier, “the plenitude of the priestly spirit,” which is the spirit of Christ the Redeemer. Thus she is able to penetrate deeper than St. John himself into the meaning of the mysteries he celebrates. Besides, her dignity of Mother of God is greater than that of ordained priest; she has given us both the Priest and the Victim of the sacrifice of the Cross and she has offered herself with Him.

Holy Mass was for her, in a degree we can only suspect, the memorial and the continuation of the sacrifice of the Cross. A sword of sorrow had pierced her heart on Calvary, the strength and tenderness of her love for Jesus making her suffer a true martyrdom. She suffered so much that the memory of Calvary could never grow dim, and each Holy Mass was a fresh renewal of all she lived through there. Mary found the same Victim on the altar when John said Mass. She found the same Jesus, really present; not present in image only, but in the substance of His Body with His Soul and Divinity. True, there was no immolation in blood, but there was a sacramental immolation, realised through the separate consecration of the bread and the wine: Jesus’ blood is shed sacramentally on the altar. How expressive is that figure of His death for her who cannot forget, for her who bears always in the depths of her soul the image of her Son, outraged and wounded, for her who hears yet the insults and the blasphemies offered Him. St. John’s Mass, with Mary present at it, was the most striking memorial of the Cross as it is perpetuated in its substance on our altars.


It is the same Victim who is offered at Holy Mass and who, in Heaven, offers His glorious wounds to the Heavenly Father. The Body of Christ never ceases to be in Heaven, it is true. It does not come down from Heaven, in the strict sense of the terms, on to the altar. But, without being multiplied. It is made really present by the transubstantiation of the substance of the bread and the wine into Itself.

There is the same principal priest, or offerer, in Heaven and on earth also, “always living to make intercession for us.” (Heb. 7:25). The celebrant of the Mass is but a minister who speaks in Jesus’ name. When he says “This is my body” it is Jesus who speaks by him.

It is Jesus who, as God, gives to the words their power of transubstantiation. It is Jesus as Man who, by an act of His holy soul, transmits the divine power and who continues to offer Himself thus for us as principal priest. If the human minister ever happens to be slightly distracted, the principal Offerer is not distracted, and Jesus as Man, continuing to offer Himself sacramentally for us, sees all that we miss—sees all the spiritual influence exercised by each Mass on the faithful present and absent, and on the souls in Purgatory.

Jesus continues to offer Himself in each Mass, the actual offering being made through the hands of His minister. The soul of the sacrifice of our altars is the interior oblation which is always a living reality in His Sacred Heart; through that oblation He applies to us continually the merits and satisfaction of Calvary. The saints have sometimes seen Jesus in the priest’s place at the moment of consecration. Mary knew the full truth better than any of the saints. Better than any of them she knew that the soul of every Mass was the oblation that lived in her Son’s Heart. She understood too that when, this world having reached its term, the last Mass,would have been said, Jesus’ interior oblation would continue for ever, not now as supplication but as adoration and thanksgiving—as the eternal cult expressed even now at Mass by the Sanctus in honor of the thrice-holy God.

How did Mary unite herself to the oblation of Jesus, the principal priest She united herself to it, as we shall explain later, as universal Mediatrix and CoRedemptrix. She continued to unite herself to it as at the foot of the Cross—in a spirit of adoring reparation, in petition and thanksgiving.

Model of victim-souls, she offered up the anguish she suffered at those denials of the divinity of Jesus which prompted St. John to write his fourth Gospel. She offered thanks for the institution of the Blessed Eucharist and for all the benefits of which It is the source. She prayed for the conversion of sinners, for the progress of the good, for the help the Apostles needed in their work and their sufferings.

In all that Mary is our model, teaching us how to become adorers in spirit and in truth.

What shall we say of Mary’s communions? The principal condition for a fervent communion is to hunger for the Eucharist. The saints hungered for It. When Holy Communion was denied St. Catherine of Siena, her desires obtained that a portion of the large Host broke off unknown to the celebrant and was carried miraculously to the saint. But Mary’s hunger for the Eucharist was incomparably greater and more intense than that of the saints. Let us contemplate reverently the strong loving desire which drew Mary to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Every soul is drawn towards God, for He is the Sovereign Good for whom we have been made. But the consequences of sin—original and actual—and of innumerable imperfections make God appear unattractive in our eyes and weaken our inborn desire for union with Him. Mary’s soul, however, knew nothing of the consequences of sins and imperfections; nothing ever checked the Godwards tendency of her wonderful charity. Forgetting herself, Mary turned firmly towards God, with a firmness that grew daily as did her merits. The Holy Ghost dwelling in her moved her to give herself to God and to be united to Him. Her love of God, like an intense thirst, was accompanied by a sweet suffering which ceased only when she died of love and entered on the union of eternity. Such was her desire of the Eucharist.

Jesus for His part desired most ardently to consummate Mary’s holiness, to communicate to her the overflowing riches of His Sacred Heart. If He could suffer in glory, He would suffer from the resistance we offer to the same desire He has in our regard. But He found no resistance in Mary. And so He was able to communicate Himself to her in the most intimate way possible for two lives to be fused into one on earth: Jesus’ union with Mary was a reflection of the sanctifying union of the Word with the Sacred Humanity, an image of the communion of the Three Divine Persons in the one infinite Truth and the one limitless Goodness.

Mary became again the pure living tabernacle of the Lord when she communicated—a tabernacle which knew and loved; one a thousand times more precious than any golden ciborium; a true tower of ivory, house of gold, and ark of the alliance.

What were the effects of Mary’s communion? They surpassed anything St. Teresa recounts of transforming union in the Seventh Mansion of the Interior Castle. Transforming union has been compared, in its power to transform the soul in some way into God by knowledge and love, to the union of fire with a piece of iron, or that of light with the air it illumines. Rays of supernatural warmth and light came forth from the soul of Jesus and communicated themselves to Mary’s intellect and will. Mary could not take the credit to herself for the sublime effects they produced in her. Rather did she give praise on their account to Him who was their principle and end: “He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me;” he who eats my flesh lives by me and for me, just as I live by my Father and for my Father.

Each of Mary’s communions surpassed the preceding one in fervour and, producing in her a great increase of charity, disposed her to receive her next communion with still greater fruit. Mary’s soul moved ever more swiftly Godwards the nearer she approached to God; that was her law of spiritual gravitation. She was, as it were, a mirror which reflected back on Jesus the light and warmth which she received from Him; concentrated them also, so as to direct them towards souls.

In everything she was the perfect model of Eucharistic devotion. If we turn to her she will teach us how to adore and to make reparation; she will teach us what should be our desire of the Blessed Eucharist. From here we can learn how to pray at Holy Mass for the great intentions of the Church, and how to thank God for the graces without number He has bestowed on us and on mankind.


To understand Mary’s fullness of grace, especially towards the end of her life on earth, it is necessary to examine the perfection of her intellect. We must consider her faith, enlightened by the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. It will be necessary then to pass on to a consideration of some of her principal virtues, which, through their connection with her charity, were in her soul in a degree proportionate to her fullness of grace. To conclude this section we shall glance briefly at the gratuitous gifts of intellect which she received, particularly those of prophecy and the discernment of spirits.


The natural perfection of Mary’s soul resulted in very great powers of penetration in her intellect, as well as moral rectitude in her will and her lower faculties. These natural endowments continued to develop throughout the course of her life.

As regards her faith, it perceived its object in an exceptionally penetrating manner because of the revelation made to her at the Annunciation concerning the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption, and because also of her daily intercourse with the Word made Flesh. Subjectively also her faith was remarkable, being strong, certain and prompt in its assent. In fact, Mary received the virtue of faith in the highest degree in which it was infused into any soul on earth, and the same must be said of her hope also. Jesus, having the beatific vision from the first instant of His conception, had neither faith nor hope: to Him belonged the full light of vision and full undelayed possession.

Hence, the sublimity of Mary’s faith surpasses our understanding. She did not hesitate at the Annunciation but believed at once the very moment the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation was sufficiently proposed to her, so that St. Elisabeth can say soon after: “And blessed art thou that hast believed, because these things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.” In Bethlehem she sees her Son born in a stable and believes that He is the Creator of the world; she sees all the weakness of His infant body and believes in His omnipotence; when He commences to essay His first words she believes His infinite wisdom; when the Holy Family takes flight from Herod’s anger she believes that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as St. John would later say. At the Circumcision and the Presentation in the Temple her faith in the mystery of the Redemption expands. Her whole life on earth was passed in a dark brightness, the darkness arising not from human error and ignorance but from the very transcendence of the light itself—a darkness which was, in consequence, revealing of the heights of the mysteries contemplated by the blessed in Heaven.

She is at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, though all the Apostles, St. John only excepted, have fled; she stands erect there, firm in her faith that her Son is the Son of God, that He is the Lamb of God who is even then taking away the sins of the world, that though apparently defeated, He is Victor over Satan and sin, and that in three days He will conquer death by His resurrection. Mary’s act of faith on Calvary was the greatest ever elicited on earth, for the hour was unspeakably dark and its object was the most difficult of all—that Jesus had won the greatest of victories by making the most complete of immolations.

Her faith was aided then by the gifts of the Holy Ghost. By the gift of Understanding she read far into the revealed mysteries, far into their inner meaning, their harmony, their appropriateness, their consequences. She was particularly favored in her understanding of the mysteries in which she herself had a part to play, such as the virginal conception of Christ, His Incarnation, and the whole economy of the Redemption. Brought as she had been into close contact with the Three Divine Persons, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity revealed more of its depths to her than to any other mere human being.

By the gift of Wisdom the Holy Ghost enabled her to judge the things of God through a certain connaturality or sympathy which is based on charity.180 She knew therefore in an experimental manner how truly the great mysteries answer to our highest aspirations, and how grace continually awakens new desires in us so as to prepare the way for clearer light and more burning love. She relished the mysteries in the measure of her ever-growing charity, her humility, and her purity. In her were verified most strikingly the words “God gives His grace to the humble . . . Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Even on earth the pure have some vision of their Father in Heaven.

By the gift of Knowledge the Holy Ghost taught her to judge temporal things, at times as symbols of eternal and divine things (as, for example, to see the heavens telling the glory of God) or again in their nothingness and frailty so as to appreciate eternal life all the more by contrast.


Besides faith and the gifts of the Holy Ghost which all the faithful have as part of their spiritual organism, Mary, like many of the saints, had the gratiae gratis datae, or charismata which are given principally for the benefit of others rather than for the benefit of the person who receives them. These charismata are exterior signs having as purpose to confirm revelation or holiness, rather than fresh forms of sanctity. That is why they are distinct from grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts, all of which belong to a higher order.181

Regarding the charismata, theologians usually admit the principle: Mary received all privileges which it was becoming for her to receive, and which were not incompatible with her state, in a higher degree than the saints did. In other words, we cannot conceive of her as being inferior to the saints in the matter of charismata, seeing how much she surpassed them in the matter of holiness.

The principle is not, however, to be taken in a material sense. If, for example, certain saints have lived long months without food, if they have walked on the waters to come to another’s aid, it does not follow that Mary did the same; it is enough if she received grace of a higher order in which such lower graces were contained and surpassed.182 At the same time, in virtue of the principle just now enunciated, we must assert that she had certain charismata, either certainly or very probably.

First of all, she had by a special privilege a knowledge of the Scriptures greater than that of any of the saints, particularly in what concerned the Messiah, the redemptive Incarnation, the Blessed Trinity, the life of grace and of the virtues, and the life of eternity. And even though Mary did not receive the commission to share in the official ministry of the Church, she must have enlightened St. John and St. Luke concerning the infancy and the hidden life of Jesus.183

She must have known in a clear and penetrating manner all that was useful about objects of the natural order. Though she need not have known the chemical formula of such things as salt or water, it would still be possible for her to know their natural properties, and still more their higher symbolism. For Mary’s knowledge of natural objects was of the kind which throws light upon the great religious and moral truths, such as the existence of God, His universal Providence extending to the minutest details, the spirituality and immortality of the soul, free will and moral responsibility, the principles and conclusions of the moral law, the relation between nature and grace. She saw clearly the finality of nature, the order of creation, and the subordination of every created cause to the First Cause. She saw that every good thing comes from God, even the free determination of our salutary and meritorious acts; she saw too that no one person would be better than another were he not more loved by God—a principle which is at the root of all humility and thanksgiving.

The knowledge which Mary had while still on earth had limits, especially at the beginning. She did not, for example, understand the full import of what Jesus said about His Father’s business when she found Him in the Temple. But, as has been often said, the limits were limits, not gaps. Hence she was in no sense ignorant, for the limits did not deprive her of the knowl—edge of anything she should have known at the time. God’s Mother knew at every stage of her life all that it was becoming for her to know.

Nor was she subject to error. She was never precipitate in judging; if she had not sufficient light she suspended her judgement; if she was not sure about a thing she was satisfied to affirm that it was likely or probable. For example, when she thought it likely that Jesus was not in the company of her friends and relatives on the occasion when she lost Him, her belief was a very likely one indeed—though in point of fact it was not true—and in looking on it as likely Mary did not err.

We have seen earlier (Chapter II, art. 5) that it is very probable that she had infused knowledge from the time she was in her mother’s womb. We have seen too that it is equally probable that she was never deprived of it in the course of her life, and that many: theologians hold that she had the use of it even during her sleeping hours.

Among Mary’s gratuitous gifts we must include that of prophecy. An example of its exercise can be found, in the Magnificat: “For behold from henceforth all gem erations shall call me blessed.” The realization of this prophecy in the course of ages is as evident as is the meaning of the words themselves. It is more than likely that this was not the only occasion on which Mary used her prophetic gift since prophecy is so common among the saints, as for example St. John Bosco and the Cure of Ars.184

Finally, she had, like so many saints, the gift of discernment of spirits, by which to recognise the spirit of God and to distinguish it from diabolical illusion and natural exaltation. It enabled her also to read the secrets of hearts, especially when someone came to ask counsel of her. Thus her advice was always sound, opportune and practical.

Many theologians hold that Mary had the gift of tongues when she travelled in foreign countries—in Egypt, for example, and also in Ephesus.185 There is still greater reason for believing that she had this gift after the Assumption, for in her apparitions at Lourdes and La Salette and elsewhere she spoke the dialect of the district—the only one understood by those to whom she appeared.

The question has been asked if Mary enjoyed on earth—even for a few instants—the face to face vision of the divine essence as the blessed in Heaven do. On one point theologians are unanimous against Vega and Franciscus Verra: unlike her Divine Son, she had not that vision in a permanent way on earth, for if she had it permanently she would not have had the virtue of faith. But it is more difficult to say whether or not she enjoyed the beatific vision from time to time. It is true that she must have had an intellectual vision of the Trinity higher than that described by St. Teresa in the Seventh Mansion. But the vision of which St. Teresa speaks does not transcend faith, and is therefore immeasurably inferior to that of the blessed.

Some light is thrown on the problem by what we know of St. Paul. St. Augustine and St. Thomas186 teach that it is probable that St. Paul enjoyed the beatific vision momentarily when, in his own words, he was “caught up to the third Heaven . . . and heard secret words which it is not given to man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:2). The two great doctors both mention that according to the Jews the third Heaven was not merely the higher air, but the spiritual Heaven inhabited by God, where He is seen face to face by the angels—Paradise, as St. Paul says in the same context. Hence they conclude that St. Paul, having been called to be the Doctor of the Gentiles and of grace, was probably favored by a brief moment of the beatific vision, since grace cannot be understood fully without having seen the glory of which it is the beginning. The authority of two such doctors, themselves favored with mystical graces and thus especially competent to speak of such matters, is sufficient to constitute serious probability. It must, however, be admitted that neither Estius nor Cornelius a Lapide accepts such an exegesis of St. Paul’s text. Modern commentators tend to be non-committal.

To return to Our Lady, we agree entirely with Fr Hugon when he states that if it is probable that St. Paul enjoyed the beatific vision momentarily, it is difficult to see why the same should not be said of Our Blessed Lady,187 for her divine maternity, her fullness of grace, and her freedom from every stain disposed her more perfectly than any saint for the beatitude of eternity. Hence, even if it is not certain that she had moments of the beatific vision, it remains very probable.188

This brief survey will suffice to give some idea of the rich intellectual gifts which Mary enjoyed on earth.


We have spoken already of her faith. A few words may now be said of her hope and her charity, as well as of the cardinal virtues and the virtues of humility and meekness.

Her hope, by which she tended to the possession of God whom she did not as yet fully possess, was a perfect confidence and trust which relied not on self but on the divine mercy and omnipotence. It was therefore sure.189 And its sureness was increased by the gift of Piety. For Piety awakens in us a filial attitude to God, and by it the Holy Ghost “giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:16) and assures us that we can count on His assistance. It was increased also by the fact that Mary was confirmed in grace and preserved free from every shortcoming—lack of confidence as well as presumption.

Some of the occasions for the exercise of hope in Mary’s life spring at once to the mind. She exercised it when, yet a child, she awaited the coming of the Messiah and the salvation of all peoples; again, when she awaited the time that the secret of the virginal conception would be revealed to St. Joseph; again, when she fled into Egypt; again—and most of all—when on Calvary all seemed lost, but she awaited the victory which her Son had foretold He would win over death. Finally, her confidence, her unshaken hope, sustained the Apostles in their ceaseless labours for the spread of the Gospel and the conversion of the pagan world.

Her charity—her love of God in Himself and of souls for His sake—surpassed even in its beginnings the charity of all the saints combined, for it was of the same degree as her fullness of grace. Mary was always most intimately united to the Father as His best-beloved daughter, to the Son as His Virgin Mother, and to the Holy Ghost in a mystic marriage more perfect than the world had ever known. She was, in a way beyond all power of understanding, a living temple of the Trinity, loved by God more than all creatures, and corresponding perfectly with that love by consecrating herself fully to Him in the instant of her conception, and by living thenceforth in the most complete conformity to His Will.

No disordered passion, no vain fear, no distraction, checked the surge of her love for God. Her love for souls was of the same intensity, she offered her Son and herself unceasingly for souls.

The pages of the Gospel call many occasions to mind when her charity must have burned with a special flame—the Annunciation, the finding of Jesus after the three days’ loss, Calvary. . . . Well may the Church apply to Mary the words of Ecclesiasticus (Eccl. 24:24): “I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.”

The moral infused virtues are in all souls in the state of grace in the degree of their charity: prudence in the intellect, to make their judgement right in accordance with God’s law; justice in their will to prompt them to give every one his due; fortitude and temperance in their sensitive nature to bring it into conformity with reason and faith. The acquired virtues—which bear the same names—facilitate the exercise of the corresponding infused virtues.

Mary’s prudence directed all her actions undeviatingly towards her supernatural destiny. All her actions were deliberate and meritorious. Thus the Church calls her the Virgin most prudent. Aided by the gift of Counsel she exercised prudence in a notable manner at the Annunciation when, troubled at the angel’s word, she wondered what his salutation could mean, and again when she asked “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” Nor was her prudence less when, the angel having explained his mission, she accepted God’s will: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

She practiced justice in its highest form—that is to say, justice in regard to God, which is the virtue of religion aided by the gift of Piety—when she consecrated herself to God in the first instant of her being.

She practiced it also by her vow of virginity, her presentation of Jesus to His Father in the Temple, and her final offering of Him on the Cross. On Calvary she offered the greatest act of the virtue of religion in union with Jesus, the perfect sacrifice and the holocaust of infinite value.

Justice was always wedded to mercy in Mary. As did her Son, she forgave all the wrongs done to her and showed the greatest compassion for sinners. Then, as now, she was the Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The words of the psalmist find in her their realisation: “The earth is full of the mercy of God.”

Fortitude, that firmness of soul which can withstand the greatest dangers, the most difficult tasks, and the cruellest afflictions, was found in Mary in a no less eminent degree than the other virtues. At the foot of the Cross she did not flinch nor weaken, but stood courageously, as St. John tells us. Cajetan wrote a special tract, De spasmo Virginis, refuting the idea that Mary fainted on the road to Calvary. In this he was at one with Medina, Toletus, Suarez and with theologians generally, who all agree that Mary did not collapse under her grief. By her courageous bearing of trials Mary merited to be called Queen of Martyrs. She shared more intimately in Jesus’ suffering by her inner union with Him than did all the martyrs by their exterior afflictions. This thought is called to mind by the Church on the Feast of the Compassion of Our Lady and the Feast of the Seven Dolours, particularly in the Stabat Mater:

Fac ut portem Christi mortem,
Passionis fac consortem Et plagas recolere.
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
Fac me cruce inebriari, Et cruore Filii

Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.
—Fr. Caswall.

Temperance in its different forms, especially in that of perfect virginity, appeared in her angelic purity. In Mary the soul reigned over the body, the higher faculties over the senses. The image of God was reflected in her as in a mirror.

Her humility never had to struggle against the slightest movement of pride or vanity. She recognized that of herself she was nothing and could do nothing in the supernatural order. Therefore she bowed down before the Divine Majesty and before all that there was of God in creation. She placed all her greatness in God alone, realising thus the words of the Missal: Deus humilium celsitudo.

At the Annunciation she speaks of herself as the handmaid of the Lord, and in the Magnificat she thanks the Most High for having regarded her lowliness. On the day of the Purification she submits to a law which did not bind her. Her whole life long, humility was manifested in her bearing, her modesty, her voluntary poverty, in the lowly tasks she performed—and all that, even though she had received graces as no other mere human ever did.

The Liturgy reminds us too of her meekness: Virgo singularis, inter omnes mitis. She uttered no word of reproach against those who crucified Jesus, but in union with Him she forgave them and prayed for them. Here we have meekness at its highest united to consummate fortitude.

Such are, then, the intellectual endowments and the principal virtues with which Mary was adorned. They made her a model of the contemplative life, one characterised by devotion to the Incarnate Word, and, through participation in His redemptive work, one in whom we find the most universal of all hidden apostolates.190

What we have said in this chapter about Mary’s principal virtues and her intellectual endowments shows in a concrete way the general plan of her spiritual progress. It remains to speak in the next chapter of her final fullness of grace at the moment of her death and of her entry into Heaven. We shall, then, have followed the stages of her spiritual life from her Immaculate Conception to her final glorification, a life which in its progress resembles a river rising at a great height and causing the fertility of the regions through which it passes, before it plunges at length into the mighty ocean.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

THE plan of this chapter will be: to speak first of Mary’s fullness of grace at the time of her death; then to recall the teaching of the Church concerning her Assumption; finally to treat of her fullness of grace as it unfolded itself in Heaven.


Bossuet remarks that Mary was left in the world after Jesus to console the Church. This she did by her prayers and ever-increasing merits which were the support of the Apostles in their labours and trials as well as the hidden source of the fecundity of all they did for souls.

We have seen already that in Mary’s case death was not a consequence of original sin, but simply of human nature as such. Man was not made immortal at the beginning otherwise than by a special privilege. The Incarnate Word willed to take passible flesh. Mary’s flesh was passible too. Thus the deaths of Jesus and Mary were consequences of the inherent weakness of human nature left to itself and unsustained by any preternatural gift. Jesus, however, mastered death by accepting it for our salvation. Mary united herself to Him in His death, making for us the sacrifice of His life in the most generous martyrdom of heart the world has ever known after that of Our Saviour. And when, later on, the hour of her own death arrived, the sacrifice of her life had been already made. It remained but to renew it in that most perfect form which tradition speaks of as the death of love, a death, that is to say, in which the soul dies not simply in grace or in God’s love, but of a calm and supremely strong love which draws the soul, now ripe for Heaven, away from the body to be united to God in immediate and eternal vision.

Mary’s last moments are described by St. John Damascene191 in the words “She died an extremely peaceful death.” St. Francis de Sales’ chapters in his treatise on the Love of God (ch. 13 and 14) are an eloquent commentary on the words of St. John Damascene:

“The Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, died of love for her Son. . . . It is impossible to conceive of her death as having been anything except a death of love, which is the most noble of all deaths and the fitting crown of the most noble of all lives. . . . If the early Christians were said to have but one heart and one soul because of their perfect mutual love, if St. Paul lived no longer for himself but Christ lived in him because of the intense union of his heart with the heart of his Master . . . how much more true is it that the Blessed Virgin and her Son had but one soul, one heart, and one life . . . so that her Son lived in her. Mother most loving and most loved that could be . . . of a love incomparably higher than that of angels and men in the measure in which the titles of only mother and only Son are higher than all names that are united in love.

But if this mother lived by the life of her Son, she died also by His death; for as the life is, so is the death. . . . Retaining in her memory all the most lovable mysteries of the life and death of her Son, and receiving always the most ardent inspirations which her Son, the Sun of Justice, poured out on men in the noonday ardor of His charity . . . she was at length consumed by the sacred fire of this charity, as a holocaust of sweetness. And thus she died, her soul ravished and transported in the arms of the love of Jesus. . . .

She died of a most sweet and tranquil love. . . . The love of God increased every moment in the virginal heart of our glorious Lady, but in a sweet, peaceful, and continuous way, without agitation, nor shocks, nor any violence . . . like a great river which, finding no obstacles in the level plain, flows along effortlessly.

Just as iron, if not hindered, is drawn strongly but sweetly by the magnet, and the attraction increases according as it is drawn more close to it, so the Blessed Virgin, being in no way hindered in the operation of the love of her Son, united herself to Him in an incomparable union by sweet, peaceful and effortless ecstasies. . . . So that the death of the Virgin was more peaceful than we can conceive, her Son drawing her gently by the odor of His ointments. . . . Love had caused Mary the pangs of death on Calvary; it was only just, then, that death should cause her the highest delights of love.”

Bossuet, in his turn, voices the same sentiments in his first sermon for the Feast of the Assumption.

“If to love Jesus and to be loved by Jesus are two things which draw down the divine blessing on souls, what a sea of graces must have inundated the soul of Mary Who can describe the impetuosity of that mutual love in which all that is tender in nature concurred with all that is efficacious in grace? Jesus never tired of seeing Himself loved by His Mother: Mary never thought she had had enough of the love of her Son. She asked no grace from her Son except that of loving Him, and that fact drew down more graces on her.

Compare, if you can, with her love the holy impatience she experienced to be united to her Son. . . . St. Paul wished to burst at once the bond of the flesh so as to be with his Master at the right hand of the

Father, and how much greater must have been the longing of a maternal heart! The absence of a year was enough to pierce the heart of the mother of Tobias with sorrow, and what must have been the regret of Mary when she felt herself so long separated from a Son she loved so well! When she saw St. Stephen and so many others depart from this world she must well have asked her Son why He wished to leave her the last of all. He had brought her to the foot of the Cross to see Him suffer, and would He delay to allow her to see Him enthroned? If only He would allow her love its way, it would soon withdraw her soul from her body to unite it to Him in whom she lived.

That love was so ardent, so strong, so inflamed, that not a desire for Heaven sprang from it which was not capable of drawing with it Mary’s soul.

Thus, Mary yielded her holy and blessed soul peacefully and without violence into the hands of her Son. Just as the least touch gathers the ripe fruit, so was gathered her blessed soul, to be at once carried to Heaven; thus the divine Virgin died in a movement of the love of God.”

That holy death reveals the final fullness of Mary’s grace, a fullness which corresponded wonderfully to that initial fullness which had not ceased to grow from the moment of the Immaculate Conception. It disposed her for the consummated fullness of Heaven which is always proportionate to the merits acquired at the moment of death.


What is meant by the Assumption? The whole Church understands by the term that the Blessed Virgin, soon after her death and glorious resurrection, was taken up body and soul to Heaven to be forever throned above the angels and saints. The term Assumption is used rather than Ascension since, unlike Jesus who ascended to Heaven by His own power, Mary was lifted up by God to the degree of glory for which she had been predestined.

Was the Assumption capable of being perceived by the senses, and if there were witnesses—the Apostles and St. John in particular—had they ocular evidence of it? Certainly there was something of the sense-perceptible order about the Assumption, since it was the taking up of Mary’s body to Heaven. But the term of that taking up, that is, the entry to Heaven and the exaltation of Mary above all the saints, was invisible and inaccessible to the senses.

It can be admitted that did certain witnesses find the tomb of the Mother of God empty after her burial, and did they later witness her resurrection and her being raised up in the skies, they would have been able to presume that she entered Heaven and that Our Blessed Lord had associated her with the glory of His Ascension. But a presumption is not certitude. Mary’s body could have been transported, for all their evidence proved, into a place not visible to human eyes—to the place, for example, in which Jesus’ risen body was between His different apparitions.

But if a presumption is not certitude, how was Our Lady’s entry into Heaven ever known with certainty? For that a divine revelation was required. St. Thomas remarks that there was such a revelation in the case of the Ascension192 made through the intermediary of the angels who said: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to Heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you to Heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into Heaven.” (Acts 1:2).

Besides, without a divine revelation, the Assumption would not be capable of being defined a dogma of faith, since the motive of faith is the authority of God in revelation. A private revelation would not however be sufficient. Private revelations—those made to St. Joan of Arc, to St. Bernadette, to the little shepherds of La Salette, are examples of private revelations—could become well known and public in that sense. But they are not public in the sense of being part of the common deposit of revelation and proposed infallibly by the Church to all the faithful. Neither would a revelation of the kind made to St. Margaret Mary be sufficient. For her revelations were private too, and did no more than to draw attention to certain practical consequences of what was already known to be an object of faith—the already accepted truth that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is entitled to adoration or the cult of latria.

Hence, that the Assumption should have been known as certain and capable of being proposed to the whole Church for acceptance, a public revelation must have been made to the Apostles, or at least to one of them—to St. John, for example. Note that this revelation must have been made to an Apostle since the deposit of common and public revelation was completed with the death of the last Apostle. It may have been made explicitly or implicitly. In this latter case its message would have become more explicit in the course of time.

Let us now see what we have to learn from Tradition, and also the theological arguments which have been commonly invoked, at least since the 7th century.

1st—The documents of Tradition show that the privilege was at least implicitly revealed.

It is not possible to prove directly from Sacred Scripture nor from primitive documents that the privilege of the Assumption was revealed explicitly to any of the Apostles, for no text of scripture affirms it explicitly, and there is a similar absence of explicit testimony in the primitive documents. But it can be proved indirectly from later documents that there was at least an implicit revelation since there are certain facts, dating from the 7th century, which are explicable in no other way.

From the 7th century, almost the whole Church, east and west, celebrated the Feast of the Assumption. Pope Sergius (687–707) ordered a solemn procession on that day.193 Many theologians and liturgists contend that it existed already before the time of St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) and they quote in support of their opinion the Collect of the Mass of the Assumption contained in the Sacramentary known as Gregorian (though it is probably later in date) where we read the words: “Nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit.”194 St. Gregory of Tours seems to imply that the Feast was celebrated in Gaul in the 6th century.195 At any rate, it was certainly celebrated there in the 7th century as is proved by the Missale Gothicum and the Missale Gallicanum vetus, which date from the beginning of that century and contain very beautiful prayers for the Feast. (P. L., t. LXXII, col. 245–246.)

In the East the historian Nicephorus Callistus196 recounts that the Emperor Maurice (582–602), contemporary and friend of St. Gregory the Great, ordered the solemn celebration of the Feast on August 15th. The earliest testimony to the traditional faith of the East appears to be that of Saint Modestus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 634), in his Encomium in dormitionem Deiparae (P. G., t. LXXXVI, col. 3288 sqq.). His account of the matter is that the Apostles were led to the

Blessed Virgin by a divine inspiration and were present at the Assumption. After him, mention must be made of St. Andrew of Crete (d. 720), monk in Jerusalem and later Archbishop of Crete, the author of the homilies In dormitionem Deiparae,197 of St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 733), author of In sanctam Dei Genitricis dormitionem,,198 and finally of St. John Damascene (d. 760), author of In dormitionem beatae Mariae Virginis.199

There is no shortage of testimonies from the 8th century on. Those commonly quoted are Notker of St. Gall, Fulbert of Chartres, St. Peter Damien, St. Anselm, Hildebert, Peter Abelard, St. Bernard, Richard of St. Victor, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas.200 The period between the 7th and the 9th centuries witnessed the development of the liturgy, theology, and preaching of the Assumption. Pope Leo IV instituted the octave of the Feast around the year 847. Authors then and in the succeeding periods regarded the object of the Feast not as a pious belief peculiar to this or that country, but as an integral part of the general tradition which went back in the Church to the earliest times. And not only the authors, but the Church herself voiced the same doctrine: the simple fact that the Church celebrated the Feast universally in East and West, usually on the 15th of August, shows that she considered the privilege of the Assumption to be a certain truth taught by her ordinary magisterium, that is to say, by all the bishops in union with the supreme pastor. For the faith of the Church is manifested in her prayer: Lex orandi, lex credendi. The doctrine of the Assumption has not yet been solemnly defined, but it is commonly asserted that it would be at least temerarious or erroneous to deny it.201 When some few authors proposed to change the Feast of the 15th of August, Benedict XIV answered: Ecclesiam hanc amplexam esse sententiam.202

The attitude of the Church in regard to the doctrine is not therefore simply one of tolerance: she proposes it positively in the liturgy and in preaching both in the East and the West. This universal agreement of the whole Church in celebrating the solemn Feast shows that her ordinary magisterium is at work. But the ordinary magisterium presupposes at least that the doctrine has been implicitly revealed: otherwise, as we have seen, there could be no certainty that Mary had entered Heaven. And we may go further still and assert that it is probable that the revelation made to the Apostles, or to one of them, was even explicit, since otherwise it is hard to explain the universal tradition in the East and the West from the 7th century at the latest, which manifests itself in the celebration of the Feast.203 For if the revelation had been only implicit at the beginning, how could it happen that the different bishops and theologians in the different parts of the Church, both East and West, would agree that it was implicitly revealed? For such agreement much preliminary work and many preliminary councils would be required, of which there is absolutely no record. Neither is there any record of private revelations such as are sometimes made in order to set the Church’s official investigations of the deposit of revelation in motion.

Up to the 6th century this privilege of Mary’s was hidden behind a veil of silence, lest it be misunderstood through an unfortunate confusion with the fables concerning pagan goddesses. The principal contribution of the early centuries of the Church to Mariology was to establish her great title, “Mother of God,” and eventually to define it in the Council of Ephesus.

Thus, we may conclude that everything tends to indicate that the privilege of the Assumption was explicitly revealed to the Apostles, or at least to one of them, and that it was transmitted subsequently by the oral tradition of the Liturgy; otherwise there is no explanation of the universal Feast of the Assumption, found so clearly from the 7th century on, by which time the Assumption itself was already the object of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

2nd—The theological reasons usually adduced show that the Assumption is at least implicitly revealed.

These theological arguments, as well as the scriptural texts on which they are built, may be considered in two ways: abstractly—from which point of view many of them are mere arguments ex convenientia and are not demonstrative—and in the concrete—that is to say, as expressing concrete facts, the complexity and richness of which is learned from tradition. It is well to note too that even the arguments ex convenientia may be considered from two points of view: either purely theoretically or as being themselves at least implicitly revealed and as having influenced the divine choice.

In this section we shall insist on two arguments which, taken as expressing Tradition, show that the privilege of the Assumption is implicitly revealed.204 As for the eminent dignity of the Mother of God, though this is the root reason of all Mary’s privileges, it is not the proximate cause of her Assumption. Thus it seems to yield only an argument ex convenientia which is not demonstrative.205 The first of these two arguments runs as follows:

Mary received fullness of grace and was blessed by God among women in an exceptional way. But this exceptional blessing negatives the divine malediction to bring forth children in pain and to return to dust (Gen. 3:16-19). Mary was therefore preserved through it from corruption in her body: her body would not return to dust but would be resuscitated in an anticipated resurrection. Since the two premisses of this argument are revealed, the conclusion is, according to the teaching of most theologians, capable of being defined.

A thing to be noted in this argument is that the reasoning process in it is not precisely illative, but rather explicative since the divine malediction contains the “into dust thou shalt return” of Genesis not as a cause contains an effect but as a whole contains its parts: “Into dust thou shalt return” is a part of the divine malediction. Thus Mary, blessed among women, and not falling under the malediction, would not suffer the corruption of the tomb. The hour of the resurrection would be anticipated for her, and her glorious resurrection would be followed by the Assumption or elevation of her glorified body to Heaven. It is, then, clear that the privilege of the Assumption is contained implicitly revealed in the plenitude of grace and the exceptional blessing with which Mary was favored.

The second argument is no less cogent. It was put forward by the many fathers of the Vatican Council who asked for the definition of the dogma of the Assumption and was indicated by Pius IX in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus.206 The argument may be formulated thus:

Christ’s perfect victory over Satan included victory over sin and death. But Mary, the Mother of God, was most intimately associated with Jesus on Calvary in His victory over Satan. Hence she was associated with Him in His victory over death by her anticipated resurrection and her Assumption.

In this argument, as in the first one, the premisses are both revealed, and the argument itself is explicative rather than illative: it turns on Christ’s perfect victory which is a whole containing as its parts victory over sin and victory over death.

The major premiss is known to be revealed, as the Fathers of the Vatican Council stated, from many texts in the Epistles of St. Paul. Among texts from other books of the New Testament, we may mention a few from St. John’s gospel. Jesus is “the Lamb of God . . . who taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); He said of Himself “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33); shortly before His Passion He said “Now is the judgement of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” (John 12:31–32). The sacrifice of the Cross offered in love, the acceptance of humiliation and a most painful death—these were the victory over Satan and sin. But death is a consequence of sin. Hence, He who had conquered Satan and sin on the Cross would conquer death by His glorious resurrection.

The minor premiss is revealed also—that is, that Mary, Mother of God, was associated as closely as possible on Calvary with Jesus’ perfect victory over Satan. It is announced mysteriously in Genesis in the words addressed to Satan: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head. . . .” And though that text alone would not suffice to establish the point, we have in addition Mary’s words at the Annunciation” “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word . . .” uttered when she consented to be the Mother of the Redeemer. But she would not have been a worthy mother unless her will were perfectly conformed to the will of Him who was to offer Himself for us. Besides, Simeon told her of the sufferings to be borne: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce. . . .” Last of all we read in St. John’s gospel: “There stood by the Cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister.” She shared in His sufferings, therefore, in the measure of her love for Him: so fully did she share that she is called Co-Redemptrix.207

There is a very intimate connection between compassion and motherhood, for the deepest compassion is that of a mother, and Mary would not have been a worthy mother of the Redeemer had she been lacking in conformity of will with His redemptive oblation.

Since, therefore, Mary was associated very intimately with Jesus in His perfect victory over Satan, it follows that she was associated also with Him in the different parts of His triumph, that is to say, in His victory over sin and over death, sin’s consequence.

It could, perhaps, be objected that it would be enough were Mary associated in His victory over death by her final resurrection on the Last Day. To which the answer can be given that Mary was more closely associated than anyone else with Jesus in His perfect victory—or in the perfection of His victory—over Satan, and that perfect victory included exemption from bodily corruption, and, in consequence, anticipated resurrection and assumption into Heaven. As we read in the Collect of the Mass of the Assumption: “Mortem subiit temporalem, nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit. . . She died; but she was not retained captive by the bonds of death—a privilege accorded to no other saint, for even though the bodies of some saints are miraculously preserved from corruption, they are still in the bonds of death.

These two great theological arguments taken respectively from Mary’s fullness of grace united to her special blessing, and her association with Jesus in His perfect victory, prove that the Assumption is implicitly revealed and capable of definition as an article of faith.

There are other theological arguments too which confirm the same conclusion, at least by way of proof ex convenientia. The love of Jesus for Mary can be appealed to as a reason why she should have been accorded the privilege. The excellent virginity of Mary seems to demand that her body, free from all stain of sin, should be free from the bonds of death, the consequence of sin. The Immaculate Conception calls for it also since death is a consequence of original sin from which Mary was preserved. It may also be added that there are no relics of Our Lady, which is a probable indication of her Assumption, body and soul, into Heaven.

Since the Assumption is contained at least implicitly in Revelation, it can be defined as an article of faith. The opportuneness of its definition is manifest, as Dom Renaudin says.208 For, from the doctrinal point of view, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin along with the Ascension of Our Blessed Lord, crowns our faith in the objective completion of the work of the Redemption, and gives our hope a new guarantee. For their part, the faithful will derive from a solemn definition of the Assumption the advantage of being able to go beyond their adherence to the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium of the Church who has instituted the Feast, and to adhere immediately to the dogma on the authority of God who revealed it, in which dogma they will find an arm against all those errors of our times—whether materialism, rationalism, or liberal Protestantism—which agree in minimising the faith in every possible way rather than to recognise that the gifts of God surpass our ideas of them. From the point of view of heretics and schismatics, the solemn definition will be a help rather than a hindrance, for it will make more manifest the power and goodness of Mary who has been given to men to lead them along the way of salvation. Finally, the just man lives by his faith. Hence he finds in the solemn definition of a revealed truth a form of spiritual nourishment which increases his faith, and strengthens his hope, and makes his charity more fervent.


In this article we shall consider Mary’s eternal beatitude: the beatific vision; the love of God and the joy which results from it; her elevation above the choirs of angels; her participation in Christ’s Kingship and the consequences which follow from it.


Mary’s essential beatitude surpasses in intensity and extension that conferred on all the other blessed. This doctrine is theologically certain. Heavenly glory, or essential beatitude, is proportioned to the degree of grace or charity which precedes entry to Heaven. But Mary’s initial fullness of grace surpassed the fmal grace of the highest saints and angels; and we have seen that it is probable, if not certain, that it surpassed their final graces united. It follows that Mary’s essential beatitude surpasses that of all the saints taken together. In other words, Mary’s beatific vision penetrates more deeply into the divine essence seen face to face than that of all the other blessed—exception being, of course, made for the beatified soul of Jesus.

It is true that the natural intellectual powers of the angels are greater than those of Mary, or even the human powers of Jesus. Nevertheless Mary’s intuitive gaze of the divine essence is more piercing than theirs because of the much more intense lumen gloriae (light of glory) with which she is enriched. The object of the beatific vision being essentially supernatural, greater natural powers confer no greater advantage in knowing it. In much the same way an unlettered Christian can have a greater infused faith and charity than a highly endowed and qualified theologian.

Not only does Mary know more of the essence of God in Heaven, but she knows more too of His wisdom, His love, His power, and she sees better the range of their extent both in the order of possible and of existing realities. Besides, since the blessed in Heaven see more things in God according as their mission is a more universal one, Mary, as Mother of God, Universal Mediatrix, Co-Redemptrix, Queen of Angels, Saints, and the whole universe, sees much more in God, in Verbo, than do the other blessed. Higher than her in glory is only her Divine Son. His human mind reads into the divine essence deeper than hers. He knows certain secrets which are hidden from her, for they pertain to Him only, the Saviour, the High Priest and the Universal King.

Mary comes immediately after Jesus in heavenly glory. That is why the liturgy affirms, on the Feast of the 15th of August, that she has been lifted up above the choirs of angels, and that she is at the right hand of her Son. (Ps. 44:10). According to St. Albert the Great,209 she constituted among the blessed an order apart, higher than the seraphim as they are higher than the cherubim: for the queen is as much higher than the first of her servants as they are higher than the last of their fellows.

Being Mother of God she participates more than anyone else in the glory of her Son. And since the divinity of Jesus is absolutely evident in Heaven, it is clear to the blessed that Mary belongs to the hypostatic order, that she has a special affinity to the divine Persons, and that she shares in a unique way in Jesus’ universal kingship over all creatures. This is the doctrine of so many of the liturgical prayers: Ave Regina Coelorum . . . Regina Coeli . . . Salve Regina. It is found also in the Litanies: Queen of Angels . . . Queen of all saints. . . . And it is affirmed also in the passage we quoted earlier from the Bull Ineffabilis Deus. It is taught explicitly by St. Germanus of Constantinople,210 St. Modestus,211 St. John Damascene,24 St. Anselm (Orat. I), St. Bernard,212 St. Albert the Great,213 St. Thomas Aquinas,214 and all the doctors.


To Mary’s accidental beatitude contribute her more intimate knowledge of the glorious Humanity of Jesus, the exercise of her universal mediation and of her motherly mercy, and the cult of hyperdulia which she receives as Mother of God. She enjoys also in an eminent way the triple aureola of the martyrs, the confessors, and the virgins, for she suffered more than the martyrs during the Passion of her Son, she instructed the Apostles themselves in a private and intimate way, and she preserved virginity of soul and body in all its perfection. The glory of her body—which is a reflection of that of her soul—is of the same eminent degree.

Under all these respects Mary is raised above all the saints and angels, and it becomes increasingly evident that the reason and root cause of all her privileges is her eminent dignity as Mother of God.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
PART II - Mary, Mother of all Men

Her Universal Mediation and Our Interior Life


Having considered the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God, and the fulness of grace which was given her that she might be God’s worthy mother, it remains to speak of her relations with men. Tradition attributes to Mary three titles, Mother of the Redeemer, Mother of all men, and Mediatrix, to express her relations with men as yet on their way to eternity. In regard to the blessed she has especially the title, Universal Queen.

Theology teaches us that these titles correspond to those of Christ the Redeemer.215 He performed His redemptive work as Head of the humanity He was to regenerate, as First Mediator Who has the power by His priesthood to sacrifice and to sanctify, and to exercise teaching authority, and finally as Universal King, Who legislates for all men, judges the living and the dead, and governs all creatures not excluding the angels. Mary, in her quality of Mother of the Redeemer, is associated with Jesus in those three roles. She is associated with Him as Head of the Church by being spiritual Mother of all men; she is associated with Him as First Mediator by being a secondary and subordinate mediatrix; and she is associated with Him as Universal King by being Queen of the universe. That is Mary’s triple mission to men which we are about to consider in this part of the book.

We shall speak first of Mary as Mother of the Redeemer and as Mother of all men; then of her universal mediation on earth and in heaven; finally of her universal queenship.

All these titles, but especially that of Mother of God, are the justification of the cult of hyperdulia of which we shall speak in the last place. At no time shall we endeavor to put forward original views, or those of individual authors—nor have we done that in the earlier part of the book—but rather will it be our aim to expose the common teaching of the Church, transmitted by the Fathers and explained by theologians. It is only on such a foundation that one can safely build.

Because of the method we have chosen, a superficial reader may think our treatment of the different questions banal or elementary. But it is well to recall that the most elementary philosophical truths, such as the principles of causality and finality, and the most elementary religious truths, such as those contained in the Our Father, are found to be the most profound and vital when they are examined carefully and put into practice. In the present matter as elsewhere it is necessary to advance from what is known and certain to what is less well known, from what is easy to what is difficult; were one to embark on a premature consideration of more difficult problems, especially if they were presented in the form of dramatic and striking paradoxes, the result might be—as has happened to so many heretics—to end up by denying evident truths and obvious conclusions. The history of theology and philosophy shows that this is no fictitious danger. Finally it should not be forgotten that though in human matters, where truth and falsity, good and evil, are jumbled together, simplicity is superficiality and exposes one to error; in the things of God, where there is but the true and the good, simplicity alone will reveal the greatest heights and the most secret depths.216


These two titles are evidently connected. We shall consider them in the order indicated.


The Church calls Mary Mother of the Saviour as well as Mother of God. In the Litany of Loreto, for example, after the invocations, “Holy Mother of God,” and “Mother of the Creator,” we find the other, “Mother of the Saviour, pray for us.” Though some have thought the contrary,217 the fact of these two titles is no reason for believing that Mariology labors under the defect of a duality of distinct principles: “Mother of God” and “Mother of the Saviour, who is associated with His redemptive work.” Mariology is a unity, for Mary is “Mother of God the Redeemer or the Saviour.” In much the same way the two mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption do not take away from the unity of Christology, for its central point is the redemptive Incarnation. The motive of the Incarnation is sufficiently indicated in the Creed which says that the Son of God came down from Heaven for our salvation.

Let us now see how Mary became Mother of the Saviour by her consent, and how, as Mother of the Saviour, she was to be associated with His redemptive work.


Mary gave her consent to the redemptive Incarnation when, on the day of the Annunciation, the angel said to her: “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus”—the name to be given to her Son meaning “saviour.” Mary was not ignorant of the Messianic prophecies—most particularly those of Isaias—which foretold the redemptive sufferings of the promised Saviour. Thus, when she uttered her fiat she accepted in advance for herself and for her Son all the sufferings which the redemption would involve.

She learned something still more explicit about them a few days later when Simeon spoke to her: “Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.” A little earlier he had spoken of Jesus as . . . thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples.” Mary, we are told, kept all these words in her heart. The divine plan became gradually clearer to her contemplative faith, lit up as it was by the illumination of the gift of understanding.

Mary therefore became freely Mother of the Redeemer in His role of Redeemer; she grew in her appreciation of the fact that the Son of God became Man for our salvation. She united herself to Jesus as only a mother, and a very holy mother, could in perfect oneness of love for God and souls. That was her way of fulfilling the great precept of the law—and what more perfect way could there be? Tradition is clear on Mary’s union with the Redeemer; it never tires of repeating that as Eve was united to the first man in the work of perdition Mary was united to the Redeemer in the work of redemption.

Mother of the Redeemer, she grew too in her appreciation of the manner of our redemption. It was sufficient for her to call to mind and meditate on the prophecies which all knew so well. (Isaias 53:1–12) announced the sufferings and humiliations of the Messiah, saying that they would be borne to expiate our sins by Him Who is innocence itself, and that by His Death He would justify many. She knew too David’s psalm (Ps. 21) “O God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” describing the prayer of the Just One, His cry of anguish in His abandonment, and His confidence in Jahve, His apostolate and its effects in Israel and among the gentiles. There was finally Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13–14) and of the power that would be given Him: “And he gave him power, and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom, that shall not be destroyed.” All Tradition has seen the Messiah promised as Redeemer in the Man of Sorrows of Isaias and the Son of Man of Daniel.

Mary, who was not ignorant of these prophecies, became therefore Mother of the Redeemer in His role of Redeemer at the Annunciation. From her consent “Be it done to me according to thy word” follows all the rest of her life, just as all Jesus’ life followed from the consent He gave to His Father’s will on entering the world: “Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come to do thy will, O God.” (Heb. 10:6–9). The Fathers could say that our salvation depended on Mary’s consent, and that she conceived her Son spiritually before she conceived Him corporeally.218

It may be objected that a divine decree such as that of the Incarnation could not depend on the consent of a creature who was free not to give it. To this theology answers that God has efficaciously willed and infallibly foreseen everything that will happen in the course of time. Therefore, He willed efficaciously and foresaw infallibly Mary’s consent to the realization of the mystery of the Incarnation. From all eternity God, who works with strength and gentleness, decided to give Mary the efficacious grace which would move her to consent freely and meritoriously. Just as He makes the trees to bear their blossoms, so He makes our wills to produce their free acts; and far from doing them any violence He is the author of their freedom, for that too is a reality, a form of being. The “how” of all this is the secret of God Omnipotent. Just as Mary conceived the Saviour by the operation of the Holy Ghost without losing her virginity, so she uttered her fiat infallibly under the motion of efficacious grace without prejudice to her complete liberty—rather did her will, under the divine motion, flower spontaneously into the free consent she gave in the name of all mankind.

Mary’s fiat belonged entirely to God as First Cause and entirely to Mary as secondary cause. In it we find a perfect example of what St. Thomas speaks of (Ia, q. 19, a. 8): “Since the will of God is supremely efficacious it follows that not only do the things that God wills (efficaciously) happen, but that they happen in the way in which He wills. But it is His will that some things should happen of necessity and others freely.” By her fiat, then, Mary became voluntarily the Mother of the Redeemer.

Tradition recognizes that Mary consented to be Mother of the Redeemer in His redemptive role by calling her the New Eve. The first Eve, by consenting to temptation, led the first man to commit the sin which lost original justice for mankind. Mary is the New Eve by her consent to be the Mother of the Redeemer for the sake of the work of redemption.

Some non-Catholics have objected that Mary’s parents could equally well have been entitled father or mother of the Redeemer and regarded as associated with Him in the work of redemption. It is not hard to find an answer to this objection. Mary alone received the light required for the consent of which we speak. Her parents did not know that the Messiah would be born of their family. St. Anne could not foresee that her child would be the mother of the Messiah.


According to what the Fathers of the Church tell us about Mary as the New Eve whom many saw foretold in the words of Genesis, it is common and certain doctrine, and even fidei proxima, that the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, is associated with Him in the work of redemption as secondary and subordinate cause, just as Eve was associated with Adam in the work of man’s ruin.219

The doctrine of Mary as the second Eve was universally accepted in the 2nd century. The Fathers who taught it then did not regard it as the fruit of personal speculation but as the traditional doctrine of the Church supported by the words of St. Paul which describe Jesus as the second Adam and oppose Him to the first as the Author of salvation to the author of the fall. (2 Cor. 15:45 sqq.; Rom. 5:12 sqq.; 1 Cor. 15: 20–23). They fitted St. Paul’s words into the context of Genesis’ account of the fall, the promise of the redemption, and the victory over the demon, as well as St. Luke’s account of Mary’s consent at the Annunciation. It is necessary therefore to regard the doctrine of Mary as the second Eve, associated with the redemptive work of her Son, as a divinoapostolic tradition.220

The Fathers who speak most explicitly of this matter are St. Justin,221 St. Irenaeus,222 Tertullian,223 St. Cyprian,224 Origen,225 St. Cyril of Jerusalem,226 St. Ephrem,227 St. Epiphanius,228 St. John Chrysostom,229 St. Proclus,230 St. Jerome,231 St. Ambrose,232 St. Augustine,233 St. Basil,234 St. Germanus of Constantinople,235 St. John Damascene,236 St. Anselm,237 St. Bernard.238 In later times the theologians of the middle ages and of our own day have maintained the same doctrine.239

What, according to Tradition, is the sense in which Mary, the New Eve, was associated with the work of redemption?

It was not merely by having conceived the Redeemer physically, by having given Him birth and nourished Him, but rather was her association moral, through her free, salutary, and meritorious acts. Eve contributed morally to the fall by yielding to the temptation of the devil, by disobedience, and by leading up to Adam’s sin; Mary, on the contrary, co-operated morally in our redemption by her faith in Gabriel’s words, and by her free consent to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation and to all the sufferings it entailed for her Son and for herself.

Clearly, Mary is not the principal and perfective cause of the Redemption: she could not redeem us in justice, de condigno, since for that a theandric act of infinite value which could belong only to an incarnate Divine Person was required. But she is really a secondary cause of salvation, dispositive, and subordinate to Jesus. She is said to be subordinated to Jesus not merely in the sense that she is inferior to Him, but also in the sense that she concurred in saving us by a grace which proceeded from His merits, and therefore acted in Him, with Him, and by Him. We must never forget that Jesus is the Universal Mediator. He redeemed Mary by preserving her from original sin. Similarly, it is through Him that she contributed to saving us. She is not the perfective cause of salvation, but a dispositive one, disposing us to undergo the action of her Son, who it is achieves our salvation and is our Redeemer.

Mary’s association with Jesus in the redemption is therefore not like that of the Apostles, but is something still more intimate. That is what St. Albert the Great formulated so happily when he said: “The Blessed Virgin Mary was chosen by God not to be His minister but to be His consort and His helper—in consortium et adjutorium—according to the words of Genesis: Let us make him a help like to himself.” (Mariale, q. 42).

We can now see that the unity of Mariology does not suffer from the defect of having two distinct principles. There is one principle which dominates it: Mary is Mother of God the Redeemer and is by that fact associated to His work. In the same way, the two mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption do not constitute a duality so as to take from the unity of Christology, for they find themselves united in the idea of the redemptive Incarnation; and their union in it is expressed in the Creed in the words “ . . . qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis, et incarnatus est.”

Jesus’ natural sonship of God or His grace of hypostatic union is greater than His fulness of created grace and our redemption. In the same way Mary’s motherhood of God is greater than her fulness of grace which overflows on us, as has been shown in the first chapter of this book. The unity of theological knowledge contributes to its certainty, since, because of its unity, it uses subordinated and not co-ordinated principles. All the different treatises, too, which go to make it up are subordinated in their totality to some supreme truth.


Tradition ascribes to Mary the titles Mother of Divine Grace, Mother most amiable, Mother most admirable, Mother of Mercy. The Fathers have often spoken of Mary as Mother of all Christians, and even as Mother of all men. In what sense is this maternity to be understood? When did Mary become our Mother? How does her maternity affect all the faithful, even those who are not in the state of grace, and all men, even those who have not the true faith? These are the questions we shall try to answer in this section.


Evidently Mary is not our mother in the ordinary sense of the term since she did not give us natural life. Considering our natural life, it is Eve who deserves to be called the mother of all men. Mary is our mother rather in a spiritual sense and through adoption, for, by her union with Jesus the Redeemer, she has communicated to us the supernatural life of grace. She is very much more than a sister in grace: we say, on the analogy of natural life, that she has given us birth to a divine form of life. St. Paul could say, speaking to the Corinthians, “In Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you.” (1 Cor. 4:15). With still more truth can we speak of Mary’s spiritual maternity—a maternity which is source of a life destined to endure not sixty or eighty years, but all eternity.

Mary’s maternity is adoptive, as is God’s fatherhood of the just. It is, however, much more intimate and fruitful than in ordinary human adoption. Human adoption constitutes a person legally the child and heir of another. But all this is in the legal order; and even though it is a sign of the affection bestowed on the adopted child, it does not produce any interior change in it. Divine adoption, on the contrary, produces sanctifying grace in the soul of the just, thereby making it to participate in the divine nature and to have within itself the germ of eternal life. The soul which is endowed thus with grace is agreeable in God’s eyes and is His child, called to know Him face to face and to love Him for all eternity. St. John speaks of this in his prologue when he describes those who believe in the Son of God made man as “Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13). Mary’s maternity participates in the fruitfulness or fecundity of the divine Paternity: in union with the Redeemer, she has truly and really communicated to us grace, the germ of eternal life. She can therefore be called Mother of grace, Mother of mercy. That is what the Fathers meant when they called her the New Eve, and said that she had co-operated voluntarily in our salvation as Eve had cooperated in our fall.

The points of doctrine just outlined are found in the Church’s preaching from the 2nd century on. The references are the same as those given a short while ago in connection with the doctrine of the New Eve. St. Ephrem, in the 4th century, is a particularly eloquent witness. He calls Mary “Mother of life and of salvation, Mother of the living and of all men” since she gave us the Saviour and united herself to Him on Calvary.240 Similar expressions are found in St. Germanus of Constantinople,241 St. Peter Chrysologus,242 Eadmer,243 St. Bernard,244 Richard of St. Laurence,245 St. Albert the Great246 who calls Mary “Mater misericordiae, Mater regenerations, totius humani generis mater spiritualis,” and in St. Bonaventure.247

Every day the liturgy repeats: “Hail holy Queen, Mother of mercy . . . Show thyself a mother . . . Hail, Mother of mercy, Mother of God and Mother of pardon, Mother of hope and Mother of grace.”


The different texts we have quoted indicate that Mary became our mother by consenting freely to be the Mother of the Saviour, the Author of grace and of our spiritual regeneration. By that act she conceived us spiritually and would have been our adoptive mother as its result even had she died before her Son. But that was not to be. Instead she lived on to unite herself to Jesus in the sacrifice of the Cross and by that great act of faith, hope and love of God and souls, she became our mother in a still more perfect way and contributed more directly, more intimately, and more profoundly to our salvation. Besides, it was on Calvary that Jesus proclaimed Mary our mother, when He addressed to Mary the words: “Woman, behold thy son,” and to St. John, who personified all the redeemed, the words: “Behold thy mother.” Tradition has always understood the words in that sense: they do not refer to a grace peculiar to St. John alone, but go beyond him to all who are to be regenerated by the Cross.248

The words of the dying Saviour, like sacramental words, produce what they signify: in Mary’s soul they produced a great increase of charity and of maternal love for us; in John a profound filial affection, full of reverence for the Mother of God. There is the origin of devotion to Mary.

Mary continues to exercise her motherly functions in our regard by watching over us so that we grow in charity and persevere in it, by interceding for us and by distributing to us all the graces we receive.


She is first of all Mother of the faithful, of those who believe in her Son and receive through Him the life of grace. But she is also Mother of all men, since she gave the world the Saviour of all men and since she united herself to the oblation of her Son Who offered His precious blood for all. This is what has been affirmed by Popes Leo XIII, Benedict XV, and Pius XI.249

She is not the Mother of all men in a general way, as may be affirmed of Eve in the natural order, but of each man in particular, for she intercedes for each and obtains for each all the graces he receives. Jesus says of Himself that He is the Good Shepherd who “calleth his own sheep by name.” (John 10:3). Something the same may be said of Mary who is the mother of each individual man.

However, Mary is not Mother of the faithful and of infidels, of the just and sinners, in exactly the same way. The distinctions which are made in regard to the members of Christ’s Mystical Body must be made here also.250 Mary is Mother of infidels in that she is destined to engender them to grace, and in that she obtains for them the actual graces which dispose them for the faith and for justification. She is Mother of the faithful who are in the state of mortal sin, in that she watches over them by obtaining for them the graces necessary for acts of faith and hope, and for disposing themselves for justification. Of those who have died in the state of mortal sin, she is no longer the mother: she was their mother. She is fully the Mother of the just, since they have received sanctifying grace and charity through her. She cares for them with tender solicitude so that they may continue in grace and grow in charity. She is in an eminent way the Mother of the blessed who can no longer lose the life of grace.

All this makes clear the meaning of what the Church sings every day at Compline: Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy; Hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs in this vale of tears . . .

St. Grignon de Montfort has explained the consequences of this doctrine very beautifully in his Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, ch. 1, art. 1, no. 2: God wishes to make use of Mary for the sanctification of souls. He sums up thus in the Secret of Mary (First Part: Why Mary is necessary for us):

“She it is who has given life to the Author of grace, and on that account she is called Mother of grace. In giving her His Son, God the Father, from whom all good things descend, gave her all graces: as St. Bernard says, God’s will is given her in Him and with Him.

“God has chosen her to be treasurer and dispensatrix of all His graces. All His graces and all His gifts pass by her hands. . . . Since Mary has formed the Head of the predestined, Jesus Christ, it pertains to her to form also the members of the Head, who are the true Christians. . . . She has received from God a special power to nourish souls and to make them grow in Him. St. Augustine goes so far as to say that the predestined in this world are enclosed in Mary’s womb and that they come to the light only when their good Mother brings them forth to eternal life. It is to her that the Holy Ghost has said ‘Take root in my elect’ (.Eccl. 24:13)—roots of profound humility, of ardent charity and of all the virtues.

“Mary is called by St. Augustine, and is in fact, the living mould of God—forma Dei. In her was the Man–God formed . . . and in her alone can man become deiform. Whoever is in this mould and allows himself to be shaped there, takes on the appearance of Jesus Christ, true God, in a manner adapted to his human weakness, without excess of pain and labor. This is a sure way, without danger of illusion, for Satan never had and never will have power over Mary, holy and immaculate, stainless and sinless.

“What a difference there is between a soul formed in Jesus by the method of those who, like sculptors, rely on their art and their industry, and a soul which, relying in nothing on itself, and freed from all attachments and submissive in all things, throws itself into Mary’s hands, there to be shaped by the action of the Holy Ghost. What stains, what defects, what darkness, what illusions, what an amount of the merely natural there is in the first soul, and how the second one is pure, divine, and like to Jesus . . . !

“A thousand times happy is the soul to whom the Holy Ghost reveals the secret of Mary and to whom

He opens this enclosed garden. That soul will find God alone in that most lovable creature—God infinitely holy and infinitely condescending, yet proportioned to its weakness. . . . God lives in her and, far from causing souls to rest in herself, she leads them to God and unites them to Him.”

Thus Christian doctrine becomes the object of a penetrating faith for St. Grignon de Montfort, of a contemplation which issues in a true and strong charity.


Jesus is our model. His predestination to natural divine sonship is the exemplary cause of our predestination to adoptive sonship for “whom he foreknew he also predestined to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29). Similarly Mary our Mother, associated with her Son, is the exemplary cause of the life of the elect. It is in that sense that St. Augustine and St. Grignon de Montfort after him say that she is the mould or the model according to which God forms the elect. One must be marked with Mary’s seal and reproduce her characteristics to have a place among those loved by Our Lord—which is the reason why theologians teach commonly that a true devotion to Mary is one of the signs of predestination. Blessed Hugh of Saint-Cher even says that she is, as it were, the book of life,251 or the mirror of that eternal book, since God has written in her the names of all the elect, just as He willed to form, in her and by her, Jesus Who is the First of the elect.

St. Grignon de Montfort writes:252 “God the Son said to His Mother ‘Let thy inheritance be in Israel.’ (Eccl. 24:13). It is as if He had said: God, My Father, has given Me for heritage all the nations of the earth, all men good and evil, predestined and reprobate; I shall lead some by a rod of gold and others by a rod of iron; I shall be the father and advocate of some, the just chastiser of others, and the judge of all; but you, My dear Mother, you shall have for your heritage only the predestined who are prefigured by Israel, and as their mother, you will give them birth, nourish and rear them; as their Queen you will lead, govern and protect them.”

It is in that same sense that we must understand the words of St. Grignon de Montfort a little further on in the same work, when showing that Mary, like Jesus, makes her choice always in accordance with the divine good pleasure: “The Most High has made her His treasurer and the dispenser of His favors, to ennoble, raise up, and enrich whom she wills, to allow whom she wills to enter on the narrow way of Heaven, to make whom she wills pass through the narrow gate of life in spite of everything, and to give the throne, the sceptre, and the kingly crown to whom she will. To Mary alone has God given the keys of the cellars of divine love, and the power to enter on the highest and most secret ways of perfection and to lead others thereto.”

Those words make clear the scope of Mary’s spiritual maternity by which she forms the elect and leads them to the term of their predestination.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
PART II - Mary, Mother of all Men


We shall see first of all in what this mediation consists and what are its principal characteristics. After that we shall examine the two ways in which Mary exercised her mediation during her life on earth, by her merits and her satisfaction.


Our Holy Mother the Church approved during the pontificate of Benedict XV the proper Mass and Office of Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces.253 Many theologians consider that the doctrine of Mary’s universal mediation is sufficiently contained in the deposit of revelation to be one day proposed solemnly as an object of faith by the infallible Church. It is taught by the ordinary magisterium of the Church through the liturgy, through encyclical letters, through pastoral letters, in preaching, and in the works of theologians approved by the Church. Let us see first what is meant by this mediation and then enquire if it is affirmed by tradition and proved by theology.


St. Thomas says, speaking of the mediation of the Saviour (Ilia, q. 26, a. I): “It pertains to the office of a mediator between God and men to unite them.” That is, as he explains in the following article, the mediator offers to God the prayers of men, and most particularly, sacrifice which is the principal act of the virtue of religion, and distributes as well to men God’s sanctifying gifts, light from on high and grace. There is, thus, a double movement in mediation: one upwards in the form of prayer and sacrifice, and the other downwards in the form of God’s gifts to men.

The office of mediator belongs fully only to Jesus, the Man-God, Who alone could reconcile us with God by offering Him, on behalf of men, the infinite sacrifice of the Cross, which is perpetuated in Holy Mass. He alone, as Head of Mankind, could merit for us in justice the grace of salvation and apply it to those who do not reject His saving action. It is as man that He is mediator, but as a Man in Whom humanity is united hypostatically to the Word and endowed with the fulness of grace, the grace of Headship, which overflows on men. As St. Paul puts it: “For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus: who gave Himself for a redemption for all, a testimony in due times.” (1 Tim. 2:5–6).

But, St. Thomas adds (loc. cit.): “there is no reason why there should not be, after Christ, other secondary mediators between God and men, who co-operate in uniting them in a ministerial and dispositive manner.” Such mediators dispose men for the action of the principal Mediator, or transmit it, but always in dependence on His merits.

The prophets and priests of the Old Testament were mediators of this kind, for they announced the Saviour to the chosen people by offering sacrifices which were types of the great sacrifice of the Cross. The priests of the New Testament may also be spoken of as mediators between God and men, for they are the ministers of the supreme Mediator, offering sacrifice in His Name, and administering the sacraments.

The question arises, is Mary, in subordination to and in dependence on the merits of Christ, universal mediatrix for all men from the time of the coming of the Saviour, in regard to obtaining and distributing all graces, both in general and in particular? Does it not appear that she is? Nor is her role precisely that of a minister, but that of an associate in the redemptive work, in the words of St. Albert already quoted.

Though non-catholics answer the question with a denial, the Christian sense of the faithful, formed for years by the liturgy, which is one of the voices of the ordinary magisterium of the Church, has no hesitation in maintaining that, by the very fact of her being Mother of the Redeemer, all the indications are that Mary is universal mediatrix, for she finds herself placed between God and men, and more particularly between her Son and men.

Since she is a creature she is, of course, altogether below God Incarnate. But at the same time she is raised far above men by the grace of the divine maternity, which is of the hypostatic order, and by the fulness of grace which she received even from her Immaculate Conception. Hence, the mediation attributed by the liturgy and the Christian sense of the faithful to Mary is, strictly speaking, subordinated to that of Jesus and not co-ordinated; her mediation depends completely on the merits of the Universal Mediator. Nor is her mediation necessary (for that of Jesus is superabundant and needs no complement): it has however been willed by God as a kind of radiation of the Saviour’s mediation, and of all radiations the most perfect. The Church regards it as most useful and efficacious to obtain from God all that we need to lead us directly or indirectly to salvation and perfection. Last of all, Mary’s mediation is perpetual and extends to all men, and to all graces without any exception whatever.

The above is the precise sense in which universal mediation is attributed to Mary in the liturgy, in the

Feast of Mary Mediatrix, and by the theologians who have recently treated the question at great length.


Mary’s mediation was affirmed in a general and implicit way from the earliest centuries by the use of the titles, the New Eve, the Mother of the Living. There is all the more reason for so understanding tradition in that the titles were attributed to her not solely because she gave birth physically to the Saviour but because she co-operated morally in His redemptive work, especially by uniting herself very intimately to the sacrifice of the Cross.254 From the 4th century onwards, and notably in the 5th century, the Fathers affirm clearly that Mary intercedes for us, that all the benefits and helps to salvation come to us through her, by her intervention and her special protection. From the same time too she is called mediatrix between God and men or between Christ and us. Recent studies have thrown much light on this point.255

The antithesis between Eve, cause of death, and Mary, cause of salvation for all men is repeated by St. Cyril of Jerusalem,256 St. Epiphanius,257 St. Jerome,258 St. John Chrysostom.259 The following invocation of St. Ephrem deserves to be quoted in full: “Hail, most excellent mediatrix of God and men, hail most efficacious reconciler of the whole world.”260

St. Augustine speaks of Mary as mother of all the members of our Head, Jesus Christ. He tells us that by her charity she co-operated in the spiritual birth of all the faithful who are Christ’s members.261 St. Peter Chrysologus says that Mary is the mother of all the living by grace whereas Eve is the mother, by nature, of all the dying.262 It is evident that he considers Mary as associated with the divine plan for our redemption.

From the 8th century we may quote the Venerable Bede.263 St. Andrew of Crete calls Mary Mediatrix of grace, dispenser and cause of life.264 St. Germanus of Constantinople says that no one has been saved without the co-operation of the Mother of God.265 The title of mediatrix is given by St. John Damascene also, who asserts that we owe to her all the benefits conferred on us by Jesus.266

In the 9th century we find St. Peter Damien teaching that nothing is accomplished in the work of our redemption without her.267 The teaching of St. Anselm,268 Eadmer,269 and St. Bernard in the 12th century is the same. St. Bernard speaks of Mary as: gratiae inventrix, mediatrix, salutis restauratrix saeculorum.270

From the middle of the 12th century the explicit affirmation of Mary’s co-operation in our redemption becomes quite common. Her co-operation is looked on as consummated by her consent to her sacrifice at the Annunciation, and its accomplishment on Calvary. Among names that may be cited are those of Arnold of Chartres, Richard of St. Victor, St. Albert the Great,271 and Richard of Saint-Laurent. St. Thomas seems to be of the same opinion.272 It is found quite explicitly in St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Antonine,273 Suarez274, Bossuet,275 and St. Alphonsus. St. Grignon de Montfort is one of those who, in the 18th century, did the most to spread the doctrine by bringing out its practical conclusions.276

In the encyclical Ad Diem Ilium, Pius X stated that Mary is the all-powerful mediatrix of the world before her Son: “Totius terrarum orbis potentissima apud Unigenitum Filium suum mediatrix et conciliatrix.” The title of mediatrix has been consecrated by the institution of the feast of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, on January 21st, 1921.


The theological arguments invoked by the Fathers and still more explicitly by theologians are principally the following:

Mary deserves the title of universal mediatrix, subordinated to the Redeemer, if she is an intermediary between Him and men, presenting to Him their prayers and obtaining benefits from Him for them. But that is precisely Mary’s role. For, though a creature, she reaches by her divine maternity to the frontiers of the divinity, and she has received a fulness of grace which is intended to overflow on us. She has, too, cooperated in saving us by consenting freely to be the Mother of the Saviour and by uniting herself as intimately as possible to His sacrifice. We shall see later that she has merited and made satisfaction for us, and we know from the teaching of the Church that she continues to intercede for us so as to obtain for us all graces that contribute to our salvation. These different offices pertain to the exercise of her maternity, as we have already seen.

Thus Jesus is the principal and perfect Mediator, in dependence on Whose merits—and they are superabundant and sufficient of themselves—Mary exercises her subordinate mediation.277 But Mary’s mediation has nevertheless been willed by God because of our weakness and because God wished to honor her by allowing her the exercise of causality in the order of salvation and sanctification.

The work of redemption proceeds therefore entirely from God as First Cause of grace, entirely from Jesus as principal and perfect Mediator, and entirely from Mary as subordinate mediatrix. These three causes are not partial and co-ordinate—as are three men who drag the same load—but total and subordinated: the second acts under the influence of the first, and the third under the influence of the second. An example which may make the point clear is that of the fruit which proceeds entirely from God the Author of nature, entirely from the tree, and entirely from the branch on which it grows. It does not proceed in its different parts from different causes: neither is our redemption the work in part of the Divinity, in part of the Humanity, and in part of Mary.278 It is worth noting how becoming it is that Mary who was redeemed by the Saviour in a most excellent manner and preserved from all sin, original and actual, should co-operate in this way in our justification and our final perseverance.

Mary’s mediation is of a much higher order than that of the saints, for she alone has given us the Saviour, she alone was so intimately united to the sacrifice of the Cross, she alone is universal mediatrix for all mankind and (as we shall see later) for all graces in particular—even for that grace which is of all the most particular, the grace of the present moment which assures our fidelity from instant to instant.

We shall grasp this universality better when we shall have seen that Mary merited de congruo everything that Jesus merited in strict justice, that she made satisfaction (ex convenientia) for us in union with Him, and that as regards the application of the fruits of the redemption, she continues to intercede for each one of us, and more particularly for those who invoke her, so that of all the particular graces granted to us, none are granted de facto without her intervention.



The exercise of her functions as universal mediatrix was not confined for Our Lady to the period of her glory in heaven: she exercised them on earth, as far as the acquisition of grace was concerned, by co-operating in our redemption by her merits and her satisfaction. In that she followed the example of Jesus Who was Mediator during His life on earth, most of all by His death on Calvary: in fact, His mediation on earth was the foundation of His mediation in heaven, whence, by His intercession, He transmits to us the fruits of His sacrifice.


Merit in general means a right to a reward: the meritorious act confers a right to a reward even though it does not itself produce it. Supernatural merit—which presupposes habitual grace and charity—is a right to a supernatural reward. It is distinguished from satisfaction, which has as purpose to expiate the insult offered the Divine majesty by sin and to render God once more propitious. It is distinguished also from prayer, for even a sinner in the state of mortal sin can pray with the help of actual grace. Besides, unlike merit, prayer appeals not to the divine justice but to the divine mercy. Even when a person is in the state of grace the meritorious value of his prayer should be distinguished from its value considered precisely as prayer. Considered as prayer—that is, from the point of view of impetratory value—it can obtain grace, such as that of final perseverance, which cannot be merited in the strict sense of the term.

There are three kinds of merit. The highest kind, which was that of the Incarnate Word, is merit which is perfectly and fully worthy of a reward, perfecte de condigno: the act of charity of the God-Man, since it is the act of a divine Person, is at least equal in value to the reward, even when evaluated in strict justice. Even when the reward was not for Himself, but for us, Jesus could still merit it in strict justice since He was Head of the human race through the fulness of grace which had been given Him that we might all receive of it.

The second kind of merit is that of the person in the state of grace. It is a dogma of faith279 that every person in the state of grace and endowed with the use of reason and free will, and who is as yet a member of the Church militant, can merit an increase of charity and of eternal life with a merit commonly termed de condigno. The force of the term (which may be translated literally “of worthiness”) is that such a person is capable of performing acts which are really worthy of a supernatural reward, not in the sense that they are fully equal in value to it, but in the sense that they are proportionate to it since they proceed from habitual grace which is the germ or beginning of that eternal life which God has promised to those who keep His commandments. Merit de condigno is a right in distributive justice, though not in the full rigor of justice. The connection between merit de condigno and justice throws light on certain texts of scripture such as those in which eternal life is spoken of as a crown of justice (2 Tim. 4:8), a retribution made according to each one’s work (Rom. 2:6–7), or the recompense of a labor which God could not pass over. (Heb. 6:19).

A person in the state of grace cannot, however, merit grace de condigno for another—for example, the conversion of a sinner or another’s advance in charity. The reason is that Christ alone has been constituted Head of the human race to regenerate men and to lead them to salvation.280 In other words the merit de condigno of the just, and even of Mary, is incommunicable. One person can, however, merit grace for another by a lower kind of merit—that known as de congruo proprie, or merit of becomingness. Merit de congruo is founded on charity or friendship with God rather than on justice: theologians say that it is founded on the rights of friendship, in jure amicabili. St. Thomas explains it thus: “since a man in the state of grace does God’s will, it is in keeping with the proprieties (or rights) of friendship that God should do his will in saving another person (for his sake)—although it can happen that at times there will be an obstacle on the side of the other person.”281 In this way, a good Christian mother, for example can, by her good works, her love of God and of her neighbour, merit the conversion of her son de congruo proprie. St. Monica obtained the conversion of St. Augustine by that kind of merit as well as by her prayers: “The son of so many tears,” said St. Ambrose, “could not be lost.”

This third kind of merit is that of Mary in our regard. It should be noted that it is merit in the proper sense of the term since it is founded on the rights of friendship and presupposes the state of grace in the person meriting. The reason why it is truly and properly merit, and not something else or something less, is that the idea of merit is analogical, and admits therefore of differing senses which bear some proportion to one another. Thus there are, lower than the merits of Christ, and lower than the merits whereby the just man merits for himself, the merits de congruo proprie, founded not on the rights of strict equality of justice, nor even on the rights of distributive justice, but on the rights of friendship.282

There is a fourth member of the merit group which is merit in an improper sense of the term. It is that of the sinner in the state of mortal sin who prays to God under the impulse of an actual grace. His prayer has impetratory value; it addresses itself to God’s mercy and not to His justice, and it is founded not on the rights of friendship but on the actual grace which moves the sinner to pray. It is merit de congruo improprie—merit of becomingness in the wide or improper sense.


Once the nature of merit de congruo has been explained, it is at once evident that Mary could merit for us de congruo just as any mother can merit for her children. Hence, it is in no way astonishing that from the 16th century on theologians have taught that Mary merited for us de congruo proprie all that Jesus merited for us de condigno. Suarez is very explicit. He shows, by appealing to a wide tradition, that though Mary merited nothing for us de condigno, since she was not constituted head of the Church, she co-operated in our salvation by her merits de congruo.283 John of Cartagena,284 Novatus,285 Chr. de Vega,286 Theophile Raynaud,287 George of Rhodes,288 all teach the same as Suarez. Later theologians follow this teaching also. Among the 19th and 20th century theologians the following may be mentioned: Ventura, Scheeben, Terrien, Billot, Lepicier, Campana, Hugon, Bittremieux, Merkelbach, Friethoff, and all those who have written in recent years on the universal mediation of the Blessed Virgin.

We may conclude this list of authorities with the words of Pius X in his encyclical Ad Diem Ilium, Feb. 2nd, 1904: “Mary . . . since she surpasses all creatures in holiness and union with Christ, and since she has been associated by Him with the work of salvation, has merited for us de congruo, as it is termed, all that Christ merited for us de condigno, and is the principal minister in the distribution of graces.”289

As has been remarked290 there is a double difference between Mary’s merit de congruo for others and that of ordinary souls in the state of grace. The first difference is that Mary merited all graces, and not some only, in that way. The second is that she merited the acquisition of grace as well as its application, since, by her union with Jesus on Calvary, she had a share in the act of redemption itself even before interceding for us in Heaven.

The doctrine expressed by Pius X in the words quoted just now are merely an application to Mary of the commonly received doctrine regarding the nature and condition of merit de congruo proprie. Some theologians look on it as morally certain; others as a certain theological conclusion; others as a truth formally and implicitly revealed and capable of being defined as a dogma of faith. In our opinion, it is at least a certain theological conclusion. We shall return to the point later (pp. 207–214).


To answer this question it is enough to recall what Jesus has merited for us, since Mary has been associated with Him in the whole work of redemption and since the theologians—and their teaching has the authority of Pius X to support it—teach in general that Mary merited de congruo all that Jesus merited for us de condigno,291 But Jesus merited injustice all the graces required that all men should really be enabled to observe the commandments, even though in point of fact they do not observe them. He merited also all efficacious graces and their effects—that is to say, the effective accomplishment by men of the divine will. He merited finally for the elect all the effects of their predestination: their Christian vocation, their justification, their final perseverance, and their eternal glory.292

It follows that Mary has merited all these same graces de congruo and that she asks for their application now in Heaven and distributes them.293

The foregoing points show in what an elevated, intimate and all-embracing manner Mary is our spiritual mother, Mother of all men. We can suspect too what her care must be for those who are not content to invoke her at distant intervals but who consecrate themselves to her that she may lead them to intimacy with Jesus, as St. Grignon de Montfort explains so admirably in the following extract from his Treatise on True Devotion.

Treatise, Ch. I, a. 2: “Mary is necessary for men that they may arrive at their final end. (Devotion to Mary is not therefore a work of supererogation, as is devotion to any particular saints: it is necessary, and when it is true, faithful and persevering, it is a sign of predestination.) That devotion is still more necessary for those who are called to special perfection, and I do not think it possible that anyone can arrive at intimate union with Our Blessed Lord and perfect fidelity to the Holy Ghost without a great spirit of union with Our Blessed Lady and of dependence on her assistance . . . I have said that this will happen especially towards the end of the world . . . because then the Most High and His Holy Mother will need to form great saints. . . . These saints great, full of grace and zeal, will be chosen to oppose the enemies of God who will rage on every side, and they will be singularly devout to Our Lady, enlightened by her, nourished by her, led by her spirit, sustained by her and kept under her protection, in such wise that they fight with one hand and build with the other. . . . That will arouse many enemies, but it will also yield many victories and much glory to God.”

This noble spiritual doctrine, the fruits of which we see daily more clearly, is the normal consequence, on the level of contemplation and intimate union with God, of the doctrine admitted by all theologians: that Mary has merited de congruo all that Jesus has merited for men de condigno, and especially has she merited for the elect the effects of their predestination.



The purpose of satisfaction is to repair the offence offered to God and to make Him once more favourable to the sinner, The offence offered by mortal sin has about it a certain infinity, since offence is measured by the dignity of the person offended. Mortal sin, by turning the sinner away from God, his final end, denies in practice to God His infinite rights as the Supreme Good and destroys His reign in souls.

It follows from this that only the Incarnate Word could offer to the Father perfect and adequate satisfaction for the offence of mortal sin.294 For satisfaction to be perfect, it must proceed from a love and oblation which are as pleasing to God as, or more pleasing than, all sins united are displeasing to Him.295 But every act of charity elicited by Jesus had these qualities for His Divine Person gave them infinite satisfactory and meritorious value. A meritorious work becomes satisfactory (or one of reparation and expiation) when there is something painful about it. Hence, in offering His life in the midst of the greatest physical and moral sufferings, Jesus offered satisfaction of an infinite and superabundant value to His Father. He alone could make satisfaction in strict justice since the value of satisfaction like that of merit comes from the person, and the Person of Jesus, being divine, was of infinite dignity

It was, however, possible to associate a satisfaction of becomingness (de congruo) to Jesus’ satisfaction, just as a merit of becomingness was associated to His merit. In explaining this point, we shall show all the more clearly the depth and extent of Mary’s sufferings.

Mary offered for us a satisfaction of becomingness (de convenientia) which was the greatest in value after that of her Son.

When a meritorious work is in some way painful it has value as satisfaction as well. Thus theologians commonly teach, following upon what has been explained in the previous section, that Mary satisfied for all sins de congruo in everything in which Jesus satisfied de condigno. Mary offered God a satisfaction which it was becoming that He should accept: Jesus satisfied for us in strict justice.

As Mother of the Redeemer, Mary was closely united to Jesus by perfect conformity of will, by humility, by poverty, by suffering—and most particularly by her compassion on Calvary. That is what is meant when it is said that she offered satisfaction along with Him. Her satisfaction derives its value from her dignity as Mother of God, from her great charity, from the fact that there was no fault in herself which needed to be expiated, and from the intensity of her sufferings.

The Fathers treat of this when they speak of Mary “standing” at the foot of the Cross, as St. John says. (John 19:25). They recall the words of Simeon, “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce,” and they show that Mary suffered in proportion to her love for her crucified Son; in proportion also to the cruelty of His executioners, and the atrocity of the torments inflicted on Him Who was Innocence itself.296 The liturgy also has taught many generations of the faithful that Mary merited the title of Queen of Martyrs by her most painful martyrdom of heart. That is the lesson of the Feasts of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin and of the Seven Dolours, as well as of the Stabat Mater.

Leo XIII summed up this doctrine in the statement that Mary was associated with Jesus in the painful work of the redemption of mankind.45 Pius X calls her “the repairer of the fallen world”297 and continues to show how she was united to the priesthood of her Son: “Not only because she consented to become the mother of the only Son of God so as to make sacrifice for the salvation of men possible, but also in the fact that she accepted the mission of protecting and nourishing the Lamb of sacrifice, and when the time came led Him to the altar of immolation—in this also must we find Mary’s glory Mary’s community of life and sufferings with her Son was never broken off. To her as to Him may be applied the words of the prophet: My life is passed in dolors and my days in groanings. To conclude this list of Papal pronouncements we may refer to the words of Benedict XV: “In uniting herself to the Passion and Death of her Son she suffered almost unto death; as far as it depended on her, she immolated her Son, so that it can be said that with Him she redeemed the human race.”298


Mary’s sufferings have the character of satisfaction from the fact that like Jesus and in union with Him, she suffered because of sin or of the offence it offers to God. This suffering of hers was measured by her love of God Whom sin offended, by her love of Jesus crucified for our sins, and by her love of us whom sin had brought to spiritual ruin. In other words, it was measured by her fulness of grace, which had never ceased to increase from the time of the Immaculate Conception. Already Mary had merited more by the easiest acts than the martyrs in their torments because of her greater love. What must have been the value of her sufferings at the foot of the Cross, granted the understanding she then had of the mystery of the Redemption!

In the spiritual light which then flooded her soul, Mary saw that all souls are called to sing the glory of God. Every soul is called to be as it were a ray of the divinity, a spiritual ray of knowledge and love, for our minds are made to know God and our wills to love Him. But though the heavens tell God’s glory unfailingly, thousands of souls turn from their Creator. Instead of that divine radiation, instead of God’s exterior glory and His Kingdom, there are found in countless souls the three wounds called by St. John the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life: living as if there were no desirable love except carnal love, no glory except that of fame and honor, and no Lord and Master, no end, except man himself.

Mary saw all that evil, all those wounds in souls, just as we see the evils and wounds of bodies. Her fulness of grace had given her an immense capacity to suffer from the greatest of evils, sin. She suffered as much as she loved God and souls: God offended by sin and souls whom it rendered worthy of eternal damnation. Most of all did Mary see the crime of deicide prepared in hearts and brought to execution: she saw the terrible paroxysm of hatred of Him who is the Light and the Author of salvation.

To understand her sufferings, we must think too of her love, both natural and supernatural, of her only Son Whom she not only loved but, in the literal sense of the term, adored since He was her God. She had conceived Him miraculously. She loved Him with the love of a virgin—the purest, richest and most tender charity that has ever been a mother’s. Nor was her grief diminished by ignorance of anything that might make it more acute. She knew the reason for the crucifixion. She knew the hatred of the Jews, His chosen people—her people. She knew that it was all for sinners.

From the moment when Simeon foretold the Passion—already so clearly prophesied by Isaias—and her compassion, she offered and did not cease to offer Him Who would be Priest and Victim, and herself in union with Him. This painful oblation was renewed over years. Of old, an angel had descended to prevent Abraham’s immolation of his son Isaac. But no angel came to prevent the immolation of Jesus.

In his sermon on the Copassion of our Lady, we read the following magnificent words of Bossuet: “It is the will of the Eternal Father that Mary should not only be immolated with the Innocent Victim and nailed to the Cross by the nails that pierce Him, but should as well be associated with the mystery which is accomplished by His death. . . . Three things occur in the sacrifice of Our Saviour and constitute its perfection. There are the sufferings by which His humanity was crushed. There is His resignation to the will of His Father by which He humbly offered Himself. There is the fruitfulness by which He brings us to the life of grace by dying Himself. He suffers as a victim who must be bruised and destroyed. He submits as a priest who sacrifices freely; voluntarie sacrificabo tibi. (Ps. 53:8). Finally He brings us to life by His sufferings as the Father of a new people. . . .

“Mary stands near the Cross. With what eyes she contemplates her Son all covered with blood, all covered with wounds, in form now hardly a man! The sight is enough to cause her death. If she draws near to that altar, it is to be immolated there: and there, in fact, does she feel Simeon’s sword pierce her heart. . . .

“But did her dolors overcome her, did her grief cast her to the ground? Stabat juxta crucem: she stood by the Cross. The sword pierced her heart but did not take away her strength of soul: her constancy equals her affliction, and her face is the face of one no less resigned than afflicted.

“What remains then but that Jesus who sees her feel His sufferings and imitate His resignation should have given her a share in His fruitfulness. It is with that thought that He gave her John to be her son: Woman, behold thy son. Woman, who suffer with me, be fruitful with me, be the mother of my children whom I give you unreservedly in the person of this disciple; I give them life by my sufferings, and sharing in the bitterness that is mine your affliction will make you fruitful.”

In the sermon, of which the paragraphs I have quoted are the opening, Bossuet develops the three main points outlined and shows that Mary’s love for Jesus was enough to make her a martyr: “One Cross was enough for the well-beloved Son and the mother.” She is nailed to the Cross by her love for Him. Without a special grace she would have died of her agony.

Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain: but she brings the faithful forth in the most cruel suffering. “At what price she has bought them! They have cost her her only Son. She can be mother of Christians only by giving her Son to death. O agonizing fruitfulness! It was the will of the Eternal Father that the adoptive sons should be born by the death of the True Son. . . . What man would adopt at this price and give his son for the sake of strangers? But that is what the Eternal Father did. We have Jesus’ word for it: God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son. (John 3:16).

“(Mary) is the Eve of the New Testament and the mother of all the faithful; but that is to be at the price of her Firstborn. United to the Eternal Father she must offer His Son and hers to death. It is for that purpose that providence has brought her to the foot of the Cross. She is there to immolate her Son that men may have life. . . . She becomes mother of Christians at the cost of an immeasurable grief . . . We should never forget what we have cost Mary. The thought will lead to true contrition for our sins. The regeneration of our souls has cost Jesus and Mary more than we can ever think.

We may conclude this section by noting that Mary the Co-Redemptrix has given us birth at the foot of the Cross by the greatest act of faith, hope and love that was possible to her on such an occasion. One may even say that her act of faith was the greatest ever elicited, since Jesus had not the virtue of faith but the beatific vision. In that dark hour when the faith of the Apostles themselves seemed to waver, when Jesus seemed vanquished and His work annihilated, Mary did not cease for an instant to believe that her Son was the Saviour of mankind, and that in three days He would rise again as He had foretold. When He uttered His last words “It is consummated” Mary understood in the fulness of her faith that the work of salvation had been accomplished by His most painful immolation. The evening before, Jesus has instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice and the Christian priesthood; she sees now something of the influence the sacrifice of the Cross will exercise. She knows that Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that He is the conqueror of sin and the demon, and that in three days He will conquer death, sin’s consequence. She sees the hand of God where even the most believing see only darkness and desolation. Hers was the greatest act of faith ever elicited by a creature, a faith higher than that of the angels when they were as yet in their period of trial.

Calvary saw too her supreme act of hope at a moment when everything seemed lost. She grasped the force of the words spoken to the good thief: “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise;” Heaven, she realised, was about to be open for the elect.

It was finally her supreme act of charity: so to love God as to offer His only Son in the most painful agony: to love God above everything at the moment when He tried her in the highest and deepest of her loves, even in the object of her adoration—and that because of our sins.

It is true that the theological virtues grew in Mary up to the time of her death, for these acts of faith, hope, and charity were not broken off but continued in her as a kind of state. They even expanded in the succeeding calm, like a river which becomes more powerful and majestic as it nears the ocean. The point which theology wishes to stress is not that of Mary’s subsequent growth in the virtues but the equality between her sacrifice and her merits at the foot of the Cross itself: both her sacrifice and her merits were of inestimable value and their fruitfulness, while not approaching that of Christ’s sacrifice and merits, surpasses anything the human tongue can utter. Theologians express this by saying that Mary made satisfaction for us de congruo in proportion to her immense charity, while Jesus made satisfaction de condigno.

Even the saints who have been most closely associated with the sufferings of the Savior did not enter as Mary did into the most secret depths of the Passion. St. Catherine de Ricci had every Friday during 12 years an ecstasy of pain which lasted twenty eight hours and during which she lived over again all the sufferings of the way of the Cross. But even such sufferings fell far short of those of Mary. Mary’s heart suffered in sympathy with all the agony of the Sacred Heart to such a point that she would have died of the experience had she not been especially strengthened. Thereby she became the consoler of the afflicted, for she had suffered more than all, and patroness of a happy death. We have no idea how fruitful these sufferings of hers have been during wenty centuries.


Though Mary may be termed Co-Redemptrix in the sense we have explained, there can be no question of calling her a priest in the strict sense of the word since she has not received the priestly character and cannot offer Holy Mass nor give sacramental absolution. But, as we have seen already, her divine maternity is a greater dignity than the priesthood of the ordained priest in the sense that it is more to give Our Saviour His human nature than to make His body present in the Blessed Eucharist. Mary has given us the Priest of the sacrifice of the Cross, the Principal Priest of the sacrifice of the Mass and the Victim offered on the altar.

It is more also, and more perfect, to offer her only Son and her God on the Cross as Mary did, by offering herself with Him in community of suffering, than to make the body of Our Lord present and to offer It on the altar as the priest does at Holy Mass.

We must affirm, too, as has recently a careful theologian who has devoted years to the study of these questions299 that “it is a certain theological conclusion that Mary co-operated in some way in the principal act of Jesus’ priesthood, by giving, as the divine plan required, her consent to the sacrifice of the Cross as it was accomplished by the Saviour.” In another context he writes: “If we consider only certain immediate effects of the priest’s action such as the eucharistic consecration or the remission of sins in the sacrament of penance, it is true that the priest can do certain things which Mary, not having the priestly power, cannot. But to look at the matter so as not to compare dignities but merely particular effects which are produced by a power which Mary lacks and which do not necessarily indicate a higher dignity.”300

But even if Mary cannot, for the reasons given, be spoken of as priest in the strict sense of the term, it remains true, as M. Olier has said, that she has received the fulness of the spirit of the priesthood, which is the spirit of Christ the Redeemer. That is the reason why she is called Co-Redemptrix, a title which, like that of Mother of God, implies a higher dignity than that of the Christian priesthood.301

Mary’s participation in the immolation and oblation of Jesus, Priest and Victim, cannot be better summed up than in the words of the Stabat Mater of the Franciscan Jacopone de Todi (1228–1286).

The Stabat Mater manifests in a singularly striking manner that supernatural contemplation of the mystery of Christ crucified is part of the normal way of holiness. In precise and ardent words it speaks of the wounding of the Saviour’s Heart and shows the intimate and persuasive manner in which Mary leads us to Him. Not only does Mary lead us to the divine intimacy, in a sense she produces it in us: that is what the repetition of the imperative “Fac” in the following strophes brings out:

Eia Mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.

Fac ut portem Christi mortem
Passionis fac corsortem
Et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari
Fac me cruce inebriari,
Et cruore Filii.

O Thou Mother! Fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with thine accord!

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ my Lord.

Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.

—Fr. Caswall

This is the prayer of a soul which, under a special inspiration, wishes to know in a spiritual way the wound of love and to be associated in these painful mysteries of adoring reparation as were John and the holy women on Calvary—and Peter, too, when he shed his bitter tears. Those tears of adoration and sorrow are what the Stabat asks for in the following strophes:

Fac me tecum pie flere,
Crucifixo condolere,
Donee ego vixero.

Juxta crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare In planctu desidero.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.

By the cross with thee to stay.
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

—Fr. Caswall

Mary exercised therefore a universal mediation on earth by meriting de congruo all that Jesus merited de condigno and also by making similar satisfaction in union with Him. For both Jesus and Mary, the mediation exercised on earth is the foundation of that now exercised in Heaven of which we shall speak in the next chapter.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

Mary’s mediation in Heaven which she has exercised since the Assumption has as purpose to obtain for us the application at the appropriate time of Jesus’ merits and hers, acquired during their life on earth and especially on Calvary. We shall speak in this connection of Mary’s power of intercession, of the way in which she distributes graces or the mode of her influence on us, and finally of the universality of her mediation and of its definability.


Even during her life on earth, Mary appears in the gospels as distributing graces. Jesus sanctifies the precursor through her when she comes to visit her cousin Elisabeth. Through her He confirms the faith of His disciples at Cana by performing the miracle for which she asked. Through her He confirms John’s faith on Calvary, saying: “Son, behold thy mother.” Through her finally the Holy Ghost gave Himself to the Apostles, for we read in the Acts (Acts 1:14) that she prayed with them in the Cenacle while they prepared themselves for the apostolate and for the light and strength and graces of Pentecost.

With still greater reason is Mary powerful in her intercession now that she has entered Heaven and has been lifted up above the choirs of the angels. The Christian sense of the faithful assures us that a mother in Heaven knows the spiritual needs of the children she has left behind her on earth, and that she prays for their salvation. It is a universal practice in the Church for the faithful to recommend themselves to the prayers of the saints in Heaven. As St. Thomas says,302 when the saints were on earth, their charity led them to pray for their neighbor. With still greater reason do we say that in Heaven they pray for their neighbour since when their charity is inflamed by the beatific vision it is greater than it was on earth: their charity in Heaven is uninterrupted in its acts and proceeds from a fuller realization of human needs and the value of life eternal.

The Council of Trent defined that the saints in Heaven pray for us and that it is useful to invoke them (Denz. 984). Their merits and their expiation have ceased, but not their prayer—no longer a prayer of tearful supplication but one now of intercession.

St. Paul tells us that Our Blessed Lord does not cease to make intercession for us. (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). He is the principal and necessary intercessor. But Jesus Himself wishes that we should have recourse to Mary so that our prayers may have greater value through being presented by her.

As Mother of all men Mary knows the spiritual needs of all men, knows all that concerns their salvation. Because of her immense charity she prays for them. And since she is all-powerful with her Son because of the love by which they are united, she obtains from Him all the graces for which she asks—that is to say, all the graces we receive.

This power of Mary’s intercession is proclaimed by the faithful each time they recite the Hail Mary.

Theology explains the belief of the faithful by pointing to three fundamental reasons for Mary’s power of intercession.

The first of these is that since Mary is Mother of men she knows all their spiritual needs. It is a principle admitted by all theologians that the happiness of the blessed in Heaven would not be complete if they did not know what happens on earth to the extent to which it concerns them by reason of their office, their role, or their relations with men. Such knowledge is the object of a legitimate desire which must find its satisfaction in beatitude, and with all the more reason when the knowledge they desire is of men’s spiritual needs and is therefore desired in charity: it is in charity that the saints desire men’s salvation so that they may glorify God with them for all eternity and share thus in their happiness. Fathers and mothers, for example, know from Heaven the needs of their children, especially those which bear on their salvation. The same may be said of the founders of religious institutes. With all the more reason may the same be said of Our Lady, who has the highest degree of glory after her Son: as Mother of all men she must know everything which bears directly or indirectly on the supernatural life which she has been commissioned to give us and to nourish in us. This universal knowledge, certain and detailed, of all that concerns our destiny—our thoughts, desires, the dangers in which we are, the graces we need, temporal affairs which have some connection with our salvation—is a prerogative which belongs to Mary because of her motherhood of God and her spiritual motherhood of men.303

Knowing our spiritual needs and even the temporal needs which are connected with our salvation Mary is obviously impelled by her great charity to intercede for us. If a mother but suspects that her child needs her help she flies to its side. There is no question here of Mary’s acquiring new merits in Heaven but simply of her obtaining that her merits—and her Son’s—be applied to us at the appropriate moment.

Is Mary’s prayer omnipotent? Tradition has honoured Mary with the title, Omnipotentia supplex, omnipotence in the order of supplication.304

In support of the title, we may refer to the principle that the intercession of the saints is proportioned to their degree of glory in heaven, or of union with God (Cf. Ha Ilae, q. 83, a. II). It follows then that Mary, whose glory surpasses that of all the saints, must have all power in intercession. Even before the 8th century, this is the explicit teaching of St. Ephrem. In the 8th century, the most clear-cut statements are those of Andrew of Crete, of St. Germanus of Constantinople, and of St. John Damascene. Towards the end of the 11th century, St. Anselm and his disciple Eadmer affirm Mary’s intercessory omnipotence, a doctrine explained by St. Bernard and transmitted to succeeding generations of theologians.

Bossuet brings out the underlying principles very well in his sermon on the Compassion of Our Lady, when he recalls the two texts: “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son” (John 3:16) and “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 good things?” (Rom. 8:32). Mary in her turn has loved God and souls to the extent of delivering up her Son, Jesus, on Calvary. She is in consequence all-powerful with God the Father and with Jesus to obtain all that is necessary for the salvation of those who turn to her mediation.

One paragraph of the sermon deserves to be quoted: “Intercede for us, 0 Blessed Virgin Mary: you have in your hands, if I may so speak, the key that opens the treasury of the divine blessings. That key is your Son: He closes and no one can open: He opens and no one can close: it is His innocent blood which makes us to be inundated with heavenly graces. And to whom will He give the right to that blood, if not to her from whom He drew all His blood. . . . For the rest, you live in such perfect union of love with Him that it is impossible that your prayer should not be heard.” It is enough, as St. Bernard says, if Mary speaks to the Heart of Jesus.

The teaching of Tradition, thus formulated by Bossuet, has been proclaimed by Leo XIII in his first encyclical on the Rosary, September 1st, 1883, in which he calls Mary the dispenser of heavenly graces, coelestium administra gratiarum. In the encyclical Jucunda Semper, September 8th, 1894, the same Pope makes his own the two statements of St. Bernard: that God in His great mercy has made Mary our Mediatrix and that He has willed that all graces should come to us through her. The same teaching will be found in the encyclical Ad Diem Ilium, February 2nd, 1904, where Mary is spoken of as “the dispenser of all the graces which have been acquired for us by the Blood of Jesus.” Jesus is the source of these graces: Mary is, as it were, the aqueduct, or—to use another image—as it were the neck which unites the Head to the members and transmits the vital impulse to them: “Ipsa est collum capitis nostri, per quod omnia spiritualia dona corpori ejus mystico communicantur.” Benedict XV has consecrated this teaching by approving the Mass and the liturgical Office of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, for the universal Church.

As Fr. Merkelbach indicates,305 three points are to be noted.

First of all, it is of faith that Mary prays for us, and even for each one of us, in her capacity as Mother of the Redeemer and of all men, and that her intercession is very useful for us. This follows from the general dogma of the intercession of the saints (Council of Trent: Session 25). In support of this assertion we may refer to the practice of the Church in praying, Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis: Holy Mary, pray for us. Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi: dogma and prayer have one and the same law (Denz. 139).

In the second place, Tradition teaches us as certain that Mary’s powerful intercession can obtain for all those who invoke her with the proper dispositions all the graces required for salvation306 and no one is saved without her intervention. Thus the Church repeats: Sentiant omnes tuum juvamen: Let all be cognizant of your assistance.

In the third place, it is common and safe doctrine, taught by different Popes, by the liturgy, and by preachers throughout the world, that no grace is granted us without Mary’s intervention. This is contained clearly in the Mass and Office of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, and it would be at least rash to deny it.

Historically, this doctrine will be found implicit in the doctrine of Mary’s universal mediation up to the 8th century. It becomes more explicit as we draw nearer to the 15th century, in the form of the affirmation that all God’s gifts come to us through Mary as intermediary. From the 16th century onwards, the question has been examined under all its aspects. Even the graces of the sacraments are considered to fall under Mary’s universal mediation in the sense that the dispositions which we must bring to the reception of the sacraments are obtained through her intercession.307 Besides, if Mary has merited de congruo all that Jesus has merited for us de condigno, it follows that she has merited the sacramental graces themselves.

It is clear therefore that Mary’s intercession is much more powerful and efficacious than that of all the other saints—even taken all together—for the other saints obtain nothing without her. Their mediation is included under her universal mediation, while hers is, in its turn, subordinated to that of Jesus. There is another point to be noted: it is that Mary has merited all the graces which she asks for us, whereas the saints often ask for graces for others which they have not merited themselves. Their prayer could not then have the same efficacy as Mary’s.

Regarding the efficacy of Mary’s prayer, a principle which applies to the prayer of Christ may well be recalled. The prayer of Christ is always heard when the thing prayed for is asked absolutely and in conformity with the divine intentions which He knows so well;308 it is not so heard, however, when the thing prayed for is asked conditionally, as happened in the case of the prayer of the Garden of Olives. In the case of Mary’s prayer, she obtains infallibly from her Son all that she asks absolutely and in conformity with the divine intentions: these intentions she knows, and her will is in complete accord with them.

What has been said in this section is sufficient to show that Mary’s omnipotence in intercession, resting as it does on the merits of the Saviour and on His love for His Mother, is far from derogating from His own universal mediation. On the contrary it is one of its brightest manifestations, and throws into clearer relief the marvellous way in which Jesus redeemed and adorned her who was so intimately associated with Him in the redemption of men.


Does Our Lady distribute grace only in the sense that she intercedes for each one of us and so obtains that the fruits of the merits of her Son be applied to each one of us at the appropriate moment, or does she transmit graces to us in the way in which the Sacred Humanity does? According to the teaching of St. Thomas and many other theologians, the Sacred Humanity is a physical instrumental cause of grace, an instrument always united to the divinity and higher than the sacraments, which are instruments separated from the divinity.

St. Thomas has treated of this question in many places in so far as it refers to Christ, the Head of the Church.309 It is but reasonable to ask if something similar to what he says about the Head may be affirmed of her who is, according to the teaching of Tradition, as it were the neck of the Mystical Body which unites the Head to the members and transmits the vital impulse to them.

In this connection theologians commonly admit that Mary exercises moral causality by her past merits and satisfaction and by her present intercession. But very many stop there and do not admit that she exercises any physical instrumental causality.310 Other theologians admit physical instrumental causality in subordination to the Sacred Humanity. They rely in support of their thesis on the traditional doctrine of Mary as the neck of the Mystical Body, uniting Head and members, and transmitting the vital influence to them.311

It is certain that St. Thomas taught explicitly that the Sacred Humanity and the sacraments of the New Law are physical instrumental causes of grace. God alone is its principal cause, since it is a participation in His inner life. But there is no similar statement of his about Our Lady. There are even theologians—with whom we do not agree—who hold that he explicitly denied her any such causality.312 In his explanation of the Ave Maria, he attributes to Mary a fulness of grace which overflows on souls and sanctifies them, but he does not say explicitly that this overflowing is anything more than moral causality.

However, since physical instrumental causality was not an impossibility for the Sacred Humanity nor for the sacraments—for example, for the words of the priest at the consecration or when giving absolution—in the opinion of St. Thomas and his commentators, neither is it an impossibility for Mary.313 St. Thomas even admits that a miracle-worker is sometimes instrumental cause of a miracle, for example, when it is worked through a blessing.314 Not only can he obtain the miracle by his prayer, he may even perform it as God’s instrument.

It is not possible therefore to be certain that Mary did not exercise a similar influence in regard to grace. We must also allow for the fact that God’s masterpieces—among which we must include Mary—are richer, more beautiful, more brimful of life than we can find words to describe.

But at the same time it must be admitted that it does not seem possible to prove with certainty that Mary did exercise physical causality. Theology will hardly advance beyond serious probability in this matter for the reason that it is very hard to see in the traditional texts quoted where precisely the literal sense ends and the metaphorical sense begins. Those who are in the habit of using metaphors whenever they can will not appreciate this difficulty. But anyone who is accustomed to using words in their exact and proper sense will be fully sensible of it. When Tradition tells us that Mary’s position in the Mystical Body is comparable to that of the neck which unites the Head to the members and transmits the vital impulse to them, at the very least the metaphor it uses is an expressive one, but we cannot affirm with certainty that it is more than a metaphor.

However, as Father Hugon points out, the comparison does not seem to be given credit for all its force unless physical instrumental causality be admitted.315 Fr. R. Bernard, O.P., is of the same opinion: “God and His Christ make use of her (Mary) in this sense, that they make all the graces which they destine for us pass through her. . . . By using her as intermediary, They temper Their action all the more with humanity, without in any way diminishing its divine efficacy. They make Mary live by the life we are to live by. She is first filled to overflowing with it. Grace is pre-formed in her and receives in her the imprint of a special beauty. All grace and all graces come to us thus canalised and distributed by her, impregnated with that special sweetness which she imparts to all she touches and all she does.

“By her action Mary enters therefore into our lives as bearer of the divine. In the whole course of our lives, from the cradle and before it to the grave and beyond it, there is nothing of grace in which she had no part. She shapes us to the likeness of Jesus. . . . She leaves her mark on everything and adds to the perfection of what passes through her hands. I have said that we are sustained by her prayer: we are similarly sustained by her action and, if one may say it, have our spiritual being in her hands. Every Christian is a child of Mary, but a child is not worthy of the name unless it is formed by its mother.”316

By admitting that Mary not only obtains grace for us by her prayers but transmits it to us by her action, a fuller meaning is given to her titles of treasurer and dispensatrix of all graces. This same fuller meaning seems to be suggested by certain strong and beautiful expressions found in the Liturgy, especially in the Stabat, where the repetition of the imperative Fac implies that Mary in some way produces the grace of intimacy with Christ in us.317

Mary’s influence on our souls remains, it is true, shrouded in mystery, but it appears probable that it is more than moral: she seems to enter into the production of grace as a free and knowing instrument, somewhat as a miracle-worker can perform a miracle by his contact and his blessing. Even in the natural order a smile, a look, the tone of the voice, communicate something of the life of the soul.

In addition to the argument drawn from the traditional formulae there are theological ones which have a certain weight.

As Fr. Hugon says:318 “Once it is granted that the angels and the saints are frequently physical secondary causes of miracles, it seems quite natural to postulate the same power for the Mother of God and in a higher degree.” And if she is the physical instrumental cause of miracles which God alone produces as Principal Cause, what reason can there be for not admitting that she causes grace in the same manner? Fr. Hugon continues: “Every prerogative which is possible in itself and which harmonises with the role and dignity of the Mother of God should be found in Mary. . . . She receives under a secondary title everything that Jesus has under a full and primary title—merits, satisfaction, intercession. Why should this relation between Mother and Son not extend to the order of physical causality? What necessitates an exception?319 Would it not appear that the supernatural parallelism between Jesus and Mary should be continued to the very end, and that the Mother should be secondary instrument wherever the Son is first and conjoined instrument? . . . It seems but natural that Mary’s acts of which God makes continual use in the order of intercession should be elevated and transformed by His infinite fecundity and commissioned to communicate the life of grace instrumentally to souls.”

Another argument may be drawn from the fact that the priest who absolves is instrumental cause of grace by reason of his union with the Redeemer. But Mary is no less closely united to the Redeemer since she is Mother of God and Co-Redemptrix.

The influence which Jesus, Head of the Mystical Body, exercises is itself most mysterious since it is supernatural. No wonder then if that which Mary exercises over and above her intercession is also a mystery. We may note before concluding that Mary’s influence seems to be exercised especially on our sensibility—which is sometimes so rebellious or so distracted—to calm it, to subordinate it to our higher faculties, and to make it easy for these latter to submit to the movement of the Head when He transmits us the divine life.320

Though the manner of Mary’s action upon us is hidden, the fact of her influence is in no way doubtful. It is beyond question that Mary is dispensatrix of all graces, at least by her intercession. It may be added with Fr. Merkelbach321 that Mary does not intercede in the same way as the other saints: her prayer is not such as may possibly not be heard, but rather it is like the prayer of Christ, our Mediator and Saviour, Whose intercession is effective in fact as well as in right. The intercession of Christ, says St. Thomas,322 is the expression of His desire for our salvation which He acquired at the price of His precious blood. Since Mary was associated with the redemptive work of her Son she is associated with His intercession; she too expresses a desire which is always united to that of Jesus. In this sense she disposes of the graces which she asks for: her prayer is the efficacious cause of their being obtained, and she is united also to Christ’s influence in transmitting them.

For that reason the Church sings in the hymn of Matins of the Feast of Mary Mediatrix of all graces:

Cuncta, quae nobis meruit Redemptor,
Dona partitur genitrix Maria,
Cujus ad votum sua fundit ultro Munera Natus.323

She bestows on us all the graces which her Son has merited for us and which she has merited with Him.

If, as it would appear, Mary transmits to us by physical instrumental causality all the graces which we receive, all the actual graces which are given us to be the air which the soul breathes unceasingly, it follows that we are at all times under her influence, subordinated to the influence of Jesus the Head of the Mystical Body; she transmits to us continuously the vital influence which comes from Him.

But even if her action upon us is only the moral causality of intercession, she is present, by an affective presence, in souls in the state of grace who pray to her just as a beloved object, even if physically distant, is present to the person who loves it. Mary being physically present in body and soul in Heaven is physically distant from us on earth. But she is affectively present within the interior souls who love her.324

Mary’s influence becomes increasingly all-embracing as souls advance in the interior life. This has been often noted by St. Grignon de Montfort. “The Holy Ghost,” he says, “became fruitful on earth through Mary, His spouse. It was with her and of her that He produced His masterpiece, God-made-man, and that He produces daily till the end of the world the predestined members of the body of our adorable Head: that is why He is all the more active to produce Jesus Christ in a soul the more He finds there Mary, His dear and inseparable spouse.

“This does not mean that Mary gave the Holy Ghost His fecundity. . . . It means that the Holy Ghost manifests His fecundity by making use of Mary, even though He does not need her, to produce Jesus Christ and His members in her and through her: this is a mystery of grace unknown even to the most learned and spiritual of Christians.”325

As Fr. Hugon remarks a propos of these words of St. Grignon de Montfort:326 “The exterior fecundity of the Divine Paraclete is the production of grace, not in the order of moral causality—for the Holy Ghost is not a meritorious or impetratory cause—but in the order of physical causality. To reduce this fecundity to act is to produce physically grace and the other works of holiness which are appropriated to the Third Divine Person. From this it follows that the Holy Ghost produces grace physically in souls by Mary: she is the secondary physical instrument of the Holy Ghost. Such seems to us the import of these strong expressions of the saint: such the sublime doctrine which he says is a mystery of grace unknown even to the most learned and spiritual of Christians.” Mary’s virginal motherhood reaches its completion in her transmission of the graces which she obtains by her intercession, just as the Incarnation is prolonged, in a certain sense, by the vivifying influence of Christ the Head upon His members.

St. Grignon de Montfort never expressed himself otherwise than as we have seen.327 Reference must also be made to the work “The Mystic Union with Mary” composed by a Flemish recluse, Mary of St. Teresa (1623–1677), who had herself experience of what she taught. Such writings show that Mary exercises a very profound influence on faithful souls to lead them to ever greater intimacy with Our Blessed Lord.328 Those who enter on this way find themselves introduced far into the mystery of the communion of saints, and come gradually to share in the sentiments Mary had at the foot of the Cross, after Jesus’ death, and later on at Pentecost when she prayed for the Apostles and obtained for them the graces of light and love and strength which they needed to carry the name of Jesus to the limits of the earth. And now that she has entered Heaven the influence of Mary, universal Mediatrix, is still greater, more universal, and more effective.


To make clear the doctrine on this point, it is necessary to explain briefly what theologians understand by virtual contact on one hand, and by affective presence on the other.


With regard to the presence of God in all things or of that of the angels in the bodies on which they act, a distinction is generally made between virtual contact (contactus virtutis) and quantitative contact. Two bodies are present to each other by quantitative contact, i,e. by that of their own quantity or extension. A pure spirit, having no body, and consequently no quantity or extension, is present where it operates by virtual contact, by its power, the principle of its action. This is the dynamic contact of a spiritual force which takes possession of what it acts on.

The Power of God is not distinct from His Essence, and so God is really and substantially present, by virtual contact, in everything He Himself produces immediately, or without the intermediary of an instrument, i.e. in what He creates in the strict sense of the term ex nihilo and keeps immediately in existence. He is thus present in Prime Matter, in souls and in angels which can only be produced by creation ex nihilo and cannot be brought about by the intermediary of an instrument (cf. Ia, Q8, a. 1, 2, 3, 4; Q45, a., 5; Q104, a. 2).

For the same reason theologians admit generally that an angel, which, strictly speaking, is not in a place inasmuch as it is pure spirit, is really present where it acts, for it touches by virtual contact (contactus virtutis) the body which it moves locally (cf. Ia, Q52). An angel can also enlighten a human intelligence and act on it through the imagination, like a master who instructs.

The presence of the Soul of Jesus and that of the soul of the Blessed Virgin in persons united to them resembles that of the angels, but differs from it, however, under a certain respect. The difference comes from the fact that a human soul united to its body, like the Soul of Jesus and that of His Holy Mother, is really present (definitive) where its body is and nowhere else. Now the Body of Jesus, since the Ascension, is in Heaven alone according to its natural place, and the same must be said of Mary’s body since the Assumption. And the soul, being of its nature united to its own body, acts on others only through it. In this it differs from an angel, which has no body.

But just as God can make use of angels to produce instrumentally a properly divine effect such as a miracle, He can make use also of the Soul of Jesus, of His acts, and even of His Body, or again of the soul of Mary, of her acts and of her body. When God makes use of the humanity of the Saviour as a physical instrumental cause to produce grace in us, as St. Thomas admits (Ilia, Q43, a. 2; Q48, a. 6; Q62, a. 4), we are under the physical influence of the Humanity of Jesus. However, It does not touch us, for It is in heaven. In the same way, if someone speaks to us from a distance by means of a megaphone, this megaphone does not touch us immediately: there is only virtual contact and not quantitative contact of the instrument and the subject on which it acts—virtual contact similar to that of the sun which gives us light and warmth from afar.

If the Blessed Virgin is a physical instrumental cause of grace, subordinate to Christ’s Humanity, we are also under her physical influence, without her touching us, however, otherwise than by virtual contact.

It must be noted, however, that the human soul, in so far as it is spiritual and transcends the body, is not as such in a place. From this point of view, all souls, in the measure in which they grow in the spiritual life and become detached from the senses, by bringing themselves spiritually nearer to God, bring themselves spiritually nearer to one another as well. Thus is explained the spiritual presence of Christ’s Holy Soul and that of Mary in us, especially if we admit that they are both physical instrumental causes of the graces we receive.

Thus one can say that we are constantly under their influence in the spiritual order, as in the corporal order our body is constantly under the influence of the sun which gives us light and warmth, and under the permanent influence of the air which we breathe at all times.329

In this spiritual presence of which we have just spoken there can be united the influence of instrumental causality called physical, which is here spiritual, and the presence called affective, which we shall now explain and which for its part is not only probable but certain.


Even if the Blessed Virgin were not the physical instrumental cause of the graces we receive, she would be present in us by an “affective presence” as an object known and loved is present to the lover, and this in varying degrees of intimacy according to the depth and strength of our love.

Even a very imperfect soul is under the so-called physical influence of the Blessed Virgin if she is the physical instrumental cause of the graces received by this soul. But the deeper our love of Mary becomes, the more intimate does her affective presence in us become. It is necessary to insist on this, for the affective mode of presence is one which certainly exists, and St. Thomas has admirably explained it (la Ilae, Q28, a. 1 and 2) where he asks whether union is the effect of love and whether a mutual inherence results from it.

He replies (a. 1): “Love, as the Areopagite has said, is a unitive force. There are two unions possible to those who love: 1—a real union, when they are really present to each other (as are two persons who are in the same place and see each other directly); 2—an affective union (as that which exists between two persons physically distant). This latter proceeds from the knowledge (derived from actual remembrance of the person loved) and the love of this person. . . . Love suffices to constitute affective union and leads to the desire for real union.” There is, then, an affective union resulting from love, in spite of whatever distance may separate the persons.

If St. Monica and St. Augustine, far away from each other, were nevertheless spiritually united and in that way affectively present to each other in a more or less profound manner according to the degree or intensity of their affection, how much more is a soul that grows daily closer in intimacy with our heavenly Mother affectively united to her?

St. Thomas goes further: ibid., a. 2, corp. et ad 1, he shows that a mutual spiritual inherence can be an effect of love in spite of the remoteness of the persons. And he distinguishes very well two aspects of this affective union: 1—amatum est in amante, the person loved is in him who loves, as being imprinted on his affection through the delight he inspires him with; 2—and on the other hand, amans est in amato, the lover is in the person loved, inasmuch as he rejoices greatly and intimately at what makes for his happiness.

The first mode is often the one more felt, and, with regard to God, we run the risk here of simulating such a union before the time; moreover, even when it is really the fruit of grace, it can have too strong an effect on the sensibility and thus expose one to spiritual greediness.

The more disinterested and at the same time the stronger and more intimate love is, the more does the second aspect tend to prevail. Then the soul is more in God than God in it; and there is something similar to this with regard to the Humanity of Jesus and of the Blessed Virgin.

Finally, this strong and disinterested love produces, says St. Thomas (ibid., a. 3), the ecstasy of love (with or without suspension of the use of the senses), a spiritual ecstasy through which the lover goes out of himself; so to speak, because he wishes the good of his friend as his own and forgets himself.330

We see by this what can be the intimacy of this union of love and of this presence, not corporal, but affective. It is true, however, that this affective union tends to the real union which we shall enjoy in Heaven in the immediate sight of the Saviour’s Humanity and of the Blessed Virgin. Even in this life there is a sort of prelude to it in the physical influence of the Humanity of Jesus and probably in that of the Blessed Virgin, when we derive a higher degree of grace and a charity which takes deeper and deeper root in our will—cf. infra the section dealing with Mystical Union with Mary, pp. 259–265.


On this article we shall consider the universality of Mary’s mediation, the degree of certainty we have concerning it, and its precise meaning.

As a matter of fact the universality of Mary’s mediation follows so evidently from the principles we have established that the onus of proof lies altogether on our opponents.331 Mary Mother of the Redeemer and Co-Redemptrix has merited de congruo all that Jesus has merited for us and has made satisfaction in union with and in dependence on Him. Does it not follow that she can obtain in Heaven the application of the fruits of these merits, and that she thereby obtains for us not only all graces in general but all graces in particular?

This assertion is more than pious opinion, however probable. It is theologically certain in virtue of the principles on which it rests, it has been commonly accepted by theologians, it has been part of the Church’s preaching and has been confirmed by the encyclicals of different Popes. To quote but one striking papal pronouncement, we find Pope Leo XIII teaching in the encyclical Octobri Mense on the Rosary, September 22nd, 1891 (Denz. 3033), “Nihil nobis nisi per Mariam, Deo sic volente, impertiri:” No grace is given to us except through Mary, such being the Divine Will.

The universality of Mary’s mediation is affirmed also in the prayers of the Church, which are an expression of her faith. Graces of every kind, temporal and spiritual—and among these latter all those which lead to God, from the grace of conversion to that of final perseverance—are asked through Mary. She is prayed also for the graces needed by apostolic workers, by martyrs in time of persecution, by confessors of the faith, by virgins that they may preserve their virginity intact, etc. The Litany of Loretto gives some idea of the many graces which the Church asks through her intercession.

Thus through her are granted all the graces all men need, in their different conditions and stages of life. It has been so for twenty centuries: it will remain so till the end of time. Mary obtains for us all we need for our journey towards eternity.

Among all the different graces that which is the most peculiar to any particular wayfarer is the grace of the moment in which he finds himself. That too comes through Mary. We pray for it daily and many times each day when we say “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” By the word “now” we ask for the grace required to fulfil the duty of the present moment, to practise this or that virtue asked of us here and now. Even if we do not ourselves realise what grace we need, Mary in Heaven does, and it is through her intercession that we obtain it. The succession of graces of the moment, varying from one moment to the next, is like a spiritual atmosphere which we inhale and which renews our souls as air does the blood.

Mary’s mediation is therefore truly universal: such is the teaching of Tradition. It extends to the whole work of our salvation, without being limited to graces of any particular kind. On this point, there is moral unanimity of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and of the faithful whose belief is expressed in the liturgy.


It would appear that the doctrine of Mary’s universal mediation is capable of being defined as a dogma of faith, for it is implicitly revealed in the different titles which Tradition gives Mary—that of Mother of God, most powerful in intercession with her Son, that of the new Eve intimately associated with the Redeemer, that of Mother of all men. Besides, it is a doctrine explicitly and formally affirmed by the morally unanimous consent of Fathers and Doctors of the Church, of preaching throughout the Church, and of the Liturgy. Leo XIII, after having stated that we receive nothing–except–through Mary, goes on to say that “as no one can come to the Father except by the Son, in much the same way (ita fere) no one can come to the Son except by Mary” (Denz. 3033). Pius X calls her “the dispensatrix of all the graces which Jesus acquired for us by His blood” (Denz. 3033). Benedict XV gave his approval to the same doctrine when he instituted the universal feast of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces (Denz. 3034).

Mary’s universal mediation appears then to be capable of definition as a dogma of faith: it is at least implicitly revealed and it is already universally proposed by the ordinary magisterium of the Church.


A number of preliminary remarks will be necessary in order to arrive at the precise meaning of Mary’s universal mediation.

In the first place, all the graces received by men from the Fall up to the Incarnation were granted in view of the foreseen merits of the Saviour—with which we must associate those of His Mother—but neither Jesus nor Mary distributed or transmitted them. This limitation was removed with the coming of the Saviour on earth in human flesh. As for Mary, it is especially since her Assumption into Heaven that she knows the spiritual needs of all men and that she intercedes for them and distributes the graces they need.

Since Mary distributes all that she has merited, it follows that she distributes the graces we receive in the sacraments. She does this at least by giving us the grace of being disposed for their reception, and sometimes even by sending us a priest without whose ministry we could not have received them.332

Mary’s universal mediation should not be understood as if it meant that no grace is given to us without our having asked it explicitly of her; that would be to confuse our prayer to her with her prayer to God. Mary does in fact ask for graces without being invoked explicitly. Many graces are given to both children and adults even before they pray for them—especially the grace of beginning to pray. The Our Father can be said without any explicit invocation of Mary; but she is invoked implicitly in it when it is said according to the order established by divine providence.

It should not be thought either that Mary was Mediatrix for herself. She obtained her fulness of grace through the mediation of her Son.

It would, however, be an error by defect to say that Mary merited nearly all graces, or morally all graces—say, something like eight or nine tenths of them. All graces without exception come by her mediation. Such is the general law established by divine providence, and there is no known indication of any exceptions.333

A point which distinguishes Mary’s mediation from that of the saints is that she is mediatrix de jure and not simply de facto for all men, since she is the mother of all. This makes her intercession all-powerful. Her prayers are more efficacious than those of all the saints united. The saints can do nothing without her intercession for the reason that it is universal.334

Mary’s universal mediation extends to the souls in Purgatory. “It is certain that the Mother of Mercy knows the needs of these souls. . . . She can bring her satisfaction to the support of her prayers . . . she did not need it for herself but has given it all into the hands of the Church who distributes it to souls in the form of indulgences. . . . Thus when the satisfaction of Mary is applied to the poor debtors of Purgatory, they have a kind of right to deliverance since they pay their debt with what is their own. . . . She obtains also that her children on earth pray for her clients in Purgatory, offer good works for their intention, and have the sacrifice of redemption offered for them. . . . She can obtain also that prayers destined for souls who do not need them or who are not capable of benefitting by them should be made available for the children of her special love.”335

In the same spirit a Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Damien, assures us that on every Feast of the Assumption many thousands of the souls captive in Purgatory are delivered.336 St. Alphonsus de Liguori adds, quoting Denis the Carthusian, that such liberations take place most particularly on the Feasts of Christmas and the Resurrection. Though these testimonies do not impose themselves on our faith for acceptance, they point to and, in their own way, explain Mary’s mediation.


The objection has been raised: the mother of a king has not the right to dispose of his treasures; neither then has Mary the right to dispose of the graces which Jesus has merited.

There is no parity between the two cases.337 The mother of a king is simply the mother of a child who subsequently became king and, more usually than not, she has not cooperated closely with him in his government. But Mary is Mother of God the Redeemer, Universal King, by the simple fact of her divine maternity. She has given Him His human nature and she has been intimately associated with Him in His redemptive sufferings and in His merits. She shares therefore in His spiritual royalty and has the right, in subordination to Him, to dispose of the graces He—and she—acquired.

Another objection is that Mary’s universal mediation is no more than becoming or appropriate, and therefore cannot be affirmed with certainty.

We may answer that the becomingness or appropriateness in question is more than ordinary. It is based on Mary’s divine maternity, on her spiritual motherhood of men, on her union with the Redeemer, and is so connected with them that its opposite would be unbecoming. It is con-natural to the spiritual mother of all men to watch over them and to distribute to them the fruits of the Redemption. And—what is still more conclusive—Tradition shows that God has in fact disposed the scheme of our Redemption in accordance with this becomingness. This is the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, of the Doctors of the Middle ages, and of later theologians, who all in their own way have thrown the universality of Mary’s mediation into clearer relief.


There is therefore no serious difficulty against defining Mary’s universal mediation as a dogma of faith, provided it is understood as we have indicated: as a mediation subordinate to that of Jesus and depending on His merits; as a mediation which is not considered to add any necessary complement to Jesus’ merits, the value of which is infinite and superabundant, but which shows forth the influence and fruitfulness of those same merits in a soul fully conformed to Him. As a matter of fact, the difficulties which are raised against Mary’s universal mediation are much less serious than those raised against the Immaculate Conception in the 13th century. The Assumption is usually looked on as capable of definition; Mary’s universal mediation seems to be even more certain, if we consider the principles which underlie it: the divine maternity, the motherhood of men, and the venerable tradition which contrasts Mary and Eve. Since this is so, and since the ordinary magisterium of the Church makes Mary’s universal mediation to be theologically certain, we can only hope and pray that it be one day defined so as to increase devotion to her who is the watchful and loving Mother of all men.

Mary’s mediation in no way obscures that of Jesus. Her mediation is but a share in His: her merits have been acquired under His influence, and it is He Who confers on her the dignity of being a cause in the order of salvation and sanctification. History shows, too, that devotion to Mary has been lost by those nations precisely which have lost their devotion to Jesus, whereas those which have been the first to honor Mary have also been the first in their faith in the redemptive Incarnation. When Dr. Pusey objected to Fr. Faber’s statement: “Jesus is obscured because Mary is kept in the background,” Newman answered that its truth “exemplified in history might be abundantly illustrated . . . from the lives and writings of holy men in modern times.”338 As examples he quoted St. Alphonsus de Liguori and St. Paul of the Cross, in whom ardent love of Jesus was inseparable from great devotion to Mary.

True cult of Mary, like her action upon us, leads surely to intimacy with Jesus. Far from diminishing our intimacy with Jesus it increases it, just as the action of the Holy Soul of Jesus increases our union with the Blessed Trinity.

The universality of Mary’s mediation will become more evident when we consider in the next chapter that she is Mother of Mercy.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

We shall consider this title first in itself and then in its principal manifestations which are, as it were, that radiance of the revealed doctrine concerning Mary which makes it accessible to all minds.


The title of Mother of Mercy is one of Mary’s greatest. Mercy is not the same thing as mere emotional pity. Mercy is in the will, pity is but a good inclination of the sensibility. Pity, which does not exist in God who is a pure spirit, leads us to suffer in unison with our neighbor as if we felt his suffering in ourselves. It is a good inclination but usually a timid one, being accompanied by fear of harm to ourselves and often helpless to render effective aid.

Mercy, on the contrary, is a virtue of the will, and, as St. Thomas so well notes,339 whereas pity is found most of all in feeble and timid beings who feel themselves threatened by the evil that has befallen their neighbor, mercy is the virtue of the powerful and the good, who are capable of giving real assistance. That is why it is found in God especially: as one of the prayers of the Missal says,340 it is one of the greatest manifestations of His power and goodness. St. Augustine remarked that it was more glorious for God to obtain good out of evil than to create out of nothing: it is greater to convert a sinner by giving him grace than to make a whole universe, Heaven and earth, out of nothing.341

As Mother of Mercy, Mary reminds us that if God is Being, Truth and Wisdom, He is also Goodness and Love, and that His infinite Mercy, which is the radiation of His Goodness, flows from His love and anticipates His vindicatory Justice which proclaims the inalienable right that the Supreme Good has to be loved above every other object: “Mercy exalteth itself above justice” (James 2:13). She teaches us, though, that if mercy is not justice it is not opposed to it as injustice is, but unites itself to it and goes beyond it: most of all in pardoning, for to pardon is to go beyond what is demanded by justice in forgiving an offence.342

Every work of divine justice presupposes a work of mercy or of gratuitous goodness.343 If God can be said to owe anything to a creature it is because of some preceding gratuitous gift: if He owes a recompense to our merits, it is because He has first of all given the grace to merit, and if He punishes, it is after having given us the assistance which made the accomplishment of His precepts really possible, for He never commands the impossible.

Mary reminds us too that God often gives us His mercy more than we need, more than He is obliged in justice to Himself to give; that He gives us more than we merit—the grace of Holy Communion, for example, which is not merited. She tells us that mercy is wedded to justice in the trials of this life. Trials are a medicine to heal us, to make us right again, to bring us to the good. She tells us finally that mercy often makes the good inequality of natural conditions among men by a correspondingly more generous distribution of graces. This is the lesson of the different beatitudes—of the poor, the meek, those that weep, those that hunger and thirst after justice, those that are merciful, those that are pure of heart, those that are peacemakers, those that suffer persecution for justice.


Mary manifests herself as Mother of Mercy by being “Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, Help of Christians.” The gradation of titles here is very beautiful. It shows that Mary is merciful to those who are sick of body in order to benefit their souls, and that afterwards she consoles them in their afflictions and strengthens them in the midst of all the difficulties they have to overcome. Among creatures no one is higher than Mary, and yet no one is more approachable, more helpful, and more gentle.344


Mary is Health of the Sick by the many providential or miraculous cures which have been obtained through her intercession in Christian sanctuaries up to our own days. So many have these cures been that it may be said that Mary is a fathomless ocean of miraculous healing. But it is to help the infirmity of the soul that she cures the body. Her most important cures are those of the four spiritual wounds which we have suffered as a result of original sin and our personal sins—the wounds of concupiscence, of weakness, of ignorance, and of malice.

She heals concupiscence—a wound of our sensibility—by diminishing the ardour of our passions and by breaking our sinful habits. She helps the sinner to begin to will what is right with sufficient firmness to enable him to reject evil desires as well as the appeal of honors and riches. In this way she cures the concupiscence of the flesh and that of the eyes.

She heals the wound of weakness too, our feeble pursuit of the good, our spiritual sloth. She makes the will constant and firm in its practice of virtue and helps it to despise the attractions of this world by throwing itself into the arms of God. She strengthens those who falter and lifts up those who have fallen.

She heals the wound of ignorance by lighting up the darkness of our minds and providing us with the means to escape from error. She calls to our minds the simple and profound truths of the Our Father, thereby lifting our minds up to God. St. Albert the Great, to whom she gave the light to persevere in his vocation and to see through the wiles of Satan, said frequently that she preserves us from losing rightness and firmness of judgement, that she helps us not to grow weary in the pursuit of truth, and that she leads us eventually to a relish of the things of God. He himself speaks of her in his Mariale with a spontaneity, an admiration, a freshness, and a fluency which are rarely found in the works of great students.

She heals us finally of the wounds of malice, by urging our wills Godwards, sometimes by gentle advice, sometimes by stern reproaches. Her sweetness checks anger, her humility lowers pride and restrains the temptations of the evil one. In a word, she heals us of the wounds which we bear as a result of original sin and which our personal sin has made all the more dangerous.

Sometimes this healing power of hers works in a miraculous manner by producing its effects instantaneously. An example is the conversion of the young Alphonse Ratisbonne, at the time a Jew and far removed fromfaith, who visited the Church of Sant’ Andrea delle Frate in rome through curiosity. Mary appeared to him there, as she is represented on the miraculous medal, with rays of light issuing from her hands. She indicated gently to him to kneel. He obeyed, and while on his knees lost the use of his senses. When he returned to himself he expressed an intense desire for baptism. He was baptised and later, with his brother who had been converted before him, founded the congregation of the Fathers of Sion and that of the religious of Sion, to pray, suffer, and work for the conversion of the Jews, saying daily at Holy Mass: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’


Mary is Refuge of sinners precisely because she is so holy. Detesting sin, which does so much harm to souls, she welcomes sinners and wishes to bring them to repentance. She frees them from the bonds of sinful habits by the power of her intercession; she obtains their reconciliation with God by the merits of her Son, and reminds the sinner too of the same merits. Once converted to penance, she protects them from Satan, against everything which could lead to fresh falls. She helps them to learn of the sweetness of penance.

To her, after Jesus, all sinners now in Heaven owe their salvation. she has converted them in countless numbers, especially in places of pilgrimage—at Lourdes where she issued the invitation 'Pray and do penance,' and more recently at Fatima where the number of conversions since 1917 is known to God alone. There are many condemned criminals who owe to her their conversion at the last moment. She has inspired the foundation of religious orders consecrated to prayer, to penance, and to the apostolate of the conversion of sinners—those of St. Dominic and of St. Francis, the Redemptorists, the Passionists, and so many others.

What sinners are there whom she does not protect? Those only who despise God's mercy and call down His malediction on themselves. She is not the refuge of those who are obstinate in evil—in blasphemy, perjury, impurity, avarice, pride of the spirit. But even to them she sends from time to time, as Mother of Mercy, graces for the mind and the will, and if they accept them they will be led from grace to grace and finally to the grace of conversion. To such she has suggested by the lips of a dying mother that they should say at least one Hail Mary each day, and often it has happened that though they made no other effort than that to change their lives, the feeble spark of good-will it contained was enough to light them the way to a worthy and penitent reception of the Last Sacraments. They have been laborers of the last hour, called and saved by Mary.345 For almost two thousand years Mary has been the Refuge of sinners.


Mary was Consoler of the afflicted even during her lifetime on earth: she consoled Jesus by her presence on Calvary; she consoled the Apostles in the difficulties they encountered in the conversion of the pagan world and obtained for them a spirit of strength and holy joy in their sufferings. she must have helped St. Stephen by her prayers when he was being stoned to death. She obtained for many the grace to bear persecution patiently and without giving way to cowardly fears. Though she saw the dangers which threatened the infant Church, she did not waver; her face was ever calm, for her soul was tranquil and confident. Sadness never took possession of her heart. What we know of the intensity of her love of God assures us that she remained joyous in affliction, that she did not complain of poverty or privations, that insults had no power to alter her meekness. Her example alone was enough to hearten many a despairing soul.


She has given to many saints the grace to be themselves consolers of the afflicted. Such were St. Genevieve, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Germaine de Pibrac.

The Holy Ghost is called the Consoler most of all because He makes us shed tears of contrition, thereby to wash away our sins and to restore to us the joy of God’s friendship. For the same reason the Blessed Virgin is the Consoler of the afflicted when she prompts them to bewail their sins from a contrite heart.

Mary is particularly attentive to our inner or secret poverty: she knows how little are the resources of our hearts, and she comes to their assistance. She knows all the needs of soul and body: she has consoled Christians in persecution, she has delivered the possessed, she has assisted and strengthened the dying by calling to their minds the infinite merits of her Son. She lessens the rigours of purgatory, and obtains for those who suffer there that the faithful pray and have Masses offered on their behalf.

In a sense, Mary’s power as Consoler of the afflicted is felt even in the terrible regions of Hell. For St. Thomas tells us that the damned suffer less than they deserve346 since the divine mercy is found even in the strictest exercise of divine justice. Whatever less there is of the pain of Hell than there might be is due to the merits of Jesus and Mary. St. Odilon of Cluny says in his sermon on the Assumption that the Feast of the Assumption brings some slight alleviation of pain to Hell’s torments.

Mary has been Consoler of the afflicted throughout the ages in the most varied ways, because of her great knowledge of the many trials through which men pass.


Mary is Help of Christians. Help is an effect of love, and Mary has now consummated fulness of love. She loves the souls redeemed by Jesus’ blood. She helps them in their difficulties and assists them in the practice of the virtues.

The thought of Mary, Help of Christians, inspired St. Bernard in the well-known passage from his second homily on the Missus est: “If the tempest of temptation rages, if the torrent of tribulation carries you away, look at the star, look at Mary. If the waves of pride and ambition, of slander and jealousy, buffet you and almost engulf you, look at the star, look at Mary. If anger or avarice or passion tosses the frail bark of your soul and threatens to wreck it, look once more at Mary. Let her memory be ever in your heart and her name always on your lips. . . . But remember that to obtain the benefit of her prayer you must walk in her footsteps.”

She has been the refuge of whole peoples as well as of individuals. Baronius tells us that Narses, general of the armies of the Emperor Justinian, delivered Italy by her help in 553 from bondage to Totila the Goth. He tells us also that in 718 the city of Constantinople was rescued from the Saracens, who had been put to flight on many similar occasions already with Mary’s aid. In the 13th century, Simon, Count of Montfort, defeated a powerful Albigensian army near Toulouse while St. Dominic invoked the Mother of God. In 1513 the city of Dijon was delivered miraculously through her. On the 7th of October, 1571, a Turkish fleet, much more numerous and powerful than that of the Christians, was defeated at Lepanto, at the entrance of the Gulf of Corinth, through the help of Mary invoked in the Rosary. Finally, Mary’s title of Our Lady of Victories reminds us how often her intervention on the battlefield has been decisive in favor of oppressed Christian peoples.

The four invocations of the Litany of Loreto, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Consoler of the Afflicted, Help of Christians, recall unceasingly to the faithful how truly Mary is Mother of divine grace and Mother of mercy. The Church sings that she is our hope: Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy! Hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope! She is our hope in that she has merited, with her Son, all that we need of help from God, and in that she transmits it to us now by her intercession. She is therefore the living expression and the instrument of God’s helping Mercy, which is the formal motive of our hope. Confidence, or firm hope, is certain in its tendency to salvation,347 and its certainty increases with our growth in grace. This certainty derives from our faith in the goodness of God Omnipotent and in His fidelity to His promises. Thence comes that almost constant sense of His watchful Paternity which we find in the saints. Mary’s influence leads us gradually to this perfect confidence and makes its motive ever more clear.

Mary is even called Mother of holy joy and Cause of our joy, for she obtains for generous souls the hidden treasure or spiritual joy in the midst of suffering. She obtains for them from time to time the grace to carry their cross with joy after the Lord Jesus. She initiates them into love of the cross. And even though they do not experience that joy uninterruptedly themselves, she helps them to communicate it to others.


In La Vie Spirituelle, April, 1941, p. 281, Fr. M. J. Nicolas, O.P., has written of a holy religious, Fr. Vayssiere, who died as Provincial of the Dominicans at Toulouse: “The grace of intimacy with Mary that he received, he owed first of all to the state of littleness to which he had been reduced and to which he had consented. But he owed it as well to his Rosary. During the long days of solitude at Sainte-Baume, he had acquired the habit of saying several Rosaries in the day, sometimes as many as six. He often said the whole of it kneeling. And it was not a mechanical and superficial recitation: his whole soul Went into it, he delighted in it, he devoured it, he was persuaded that he found in it all that one could seek for in prayer. ‘Recite each decade,’ he used to say, ‘less reflecting on the mystery than communicating through the heart in its grace, and in the spirit of Jesus and Mary as the mystery presents it to us. The Rosary is the evening Communion (elsewhere he calls it the Communion of the whole day) and it translates into light and fruitful resolution the morning Communion. It is not merely a series of Ave Marias piously recited; it is Jesus living again in the soul through Mary’s maternal action.’ Thus he lived in the perpetually moving cycle of his Rosary, as if ‘surrounded’ by Christ and by Mary, communicating, as he said, in each of their states, in each aspect of their grace, entering thus into and remaining in the depth of God’s Heart: ‘The Rosary is a chain of love from Mary to the Trinity.’ One can understand what a contemplation it had become for him, what a way to pure union with God, what a need, like to that of Communion.”
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

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