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Understanding the difference between an intercessor and a mediator

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Question: I was thinking about the Catholic/Protestant debate on whether or not Mary can be an intercessor for us to God. Protestants always say that Jesus is the only intercessor. But why do we even need Jesus as an intercessor? When he taught the disciples how to pray, he gave them the Our Father, which is a prayer directly to God the Father.

Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado

Answer: To be more specific, the term is “mediator” rather than “intercessor.” St. Paul writes: “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human” (1 Tim 2:5). A mediator does more than intercede. A mediator is a go-between, one who facilitates a relationship between two parties. St. Paul speaks to the sole and unique role that the Lord Jesus has in reopening the way to the heavenly Father; Jesus himself is that way. However, in a subordinate way, other people and things can and do mediate our relationship with God. Angels, as God’s messengers, act as a go-between, a mediator. Sacred Scripture mediates the message and truth of God in a written form. Jesus sent forth the apostles and evangelists and said to them: “Whoever listens to you listens to me” (Lk 10:16). St. Paul said of himself and his fellow apostles: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us” (2 Cor 5:20). The Lord also sets forth prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (cf. Eph 4:11) to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. And, since faith comes by hearing, St. Paul asks: “And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15). So, the Lord mediates his message and presence to us in ways such as this. While only Jesus can open the way to the Father’s heart, other mediation remains essential to God’s mission.

As for Jesus’ teaching on prayer, the Our Father ought not be reduced to going exclusively to the Father and eliminating any other intercession, even of Jesus himself! On countless occasions, Jesus made appeals that we should come to him, believe in him, call on him, and pray and ask in his name. Further, he taught that the Holy Spirit would come to us and lead us to the fullness of truth. Add to this how Scripture teaches that we should pray for one another and that we benefit from the prayers of others. All of this does not go away by one thing Jesus said; it must be balanced with all the things he said.

Raising Jesus from the dead

Question: In Romans, St. Paul writes, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (8:11). This struck me as inconsistent with what we believe — namely, that Christ raised himself from the dead. I’m sure there is a logical explanation to what looks like a contradiction. Please help me understand.

Jeannine Aucoin, Concord, New Hampshire

Answer: You are correct in noting that Scripture elsewhere attests to the fact that Jesus raised himself from death. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10:17-18). But, as you note, St. Paul speaks of God the Father raising Jesus from the dead, through the Holy Spirit.

The resolution of this seeming conflict is to recall that Jesus is one person with two natures. He has a divine nature and a human nature. In reference to his human nature, we can rightly speak of him as being raised from the dead by the Father through the Holy Spirit. However, in terms of his divine nature, it is proper to say that Jesus rises by his own power as God. Here, we must also recall that external acts of the Trinity are acts of all the members of the Trinity. There is one divine nature and one divine will, and no member of the Trinity acts apart from another. Hence, as man, Jesus is raised from the dead; as God, Jesus rose from death by his own divine power.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.

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