How Can Catholics Understand Mother Mary as Co-Redemptrix?

As my family and I get ready for the Holy Week, I admit, this year has been one of the busiest and the most disturbing Lenten season ever. Nevertheless, when we enter into the Holy week, I suppose we all strive to find more of what we are looking for in the divine magisterium of the Catholic Church. We look out for answers as to why the people commemorated the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem on a donkey, shouting out “Hosanna” and five days’ later yelling “Crucify Him.” What a contradiction and anguish!

Sadly, this is the same state of perplexity and contradiction many of us Catholics, find ourselves in, in relation to the traditional teachings of the Church vis-a-vis the recent discussion on the news media questioning Mother Mary’s role in redemption. The discussion doing its round specifically focusses on whether Mother Mary is a Co-Redemptrix, a title which has been historically bestowed on the Mother of God. Albeit the Church stance on the subject matter is clear, I believe the ongoing debate revolving Our Lady’s role as a co-redemptrix places the Catholic laity totally in bewilderment.

As far as I am aware, the history of the Church is rife with Mother Mary’s epithets and titles that have been used by Popes down the ages. In his compilation on the‘Church Teaching on Mary’s Cooperation in the Redemption of Mankind’, Father William Most very impressively illustrates how the Mariology of the Popes evidenced that Our Lady is clearly a co-redemptrix. By the divine plan, the piece indicates, Mother Mary ‘began to watch over the Church, so to be present to us and to favor us as Mother, that she who had been the minister of accomplishing the mystery of human redemption’. Fr Most refers to various Encyclicals right from Leo XIII’s lucunda Semperthere stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, who, in a miracle of charity, so that she might receive us as her sons, offered generously to Divine Justice her own Son, and died in her heart with Him, stabbed with the sword of sorrow.’ Additionally, the Encyclical cites St. Bernardine of Siena expression “Every grace granted to man has three degrees in order; for by God it is communicated to Christ, from Christ it passes to the Virgin, and from the Virgin it descends to us.”

Father Most’s compilation below of Encyclicals and Apostolic letters that Popes over the centuries have used reflect either the term Co-Redemptrix and or points out to Mother Mary’s intimate role associated with Redemption.

  • Leo XIII, Encyclical, Iucunda Semper, Sept 8, 1884. ASS 27. 178.
  • Leo XIII, Encyclical, Adiutricem populi, Sept. 5, 1895. ASS 28. 130-31.
  • St. Pius X, Encyclical, Ad diem illum, Feb. 2, 1904, ASS 36. 453-55.
  • Benedict XV, Epistle, Admodum probatur, June 20, 1917. AAS 10. 182.
  • Pius XI, Apostolic Letter, Explorata res est. Feb. 2, 1923. AAS 15. 104.
  • Pius XI, Encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, May 8, 1928. AAS 20. 178.
  • Pius XI, Radiomessage to Lourdes, April 28, 1935. Osservatore Romano, April 29, 1935.
  • Pius XII, Encyclical, On the Mystical Body, June 29, 1943. AAS 35. 247.
  • Pius XII, Radiomessage to Fatima, May13, 1946, AAS 38. 266.
  • Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, Nov. 1, 1950. AAS 42.768.
  • Pius XII, Encyclical, Fulgens corona, Sept. 8, 1953. AAS 45. 583.
  • Pius XII, Encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam, Oct. 11, 1954. AAS 46. 634-35.
  • John XXIII, Radiomessage to Eucharistic Congress of Italy at Catana, Sept. 13, 1959. AAS 51. 714.
  • John XXIII, Homily for the Canonization of St. Peter Julian Eymard. Dec. 9, 1962. AAS 65. 10.
  • Vatican II, Constitution on the Church, #58, #61.
  • John Paul II. Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, March 25, 1987. AAS 79. 382. 83. Vatican Press Translation.

And indeed our Mother, free from the taint of original sin was chosen to be the Mother of His only-begotten Son. A dogmatic proclamation preceding all Encyclicals related to our blessed ever-virginal Immaculate Mary was made in 1854 by Pope Pius IX via Ineffabilis Deus – the apostolic constitution defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.

These truths, so generally accepted and put into practice by the faithful, indicate how zealously the Catholic Church, has continually educated her flock on the doctrinal teaching of the Immaculate Conception and her part in the redemption. For instance, Pope Pius XI in his 1928 Encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, unequivocally states:

May the kindly Virgin Mother of God be present and smile on these our prayers and undertakings, who, since she brought forth Jesus the Redeemer, fed Him, offered Him as a victim at the cross, by her hidden union with Christ, and an altogether singular grace from Him, was likewise the Reparatrix, and is devoutly called that.

Similarly, in a radio message to pilgrims in Lourdes, on April 28, 1935, Pius XI, makes it even clearer:

‘O Mother of piety and mercy, who as Coredemptrix stood by your most sweet Son suffering with Him when He consummated the redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross … preserve in us, we beg, day by day, the precious fruits of the Redemption and of your compassion’.

As we move down the 20th century, Pius XII’s Encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam, concludes that ‘…  … that just as Christ, the New Adam should be called King not only because He is the Son of God, but also because He is our Redeemer, so by a certain analogy, the most Blessed Virgin is Queen, not only because she is the Mother of God, but also because as the New Eve she was associated with the New Adam’ meaning – this is ‘an effective and active cooperation in generating the title for the Redemption’ as Fr Most aptly puts it.

Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, the renowned French cleric and Marianologist has several notable works dedicated to Our Lady and Mother, most protuberant being ‘True Devotion to Mary’ where our Lady is bestowed the title Co-Redemptrix by participating in the redemption by sharing in the suffering of her Son on the cross. Drawing parallels with Montfort, Pope John XXIII’s homily for the canonization of St. Peter Julian Eymard shows how Mother Mary was intimately associated in the Redemption ‘… in the eternal plans of the Most High, Our Lady, as Severianus of Gabala sang, is the mother of salvation, the fountain of light made visible.

According to Edward D. O’Connor, most of the recent popes have been very devoted to Mary, but none has promoted this devotion as strongly and insistently as John Paul II, whom Francis himself canonised in 2014 did not hesitate to call Mary “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater. So much was his belief that the Mother of God is closely linked to our redemption that on his pastoral visits, Karol Józef Wojtyła (St John Paul II) regularly consecrated to our beloved Mother, the nation he was visiting. It has been noted that Mexico, Poland, Ireland, the United States, Zaire, Ghana, Brazil, Germany, the Philippines, all of Asia, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Argentina, Spain, Honduras, Central America, Haiti, France and Austria benefited from this grace.

In this Homily on 1st May 2014, St Jose Maria Escriva said ‘Mary continually builds the Church and keeps it together. It is difficult to have devotion to our Lady and not feel closer to the other members of the mystical body and more united to its visible head, the pope. That’s why I like to repeat: All with Peter to Jesus through Mary! By seeing ourselves as part of the Church and united to our brothers in the faith, we understand more deeply that we are brothers of all mankind, for the Church has been sent to all the peoples of the earth.

As much as we are convinced that Her Immaculate Heart will triumph against all odds, the current dangerous situation of perplexity and despair that we find ourselves in is a grim reminder that we could so easily tread to an apocalyptic doctrinal crisis if we do not beseech her intervention. In her confidence therefore, I would like to conclude with a prayer St Escriva used to so commonly say ‘We gather under your protection, holy Mother of God. Do not reject the prayers we say to you in our need, but save us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.’

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