One of the biggest stumbling blocks that non-Catholics have when learning about the faith is the Catholic view of Mary’s role as the “perfect intercessor” for us before God. This is a complex issue, because it often includes having to explain three concepts often discarded by our Christian brethren not in communion with Rome:
- Praying to the saints; and
- There are levels of holiness even in heaven; and
- Mary is the greatest saint.
Sorting it out into these different issues is very helpful. It can help clarify where a real disagreement lies.
First, communion of the saints:
- Prayers of the righteous avail much. (James 5:16)
- Those in heaven are without sin. (Apocalypse/Revelation 21:27)
- Sin blocks the efficacy of prayer. (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:2)
- Those in heaven more perfectly pray than we do. (From Nos. 1, 2, 3.)
- We should ask others to pray for us. (James 5:16, 1 Timothy 2:1)
- We can do no better than to ask a most righteous holy one — that is, someone in heaven — of God to pray for us on our behalf. This is what we mean by the word intercession. (From Nos. 4, 5.)
- Christ triumphed over death. (Rom 8:35-39)
- We are supposed to pray for one another (James 5:16).
- We are supposed to love one another. (Mark 12:30-31).
- It is reasonable to suppose that God, who commands these things and can do these things, will not separate our ability to ask for intercession on our behalf from those holy ones who have already gone to the eternal reward of heaven. (From 6, 7, 8, 9.)
Second, there are levels of heaven:
- We are not all equally holy and righteous in heaven, though we are all without sin. This is how to make sense of “storing up treasures.” (Matthew 6:20) Think of a music professor and his student who are both at a choir concert — who can appreciate it more? The one with the treasury of knowledge. Similarly, the one with the treasury of holiness will have more appreciation of heaven.
- “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
- “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)
- “He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:8)
- “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27)
Third, Mary is more close to the divine Word than any other human being. She shows this holiness several ways:
- She spends nine months in the physical intimacy of motherhood, and 30 years with him until his public ministry, and is there for a good chunk of his public ministry, and of course his death. Though scripture does not say she’s present at the Resurrection, it does mention her also there in the upper room at Pentecost.
- Her fiat — “… let it be to me according to your word…” of Luke 1:38 — is perfect submission to God, and a perfect example of prayer.
- “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) is a perfect example of exhorting others to do as she does.
- “All generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48)
- It is through her that Christ comes, and Christ is the source of all divine grace; therefore, it is clear she has an even greater role in salvation than even the apostles. Her submission to God was even more essential than that of Peter’s confession, or Saul of Tarsus’ conversion, or any other event in the lives of even the greatest saints in history.
- This is a fun one. Christ received his human nature from his mother, and he had no human father to receive this human nature — unlike us, who get our human nature from our father and mother. Therefore, Christ is more closely related to Mary than any other human being is to any other human being. From this, it is appropriate that she be very holy.
- Exegesis reveals some other titles appropriate to her, including The Ark of the New Covenant.
If we add in uniquely Catholic points that non-Catholics do not accept, we can point to these things to attest to Mary’s unique holiness:
- She is “full of grace.” This is a translation from the Vulgate, which non-Catholics often reject as mistranslation.
- She was bodily assumed into heaven, a privilege shared by Elijah. This was defined as dogma by Pope Pius XII, and is attested as fitting since at least the ninth century, while the account of her “Dormition” or “falling asleep” dates back to the fourth century. In support of this, Catholics point to Holy Tradition, as well as the fact that there are no Marian relics, while there are many relics of other very early saints.
- She was perpetually a virgin.
- She was immaculately conceived.
From all this:
- We can ask others to pray for us, even those in heaven.
- There are “more righteous” and “less righteous” in heaven.
- Mary is the most righteous “mere human.”
… we can show that Mary is, among the saints, the perfect intercessor.