Mary is the mercy of God.
On the 8th December, we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God as well as the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
At first glance, it’s hard to see any super obvious connection between Mary and mercy. I mean, if this was a Marian year, sure, that would make sense. Or if the Year of Mercy began on Divine Mercy Sunday, that would be a neat and tidy fit.
But things are rarely that simple (or, let’s be honest, that boring). By pushing the Immaculate Conception and the Year of Mercy together like an odd couple, we see both a bit clearer. It encourages us to think harder about both Mary and mercy.
The Most Perfect Example of Mercy
Who would you say the perfect example of God’s mercy is?
My first instinct is to go to the most miserable sinner. The Prodigal Son or the Thief on the Cross, perhaps? Maybe a saint with a dramatic conversion story or a sordid past: St Paul, St Mary Magdalene or St Augustine.
But no, the perfect example of God’s mercy isn’t any wastrel, desperado or miscreant. It’s our immaculate Mother.
Mary is the model of God’s mercy.
To really get this, we need to remember that for us, the love and mercy of God are the same thing. One of my favourite prayers is the ending of the Divine Mercy Chaplet:
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion, inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
I love that line, “Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.” It’s a reminder that Love and Mercy are two sides of the same coin. Our Lord told St Faustina,
Tell My daughter, that I am Love and Mercy itself. (Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1074)
Love and Mercy, God’s greatest attributes, unites the creature with the Creator. (Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, 181) It is in mercy specifically, that the misery of the sinner meets the love of God. Mercy is simply love towards sinful creatures.
Think about it. When the Father loves the Son, that’s not mercy. That is justice because only God is truly worthy of love of God. Only God love infinitely in response to infinite love. But when the Father extends His merciful gaze to His creatures, things He made simply out of that infinite love, that is mercy.
In this sense, our Blessed Mother is the perfect example of mercy. Jesus Christ is the revelation of that same mercy — He is the Merciful One. But Mary is what mercy received looks like. To put it another way, Jesus is Mercy the verb, the One who has mercy to give, but Mary is Mercy the noun, the one to whom mercy is most perfectly given.
In her, God’s merciful love is most deeply rooted; she is the one who is filled with His merciful grace. She was closest, in every sense, to the Cross where the mystery of God’s mercy triumphed. She is the one who submitted most perfectly to His holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
Mary, the Vessel of Mercy
Mary “obtained mercy”, said St John Paul II, “in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has.” (Dives in Misericordia, 1980, §9)
She received the fullness of God’s mercy by her Immaculate Conception. She was, from the first moment of her existence, protected and preserved from original sin. Her Immaculate Conception doesn’t mean she didn’t need God’s mercy, it means that she has received God’s mercy completely.
No part of her life, no moment of her existence, was apart from the loving mercy of her Redeemer-God. If mercy is an ocean, Mary is immersed in it. In this ocean of mercy, she’s the humpback anglerfish, one of those weird deep-sea fish who live so deep below, they come with their own lighting. Except she’s less ugly. (Quite a bit less ugly.)
Mary, the Mediatrix of Mercy
But it didn’t end there. Mary wasn’t just the vessel of mercy, but the channel of mercy to the world. She isn’t just an fish deep in the ocean, she’s the river network, the delta systems, the Panama Canal. She’s the one through whom the Mercy of God flows to the otherwise-parched world.
Mary is the co-mediatrix of God’s mercy in the world. She gave her free yes to God’s will through her whole life, but particularly at the Incarnation and at the foot of the Cross. She was the means by which Mercy, the Love of God towards sinners in Jesus Christ, entered the world.
St John Paul II wrote,
Her sacrifice is a unique sharing in the revelation of mercy… No one has experienced, to the same degree as the Mother of the crucified One, the mystery of the cross, the overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that “kiss” given by mercy to justice. No one has received into his heart, as much as Mary did, that mystery, that truly divine dimension of the redemption effected on Calvary by means of the death of the Son, together with the sacrifice of her maternal heart, together with her definitive “fiat.” Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. (Dives in Misericordia, 1980, §9)
Mary, the Model of Mercy
If mercy is God’s love for His creatures, then Mary is what mercy looks like at its fullest. Mary is the creature to whom grace and mercy has been given most completely. It is her perfect creatureliness that makes the mercy of the Creator so magnificent. As she herself sings (Luke 1:46-49)
My souls magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…
for ge who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
In that sense, Mary looks like mercy because she has been completely transformed by Mercy. She is the daughter of Mercy who has become the Mother of Mercy.
St Paul might have called himself “the foremost of sinners” (1 Ti 1:15) but it is Mary who is the model of Mercy. She is the creature filled with the mercy of God.
Mary is mercy.
Image: Martino Altomonte, The Immaculate Conception, 1719 (National Gallery of Slovenia)