MARY’S INTERCESSION IS NECESSARY FOR OUR SALVATION
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Here is the first part of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s enlightening and heartwarming teaching regarding the necessity of Mary’s intercession for our salvation. This passage is taken from the book: The Glories of Mary. This teaching has been confirmed in modern times.*
Usefulness of Asking Our Lady’s Prayers
That it is not only lawful but useful to invoke and pray to the saints, and more especially to the Queen of saints, the most holy and ever blessed Virgin Mary, in order that they may obtain for us the divine grace, is an article of faith. This has been defined by General Councils against heretics who condemned it as injurious to Jesus Christ, who is our only mediator. But if Jeremias, after his death, prays for Jerusalem (2 Mach. 15:14); if the ancients of the Apocalypse present the prayers of the saints to God (Apoc. 5:8); if St. Peter promises to remember his disciples after his death (2 Pet. 1:15); if St. Stephen prays for his persecutors (Acts 7:59) and St. Paul prays for his companions (Acts 27:24); if, in fact the saints can pray for us, why can we not implore them to do so? St. Paul recommends himself to the prayers of his disciples: “Brethren, pray for us,” (1 Thess. 5:25). St. James exhorts us to pray for one another: “… Pray for one another, that you may be saved,” (Jas. 5:16). Then we can do the same.
No one denies that Jesus Christ is the only mediator of justice, that through His merits He obtained our reconciliation with God. But on the other hand, it is sinful to assert that God is not pleased to grant graces through the intercession of His saints, especially of Mary, His Mother, whom Jesus so much desires to be honored and loved by all. Who can pretend that the honor a mother receives does not redound to the honor of her son? “The glory of children is their parentage,” (Prov. 17:6).
Therefore Saint Bernard says: “Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more She is honored, the greater is the glory of Her Son. There can be no doubt,” says the saint, “that whatever we say in praise of the Mother is equally in praise of the Son.” And St. Ildephonsus adds quite logically: “The more honor that is given to the Queen, the more is the King exalted and honored.” There can be no doubt that, by the merits of Jesus, Mary was made the Mediatrix of our salvation. True, She is not a Mediatrix of justice, but of grace and intercession. As St. Bonaventure puts it: “Faithless Eve was the mediatress of perdition; the most faithful Mary is the Mediatrix of our salvation.” And St. Lawrence Justinian asks, “How can She be otherwise than full of grace - She who has been made the ladder to Paradise, the gate of Heaven and the most true Mediatrix between God and man?”
Hence the learned Suarez justly remarks, that if we implore our Blessed Lady to obtain us a favor, it is not because we distrust the divine mercy, but rather that we fear Our own unworthiness and the absence of proper dispositions; and we recommend ourselves to Mary, that Her dignity supply for our lowliness. He says that we apply to Mary “in order that the dignity of the intercessor may supply for our misery. Hence, to invoke the aid of the Most Blessed Virgin is not diffidence in the divine mercy, but dread of our own unworthiness.”
Necessity of Mary’s Intercession
That it is most useful and holy to have recourse to the intercession of Mary can only be doubted by those who lack faith. But that which we intend to prove here is, that the intercession of Mary is even necessary to salvation; we say necessary — not absolutely, but morally. This necessity proceeds from the will itself of God, that all graces that he dispenses should pass through the hands of Mary, according to the opinion of St. Bernard, and which we may now with safety call the general opinion of theologians and learned men. The author of the “Reign of Mary” positively asserts that such is the case. It is maintained by Vega, Mendoza, Paciuccheli, Segneri, Piore, Crasset, and by innumerable other learned authors. Even Father Natalis Alexander, who always uses so much reserve in his propositions, even he says that it is the will of God that we should expect all graces through the intercession of Mary. I will give his own words: “God wills that we should obtain all good things that we hope for from Him through the powerful intercession of the Virgin Mother, and we shall obtain them whenever (as we are in duty bound) we invoke Her.” In confirmation of this, he quotes the following celebrated passage of St. Bernard: “Such is God’s will, that we should have all through Mary.” Father Contenson is also of the same opinion; for explaining the words addressed by our Lord on the cross to St. John: “Behold thy Mother!” (John 19:27), he remarks: “That it is the same thing as if He had said: As no one can be saved except through the merits of My sufferings and death, so no one will be a partaker of the blood then shed otherwise than through the prayer of My Mother. He alone is a son of My sorrows who has Mary for His Mother. My wounds are ever-flowing fountains of grace; but their streams will reach no one but by the channel of Mary. In vain will he invoke Me as a Father who has not venerated Mary as a Mother. And thou, My disciple John, if thou lovest Me, love Her; for thou wilt be beloved by Me in proportion to thy love for Her.”
Response to Some Objections
This proposition (that all that we receive from Our Lord comes through Mary) does not exactly please a certain modern writer, (Muratori), who, although in other respects he speaks of true and false devotion with much learning and piety, yet when he treats of devotion towards the divine Mother he seems to grudge Her that glory which was given Her without scruple by St. Germanus, St. Anselm, St. John Damascene, St. Bonaventure, St. Antoninus, St. Bernardine, the Venerable Abbot of Celles, and so many other learned men, who had no difficulty in affirming that the intercession of Mary is not only useful, but necessary. The same author says that the proposition that God grants no grace otherwise than through Mary, is hyperbolical and exaggerated, having dropped from the lips of some saints in the heat of fervor, but which, correctly speaking, is only to be understood as meaning that through Mary we received Jesus Christ, by whose merits we obtain all graces; for he adds, “To believe that God can grant us no graces without the intercession of Mary, would be contrary to faith and the doctrine of St. Paul,” who says that we acknowledge but “one God and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5).
But with his leave, and going upon his own admissions, mediation of justice by way of merit is one thing, and mediation of grace by way of prayer is another. And again, it is one thing to say that God cannot, and another to say that He will not grant any graces without Mary’s intercession. We admit freely that God is the source of every good and the absolute master of all graces. Also, that Mary is only a creature, who receives whatever She obtains as a pure favor from God. But who can ever deny that it is most reasonable and proper to assert that God, in order to exalt this great creature, who more than all others honored and loved Him during Her life, and whom, moreover, He had chosen to be the Mother of His Son, our common Redeemer, wills that all graces that are granted to those whom He has redeemed should pass through and be dispensed by the hands of Mary? We most readily admit that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator of justice, according to the distinction just made, because through His merits He obtains all graces and salvation for us. But we say that Mary is the Mediatrix of grace. Whatever She obtains, of course, is gotten through the merits of Christ, and that is why She asks and prays in His name — nevertheless, every grace we seek is obtained through Her prayer and intercession.
There is certainly nothing contrary to faith in this, but the reverse. It is quite in accordance with the sentiments of the Church, which, in its public and approved prayers, teaches us continually to have recourse to this divine Mother, and to invoke Her as the “health of the sick, the refuge of sinners, the help of Christians, and as our life and hope.” In the Divine Office for the feasts of Mary, the Church applies to Her the words of Ecclesiasticus, giving us to understand that in Mary we shall all find hope: “In Me is all hope of life and of virtue,” (Eccles. 24:25). In Mary we find every grace: “In Me is all grace of the way and of the truth.” In Mary we find life and eternal salvation: “He that shall find Me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord,” (Prov. 8:35). In still another place in Scripture we read: “They that work by Me shall not sin. They that explain Me shall have life everlasting,” (Eccles. 24:30-31). All this points out how much we need Mary’s intercession.
This then is the point of which I am convinced by so many theologians and Fathers of the Church. It is definitely incorrect in speaking of them to say, as this modern author does, that, in exalting Mary, they spoke exaggeratingly and that these words dropped from their lips in an excess of fervor. It ill becomes us to say that the saints exaggerated, spoke in hyperboles and overstepped the limits of truth. The saints were animated by the Holy Spirit, who is Truth itself, and it was through Him they spoke.
Don’t Be Afraid to Honor Mary
If I may be permitted to make a short digression and to express my own sentiment, it is this: When an opinion tends in any way to honor the Most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation, when it is not contrary to the faith or the decrees of the Church or to the truth, the refusal to hold that opinion or to oppose it because its opposite might possibly be true, would show little devotion to the Mother of God. I do not want to be numbered among those who have so little devotion to Mary. Nor do I want my readers to belong to such a group. I prefer to be one of those who fully and firmly believe everything that can be believed without error about Mary’s greatness. The Abbot Rupert, listing the various ways of giving honor to Mary, places this most prominently: “To believe firmly everything that redounds to Her honor.” If there were nothing else to take away our fear of excess in honoring Mary, the words of St. Augustine should suffice. He maintains that whatever we say in praise of Mary is slight in comparison to what She deserves by reason of Her dignity as Mother of God. And moreover, the Church says, in the Mass appointed for Her festivals, “Thou art happy, O sacred Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise.”
The Saints Teach
But let us return to the point, and examine what the saints say on the subject. St. Bernard says “that God has filled Mary with all graces, so that men may receive by Her means, as by a channel, every good thing that comes to them.” He says that “She is a full aqueduct, that others may receive of Her plenitude.” On this the saint makes the following significant remark: “Before the birth of the Blessed Virgin, a constant flow of graces was wanting, because this aqueduct did not exist.” But now that Mary has been given to the world, heavenly graces constantly flow through Her on all.
The devil, like Holofernes, who, in order to gain possession of the city of Bethulia, ordered the aqueducts to be destroyed, exerts himself to his utmost to destroy devotion to the Mother of God in souls; for if this channel of grace is closed, he easily gains possession of them. And here, continues the same St. Bernard, “See, O souls, with what tender devotion Our Lord wills that we should honor Our Queen, by always having recourse to Her protection; and by relying on it; for in Mary He has placed the plenitude of every good, so that henceforward we may know and acknowledge that whatever hope, grace, or other advantage we possess, all comes from the hand of Mary.” St. Antoninus says the same thing: “All graces that have ever been bestowed on men, all came through Mary.” And on this account She is called the moon, according to the following remark of St. Bonaventure: “As the moon, which stands between the sun and the earth, transmits to this latter whatever it receives from the former, so does Mary pour out upon us who are in this world the heavenly graces that She receives from the Divine Sun of Justice.”
Again, the holy Church calls Her “the happy gate of Heaven”; for as the same St. Bernard remarks: “As every mandate of grace that is sent by a king passes through the palace-gates, so does every grace that comes from Heaven to the world pass through the hands of Mary.” St. Bonaventure says that Mary is called “the gate of Heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through Her.”
All Graces Are Given to Us Through Mary’s Hands
An ancient author, probably St. Sophronius, in a sermon on the Assumption, published with the works of St. Jerome, says “that the plenitude of grace which is in Jesus Christ came into Mary, though in a different way”; meaning that it is Our Lord, as in the head, from which the vital spirits (that is, divine help to obtain eternal salvation) flow into us, who are the members of His Mystical Body; and that the same plenitude is in Mary, as in the neck, through which these vital spirits pass to the members. The same idea is confirmed by St. Bernardine of Siena, who explains it more clearly, saying, “that all graces of the spiritual life that descend from Christ, their head, to the faithful, who are His Mystical Body, are transmitted through the instrumentality of Mary.” The same St. Bernardine endeavors to assign a reason for this when he says, “that as God was pleased to dwell in the womb of this holy Virgin, She acquired, so to speak, a kind of jurisdiction over all graces; for when Jesus Christ issued forth from Her most sacred womb, all the streams of divine gifts flowed from Her as from a celestial ocean.” Elsewhere, repeating the same idea in more distinct terms, he asserts that “from the moment that this Virgin Mother conceived the Divine Word in Her womb, She acquired a special jurisdiction, so to say, over all the gifts of the Holy Ghost, so that no creature has since received any grace from God otherwise than through the hands of Mary.”
Another author, in a commentary on a passage of Jeremias, in which the prophet speaking of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, and of Mary His Mother, says that “a woman shall compass a man,” remarks, that “as no line can be drawn from the center of a circle without passing by the circumference, so no grace proceeds from Jesus, who is the center of every good thing, without passing by Mary, who compassed Him when She received Him into Her womb.”
St. Bernardine says that for this reason, “all gifts, all virtues, and all graces are dispensed by the hands of Mary to whomsoever, when, and as She pleases.” Richard of St. Laurence also asserts “that God wills that whatever good things He bestows on His creatures should pass through the hands of Mary.” And therefore the Venerable Abbot of Celles exhorts all to have recourse to “this treasury of graces” (for so he calls Her); for the world and the whole human race have to receive every good that can be hoped for through Her alone. “Address yourselves to the Blessed Virgin,” he says; “for by Her, and in Her, and with Her, and from Her, the world receives, and is to receive, every good.”
It must now be evident to all that when these saints and authors tell us in such terms that all graces come to us through Mary, they do not simply mean to say that we “received Jesus Christ, the source of every good, through Mary,” as the before-named writer pretends; but that they assure us that God, who gave us Jesus Christ, wills that all graces that have been, that are, and will be dispensed to men to the end of the world through the merits of Christ, would be dispensed by the hands and through the intercession of Mary.
Conclusion: Mary’s Intercession Is Necessary
And thus Father Suarez concludes, that it is the sentiment of the universal Church, “that the intercession and prayers of Mary are, above those of all others, not only useful, but necessary.” Necessary, in accordance with what we have already said, not with an absolute necessity; for the mediation of Jesus Christ alone is absolutely necessary; but with a moral necessity; for the Church believes with St. Bernard, that God has determined that no grace shall be granted otherwise than by the hands of Mary. “God wills,” says the saint, “that we should have nothing that has not passed through the hands of Mary”; and before St. Bernard, St. Ildephonsus asserted the same thing, addressing the Blessed Virgin in the following terms: “O Mary, God has decided on committing all good gifts that He has provided for men to Thy hands, and therefore He has entrusted all treasures and riches of grace to Thee.” And therefore St. Peter Damian remarks, “that God would not become man without the consent of Mary; in the first place, that we might feel ourselves under great obligations to Her; and in the second, that we might understand that the salvation of all is left to the care of this Blessed Virgin.”
To Find Jesus — Pray to Mary
St. Bonaventure, on the words of the prophet Isaias, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root, and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,” (Is. 11:1), makes a beautiful remark, saying: “Whoever desires the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit, let him seek for the flower of the Holy Spirit in the rod.” That is, for Jesus in Mary; “For by the rod we find the flower, and by the flower, God.” And in the twelfth chapter of the same work, he adds, “If you desire to possess this flower, bend down the stem which bears the flower, by prayer; and so you will obtain it.” The seraphical Father, in his sermon for the Epiphany, on the words of St. Matthew, “They found the Child, with Mary His Mother,” (Matt. 2:11), reminds us that if we wish to find Jesus we must go to Mary. We may, then, conclude, that in vain shall we seek for Jesus, unless we endeavor to find Him with Mary. And so St. Ildephonsus says, “I desire to be the servant of the Son: but because no one will ever be so without serving the Mother, for this reason I desire the servitude of Mary.”
*The doctrine of Mary’s dignity as Mediatrix of all graces is commonly accepted by theologians, and recent pontiffs have occasionally alluded to it. We know that Benedict XIV has left these words on record: “Mary is like a celestial river by which the waters of all graces and gifts are conveyed to poor mortals.” Pius IX, in speaking to the bishops of the whole world made use of the words of St. Bernard: “God wills that every grace should come to us through Her.” In his encyclical on the devotion of the Rosary, Sept. 22, 1891, Pope Leo XIII says: “In a true and natural sense may we say that from the great treasury of graces that the Lord has merited for us, nothing came to us, by the will of God except through Mary.” St. Pius X declares: “She is the dispensatrix of the graces that Jesus Christ has merited for us by His blood and His death.” The following are the words of Benedict XV: “It has pleased God to grant us all graces through the intercession of Mary.” Again: “All the graces which the Giver of all good deigns to grant to the descendants of Adam, are dispensed to us, in the disposition of a loving Providence, through the hands of the Blessed Virgin.” And: “The graces of all kinds that we receive from the treasury of the Redemption are dispensed by the hands of the Sorrowful Virgin.”
It is worthy of note that four recent popes have directed special attention to this teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary. They refer to it repeatedly, and thus place the seal of approval on the authority of those of former times who held the doctrine and particularly of St. Alphonsus. On the strength of these testimonies one can unhesitatingly subscribe to the judgment of the Apologist Bainvel, S.J., that, the twofold cooperation of Mary in the work of redemption, first on earth by Her life, prayer and suffering, and then in Heaven by Her prayer is sound Catholic doctrine, beyond all dispute and worthy of being defined, i.e. of being raised to the dignity of an article of faith.
Father Jansen, C.SS.R. says that what the supreme teacher of the Church proclaims so loudly, deserves to be made known not merely to the students of theology in classrooms, but in pulpit and press to the faithful of the whole world.
Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., the eminent theologian who taught up to the time of Vatican II also held that the doctrine that Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces could be solemnly defined by the Church as a doctrine of Catholic faith because it is contained in the deposit of Faith left us by Christ and the Apostles.
At Vatican II the Blessed Virgin Mary is again spoken of as “Mediatrix”. Here are the words of Vatican II: “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which She loyally gave at the Annunciation and which She sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to Heaven She did not lay aside this saving office but by Her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By Her maternal charity, She cares for the brethren of Her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (Paragraph 62, Constitution of the Church.)
Example and Prayer Given by St. Alphonsus
A young nobleman who was on a sea-voyage began to read a bad book, in which he took much pleasure. A religious noticed this, and said to him: “Are you disposed to make a present to our Blessed Lady?” The young man replied that he was. “Well,” the other answered, “I wish that, for the love of the most holy Virgin, you would give up that book, and throw it into the sea.” “Here it is, Father,” said the young man. “No,” replied the religious, “you must yourself make Mary this present.” He did so; and no sooner had he returned to Genoa, his native place, than the Mother of God so inflamed his heart with divine love that he entered a religious Order.
O my soul, see what a sure hope of salvation and eternal life Our Lord has given you, by having in His mercy inspired you with confidence in the patronage of His Mother; and this, notwithstanding that so many times by your sins you have merited His displeasure and hell. Thank your God, and thank your protectress Mary, who has condescended to take you under Her mantle, for of this you may be well convinced, after the many graces that you have received by Her means. O yes, I do thank You, my Most Loving Mother, for all You have done for me who am worthy of hell. And from how many dangers have You not delivered me, O Queen! How many inspirations and mercies have You not obtained for me from God! What service, what honor, have I ever rendered You, that You should do so much for me? I know that it is Your sole goodness that has impelled You. Ah, too little would it be in comparison with all that I owe You, if I were to shed my blood and give my life for You; for You have delivered me from eternal death; You have enabled me, as I hope, to recover divine grace; to You, in fact, I owe all I have. My most amiable Lady, I, poor wretch that I am, can make You no return hut that of always loving and praising You. Ah, disdain not to accept the tender affection of a poor sinner, who is inflamed with love for Your goodness. If my heart is unworthy to love You, because it is impure and filled with earthly affections, it is You who must change it. Ah, change it then. Bind me to my God, and bind me so that I may never more have it in my power to separate myself from His love. You ask of me that I should love Your God, and I ask of You that You should obtain this love for me, to love Him always; this is all that I desire. Amen.