If Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity, isn't attention to Mary superfluous, or even distracting from a focus on Christ?

Posted November 28, 2009

You are correct in stating that the Bible names Jesus as the only mediator between God and humans (l Tim. 2:5; Acts 4:12; Heb. 7:25). However, in each of these citations, as the context shows, it refers to him as redemptive mediator (Savior or Redeemer). Mary’s mediatorship is non-redemptive; it is only petitionary (impetrative) mediatorship, just as your own mediatorship would be if you prayed to God for me at my request. No Scripture passage states that Jesus is the only intercessor or prayer mediator – although he is the greatest one (Heb. 7:25, 9:24; Rom. 8:34; Is. 53:12; 1 Jn. 2:1), and the one through whom all prayer must ultimately pass to reach the Father (Jn. 14:6).

Vatican II states (Lumen Gentium, art. 62) that no creature, even Mary, can be put on the level of Jesus, the only Redeemer. However, just as Jesus’ singular eternal priesthood is shared by both his ministers and the laity in various ways (I Pet. 2:5), and as his one goodness is radiated among creatures in various ways (l Tim. 4:4), so also his unique mediation does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold shared mediation, in petitionary form, within which Mary’s is preeminent.

It was this petitionary mediation that Paul requested of the Ephesians, asking them to pray “for all the saints [believers]” and he “prayed” for them to pray for himself (Eph. 6: 18-19; 1 Thess. 5:25), while he himself prayed for others (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:3), as did Epaphras (Col. 4:12). Mary’s intercessory power with Jesus is of the same type as that of St. Paul and Epaphras, and the same as yours or mine, namely petitionary. But as the “highly favored one – full of grace” (Lk. 1:28), hers is far more powerful, as evidenced by her successful intercession for the embarrassed host at the Cana wedding, persuading Jesus to work his first miracle, even before his planned time (In. 2:4).

Mary in heaven is not deprived of that intercessory power that she exercised on earth, since heaven is a place not of deprivation but fulfillment, as implied in Hebrews 11 :40. Even in the Old Testament we find examples of deceased persons (Jeremiah and Onias) prayerfully interceding for the living (2 Mac. 15: 12-16). Those in heaven have more prayer power than they had on earth, for they are not faith-limited in heaven, since they see God directly (Job 19:26; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 In. 3:2).

In response to your assertion that Marian devotion “distracts” from Christocentric devotion: Vatican II in the Constitution on the Church (art. 51) states, “Let the faithful be taught that our communion with those in heaven [by veneration] … in no way diminishes the worship of adoration given to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit; on the contrary, it greatly enriches it.” In the treatise on Mariology the same document states that Mary’s salutary influence “flows from the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation … and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faitlhful with Christ, but on the contrary, fosters it … it neither takes away nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ, the one Mediator” (art. 60 and 62, quoting a formulation of St. Ambrose).

Your phrase, “praying to Mary,” shows a misunderstanding common to both Catholics and non-Catholics, regarding Mary’s role in our devotion. The Catholic Church does not teach us to pray to Mary or to any saint; if the phrase “pray to” is used in the strictest theological sense, it can be said that we pray only to God. But we do “prayerfully address” Mary, asking her to pray for us and with us to God, as in the Hail Mary: “pray for us sinners … ”

Thus, Mary’s mediation is not a “relay” system; she does not relay our needs to God as if they go through her to him. Rather, our prayers to God “parallel” her prayers to God for us, like two arrows going simultaneously Godward, in tandem. Mary doesn’t stand “between” us and God to forward our prayers to him, but exercises her mediatorship by joining us in a fellowship of prayer, as mandated by Jesus: “If two of you agree to ask anything … ” (Mt. 18:19).

“Glad You Asked” by Father John Hampsch, C.M.F.