The Marian title, “Dispenser of all Graces” always intrigued me. For May, the month of Mary, I decided to research it. What a huge can of worms I opened up. The subject of this and other related Marian titles spans at least a century and is bound up with the unresolved issue about efforts to obtain a “5th
Marian dogma,” giving Mary the titles of Mediatrix, Advocate, and Co-Redemptrix. The arguments in favor of it are covered in a 2012 article
, “All Graces?”
Pope Francis called the quest for the new dogma “foolishness” in a homily for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2019. According to Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D.,
Pope Francis wishes us to avoid the “foolishness” of being so concerned with new Marian dogmas that we become distracted from loving Mary as our Mother, Our Lady, and the Mother of the Church. This warning is important, but it does not, in itself, rule out subsequent developments in Marian doctrines by either Pope Francis or future popes. It also does not forbid calling Mary the co-redemptrix because this term, when properly understood, neither takes nor adds anything to Christ, the one Redeemer (cf. Lumen Gentium, 62).
Similarly, a small group of bishops and archbishops published an open letter in April 2020 supporting the dogma, asserting that the Pope’s comments “have ignited a new worldwide discussion to both the co-redemptrix title and the possibility of a new Marian dogma”.
History of the Movement for a 5th Dogma
In 1945-59, in a series of claimed Marian apparitions and messages from Amsterdam, Mary purportedly requested the Church to issue a new dogma
, granting her the new titles. There are loose contentions that the Amsterdam messages built upon prior Marian visitations: St. Catherine Labore’s 1830 vision of Mary with rays of grace coming from her hands; the warnings from 1917 in Fatima. The Amsterdam apparition urged spreading a prayer and an image worldwide, as well as obtaining the new dogma. This is said to be so the nations and peoples of the world can finally be granted peace and be saved from wars. A statue carved in the image of the Amsterdam vision became a weeping figurine in 1973; that Marian apparition in Akita, Japan was approved in 1984.
In the Church’s 1964, Lumen Gentium, it declined to acknowledge Mary as co-redemptrix and asserted that Mary is a “Mediatrix”. Paragraph 62 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Church from Vatican II states:
She cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics [sic] . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. . . This . . . neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.
In 2002, the local bishop approved the Amsterdam apparitions. A movement urging the Church to adopt the 5th Marian dogma has been underway for some time. The internet is full of websites dedicated to persuading people in favor of this cause.
Common Marian Roots: Scripture, Popes, Saints
It seems to me clear God left human beings with two concrete, continuing, direct links to Him: the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. Certainly, in a macro spiritual and historical sense, Mary was unquestionably the original human channel of Christ and his graces. Indeed, she cooperated with the Redeemer. It is a praiseworthy goal to teach the world’s peoples of the fullness of the Virgin Mary’s participatory role in the redemption and her continuing intercession and guidance.
The gospels tell us Mary was filled with grace. She assented to the incarnation. Her human lineage from the House of David affirmed prophecies of the Messiah. She became the physical spouse of the Holy Spirit. Only at the “Woman’s” urging (Mary) did Jesus perform his first miracle at the Cana wedding. Mary experienced Pentecost and accompanied Jesus through the Passion. At the foot of the cross, Jesus gave the “Woman,” Mary to John who represented the people of his church. Mary’s suffering there fulfilled Simeon’s prophecy. Anguish pierced her heart at the same approximate time that His side was pierced.
Catholicism grew out of Judaism of the Old Testament. The Queen Mother (Gebirah) was an official state office in the days of the Judaic kings. She served as counselor to the king and sat at the right hand of the king. The petitions of the people sought through her would not be refused. She was a powerful intercessor and advocate, the role of Mary, which continues today.
Revelation explains the “Woman” clothed with the sun is crowned in heaven and sits at the right hand of God as Queen of Heaven. There is a continuum of Marian roles. It begins with Genesis prophesy (the “Woman’s” seed will crush the serpent’s head), to the “Woman” at the wedding at Cana. The “Woman” at the foot of the cross becomes the heavenly queen mother, whose offspring (all Christians), the devil still pursues.
A number of popes and saints have spoken or written of Mary’s spiritual mothering role and her participation in salvation. Some have used the terms Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, Dispenser of All Graces, or similar terms. However, I believe this is most properly viewed as honorific, poetic rhetoric within the context of fuller spiritual writings or discussion. To mandate belief by declared dogma, sound theology ought to replace praising hyperbole.
A Defensible Opposition to the Dogma
Scripture clearly and thoroughly demonstrates Mary is no minor throwaway character, inserted by the Creator playwright to fill the plot hole of how Christ became man, as some Christian churches seem to treat her. The Bible and Marian apparitions record a series of spiritual events which exalted Mary as Christ’s permanent lieutenant/assistant of his mission in the world. In some non-Catholic Christian quarters, there has been a softening toward Mary’s honored role. However, many Christians minimize her and scoff at her intercessory role. This, I think is a seriously wrong circumstance in the Christian world. It cries out to be remedied.
So, I agree in part with the proponents of the 5th Marian dogma, that the world’s peoples should be shown why Catholics revere Mary. We should explain why we regard her as a unique ongoing advocate. Nevertheless, I see many problems with the Amsterdam apparitions and Church going forward with a 5th dogma, given the many troublesome aspects related to the Amsterdam messages.
Specific Glitches with Amsterdam and the Dogma
I do not think a new proposed dogma is the proper means of bringing a full and mature understanding of the Blessed Mother to the world’s nations and peoples. I am simply a person in the pew and I could certainly be wrong. However, I believe we should use what the Church already has declared to teach the depth of the Virgin Mary. The only problem with using the Lady of Nations sobriquet is that it refers back to the Amsterdam apparition. I am skeptical about much of that messaging. I see the following inherent problems in the Amsterdam communications and a new dogma:
- Misleading & Misunderstood Title
The title co-redemptrix would likely be misunderstood. Many opportunistic critics would condemn the Church as idolatrous. This would frustrate ecumenical dialogue. Many non-Catholics still respond with hostility to the Mother of God’s title. What assurance is there that the new dogma titles wouldn’t further alienate the world from the Church it already rejects? If Co-Redemptrix refers to the one and only Human Cooperator with the Redeemer, then a title which includes that concept should be declared, if any.
- Unnecessary & Superfluous
In the readings, I reviewed I never found a reason why the Church needs this dogma. The other Marian dogmas (Mother of God, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, the Assumption) sufficiently cover the concept that Mary is/was the unique human person who voluntarily participated and suffered with Christ to accomplish redemption. Lumen Gentium already states this. There is nothing to prevent teaching efforts using the current dogmas and Church Constitution without the issuance of a new dogma.
- Focus is Improperly on Mary
The titles would put the focus on Mary. Pope Francis has already called the co-redemptrix title “foolishness
,” because she never called herself that. He said she is more like a disciple and always serves her Son. The Amsterdam apparition also referred to herself as Lady/Mother of All Nations and Lady/Mother of All Peoples. That, I suggest implies a demand for center stage.
Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death”; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only-begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: “Woman, behold your son” (CCC 964 ).
- Out of Character Messages
The messages from the Amsterdam apparition do not seem to reflect the known character of the Virgin Mary. The content is very lengthy, 87 pages with the seer’s notes. (see link above at Amsterdam messages). They ramble, focus a lot on worldly events, and have a demanding tone. Mary refers to herself as “the one who was Mary
” even though the movement offers an explanation. The apparition stated that trends toward socialism were good. In my opinion, the mood of the purported Virgin Mother’s utterances does not exhibit the kind, loving motherly quality which has customarily accompanied such appearances.
There is an unsettling tenor evident in the communications I have read and seen of the movement for a 5th Marian dogma. The Amsterdam image associated with the apparition shows Mary in front of an empty cross. The tone of the movement strikes me as overtly emotional, latently feminist, and even suggestive of a global one-world church or government. Particularly, the Lady of all Nations videos and web sites have a psychologically swooning and unthinking quality to them. I perceive a secular mother-earth undertone to this online literature. It reminds me of a little of the 2019 Pachamama drama and it is unsettling.
- Lack of Fleshed-Out Theology
Most importantly, the rationale for why a 5th Marian dogma is needed in addition to current teaching is not spelled out. It has not been fleshed out what ‘dispenser of all graces’ actually means. Is it metaphorical? Is it that Mary literally hands out every single grace which God has granted? Is it a mere recognition of Mary’s as the original conduit of all that Christ brought, the biological motherhood giving rise to the eventual redemption? Or, is Mary purportedly involved in deciding who is to receive graces? Does the nonverbal 1973 Akita apparition bear sufficient relationship to the Co-Redemptrix title and dogma?
I have not seen an offered explanation of why Mary would characterize the dogma as a prerequisite for bringing peace and stopping wars. There are serious gaps in logic. Without deep sober reasoning, a new dogma seems spiritually premature. Perhaps a sound reasoned basis can be articulated in the future – or perhaps not.
Caution and More Discussion is Warranted
Recent decisions about other apparitions show how suspect or erroneous messages can be inserted into otherwise seemingly authentic ones. The Our Lady of America apparition from the 1950s in Indiana has been declared not to have been an objective private revelation, in part because a message contained an urging to declare St. Joseph as a co-redeemer. The Marian apparitions in Medjugorje, Bosnia have also been determined as not credible. Among some of the messages communicated there have been obviously erroneous, such as all religions are equal before God.
On the internet, the proponents of the new dogma have plastered the web with advocacy sites. I find it oddly similar to another popular environmental issue movement which declares that the science is settled and all debate is over, while pockets of controversy still challenge the premise. I continue to ascribe to an often-quoted principle by the legal scholar, John Henry Wigmore, “[C]ross examination is the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” More opposing views and arguments should be publicly vetted against the case made by the proponents of the new proposed dogma. This battling out of factual and theological ideas is the best way to achieve genuine and thorough “worldwide discussion.” Only then, in my opinion, can it be determined whether a new dogma is truly warranted. For now, I do not see a fully developed dogma, a need for one, or a legitimate expectation it would be the catalyst to world conversion that is hoped.