“Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope…”
It’s often been said that Mary’s work in heaven is to pray for sinners – that mercy is her “department.”1 There’s no doubt that we’ve got a powerful ally in our Heavenly Mother, an advocate who is always ready to speak on our behalf. But when we reflect on Mary as Mother of Mercy, we mustn’t only consider her own essential character and attributes (themselves the workings of grace); we must also discern what this title means in respect to Jesus.2 For in her great humility, everything about Mary’s life glorifies and magnifies the Lord.
Mary is no ordinary mother – she’s exceptional in every way. God chose her from among all women to be His mother. Because He could create her perfectly, He did. Thus Mary is the ideal, the model par excellence of motherhood, and as such, she embodies all the qualities of motherhood in perfect and complete proportion: selflessness, generosity, patience and kindness. The Gospels show us a woman who is both gentle and strong, a woman of prayer and action.
Like all good mothers, Mary knows what we need – what’s best for us. She knows that in order for us to have fullness of life we must love God completely and without reservation, just as she did. She knows that if we listen and “do whatever He tells you,”3 we will find peace and fulfillment, and our life’s purpose. Our Blessed Mother understands our temptations, tendencies and weaknesses, even though she never gave in to them herself.
How is it possible for one so perfect to sympathize with our plight? The answer is simple: mothers see the world through their children’s eyes and have the utmost concern for them. A mother’s heart is moved at the helplessness of her little ones and, without a second thought, is ready to forgive and forget, no matter how horrible the offense. To be able to overlook their children’s faults and failings and see them with eyes of love is a special grace reserved just for mothers. How much more so, then, does Our Heavenly Mother – she who is “full of grace” – gaze upon her children and offer her unfailing help. Her compassionate heart can’t help but do otherwise.
We often speak of how Mary intercedes for us, but what does that really mean? It means that God created Mary to not only be Jesus’ mother, but our very own. We would never be able to get ourselves to heaven if we were left to rely on our own efforts. In fact, we can’t do much of anything without God’s generous help. Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord,” is the one chosen by God to help bring about His divine plan. She is the answer – not the source of grace, but the dispenser of it – a conduit of grace.4
Scott Hahn gives a great explanation of how this works, using his own family as an example.5 He describes what would happen if a gift – say, a box of candy – was delivered to their home. Naturally, all the children would want some and, left to their own devices, they would gladly take it all for themselves. But if the candy were given to his wife (their mother), she would make sure that didn’t happen. Instead, she would divide it up and dole it out fairly. That’s what mothers do – they make sure everyone gets their fair share. And Mary is no different. As our mother in the order of grace, she approaches Jesus on our behalf and makes sure we get all the graces we need.6
The Church goes further still, calling Mary our mediatrix, or even co-redemptrix, because it’s through her “yes” that we gained a Saviour.7 In bearing and bringing Christ into the world, Mary has truly given us life – eternal life. The sweet little babe in her arms has brought incomparable joy and sweetness into our lives: Jesus, Mercy incarnate – the “face of the Father’s mercy.”8 Which makes Mary, quite literally then, the mother of Mercy.
In Jesus, we come to know and experience God in an entirely different way – as pure love and mercy. Bishop Robert Barron says that “Mercy is what love looks like when it turns toward the sinner.”9 It’s not a sign of weakness; it is the “mark of [God’s] omnipotence.”10 For in looking upon the lowliness of His creatures, the utter helplessness of man, God sent His Son into the world. “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.”11
God always gives us “a way out,” a chance to start over and begin anew. And this is where we see our Heavenly Mother, the most tender of mothers, at work once again. When we fall and make mistakes – as we inevitably will do – the world can be a cold and unforgiving place. But our hope is in Mary, the Refuge of Sinners, through whom we experience warmth, belonging and acceptance. This mercy, born of love, gives us the courage to go on, to move forward in spite of difficulties. As Pope Francis explains, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”12
One of the most endearing depictions of our Blessed Mother is where she’s standing with her mantle open wide, gathering together and shielding the souls around her. In this way, Mary is also an image of, and model for, the Church. Time and again, throughout history, we see the Church as a place of refuge and healing for all those in need – especially for those on the margins of society. Literally and figuratively, the doors of Holy Mother Church are open to each and every soul in need of shelter and protection.
To thee do we cry…
This is precisely the message that Pope Francis has been trying to convey, both in declaring an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and throughout his entire papacy. The Year of Mercy may have come to an end, but the work of mercy is far from over. Mercy isn’t something we ‘do’ for a day, a week, or even a year; it’s a way of life. It’s the disposition and attitude of a heart eager to follow Jesus.
“Compassion is mere emotion of sympathy. Mercy is action! It is being ready to help wherever there is a need and providing that help. Mercy is not lip service and polite speech. It is forgiving those we do not want to forgive, and doing things in love even for those we cannot stand.”13
As we reflect on how mercy has transformed us, all that God has done in our lives, we must decide what our response will be. The Church’s entire mission is mercy, but will we embrace it and make it our own? Opportunities abound (we needn’t look far!) to offer warmth, belonging and acceptance. In the simple act of reaching out to someone in need, we will become that face of mercy, a visible sign of the Father’s love extending from generation to generation.14 Mary, our Merciful Mother, wants to accompany us and show us the way.
– Kelley Holy
Prayer to Our Lady, Mother of Mercy15
Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily repay you with praise and thanks for having rescued a fallen world by your generous consent! Receive our gratitude, and by your prayers, obtain the pardon of our sins. Take our prayer into the sanctuary of heaven and enable them to make our peace with God.
Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the discouraged, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God. May all who venerate you feel your help and protection. Be ready to help us when we pray, and bring back to us the answers to our prayers. Make it your continual concern to pray for the people of God, for you were blessed by God and were made worthy to bear the Redeemer of the world, who lives and reigns forever.
1 Joseph Tissot, How to Profit from your Faults (London: Scepter, 2004), 123.
2 The title of Mary as Mother of Mercy is one that goes back to at least the twelfth century. It’s included in the Hail, Holy Queen, or Salve Regina, a prayer of petition, asking Mary for her prayers on our behalf and typically prayed at the end of the Rosary. “Various sources place its origins in the eleventh or twelfth century, some attributing it to a Benedictine monk known as Blessed Herman the Cripple, while others describe it as a war chant used by the Crusaders that was ultimately completed by St. Bernard. In medieval times, monks and friars sang it at the end of the day, and it is currently one of the four prayers to Mary” included in the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, prayed by all priests and religious at certain times each day. For more information, see http://bustedhalo.com/questionbox/what-is-the-hail-holy-queen-prayer and https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=984
3 John 2:5
4 The idea of Mary as a “conduit” of grace comes from CCC 968-970, quoting from Lumen Gentium. “In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls.” “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.”
5 Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 132.
6 Ibid, 80-83.
7 For more information, see Catholic Answers [website]; available from http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/isnt-calling-mary-the-mediatrix-of-all-graces-contrary-to-the-doctrine-that-jesus-is-; Internet; accessed 20 November 2016.
8 Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (April 11, 2015), 1; available from https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/bulls/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html
Internet; accessed 18 November 2016.
9 Bishop Robert Barron, Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism (Skokie: Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, 2016), 35.
10 Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 6.
12 Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 10.
13 Fr. Hardon, Bellarmine Forum [online magazine]; available from https://bellarmineforum.org/2016/05/30/look-back-on-your-year-of-mercy-with-a-smile-of-relief/;Internet; accessed 20 November 2016.
14 Cf. Luke 1:50
15 Fr. David Mary, “Our Lady, Mother of Mercy” [blog post]; January 16, 2016; available from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/our-lady-mother-mercy-br-david-mary; Internet; accessed 20 November 2016. This prayer is attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo.