Scripture makes very clear that Jesus Christ is our savior. He is both first cause of our salvation as God, and instrumental cause in his human nature. Thus, in 1 Timothy 2:5, St. Paul describes Christ in his human nature as the “one mediator between God and men,” while Titus 2:13 calls him “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 7:23-25 uses the term “intercessor” as a synonym for mediator and adds the fact that Jesus Christ is our savior in just those few short verses. We could say that if 1 Timothy 2:5 calls Christ our one intercessor, Hebrews reveals that intercession in action:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but [Christ] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:24-25).
Christ is our unique intercessor, saving our souls in the process. But is that the end of the story?
Even though Jesus Christ is our unique savior/mediator/intercessor, Paul clearly urges all Christians to be “intercessors” in Christ as well.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-3).
How can this be?
One biblical way of understanding this is to consider the Church as the body of Christ, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. So intimate is the relationship between Christ and his Church that he could say to Paul before his conversion, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 22:7). In Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul tells us that the Church is Christ, extended in this world:
[A]nd [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Thus, in numerous verses Scripture makes very clear that although Jesus Christ is our savior, God gave the Church a secondary causal role to play in salvation. Each member must cooperate with God’s grace and in so doing participate in his own salvation while contributing to the salvation of the souls of others. For example:
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some (1 Cor. 9:22).
Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them (Rom. 11:13-14).
Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor. 7:16).
(See also Jude 22-23, 1 Tim. 4:16, James 5:19-20, Rev. 19:7-8, Col. 1:24, 2 Cor. 1:6.)
St. Paul also describes this dynamic using a farming metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth… For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field.
Christians are empowered by grace to “plant the seeds” of the gospel and to “water the soil,” while God alone “brings the increase” in the process of salvation. All three are essential to the process—even to the point that Paul can refer to Christians as God’s sunergoi, or “co-laborers” in bringing people to the Faith. In that sense, all Christians are “co-redeemers” with Christ.
If all Christians are called to “save souls” in that secondarily causal way, how could we not include the Mother of God among them? And indeed we must. But with Mary we see a unique calling among all of the people of God. Whereas all other members of the body of Christ are called to cooperate with God’s grace in the saving of the souls of friends, loved ones, people with whom they come into contact with, etc., Mary alone was called to bring the entire Christ to the entire world. Thus, she alone was called to save the entire world in cooperation with her Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
At the Annunciation, in Luke 1:31-45, Mary is revealed to be the one and only human instrument through whom Jesus Christ, our Savior, would come into the world. The Incarnation was a unique event, and Mary was the only human person involved. No other human but Mary contributed to Jesus’ human nature.
It does not take intellectual rigor to understand that Mary’s fiat (Latin for “let it be done”) signals that she was free in her response to the angel. The implications of this are staggering: when Mary said “let it be,” she gave God free rein to come into the world and save us. This is a textbook definition of Mary as co-redemptrix. She cooperated with God’s grace in the redemption of the whole world.
The wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) is also full of meaning here. There is much more to this text than we have space here to consider, but let us consider first the scriptural references revealing that, as the New Adam and the New Eve, Jesus and Mary recapitulate all that was lost in the Garden of Eden. And then, let us focus on the Marian emphases that are specific to salvation.
St. John begins his Gospel with words that anyone familiar with the Old Testament would connect with Genesis 1: “In the beginning was the Word.” It is no coincidence also that John sets the wedding feast on “day seven” of seven conspicuous “days” he lays out in John 1-2. Hearkening back to the seven days of the first creation, day 1 goes from 1:6-28. Day 2 runs from 29-34. Day 3 from 35-42. Day 4 from 43 through 51. And then, day seven begins in 2:1 as “the third day” after the fourth day, wherein Jesus would begin his ministry that would “make all things new,” or bring about “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1, 5).
Jesus uses the term woman for his mother (John 2:4), which is a reference to Mary as the prophetic woman of Genesis 3:15 and Jeremiah 31:22. And through Mary’s intercession, Jesus performs his first sign, and manifests his glory as the Messiah, the anointed one of God. The New Eve is integral to the mission of the New Adam.
Because of the work done through Mary’s intercession, the text says, the disciples believed in Jesus. Thus, Mary is not only instrumental in “giving birth” to Christ’s ministry in which he would “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5), but also in “giving birth” to the disciples’ faith—a faith apart from which it is “impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6).
Mary intercedes for the people at the wedding feast, the members of which symbolize the entire people of God—who, elsewhere in John’s writing, are invited to a much greater “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7-9).
Finally, Jesus’s first sign, or miracle, as a result of Mary’s intercession, is the transformation of “six stone jars” of purification waters—these would be the baptismoi, or baptismal waters of the Old Covenant—into wine, a prophetic symbol of New Covenant perfection. There is no separating Mary from the ministry of her son inaugurating the New Covenant from its beginning to the very end, as we will see when we get to the crucifixion in John 19.
In Luke 2:34-35, the prophet Simeon tells us that “the sign of contradiction,” the cross, was set to be the sign of salvation for “many” (or “all”—the two word are used synonymously in the New Testament) in Israel. But in the same breath he reveals that a sword will pierce Mary’s soul as well. Why? So that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. Jesus and Mary would suffer so that the same “many” would be saved!
In John 19, when from the cross Jesus tells his beloved disciple to take Mary as his mother, we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. On a natural level we know that no one suffers as a mother does when her child suffers. But given the gift of grace and the resulting knowledge of Christ that she surely had, Mary must have suffered more than any human person has ever or will ever suffer. Though her pains were not bodily, they were more intense than any of us are capable of feeling because none of us could ever love as she loved.
It was at the foot of the cross, in that holy hour of her immeasurable suffering, that Jesus gave Mary to be the spiritual mother of John, thus connecting her suffering even more clearly to the redemption of souls. And the Beloved Disciple confirms for us “at the back of the book” that he stands in for all Christians—to the whole Church. For in Revelation 12:17, John affirms that Mary is not only his own spiritual mother and the mother of Jesus, but the mother of all “who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.”