Q: Can Mary be regarded as priest? What is meant by Mary's priestly role? 

A: Catholic theology indicates that Mary participates in a secondary manner in the mediation of Christ, meaning that she also participates in his priesthood. This sacerdotal quality of her mission is a function of being Mother of the Messiah, an integral part of her mission.

Little has been written on this subject, but there is ample basis for this truth in Catholic tradition. Two good sources of information are Marie, l' Eglise , et le Sacerdoce by Rene Laurentin, and Marie et Notre Sacerdoce by Emile Neubert, S.M. They clearly elaborate that Mary is the Mother and Associate of Christ the Priest.

By the Middle Ages this idea was in the works, and St. Bernard in the twelfth century has already clearly expressed it. In the next century the writing of an unidentified Pseudo-Albert (originally thought to be St. Albert the Great) proposed the concept of socia Christi, Associate of Christ, in all its fullness. By the seventeenth century the Spanish and French schools of spirituality expanded the concept. By the next century the French school, influenced strongly by J-J Olier, invoked Mary as the model of the priest and honored her as Virgo sacerdos, Virgin Priest.

Pius X approved a prayer based on Epiphanius' expression sacerdos pariter et altare, which concludes with the invocation Maria Virgo sacerdos, ora pro nobis. The prayer had been requested by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Pope specified that although Mary had not received the sacrament of priestly ordination, she was endowed with its grace and dignity (AAS 40, 1909, 109).

To avoid misunderstandings and ambiguities, the cardinals of the Inquisition in 1913 proscribed representations of Mary in priestly garb and/or liturgical vestments (AAS 8, 1916, 146). In 1927, the Holy Office further proscribed devotion(s) centered on the title Virgo Sacerdos, and the prayer mentioned above was withdrawn. These events triggered an animated theological discussion which peaked in the 40s and 50s. The majority of theologians hold that Mary as well as the faithful really and truly participate in the sacrifice of Christ. Mary's universal priesthood, however, is of a qualitatively superior nature since she is the Mother of God (Theotokos) and New Eve. At the same time, the universal priesthood needs to be differentiated from the hierarchical and sacramental priesthood.

Christ is a priest in virtue of his human nature, united to his divine nature. Christ received his human nature from Mary, thus establishing the Son of God as our High Priest. What enabled Christ to be our High Priest is the humanity he received from his Mother. If Mary had refused the invitation of Gabriel, the Son of God would still be our God and Creator, but not our Savior and our Priest. Mary is the socia Christi given to Christ as a helper like to himself. Consequently this office of the Virgin Mother refers to the priesthood of Christ and not to the ministry of ordained priests. Mary was chosen from the human race to be associated with Christ in the work of our Redemption. She contributed through him and with him to reconciliation with God and the securing of grace for us by her presence at the foot of the cross (material element), and by her abandonment of her maternal rights over the body of Jesus and by the union of her will and her sufferings with the will and sufferings of her Son in his sacrifice (spiritual element).

Therefore, her cooperation can certainly be called sacerdotal, in a spiritual and symbolic way.

Unfortunately, modern languages do not have a suitable term to express this clearly.

[For a fuller treatment of this idea, see "Mary's Sacerdotal Role" by John M. Samaha, S.M., in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, December 1999, pp. 10-17.]


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