Second to her role as Co-Redemptrix, our Lady’s title as “Mediatrix of Graces” or “Dispensatrix of Graces” is probably the most attacked in the Protestant world. Following I will defend it from Scripture. But first let us understand what it means. This is what St. Louis de Montfort had to say about the doctrine:
“To Mary, His faithful Spouse, God the Holy Ghost has communicated His unspeakable gifts; and He has chosen her to be the dispensatrix of all He possesses, in such sort that she distributes to whom she wills, as much as she wills, as she wills, and when she wills, all His gifts and graces. The Holy Ghost gives no heavenly gift to men which He does not pass through her virginal hands. Such has been the Will of God, who has willed that we should have every thing in Mary.”
True Devotion to Mary 25
Indeed, a Protestant might be rendered wroth by those words. What this means is that all graces we receive from God come through His Mother. It should probably be noted that God does this because He so wills, because we are his co-workers (1 Cor. 3:9), not out of some inner necessity. Also, Mary is not going to refuse to distribute grace to those who need it, she who perfectly follows the will of God in heaven. This doctrine, however, is to be understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. I will following defend this from the Scriptures.
Are there mediators between God and man other than Christ?
Protestants would generally bring up 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.” This is an excellent point and I see why someone would suppose it. I think this is frequently misunderstood by Protestants. Christ alone can stand before the throne of God and obtain for us salvation and grace. It should be noted that the Virgin cannot make grace. She can only distribute it. However, what Christ gives to us, we can distribute to each other. Hence Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” So we can all impart grace to one another in a sense. Therefore we can still all mediate in a sense by passing grace to each other. As a matter of fact, we as Christians mediate all the time when we pray for one another, putting our friends’ petitions before God, praying for one another.
Mary as a Mother
When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “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.
Obviously, our Lord is making Mary the spiritual mother of St. John, but what some Christians frequently overlook is that something deeper is clearly going on. Men would never call their mother “woman”. This would not be considered a proper term to call one’s mother, although not as impolite as it would be nowadays. This is roughly equivalent to calling one’s mother “my lady”—hardly something one would expect from Jesus at a serious moment.
The answer is found in Genesis 3:15. The curse of the Serpent states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The curse of the man and the woman both deal with how they will have to live after their sin. So it makes sense that the curse of the Serpent might reference the Redemption. If it is the “he” and not the “she” who will crush the head of the serpent, then it refers to Christ, making this a messianic prophecy. Yet there is no apparent enmity between Satan and Eve, seeing that Eve so quickly believed him and ate the fruit. But, as St. Justin Martyr put it as early as A.D. 155, “He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her.” (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew 100) Or to quote St. Irenaeus of Lyons, “And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin.” (Against Heresies 5:19:1, A.D. 189) And Tertullian said: “Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight.” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4, A.D. 210)
Three Church Fathers seem to be enough to show a pattern. So as Eve believed Satan, bringing death into the world, Mary believed Gabriel, bringing life. Hence Mary is our Mother in the order of grace. Realize that the Holy Spirit did not overshadow her until she gave her consent. (Luk. 1:38) So when Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son”, he is declaring her the mother of all Christians in the order of grace, as John was the only apostle present.
But does her Maternity continue?
The question which I fear will rise is that even if Mary is the Mother of all Christians in a sense, how do we know that our Lord was not simply giving her a title of honor for what she had done between the Annunciation and the Crucifixion? How do we know it continues to this day and until the End of Time?
As noted earlier, Genesis 3:15 states: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Now a Protestant would say that it was our Lord who crushed the head of the serpent, which I will concede for the sake of argumentation. But then to what should “he” be referring back to but “her seed”? Indeed, as Israel was a patriarchal society, generally the Bible would refer to a man’s seed. This suggests a Virgin Birth. So it logically follows that Mary is the “woman” who fulfilled this. Yet there is an enmity between the woman and the serpent as there is an enmity between her seed and Satan’s seed, which would be strange if Mary was included among those who are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3)—hence the Immaculate Conception. As noted, Jesus identifies Mary twice as “the woman”. (John 2:4, 19:26)
Understanding Mary as the one who fulfilled the role of Eve, Mother of the New Men as Eve was the Mother of the Old, it would make sense that she would help undo the damage done by Eve as the New Adam, Christ, undid the damage done by the original Adam. Mary, being without sin and at total enmity with Satan, continues her work in bringing back life to souls through maternal intercession as the universal Dispensatrix of all graces (in a wholly subordinate sense to the New Adam, of course).
Mary as the woman in Revelation
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.”
Now she is the the woman who gave birth to Christ. Who should she be but Mary? Protestants will immediately raise a number of objections. Their usual interpretation is that she is a remnant of the kingdom of Israel. I would not say that this has nothing to do with Israel, but more importantly she is both Mary and the Church. The term is polyvalent symbolism. For example, The beast in Revelation 13 is a fusion of the four beasts in Daniel 7. As Protestant author Gregory Beale writes: “Most of Revelation’s symbols have multiple associations or meanings and the interpreter can never be sure that all the multiple meanings of a symbol have been discovered.” (John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation, 59)
My problem is that the excessive persecution of the woman by the dragon described in this section does not make sense if she is a remnant of the kingdom of Israel. The Christian remnant was rarely singled out for persecution. The Gentiles were sometimes looked down upon for being Christian in the very early Church when they were uncircumcised. Now a Protestant might point out the Jewish Wars and the terrible destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but Christians were not singled out then. In fact, the Christians received Christ’s warning. If Protestants are admitting that this refers to the Jews in general, this is polyvalent symbolism. Some Protestants would insist that Christians who held onto their Jewish traditions were looked down upon in the Medieval period, but to the best of my knowledge, they were not openly persecuted. I imagine Jewish Christians were killed by the Ottomans, but also were practicing Jews and gentile Christians. At any rate, I am doubtful that this passage was talking about simply something that occurred mainly during the Middle Ages, without reference to the early Church or the Church in general. So it makes sense that Revelation is referring to the persecution of the Church by Satan.
Some would argue that since the woman is referred to as a “portent”, she cannot be a literal mother, but since she is also referred to as a “sign” in Isaiah 7:14, I do not think this to be particularly strong. Others would say that this cannot be the “Catholic” Mary, because she had birth-pangs, which are a result of Original Sin, which she did not have (see Genesis 3:16, Isaiah 66:7). However, her birth pangs were, as Simeon prophesied, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35) Her “pangs of birth” began at the Annunciation and would continue from the cradle to the cross, where she suffered with her Son as prophesied by Simeon to be painfully fulfilled in John 19.
So if we see this as polyvalent symbolism, with different parts referring to different things, but most especially Mary and the Church, we will start to see how it follows that she is the Dispensatrix. We see similar actors to in Genesis the woman and the serpent at enmity with one another. First of all, Revelation 12:17 states: “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.” Hence as she fulfills the roll of Eve, so it makes sense that her maternity would continue until the End of Time as Dispensatrix.
This also associates Mary with the Church by using the same symbolism for both, since “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10) So it makes sense that all graces come through Mary.
Mary as the Ark of the Covenant
Zechariah prophesies: “I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the LORD.” (Zechariah 2:10) The Greek term—in, of course, the Septuagint—is κατασκηνώσω/kataskenóso, a word derived from the Greek σκηνή/skéné, meaning a tent, booth, or tabernacle. John 1:14 furthermore states: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek word here is ἐσκήνωσεν/eskénosen from the same root. So Zechariah is basically saying: “I come and I will tabernacle in the midst of you,” and St. John: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” This occurred as the Angel said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) The word for “overshadow”, ἐπεσκίαζω/episkíazo is used in Exodus 40:35 and Numbers 9:18,22 when God came to dwell in the Ark.
The similarities do not end there. In 2 Samuel 6:9, David declares: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” David then took the Ark aside to the house of Obededom the Gittite and it remained there for three months. In Luke 1:43, Elizabeth declares, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary then remains in the house of Elizabeth for three months—only to name a few of the many places in Scripture where Mary seems to fulfill the role of the Ark. As I always say, Mary was the gateway whereby our Lord came to us by being the sole human instrument in giving Him His human nature, wherefore, she is also the only gateway whereby we may come to Him. The Ark of the Covenant tore down the walls of Jericho. So also Mary tears down barriers in our souls. The Israelites showed profound veneration for the Ark. They bowed before it. David danced before it in a manner befitting (in his wife’s opinion) a madman. (2 Samuel 6:16) Why did they do this? The Ark was the place where God’s manifesting presence could be felt. Similarly, Catholics venerate the Virgin Mary because within her was God Incarnate and even now through Mary “is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ.” (Pope Leo XIII, Octobri Mense 3)
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I am the Catholic of Honor
All Scripture references are from the Revised Standard Version