(Reprinted from National Catholic Register)
“Mary, the Immaculate Virgin of Nazareth, through her free and feminine ‘Yes,’ consented to the conception of [the] Divine Word in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus mediated the ‘one mediator’ (1 Timothy 2:5) to the world, bringing salvation to the human race.”
So begins “The Role of Mary in Redemption,” a document of the Theological Commission of the International Marian Association (IMA) requesting that Pope Francis publicly acknowledge and honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the “Co-Redemptrix with Jesus the Redeemer.”
This isn’t the first time the title has been used to describe Mary — St. John Paul II referred to her as “Co-Redemptrix” more than once. Nor is it the first time a request has been made for a papal statement on Marian co-redemption.
But this may be the ideal time for such a papal statement, says Robert Fastiggi, a professor of systematic theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary and a member of IMA’s Theological Commission.
“I really think a papal statement on Marian co-redemption would be opportune during the centenary of the Fatima apparitions,” Fastiggi told the Register.
In fact, the document itself describes the Marian apparitions at Fatima as “a powerful manifestation of Our Lady’s co-redemption in action.”
Mary’s Role in Redemption
How did the idea of Mary as Co-Redemptrix first come about?
“The teaching of Marian cooperation with Christ in the role of redemption is there in sacred Scripture,” explained Fastiggi.
“We need to see it through the eyes of faith.”
And, he added, Catholic teachings about Mary have not shied away from her active role in the redemption of mankind.
Lumen Gentium, for instance, states that Mary “devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under him and with him, by the grace of Almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption. Rightly, therefore, the holy fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience.”
If Vatican II’s constitution on the Church touched on Mary’s role in the great work of redemption, why request a papal statement now?
“Because there is a lot of confusion today,” said Fastiggi. “[Many Catholics] think Vatican II wanted to downplay Mary’s role in the redemption” of mankind.
In fact, even at Vatican II there was a movement to request a definition of the Blessed Mother as Co-Redemptrix — but it was not the intention of the Council to give a complete teaching on Mariology.
That opened the door for another movement in the next century. About a decade ago, five cardinals petitioned Pope Benedict XVI to proclaim Mary the “Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the Co-Redemptrix with Jesus the Redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus, the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.”
Though the Pope did not make the requested statement, he did refer to Mary as “Mediatrix of All Graces” in a letter in the last year of his pontificate.
This new request is worded in such a way that, Fastiggi said, it is “up to the Holy Spirit” how Pope Francis might interpret it: He might make a formal statement, or clarify how the Church understands Mary’s role as cooperator in the work of redemption.
But will the request be successful this time? Will Pope Francis make a statement on Mary as Co-Redemptrix?
“These things are often difficult to predict,” said Fastiggi, pointing out that Pope Francis has a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and that he also sometimes states things that are “a little bit daring.”
A Woman of Many Titles
The Blessed Mother has a quantity of appellations and titles — and to Catholics today, they are familiar, comforting and the farthest thing from controversy.
Who, for instance, would argue against calling Mary Theotokos — “God-bearer”?
But centuries ago, this title was a point of contention, with some Christians arguing that Mary was the mother of the human Christ — as though his deity could be separated from his humanity.
Perhaps future Catholics will also look back on arguments about the title “Co-Redemptrix” with bemusement. But in this moment, said Fastiggi, “Those of us who see the term as acceptable sometimes receive such strong reactions.
“First of all, they’re not used to the term. Second, they misunderstand the term — as if somehow Christ couldn’t redeem us on his own.”
But that’s nonsense, he added. After all, God could have chosen another way to redeem the human race, but he chose to associate Mary in redemption as the Mother of the Redeemer.
Additionally, there is papal precedent for the title. Pope Pius XI used the title “Mary, Co-Redemptrix,” Pope Pius X approved a prayer with an indulgence attached to it referring to Mary as Co-Redemptrix of the human race, and Pope John Paul II used the title repeatedly.
A statement on this title “would actually help ecumenism,” said Fastiggi, “for the separated brethren to see how we understand Mary’s spiritual motherhood.”
That’s what Cardinal Telesphore Toppo believes, too. A member of IMA’s Theological Commission, he is one of the five cardinals who petitioned Pope Benedict for the fifth Marian dogma a decade ago. In an interview with Zenit at that time, he explained that this title could actually facilitate interreligious dialogue.
He said, “Mary’s cooperation [with God’s plan] helps all Christians and even non-Christians to understand our own required cooperation with Jesus and with his grace for our salvation.”
Elisabeth Deffner writes from Orange, California.