Five cardinals, with the support of a number of cardinals and bishops throughout the world and throughout the years, have sought to dogmatically define the spiritual motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary as mother of all humanity. The Church has long taught that Mary is the Mater Dolorosa (Suffering Mother), Co-redemptrix with Christ (“co” meaning with, not equal to), Mediatrix of all graces (because all grace comes through Christ, and Christ comes through Mary), and Advocate (because she prays for each of her children).

Additionally, to bolster our excitement at the actions of the Cardinals and the papal message from the World Day of the Sick, we receive the following news. Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragán stated in a Feb. 11 homily from St. Peter’s in the Vatican that the Mother of God is “corredentrice” with the Savior, the Italian word for Co-redemptrix.

The reason for our encouragement is fourfold.  First, consider the location of the quote; second, consider the date of the quote. This is no passing comment.  This quote, which was first reported on Vatican Information Services, fell on not any ordinary day and not in any ordinary place.  Cardinal Lozano Barragán made this comment in a homily in the Vatican Basilica, St. Peter’s, on the sesquicentennial of the apparitions at Lourdes.

Thirdly, consider the inner unity of Cardinal Lozano Barragán’s Feb. 11 message with the message Pope Benedict XVI had pre-released for Feb. 11.  The cardinal’s homily is a reflection of the papal message for the day.  Both emphasize the co-suffering of Christ and his Mother.  Both emphasize the co-suffering of the Blessed Mother of God with believers.

Finally, consider the proximity of the use of the term to the recent Cardinal-Bishop petition drive.  It is difficult to assert that the public use of the term “Corredentrice” is somehow mutually exclusive from a worldwide petition drive for the Fifth Marian Dogma that five cardinals initiated a mere six weeks prior.

This is indeed great cause for our encouragement since much ecumenical controversy has encompassed the term in recent decades.

Catholics should be well acquainted with the four dogmatic teachings on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She is 1) Mother of God (solemnly defined in the 5th century); 2) Perpetually Virgin (solemnly defined in the 7th century); 3) Immaculate Conception (solemnly defined in the 19th century); and 4) Assumed into Heaven (solemnly defined in the 20th century). Now, these were all defined over the course of the history of the Church, but these were all real truths about the Blessed Virgin during her lifetime.

Even more than being truths about Mary, these are truths about her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Each one teaches us many things about the person of her Son. Many, even in our time, have tried to say that Christ is only a man. Mary’s divine maternity affirms the union of the two natures in the one person of Christ. Mary’s perpetual virginity fulfills the prophecy of Christ’s messiahship from Isaiah. Mary’s Immaculate Conception teaches us that Christ, who received his flesh from the Virgin unstained by sin, is the unblemished lamb of sacrifice capable of atoning for our sins. Mary’s Assumption teaches us that Christ reigns in heaven over all that he has made with his Queen at his right hand.

But this is not all the Catholic Church teaches about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Truth be told, Catholics who ask, “what do we have to believe about Mary,” are asking the wrong question. This is not a question that reflects the dignity of the person of Mary or the truth about what is dogma. We must instead ask, “what has the Church always taught us about Mary that I may know my heavenly Mother and Queen.”

In addition to the four dogmas listed above, the following are doctrinal teachings of the Church, which Catholics must also believe.

Advocacy: The earliest recorded (which means practice predates the recording) prayer we have to the Blessed Virgin is the Sub Tuum Praesidium in the 3rd century. So Mary is seen as Advocate in heaven. This is not to diminish the one advocacy of the Holy Spirit of God, but rather human participation in it.

Mediation: Though Paul states that there is one mediator, Christ, he then in the same epistle asks for prayers. Why? Why not just ask Christ, Paul? Perhaps we misunderstand what St. Paul teaches us about mediation. The Church has always taught that the Blessed Virgin mediates grace to Christians. The all-holy Blessed Virgin does this in a preeminent way in heaven. Just as all grace and truth comes through Christ, Christ came through Mary. Hence, from Mary come all grace and truth because this is God’s desire and free initiative. Here again, we have human participation in the mediation of grace.

Coredemption: The same Apostle states in Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). How can there be any lacking in Christ’s afflictions? The will of each individual member of the body of Christ is that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. If he is the head of his body, the Church, he suffers for each member. And each member must unite his will to Christ’s to suffer for the sake of the body. Christ is the one who is head over his body, so this is all Christ’s work, but Christians are called to engage in the work of redemption, to “work out salvation.” So we have the one Redemption of Christ, and the human participation in redemption. To see Mary’s role in redemption, we need only look to the Blessed Mother in Scripture. She gives Christ his flesh, which he uses to sacrifice. So the flesh he offers in sacrifice is the flesh she offered him in her “yes” (fiat). She suffers with Christ at the foot of the Cross. Every Friday during Lent, we pray the stations, singing to the Blessed Mother along the way. She gave birth to us in her sufferings. We know that her sufferings are redemptive, not to take away from Christ’s redemption, but redemption by human participation in his one redemption.

All of this news enriches our Lenten journey. Are not the Stations of the Cross a perfect picture of true devotion to Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate? I do believe that her secondary but powerful presence in the Stations has done much to bring Catholics closer to God throughout the years. The suffering mother brings us directly to the Cross, the source of all grace and redemption, just as she will with the proclamation of this dogma.

So we have three doctrinal truths that all hinge on participation in some divine reality. This definition will help foster a better understanding of these three realities—advocacy, mediation, and redemption, but particularly, I think, redemption. We are ever plagued by the temptation to say, humanity can do nothing to bring about its own salvation. However, man did do something in redemption. Christ, the New Adam, saved the first disobedient Adam through his obedience. But Christ is only man by the “yes” of a woman. And on the hill of Calvary, Christ is not only sacrificed, but freely given by both God the Father and Mary his mother. Truly, on the hill of Calvary, God and man share in the one redemptive sacrifice of Christ. And in making this offering of her Son in a way that no other human begin could, Mary, the New Eve, “became the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race,” as St. Irenaeus says and the Second Vatican Council confirms in Lumen Gentium.

Let us also briefly mention St. Paul’s words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body” (Heb 13:3). Being “in the body,” though separate in space, enables coredemption through this mysterious communion with the suffering. The Apostle understands well the goodness of coredemption—making up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. This understanding needs to be brought more to the fore in our time.

Some may argue that dogmas destroy the mystery of the faith. Many in our culture use “dogma” as a pejorative. Politicians and pundits frequently use “dogmatic” to refer to blind faith. But this is a most unfortunate (and un-Catholic) perspective on dogma. In reality, the goodness of dogma is quite simple. Without a metaphysical understanding of the union between truth and beauty, a proper perspective on dogma is lost.

Very simply:
God is truth existentially; God is beauty existentially; Hence, all truth is beauty.
Dogmas magnify truth; Hence, dogmas magnify beauty.

Surely this would be a monumental event in Church history. And, since dogma is truth and truth is beauty, this would be good for ecumenism as well. After all, the “end” of ecumenism is the common pursuit of the one who is the Truth. This will open major doors for dialogue.

I will be praying for this this Lent.

Happy Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary) of Our Lady of Lourdes!

Kevin Clarke is a graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The preceding article was excerpted from his blog, The Charcoal Fire.