The Holy Spirit and Mary

Letter of Pope Paul VI to Cardinal Léon Josef Suenens on the Occasion of the International Marian Congress May 13, 1975

[In this letter, dated May 13, 1975, to Cardinal Suenens, president of the International Mariological Congress in Rome, Pope Paul VI emphasized the need to couple devotion to the Virgin Mary with devotion to the Holy Spirit in these critical times. Italian text in L'Osservatore Romano, May 19-20, 1975.]

WITH GREAT CONFIDENCE and heartfelt joy We greet the participants in the International Marian Congress which the Pontifical International Marian Academy has launched and organized. The theme of the Congress not only fits in admirably with the various celebrations of this Jubilee Year; it also adds its own special charm.

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The Holy Year calls us to interior purification and progress on the path of holiness. May we not expect that a deeper understanding of the pure and holy interior bonds which linked and still link the Virgin Mary to the Holy Spirit in the work of man's redemption will have very fruitful results not only for the development of Catholic dogma and theology but also for increased devotion both to the Holy Spirit and to her who is Mother of God and Mother of the Church?

The Holy Spirit First, Mary Second

Catholic theology, as we all know, has in modern times intensively studied those truths concerning Mary which are contained in Sacred Scripture and divine tradition. It has endeavored to understand the content of these truths and to show their salutary effects. This very praiseworthy and fruitful effort has not, however, obscured the greater importance of the faith and worship which the entire Church offers to the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the Quicumque creed: "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have one godhead, equal glory, and co-eternal majesty."(1) This proper scale of values is evident in the liturgy which is the authentic and most accessible expression of faith and Christian piety, according to the well-known principle that the rule of prayer manifests the rule of faith.(2)

The Holy Spirit and Mary

The Catholic Church has always believed, moreover, that when the Holy Spirit intervened in a personal way (even though inseparably from the other Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity) in the work of man's salvation,(3) he made the humble Virgin of Nazareth his associate in that work. The Church has also maintained that the Holy Spirit acted therein in a manner consistent with his proper character as Personal Love of the Father and Son. That is, he acted with both infinite power and infinite gentleness in perfectly adapting the person of Mary and her dynamic powers of body and spirit to the role assigned her in the plan of redemption.(4)

This belief has arisen from an ever deeper and clearer understanding of the sacred texts. On the basis of it, the Fathers and Doctors of the eastern and western Churches have attributed to the various missions of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, the fullness of grace and charity, of gifts and fruits of virtue, of evangelical beatitudes and special charisms which, like a trousseau for a heavenly marriage, adorned the predestined mystical Spouse of the divine Paraclete and the Mother of God's Word made flesh. It is precisely because of her privileges and the exceptional gifts of grace which the Holy Spirit gave her that Mary is saluted in the liturgy as "Temple of the Lord" and "Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit."

The Holy Spirit's action in the soul of Mary

It will therefore be a source of great spiritual strength for us if we dwell for a while in joyful contemplation of the Holy Spirit's chief actions in her whom God chose for his mother.

It was the Holy Spirit who filled Mary with grace in the very first moment of her conception, thus redeeming her in a more sublime way in view of the merits of Christ, the Savior of mankind, and making her the Immaculate One.(5) It was the Holy Spirit who descended upon her, inspired her consent in the name of mankind to the virginal conception of the Son of the Most High and made her womb fruitful so that she might bring forth the Savior of her people and Lord of an imperishable kingdom.(6) It was the Holy Spirit who filled her soul with jubilant gratitude and moved her to sing the Magnificat to God her Savior.(7) It was the Holy Spirit who suggested to the Virgin that she faithfully remember the words and events connected with the birth and childhood of her only Son, events in which she played such an intimate, loving part.(8)

Public life of Jesus

It was the Holy Spirit who urged the compassionate Mary to ask her Son for that miraculous change of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana, which marked the beginning of Jesus' activity as a wonder worker and led his disciples to believe in him.(9) It was the Holy Spirit who strengthened the soul of the Mother of Jesus as she stood beneath the cross, and inspired her once again, as he had at the Annunciation, to consent to the will of the heavenly Father who wanted her to be associated as a mother with the sacrifice her Son was offering for mankind's redemption.(10) It was the Holy Spirit who filled the Sorrowful Mother with immense love, widening and deepening her heart, as it were, so that she might accept as a last testament from the lips of her Son her maternal mission with regard to John, the beloved disciple (11): a mission which, "as the Church has always understood it,"(12) prefigured her spiritual motherhood toward mankind as a whole.

It was the Holy Spirit who raised Mary on the burning wings of love so that she might be a model intercessor during those hours in the Supper Room when the disciples of Jesus "together ... devoted themselves to constant prayer" along with "some women ... and Mary the mother of Jesus,"(13) and waited for the promised Paraclete. Finally, it was the Holy Spirit who brought love to its supreme pitch in the soul of Mary while she was still a pilgrim on earth and made her yearn for reunion with her glorified Son. The Holy Spirit thereby disposed her for her crowning privilege: her Assumption body and soul into heaven, according to the dogmatic definition which, as we recall with deep emotion, was pronounced twenty-five years ago this year.(14)

The Assumption did not, however, put an end to Mary's mission as associate of the Spirit of Christ in the mystery of salvation. Even though she is now absorbed in joyful contemplation of the Blessed Trinity, she continues to be spiritually present to all her redeemed children, being constantly inspired in this noble function by the Uncreated Love which is the soul of the Mystical Body and its ultimate source of life.

The continuous presence of Mary at the heart of the pilgrim Church has been confirmed by the Second Vatican Council. The Council states: "Mary's motherhood in the economy of grace goes on unceasingly. ... When she was assumed into heaven, she did not lay aside this salvific role; rather, by her constant intercession she continues to obtain for us the gifts of eternal salvation." (15)

Mary is Subordinate to Christ and the Spirit

It is therefore fitting and just that the holy Mother of God should continue to be called blessed by all generations,(16) as she has been since the earliest days of the Church,(17) and should be "invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and, Mediatrix."(18) But, as the Council prudently warns us: "This [invocation] is understood in such a way that it neither takes away from, nor adds to, the dignity and efficacy of Christ, the one Mediator."(19) It is also understood, we should add, in such a way that it does not detract from nor add to the dignity and efficacy of the Spirit who is the Sanctifier both of the Head and of the individual members of the Mystical Body.

The Testimony of the Fathers of the Church: St. Ephraem

We must therefore keep in mind that the activity of the Mother of the Church in behalf of the redeemed neither substitutes for nor rivals the omnipotent, universal action of the Spirit. Mary's role is rather to impetrate and prepare for the action of the Holy Spirit, not only through intercessory prayer that accords with the divine plan she contemplates in the beatific vision, but also through the direct influence of her example, including the supremely important example of her docility to the inspirations of the divine Spirit.(20) Thus, it is always in dependence on the Holy Spirit that Mary leads souls to Jesus, forms them in his image, inspires them with good counsel, and acts as a living bond of love between Jesus and the faithful.

By way of support for the reflections we have been offering, we may recall the testimony which the Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern Church, so exemplary in their faith and devotion to the Holy Spirit, have given to the faith and devotion of the Church to the Mother of Christ as Mediatrix of God's gifts. The statements of these writers may prove surprising, but they should upset no one, for they always presuppose, and at times explicitly affirm, the dependence of the Virgin's mediatorial activity on the activity of God's Spirit as its source. Thus, St. Ephraem, for example, exalts Mary in this unrestrained fashion: "Blessed is she who became the fountain of all blessings for the whole world,"(21) or, again: "Most holy Lady ... sole repository of all the graces of the Most Holy Spirit."(22)

St. John Chrysostom summed up Mary's part in our salvation with this striking encomium: "A virgin drove us from paradise; through the intervention of another virgin we have recovered eternal life. As we were condemned through the sin of one virgin, so we have received our crowns through the merits of another virgin."(23)

His statements are echoed in the eighth century by St. Germanus of Constantinople, who addressed Mary in these moving words: "Most chaste, good, and merciful Lady, strength of Christians ... shelter us under the wings of your loving-kindness. Intercede for us and protect us; win eternal life for us. You are the Christians' hope, and that hope will not be disappointed. ... Your favors are beyond counting. No one wins salvation except through you, Most Holy One; no one is freed from sin except through you. Who bestows such care upon mankind as you do in union with your only Son?"(24)

Pope Leo XIII

This traditional faith, shared by the eastern and western Churches alike, was authoritatively confirmed in the teaching of Our great predecessor, Leo XIII. He issued many encyclicals in order to foster devotion to the Mother of God, especially under the title of Queen of the Holy Rosary. But he also devoted an extensive, well-documented encyclical to the honor of the Holy Spirit (which is even more important than that of the Virgin) and the spread of devotion to him. (25)

At the present time, so critical for the Church and the destiny of mankind, when the interior renewal of Christians and their reconciliation with God and each other are an absolute necessity if the Church is to "exist in Christ as a sacrament or sign and an instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race,"(26) the faithful must cultivate an outstanding devotion to the Spirit as the supreme source of love, unity, and peace. At the same time, however, and in harmony with this first devotion which draws ever new strength from the fire of the Divine Love, the faithful should also be deeply devoted to the great Mother of God who is Mother of the Church and incomparable model of love for God and our brothers.


We recommend these thoughts to the loving meditation of the participants in the International Marian Congress. We ardently desire and pray for the success of the study sessions, which will be crowned, as is right, by manifestations of Christian solidarity in devotion to the holy Virgin. To you, Lord Cardinal, to the zealous President of the Pontifical International Marian Academy, to the speakers at the Congress, and to all participants in it, We impart Our Apostolic Blessing as the pledge of a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit's gifts and of the maternal protection of God's Mother.

(1) PL 88, 585.
(2) See Pius XII, Encyclical Mediator Dei, 20 November 1947: AAS 39 (1947), 541.
(3) See G. Philips, L'Union personnelle avec le Dieu vivant: Essai sur l'origine et le sens de las grce cre, Gembloux, 1974.
(4) See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II, qu. 27.
(5) See Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854, in DS, 32nd ed., Rome, 1963, 2803.
(6) (cf. Lk 1:35- 38)
(7) (cf. Lk 1:45- 55)
(8) (cf. Lk 2:19, 33, 51)
(9) (cf. Jn 2:11)
(10) (cf. Jn 19:25)
(11) (cf. Jn 19:26-27
(12) Leo XIII, Encyclical Adiutricem populi, 5 September 1985: Acta Leonis XIII XV, 302.
(13) (Acts 1:14)
(14) Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1 November 1950: AAS 42 (1950), 768.
(15) LG 62.
(16) (cf. Magnificat, Lk 1:48)
(17) Recall the antiphon Under your protection (Sub tuum praesidium).
(18) LG 62.
(19) Ibid.
(20) LG 63-65.
(21) St. Ephraem, Hymni et sermones, edited by Th. Lamy, Mechlin, 1882-1902, II, 548.
(22) St. Ephraem, Opera omnia: Graece et latine, edited by J. S. Assemani, Rome, 1732-1746, III, 524.
(23) St. John Chrysostom, Expositio in Psalmos 44, 7: PG 55, 193.
(24) St. Germanus of Constantinople, Concio in Sanctam Mariam: PG 98, 327.
(25) Leo XIII, Encyclical Divunum illud munus, 9 May 1897: Acta Leonis XIII XVLL, 126- 148.
(26) LG 1.

Source: Pope Paul VI, The Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin [Letter to Cardinal Léon Jozef Suenens], May 13, 1975, The Pope Speaks 19-20.


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