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St. Alphonsus Liguori


SECTION I. Of the Necessity of the Intercession of Mary for our Salvation

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 us the Divine grace, is an article of faith, and has been defined by general councils, against heretics who condemned it as injurious to Jesus Christ, who is our only mediator; but if a Jeremias after death prayed for Jerusalem; if the ancients of the Apocalypse presented the prayers of the Saints to God; if a Saint Peter promises his disciples that after his death he will be mindful of them; if a holy Stephen prays for his persecutors; if a Saint Paul prays for his companions; if, in fine, the Saints can pray for us, why cannot we beseech the Saints to intercede for us? Saint Paul recommends himself to the prayers of his disciples: "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thes. V. 25). Saint James exhorts us to pray one for another: "Pray one for another, that you may be saved" (James 5:16). Then we can do the same.

No one denies that Jesus Christ is our only mediator of justice, and that He by His merits has obtained our reconciliation with God. But, on the other hand, it is impious to assert that God is not pleased to grant graces at the intercession of His Saints, and more especially of Mary his Mother, whom Jesus desires so much to see loved and honored by all. Who can pretend that the honor bestowed on a mother does not redound to the honor of the son? "The glory of children are their fathers" (Prov. xvii. 6). When St. 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’ (Hom. iv. sup. Miss.) And St. Ildephonsus also says, ‘That which given to the Queen is honor bestowed on the King" (De Virg. S.M. cap.xii.) There can be no doubt that by the merits of Jesus Mary was made the mediatress of our salvation; not indeed a mediatress of justice, but of grace and intercession; as St. Bonaventure expressly calls her ‘Mary the most faithful mediatress of our salvation’ (Spec. B.V.M. lect. ix). And St. Lawrence Justinian asks, ‘How can she be otherwise than full of grace, who has been made the ladder to paradise, the gate of heaven, the most true mediatress between God and man?" (Serm. de Annunc.)

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 may 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’ (De Incarnat. p. ii, q. 37, disp. 23, #3).

That it is most useful and holy to have recourse to the intercession of Mary can only be doubted by those who have not 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 by the hands of Mary, according to the opinion of Saint 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, Pacciuchelli, Segneri, Poire, 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’ (Epist. ixxvi. in calce tom. iv. moral.) In confirmation of this, he quotes the following celebrated passage of St. Bernard: ‘Such is His will, that we should have all by Mary’ (Serm. de Aquaed). Father Contenson is also of the same opinion; for, explaining the words addressed by our Lord on the Cross to Saint John: "Behold thy Mother" (John xix. 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 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’ (Theol. Mentis et Cord. Tom. ii. Lib).

This proposition (that all that we receive from our Lord comes through Mary) does not exactly please a certain modern writer, 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 a Saint Germanus, a Saint Anselm, a Saint John Damascen, a Saint Bonaventure, a Saint Antoninus, a Saint 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 author alluded to 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 receive 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 Saint Paul, who says that we acknowledge but "one God and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. ii. 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 that He will not, grant graces without the intercession of Mary. We willingly admit that God is the source of every good, and the absolute Master of all graces; and that Mary is only a pure 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, and that by His merits He obtains us all graces and salvation; but we say that Mary is the Mediatress of grace; and that receiving all she obtains through Jesus Christ, and because she prays and asks for it in the name of Jesus Christ, yet all the same whatever graces we receive, they come to us through her 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 weak, the refuge of sinners, the help of Christians, and as our life and hope.’ In the office appointed to be said on the feasts of Mary, this same holy Church, applying the words of Ecclesiasticus to this Blessed Virgin, gives us to understand that in her we find all hope, "In me is all hope of life and of virtue" (Eccl. xxiv. 25); in Mary is every grace, "In me is all grace of the way and of the truth" (Ib.). In Mary, finally, we shall find life and eternal salvation: "Who finds me finds life, and draws salvation from the Lord" (Prov. viii. 35). And elsewhere: "They that work by me shall not sin; they that explain me shall have everlasting life" (Eccl. xxiv. 30, 31). And surely such expressions as these sufficiently prove that we require the intercession of Mary.

Moreover, we are confirmed in this opinion by so many theologians and fathers, of whom it is certainly incorrect to say, as the above-named author does, that, in exalting Mary, they spoke hyperbolically, and allowed great exaggerations to fall from their lips. To exaggerate and speak hyperbolically is to exceed the limits of truth; and surely we cannot say that Saints who were animated by the Spirit of God, which is truth itself, spoke thus. If I may be allowed to make a short digression, and give my own sentiment, it is, that when an opinion tends in any way to the honor of the most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation, and is repugnant neither to the faith, nor to the decrees of the Church, nor to truth, the refusal to hold it, or to oppose it because the reverse may be true, shows little devotion to the Mother of God. Of the number of such as these I do not choose to be, nor do I wish my reader to be so, but rather of the number of those who fully and firmly believe all that can without error be believed of the greatness of Mary, according to the Abbot Rupert, who, amongst the acts of homage most pleasing to this good Mother, places that of firmly believing all that redounds to her honor (De Laud. Virg). If there was nothing else to take away our fear of exceeding in the praises of Mary, St. Augustine should suffice; for he declares that whatever we may say in praise of Mary is little in comparison with that which she deserves, on account of her dignity of 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.’

But let us return to the point, and examine what the saints say on the subject. Saint 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’ (Serm. de Aquaed.) 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 Saint Bernard, ‘See, O souls, with what tender devotion our Lord wills that we should honor our Queen, by always having recourse to and relying on her protection; 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 come from the hand of Mary" (Serm. de Aquaed). Saint Antoninus says the same thing: ‘All graces that have ever been bestowed on men, all came by Mary’ (P. iv. tit. 15,c.20). And on this account she is called the Moon, according to the following remark of Saint Bonaventure: ‘As the moon, which stands between the sun and the earth, transmits to this latter whatever she 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’ (Spann. Polyanth. Litt. M. t.6).

Again, the holy Church calls her ‘the happy gate of heaven;’ for as the same Saint Bernard remarks: ‘As every mandate of grace that is sent by a king passes by the palace-gates, so does every grace that comes from heaven to the world pass through the hands of Mary’ (Serm. iii. In Virg. Nat. D). Saint Bonaventure says that Mary is called ‘the gate of heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing by her’ (Exposit. in cap. I. Luc). An ancient author, probably Saint Sophronius, in a sermon on the Assumption, published with the works of Saint Jerome, says ‘that the plenitude of grace which is in Jesus Christ came into Mary, though in a different way’ (Serm. de Assump. B.V.); meaning that it is in 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 Saint Bernardine of Sienna, 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 by the means of Mary’ (Serm. de Nat. B.M.V. cap. viii).

The same Saint 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 say, 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' (Ib). 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 by the hands of Mary’ (Ib). 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’ (Ib), 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’ (Crasset, Ver. Dev. p.1.tr.1.q.5.#2). Saint 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’ (Serm. de Nativ. B.V.M. cap. viii). Richard of Saint Lawrence also asserts ‘that God wills that whatever good things He bestows on His creatures should pass by the hands of Mary’ (De Laud. Virg. lib. ii. cap.3). 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 has 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’ (De Contempl. B.V. in prol.) It must be now 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,’ 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, should be dispensed by the hands and through the intercession of Mary.

And thus Father Suarez concludes, that it is the sentiment of the universal Church, ‘that the intercession of prayers of Mary are, above those of all others, not only useful, but necessary (De Incarnat. p. ii. Q. 37). 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 Saint 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 by the hands of Mary’ (Serm. iii. Vig. Nat. Dom.); and before Saint Bernard, Saint Ildephonsus asserted the same thing, ‘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’ (In Cor. Virg. Cap. 15). And therefore Saint Peter Damian remarks (Pacciuh, in Ps. Ixxxvi exc. 1) ‘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.’

Saint 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. Xi.1), makes a beautiful remark, saying: whoever desires the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit, let him seek for the flower of the Holy Ghost 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 rod, which bears the flower, by prayer; and so you will obtain it’ (Spec. B.M.V. lect. vi. et xii). The seraphic father, in his sermon for the Epiphany, on the words of St. Matthew, "They found the child, with Mary his Mother," reminds us, that if we wish to find Jesus we must go to Mary" (Serm. iv. Dom. infr. 8, Nat. D.) We may, then, conclude, that in vain shall we seek for Jesus, unless we endeavor to find Him with Mary. And so Saint 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’ (De Virginitate S. Mar. cap. xii).

— From Glories of Mary, Chapter V

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