The Priesthood of Mary

Here’s a very interesting article on the priesthood of Mary.  The full text can be found here. I’ll insert the beginning below.  You’ll note that the author continues to claim near the end of the article that Mary was not “ordained.”  Nor however does she simply share in the common priesthood of the faithful.  Rather she is the socia Christi, an “associate of Christ,” a title attributed to her by Pseudo-Albert and taken up by Blessed Pope Pius IX.  The author explains:

It was Mary’s maternity which conferred this sacerdotal quality on her mission.  Her maternity in relation to Christ made her an associate in all his functions and permitted her to offer a victim which belonged to her.  Her maternity in relation to us was possible only because she obtained for us the supernatural life through the sacrifice of her son.  Mary’s sacerdotal role is marked with a feminine and maternal nuance, as were all her other functions.

Her priesthood is not by virtue of ordination but by virtue of her maternity of Christ. This I take it allows him to avoid the sticky question of woman’s ordination.  Notice though that by arguing for Mary’s capacity as a woman to perform the priestly actions of her son, the author removes from the discussion the issue of masculinity that we find so prevalent in author’s like Balthasar.

Mary’s Priestly Dimension

by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

Every priest is a mediator between God and humans,1 but our principal and proper mediator is Christ.  Catholic theology indicates that Mary participates in a secondary manner in the mediation of Christ.  Consequently, it is fitting that she should also participate in his priesthood.  In what function does this sacerdotal quality of her mission consist?  For this is a function of the mother of the Messiah and not a privilege, an integral part of her mission.

Very little of substance has been written on this subject, yet there is ample basis for this truth.  The two best treatments that I have found in my research are these intriguing sources: Marie, L’Eglise et le Sacerdoce by Rene Laurentin,2 and Marie et Notre Sacerdoce by Emile Neubert, S.M.3  The focus of this presentation is Maria, Mater et Socia Christi Sacerdotis.

A balanced approach is essential.  The ecclesiotypical representation of the mystery of Mary should not overshadow the christotypical.  One aspect should not diminish the other.  This is not an either-or situation, but one of both-and.  It is a matter of particular emphasis on the subject under consideration.

The Evidence of Tradition

This question has seldom been studied in a theologically scientific manner.  It is specifically the subject of Laurentin’s masterful work previously mentioned, the result of his doctoral thesis.

In the early ages of Christianity scarcely anyone searched for a quality specifically sacerdotal in the functions of the mother of Jesus.  “The use of a sacerdotal vocabulary in reference to Mary arrives slowly, and, as it were, by exception … The theological themes answering to this use are little developed; the idea of an oblation by Mary, which would suggest her sacerdotal role in the clearest manner possible, had not been conceived.”4  Preaching and the hymns of the seventh to ninth centuries witness to “a tendency to confer sacerdotal titles on Mary,” but do not indicate “the existence of the idea of a Marian priesthood.”5

The idea of Mary’s oblation first appeared in the subsequent period, which lasted until 1600.6  St. Bernard, in the twelfth century, has already clearly expressed this idea.7  In the next century, writings attributed to St. Albert the Great considered this oblation sacerdotal.  Later it was determined that a still-unidentified Pseudo-Albert was responsible for these ideas.  Employing the principle that Mary possesses all the graces and prerogatives of other rational creatures to a superior degree, Pseudo-Albert proposed to show that she had received with a unique fullness all that belongs to the various offices in the Church’s hierarchy.8  His successors take this view, and noted that in his position the comparison is made between Mary’s sacerdotal role and that of ordained priests.

In the seventeenth century, Salazar and other Spanish theologians compare her role with that of the Christ and identify it with her redemptive mission.9  In the same century, another line of thought associated with Berulle and the French School of Spirituality appeared, and continued throughout the eighteenth century.  While its inspiration originates in the Spanish school, this new line of thought overshadows Salazar’s interpretation, due principally to Olier and the seminary of St. Sulpice.  In the French School, Mary was invoked and contemplated as the model of the priest, and honored as “Virgo Sacerdos, the Virgin Priest.”10

In the nineteenth century, the Marian writings of the early decades are vacuous and sentimental.  By the middle of the century, a rebirth is detected.  Theologians began to restore to Mariology its theological content, and to connect again with the movements of the seventeenth century.  Once again, mediation, co-redemption and the sacerdotal aspect of Mary’s mission gain ascendancy in their studies.11

Around 1870, the idea of living as a victim began to gain popularity among a number of generous souls, especially women religious, who proposed to assist the priests through their prayers and sacrifices.  They thought naturally of Mary praying and offering herself for and with her son, and they loved to consider her as their sacerdotal virgin or the virgin Priest.  This devotion aroused great enthusiasm, and was at times expressed in formulas scarcely theological.12

In 1873, Blessed Pius IX approved a book written by Msgr. van den Berghe entitled Mary and the Priesthood.  In it, the author employs the term “Virgin Priest.”  The Pope justified its use by the fact of Mary’s role in the sacrifice of Jesus as divini sacrificii socia.  In 1906, St. Pius X granted an indulgence for a prayer containing the invocation, “Mary, Virgin Priest, pray for us.”  Pius X explained this designation by stating, with St. Antonius of Florence, that, although Mary had never received the sacrament of Holy Orders, she nevertheless possesses as much dignity and grace as are found in the priesthood.

But during the reign of Pius X, the Holy Office issued a decree stating that “the representation of Mary clothed in sacerdotal vestments was disapproved.”  In reality, the representation in question was that of an orante, which some persons mistook for Mary vested as a priest.  In 1926-1927, the Holy Office again opposed the propagation of devotion to the “Virgin Priest.”  Even though only the picture and the spread of this devotion have been forbidden, Rome is evidently unfavorable to this title, since it might lead poorly-instructed Catholics to believe that Mary had received the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Yet these decrees of the Holy Office in no way affected the pronouncements of Popes Pius IX and Pius X that Mary was “an associate of the Divine Sacrifice,” and that she was enriched with “as much dignity and grace as are found in the priesthood.”13

These interventions by Rome are rather negative, because, from the viewpoint of the sacerdotal quality of Mary’s functions, they determine what the Blessed Virgin is not; namely the equivalent of an ordained priest.  On the positive side, the exact notion of what the sacerdotal quality of her activity is continues to be the topic of theological discussions.  Progress can be noted in a clear understanding of this question.

The search for what is properly sacerdotal in Mary’s mission must be directed to an immediate examination of two of Mary’s prerogatives: that she is the Mother of Christ, our High Priest, and that she is an associate of Christ, our High Priest, in his sacrifice.



3 Responses to The Priesthood of Mary

  1. Lady.Rosary says:

    Mary had a vital role and huge mission on her hand, whether ordained or not. She definitely served duties related to priestly functions but more importantly, she was the great mother who performed multiple tasks for history.

  2. Peter Wolczuk says:

    This reminds me of something I read in a book (The Left Hand of God by Adolf Holl)
    Seems like a literary effort with a potential for controversy and has conclusions in it which seem to me to lack quite enough data but which I only took “as written” and neither accepted nor rejected the conclusions.
    At any rate, the author tells of Mary travelling to Greece (the Island of Patmos if I recall correctly) for an evangelical mission and, when she arrived, a statue of Z**s burst immediately into fragments. I haven’t yet gotten around to checking other sources for verification (or not) of this event and I am wondering if anyone reading my reply may know more. If I’ve got it right the island is the place where John the Apostle spent his final days after his miraculous deliverance from attempted execution by being boiled in oil.
    But back to the book, it still feels interesting how I came upon it. Last February I was walking past a Salvation Army thrift store and felt an overwhelming desire to go in. Since my finances were a bit strained at the time I almost walked by but, decided to go in and take a look anyway.
    The first thing of interest which I saw was a used copy of the book (The Left Hand of God) prominently displayed and for a very economical price. Deciding that I could afford it I bought it and found at least some good stuff in there.
    As an aside, Christmas is nearing and that reminds me that a Christmas poem has come to me this year, as in a few previous years (except for the year when I expected one – which may have been a needed lesson in humility) so I will post it for the benefit of those who create their own greeting cards and who may wish to use it;

    We wake up on Christmas Morning
    To gifts in a sock or under a tree
    But the greatest Gift was in a stable
    Destined for a tree at Calvary.

  3. Tim says:

    Mary was after all unique, as a mother, in being able to look up at the crucified and say, “This is my body.”

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