Knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and of the Church. —POPE PAUL VI, Discourse, November 21st, 1964
THERE is a profound key that unlocks why and how the Blessed Mother has such a sublime and powerful role in the lives of mankind, but particularly believers. Once one grasps this, not only does Mary’s role make more sense in salvation history and her presence more understood, but I believe, it will leave you wanting to reach for her hand more than ever.
The key is this: Mary is a prototype of the Church.
Holy Mary… you became the image of the Church to come… —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Spe Salvi, n.50
In the Blessed Mother’s person, she is the model and perfection of what the Church will become in eternity. She is the Father’s masterpiece, the “mold” that the Church is, and is to become.
When either is spoken of, the meaning can be understood of both, almost without qualification. —Blessed Isaac of Stella, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. I, pg. 252
In His encyclical, Redemtporis Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”), John Paul II notes how Mary acts as a mirror of the mysteries of God.
“Mary figured profoundly in the history of salvation and in a certain way unites and mirrors within herself the central truths of the faith.” Among all believers she is like a “mirror” in which are reflected in the most profound and limpid way “the mighty works of God.” —Redemptoris Mater, n. 25
Thus, the Church can see herself in the “pattern” of Mary.
Mary is totally dependent upon God and completely directed towards him, and at the side of her Son, she is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe. It is to her as Mother and Model that the Church must look in order to understand in its completeness the meaning of her own mission. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 37
But then, Mary too can be seen in the image of the Church. It is in this mutual reflection that we can learn more of Mary’s mission to us, her children.
As I discussed in Why Mary?, her role in salvation history is both as a Mother and a mediator through the Mediator, who is Christ. “Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.” cf. Redemptoris Mater, n. 40, 60 But we must be absolutely clear what this means so as to “abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God”: cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 67
The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ. —Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 60
The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 780
So too, Mary was an instrument of the communion of God and men since Christ took His flesh from her. Mary, then, acts in her own unique way as a “sacrament of salvation” for us—a gateway to the Gate who is Christ. cf. John 10:7; If the Church leads us to salvation corporately, so to speak, Mother Mary guides each soul individually, especially as one entrusts oneself to her, the way a child reaches for his mother’s hand. cf. The Great Gift
Mary’s motherhood, which becomes man’s inheritance, is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual. The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary. At the foot of the Cross there begins that special entrusting of humanity to the Mother of Christ, which in the history of the Church has been practiced and expressed in different ways… —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 45
There is even more reason then not to hesitate entrusting ourselves to her if the Father Himself entrusted His only Son to her “active ministry” cf. RM, n. 46 when, in her fiat, she offered herself completely to cooperate in His mission: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Luke 1:38 And this she repeats again and again to the Father as she takes a soul under her care. How she longs to nurse each of us with that spiritual milk of grace with which she is full! cf. Luke 1:28
Mary is full of grace because the Lord is with her. The grace with which she is filled is the presence of him who is the source of all grace… —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2676
And thus, it is Jesus loving us through the love of His and our Mother that we discover Mary’s care for human beings…
… her coming to them in the wide variety of their wants and needs. —POP E JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 21
Remembering that this Mother is a model and type, we rightly call the Church “mother” as well. In Old Testament typology, “Zion” is a symbol of the Church, and thus Mary as well:
…Zion shall be called ‘Mother’ for all shall be her children. (Psalm 87:5; Liturgy of the Hours, Vol II, p. 1441)
And like Mary, the Church too is “full of grace”:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens… (Eph 1:3)
The Church feeds us the bread of the Word, and we are nursed with the Blood of Christ. What, then, are the ways in which Mary “nurses” us, her children?
For the sake of brevity, I want to narrow down Mary’s “salvific influence” to the words we profess in the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. —approved in amplified form at the Council in Constantinople, 381 A.D.
One could say that the role of Mary in a believer’s life is to bring about these four attributes individually in each soul.
The Holy Spirit is the principle agent that makes us “one in Christ.” The symbol of this unity is found perfectly in the Holy Eucharist:
…we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1 Cor 10:17)
Also through the action of the Holy Spirit, the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ through the prayer of the minister:
“And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ…” —Eucharistic Prayer III
Likwise, it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through Mary as Mother and “mediatrix of grace” cf. Redemptoris Mater, footnote n. 105; cf. Preface of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Mediatrix of Grace that our “elemental” nature is further transformed:
As mother she transforms our weak “yes” to her own by her powerful intercession. Our “yes” of entrusting our lives to her, enables her to say of us as she can truly say of Jesus, “This is my body; this is my blood.” —The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”, Fr. George W. Kosicki & Fr. Gerald J. Farrell, p. 87
She takes into her hands the bread and wine of our human nature, and through the power of the Holy Spirit united to her maternal intercession, we are made more and more into another “Christ,” and thus enter more deeply into the “One” that is the Holy Trinity; more “one” with our brother in need. And just as the Church becomes “one” with the Eucharist she consecrates, to too we become “one” with Mary, particularly when we are consecrated to her.
This was illustrated powerfully to me after I made my first consecration to Mary. As a token of my love, I left a rather pitiful bouquet of carnations at her feet in the small church where I was married (it’s all I could find in that little town). Later that day when I returned for Mass, I discovered that my flowers had been moved to the feet of the statue of Jesus, and had been perfectly arranged in a vase with a touch of Gyp (“baby’s breath”). I instinctively knew my heavenly Mother was sending a message about her maternal mediation, how she “changes” us more and more into the likeness of her Son through our union with her. A few years later, I read this message:
He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and those souls will be loved by God like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne. —Blessed Mother to Sr. Lucia of Fatima. This last line re: “flowers” appears in earlier accounts of Lucia’s apparitions; Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, Louis Kondor, S.V.D., p, 187, Footnote 14.
The bread and wine are made “holy” through the power of the Holy Spirit. What becomes present on the altar is holiness incarnate: the Body and Blood of Our Lord through the prayer of the priest:
…it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior. —CCC, n. 1330, 1377
Just as Mary accompanied Jesus to the Cross, she accompanies each of her children to the Cross, to embrace one’s own total self-sacrifice. She does this by helping us to make her fiat our own: “May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:23 She leads us along the way of repentance and dying to self “so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” 2 Cor 4:10 This life of Jesus lived according to and in God’s will, of becoming ourselves humble “handmaids of the Lord,” is the fragrance of holiness.
And it is well known that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 40
The more we are disposed to our Mother, the more we become one with her mission: for Jesus to be born again into the world through us:
That is the way Jesus is always conceived. That is the way He is reproduced in souls. He is always the fruit of heaven and earth. Two artisans must concur in the work that is at once God’s masterpiece and humanity’s supreme product: the Holy Spirit and the most holy Virgin Mary… for they are the only ones who can reproduce Christ. —Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, The Sanctifier, p. 6
Again, we see the mirror image of this maternal work in the Church…
My little children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you! (Gal. 4:19)
This dual action of God is most evident in Revelation 12:1: “the woman clothed with the sun… [who] was with child and wailed in pain as she labored to give birth”:
This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but she represents at the same time the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church that at all times, with great pain, again gives birth to Christ. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Castel Gandolfo, Italy, AUG. 23, 2006; Zenit
Mary is not only the model and figure of the Church; she is much more. For “with maternal love she cooperates in the birth and development” of the sons and daughters of Mother Church. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 44
Birthing and labor pains are symbols of the Cross and Resurrection. As we are “consecrated” to Jesus through Mary, she accompanies us to Calvary where “the grain of wheat must die” and the fruit of holiness rise. This birthing is reflected in the mirror of the Church through the saving womb of the Baptismal font.
See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ, from his death. —St. Ambrose; CCC, n. 1225
In the Creed, the word “catholic” is used in its truest sense, which is “universal.”
With the redeeming death of her Son, the maternal mediation of the handmaid of the Lord took on a universal dimension, for the work of redemption embraces the whole of humanity. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 46
Just as Mary made her own the mission of her Son, so too she will lead souls given to her to make their own the mission of Jesus. To make of them true apostles. Just as the Church is commissioned with making “disciples of all the nations,” Mary is charged with making disciples for all the nations.
At the end of the Liturgy, the priest often dismisses the faithful, saying: “The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Believers are “sent” back into the world to carry the “Heart of Christ” they have just received into the marketplace. Through her mediation, Mary forms the Heart of Christ in believers, that is, the flame of charity, thus, uniting them to the universal mission of Jesus that goes beyond boundaries and borders.
…the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.” In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him “the fullness of the means of salvation” which he has willed. —CCC, n. 830
Thus, one could also say, “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is Mary.” In her subsisted the fullness of Christ’s body… she received from him “the fullness of grace” which he willed.
Thus, in her new motherhood in the Spirit, Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Mater, n. 47
Mary embraces us “through the Church.” Thus, as the Church is “apostolic,” so too is Mary, or rather, Mary’s goal within the individual soul is apostolic in nature. (What is meant by apostolic is that it is rooted in and in communion with the Apostles.)
How often have souls returned from Marian shrines around the world with a new love and fervor for the Church? How many are the priests I personally know who have said they found their vocation through “the Mother” while at her apparitions sites! She brings her children to Jesus where He is to be found: “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.” Mary would never contradict her Son who promised to build His Church upon Peter. This Church has been entrusted with the “truth that sets us free,” a truth the world thirsts for.
Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. —CCC, n. 851
The Blessed Mother will go out to the soul consecrated to her, to “meet their desire” for truth. She will carefully guide the docile soul along the path of truth, as has been entrusted to the Church. As the Church nurses us at the breasts of Sacred Tradition and the Sacraments, so to our Mother nurses us at the breasts of Truth and Grace.
In consecration to Mary, she asks that we pray the Rosary daily. One of the Fifteen Promises she is believed to have made to St. Dominic and Blessed Alan (13th century) to those who pray the Rosary, is that it…
…will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy. —erosary.com
While there always exists the possibilities of human freedom, and thus rejection of the truth, the soul praying with Mary has a special grace in dispelling heresy and error. How needed are these graces today!
Formed in her “school,” Mary helps to equip the soul with “wisdom from above.”
With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love…. This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers us the incomparable example of her own “pilgrimage of faith”. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 1, 14
One could almost go on endlessly looking back and forth between the mirror and reflection of Mary and the Church, unlocking the mysteries as to the other’s mission. But let me close with these words of St. Therese de Lisieux:
If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. —Autobiography of a Saint, Msgr. Ronald Knox (1888-1957), p. 235
If Jesus is the Head of the body of Christ, then perhaps Mary is the heart. As “mediatrix of graces,” she pumps the superabundant merits of the Blood of Christ to all the members of the body. It is up to us each individually to open up the arteries of the “mind and heart” to this “gift” of God. Whether you receive this gift or not, she will remain your Mother. But how great a grace it will be if you welcome, pray with, and learn from her in your own home, that is, your heart.
‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27)
First published April 20th, 2011.
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|↑1||“Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.” cf. Redemptoris Mater, n. 40, 60|
|↑2||cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 67|
|↑3||cf. Redemtporis Mater, n. 47|
|↑4||cf. Redemtporis Mater, n. 51|
|↑5||cf. John 10:7;|
|↑6||cf. The Great Gift|
|↑7||cf. RM, n. 46|
|↑9||cf. Luke 1:28|
|↑10||cf. Redemptoris Mater, footnote n. 105; cf. Preface of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Mediatrix of Grace|
|↑12||2 Cor 4:10|