Chapter II: Mary, the Mother of Grace.
We have seen how the Rosary makes us conformable to the ravishing ideal of our predestination, the Immaculate Mother of Jesus. Since predestination is realized in our souls by the operations of grace, we must examine the position of the Blessed Virgin in relation to grace.
Grace being a participation of the divine nature, God alone can produce it in us, because He alone can communicate to us His own life and nature. Jesus, as God, is like His Father, the Author of grace; as God and Man He is the principal meritorious cause of all our spiritual goods. His adorable humanity possesses a deep and mysterious efficacy. It is the instrument which God makes use of for the daily production of grace in us. Now, an instrument does not bring forth the action of the principal agent by its own power, but in virtue of the principal agent. Hence Christ’s humanity does not cause grace by its own power, but by virtue of the divine nature joined to it, whereby the actions of Christ’s humanity are saving actions. The Gospel tells us that a virtue which healed the body went forth from Our Blessed Lord. There also escapes from His sacred humanity a powerful virtue which heals our souls, by pouring into them the gift which sanctifies.
If Jesus Christ is the sole reservoir of the fruitful waters of salvation, Mary is the channel through which they come to us. She is not the source, for she herself has received everything from her Son, but all must pass through her in order to reach us. She does not produce grace of herself. The gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a participation of the divine nature, which exceeds every other nature. Although it is impossible that any creature should cause grace by its own inherent power, yet God has so arranged that all His spiritual gifts are dispensed through the Blessed Virgin. As St. Bernard says: Nulla gratia venit de caelo ad terram nisi transeat per manus Mariae: No grace comes from heaven to earth without passing through the hands of Mary. The holy Doctors and Fathers of the Church cannot find words sufficient to inculcate this truth. They speak of Mary as being the reservoir of all good: promptuarium omnium bonorum: the treasurer of all graces, the treasury of Jesus Christ, and long before them the angel Gabriel summed it all up in one word: Gratia plena. She is full of grace for herself, she is full of grace for us. Plena sibi, superplena nobis.
St. Thomas distinguishes a triple fullness of grace. Firstly, plenitudo sufficientiae: the fullness of sufficiency common to all the just. That is to say that all the elect receive an abundance of grace, sufficient to enable them to work out their salvation and so attain to eternal beatitude.
Secondly, there is plenitude excellentiae: the fullness of excellence. This appertains to Christ alone. He possesses the fullness of the source, the plenitude of a limitless abyss. By Him we have all been enriched. De plenitudine ejus nos omnes accepimus: of His fullness we all have received (John 1:16).
Lastly, there is plenitudo redundantiae: the fullness of superabundance. This appertains in a special way to the Blessed Virgin, for the grace which she has received is like a reservoir which overflows and inundates all mankind. Mary is full of grace for herself, she superabounds with grace for us. We can say of her, as we say of her Son, though in a different sense: De plenitudine ejus nos omnes accepimus. The graces of the Blessed Virgin have a three fold value: a meritorious value, a satisfactory value, an impetratory value. Her merits, according to several holy Doctors, surpass the merits of the angels and men combined; satisfaction and impetration go hand and hand with merit.*
It is clear from this that the spiritual treasures of our august Mother attain to heights and depths which it is impossible for us to comprehend. It is therefore not astonishing that they should overflow and pour themselves into our souls: plenitudo redundantiae. Her satisfactory treasures are entirely at our disposal. Since she was exempt from the slightest stain of sin, she had no need to make atonement for herself. Her satisfactions were placed in the treasury of the Church which distributes them to us through indulgences. Her merits are not applied directly to us, they are her own inalienable property. Nevertheless, we can say that Mary is a meritorious cause of grace. Not that she merited salvation for us in the same way as Jesus—in strict justice, but by reason of her close friendship with God, she has wonderful power to move His Heart. But it is more especially with regard to impetration that Mary dispenses all graces. All our spiritual goods reach us only by her intercession. Therefore we see that the words of St. Bernard are not merely a pious exaggeration, but are full of deep meaning.
We must here recall the sublime teaching of St. Paul, when he declares the Church to be a mystical body of which Christ is the head (I Cor 12:27). As in the human body, so also in the Church there are powerful nerves which maintain the different members in unity. These are signified by spiritual authority. There are vessels which support life, namely the Sacraments. Finally there is life itself and the blood of the Church, grace. All movement and energy descend from the head to the other members, and there is a portion of the human body which unites the head with the rest of the body. Christ is head of the Church, Mary is the intermediary which unites the head with the members: Maria, collum Ecclesiae! Mary is the mystical neck of the divine body which is the Church. As all movement and energy reach the rest of the body from the head only by going through the neck, so the life of Christ reaches the faithful only by passing through Mary, the supernatural organ which connects the mystical head with members of the body. Grace descends from Christ to the Blessed Virgin; from Mary it descends into our souls; thence it rises once more into eternity from whence it came. Just as blood or water seeks its source, so also does grace. The source of grace is eternity, therefore it rises to eternity from whence it descends according to the words of Our Blessed Lord: Fiet in eo fons aquae salientis in vitam aeternam. It shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting (John 4:14). From the soul it rises to Mary, from Mary it passes into Christ, by Christ it finally reaches eternity anew. By means of Mary then, there is a supernatural stream in the Church perpetually rising and descending in turn; there is between heaven and earth, as it were, an ebb and flow. The merits and treasures of Jesus are transmitted to us by the heart of Mary, our merits and love reach Jesus through the heart of His mother. Your heart, O Immaculate Mother, is the sweet rendezvous where God and man meet, the mysterious river which unites the banks of time and eternity.
As the riches of Jesus Christ are applied to us by the Sacraments, so also we may say that the treasures of Mary are applied to us by the Rosary. Where else shall we find the merits and satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin? Is not the Rosary the story of her life? In the Mysteries her satisfactions and her merits grew almost to infinity.
The impetratory power of her prayer corresponds to this degree of merit. When she intercedes for us with her Son, when she asks Him to grant our petition, He remembers what she underwent in the events outlined in the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary and infallibly complies with her desires. Thus by meditation on the Rosary we are brought into contact with the source from whence Mary drew her spiritual riches. As we said when speaking of the soul of Jesus, the Rosary brings us into contact with the soul and grace of the Blessed Virgin, and our soul is enlightened by the rays of her brightness. When we recite the Hail Mary and repeat these words Gratia Plena, not only do we recall her joys and her sorrows, but above all we are mindful of the role she fulfills in the work of salvation and in the economy of grace, and come to realize her influence with God on our behalf. Our heart and soul are united to hers, we slake our thirst at the same fount, we beseech her, who is the Mother of grace, to have pity on her children and obtain their requests. To which prayer she graciously replies by these words: He that shall find me shall find life and shall have salvation from the Lord (Prov. 8:35).
* Impetration is the act of asking or beseeching to obtain something, in this case, grace. Every good action has three values. Its satisfactory value is that it makes up for or satisfies for past evil deeds. Its impetratory value is that it obtains grace in the present. Its meritorious value is that it gains merit for eternity.