The following article by Dr. Mark Miravalle was originally published on the blog of David Armstrong, Catholic apologist, on January 15, 2020. -Assistant Editor.
In light of Pope Francis’ December 12, 2019 non-scripted, spontaneous comments concerning the traditional Marian title “co-redemptrix,” coupled later with a more vague inference to its proposed dogmatic definition (see National Catholic Register, Dec 23, 2019; La Stampa Vatican Insider, Jan. 8, 2020), a high-spirited worldwide discussion has ensued regarding the legitimacy of this Marian title, and the doctrine which it seeks to identify: namely, the unique human cooperation of the Mother of Jesus with and under Jesus Christ, humanity’s sole divine Redeemer, in the historic work of Redemption.
Most of the global discussion has focused upon the question of the authenticity of the classic Co-redemptrix title, which expresses in a single term the unique human role of Mary in the historic salvation of humanity accomplished by her divine son. What has not been discussed is the proposed rationale for a possible solemn definition or “dogma” of Mary’s role in the Redemption, along with her consequent motherly role as Spiritual Mother of humanity.
The unparalleled role of the Mother of Jesus in the saving work of Jesus Christ indeed already constitutes the authoritative doctrinal teaching of the Church’s Magisterium. The Second Vatican Council repeatedly teaches this unique coredemptive role of Mary with and under Jesus, and her consequent intercessory roles as Mediatrix and Advocate for humanity:
…the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth (Lumen Gentium 58).
She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Therefore, she is a mother to us in the order of grace (Lumen Gentium, 61).
St. John Paul II referred to Mary as the human “Co-redemptrix” with Jesus, the only divine Redeemer, on at least seven occasions. The great John Paul would further teach and preach the greatest quality and quantity of the theology regarding Marian coredemption in the history of the Church.
The prefix “co” comes from the Latin word, cum, which in its first denotation means “with” and not “equal.” The title “co-redemptrix” applied to the Mother of Jesus never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ, the world’s sole divine Redeemer. To place Mary on a divine level of equality with Jesus constitutes both Christian heresy and blasphemy!
The biblical and the liturgical sources also confirm that the prefix “co” does not predominantly mean equal. St. Paul refers to all Christians as “co-workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9) but is not teaching that we are “equal workers” with God. The Liturgy refers to Christians as “co-heirs” with Jesus, but is certainly not signifying that we are “equal heirs” with Jesus. Pope St. John Paul II repeatedly called the Catholic faithful to be “co-redeemers in Christ” (e.g., May 8, 1988). Again, “co” signifies “with” and not equal, as it appropriately used biblically, liturgy, papally, and in the Marian title, “Co-redemptrix.”
Again, the Co-redemptrix term applied to Jesus’ human mother denotes Mary’s singular human participation with and under Jesus, the one and only divine Redeemer, in the saving work of Redemption (redimere: to “buy back”) for all humanity. Her subordinate human participation depends entirely upon Jesus’ divine and infinite saving act.
No one shared in the Redemption accomplished by her divine Son more than his human mother. Mary alone was the Mother of Jesus, giving the Word his flesh, the very instrument of our Redemption. (cf. Heb. 10:10). Further and most importantly, Mary alone was the “Immaculate Conception.” Her fullness of grace allowed her to be the perfect sinless partner with her son in the work of the Redemption, and also provided for Mary the opportunity of a perfect human choice, freed from sin, to cooperate with the Redeemer to save souls through a suffering of love united to her Son.
If Mary’s unique role in the Redemption is already an official doctrine of the Church, what then would be the benefit of the Holy Father declaring it as a new dogma?
The following constitute 7 fruits by which the contemporary Church and world would greatly benefit from a solemn definition of Mary as the Spiritual Mother of all peoples (inclusive of her three motherly roles as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate).
1. Releasing historic graces for the Church and the world: Fully Activating Mary’s Motherly Intercession
During the horrors of World War I, the renowned Belgian Cardinal Desìre Mercier initiated a petition drive to Pope Benedict XV for the dogmatic definition of Mary’s universal mediation. What was Mercier’s rationale for this new Marian dogma? He argued that a solemn declaration of Mary’s roles of intercession would lead to “great graces for the world,” especially the grace of “world peace.” By 1925, over 450 cardinals and bishops, and hundreds of thousands of clergy and faithful had sent petitions to Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI in support of the Marian proclamation.
Also in the 1920’s, St. Maximilian Kolbe joined his strong support to his international Army of the Immaculate. Three papal commissions produced over 2500 pages of theological support for the new Marian dogma. Theological defense for the Marian doctrines of Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces dominated the Mariology of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Although Pope St. John XXIII made it clear from the offset of the Second Vatican Council that it would not be a council defining new dogmas (but rather a pastoral council,) the doctrines of Marian coredemption, mediation, and advocacy are nonetheless explicitly and repeatedly taught (again, cf. Lumen Gentium, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62).
Since 1993, over 8 million petitions from the People of God spanning some 180 countries have been sent to the Holy See in support of a fifth Marian dogma. Just in the last 25 years, over 600 bishops and 70 cardinals have joined the People of God in their petition to the Holy See. These millions of faithful and hundreds of prelates generally share the same belief as the movement’s founder over a century ago: this papal proclamation of Mary’s universal spiritual motherhood will lead to a historic release of grace for the Church and for the world. An August, 2019 open letter to Pope Francis by cardinals and bishops representing the six contents requesting the fifth Marin dogma voices precisely the same spiritual conviction (www.openletterformary.com).
What is the theological justification for the expectation of historic graces through a dogmatic proclamation of Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix and her resulting universal Spiritual Motherhood?
God the Father so respects human freedom that grace cannot be forced upon humanity. The free consent of humanity is required for Our Lady to most fully and completely intercede on our behalf. The Holy Father, therefore, as Vicar of Christ on earth and supreme authority of the Church, must freely and solemnly acknowledge Mary’s unique human role in the Redemption and her consequent maternal functions for humanity as Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate in order for Our Lady to fully and most powerfully exercise these three motherly roles of intercession for world today.
Do we not see the exactly the same theological principle manifested in the biblical institution of the papacy? In Mt. 16:15-20, Jesus asks the apostles the question, “Who do they say that I am?” Jesus, of course, knew who He was, yet Jesus wanted to hear the truth freely proclaimed by Peter. Then and only then, upon the condition of free human consent, does Jesus institute the papacy, which as a result leads to all the historic graces that will flow to the Church and world through the papacy.
The millions of faithful presently petitioning Pope Francis believe that a similar phenomenon of a historic grace will flow upon the world once the Holy Father freely and solemnly proclaims Our Lady as the Spiritual Mother of all peoples: an act of free human consent by the Vicar of Christ which will lead to a new and monumental release of grace through Our Lady’s newly proclaimed roles of intercession.
2. The Completion of Marian Dogma: Declaring Mary’s Relationship with Humanity
Up to this point in history, the Catholic Church has proclaimed 4 dogmas about the Mother of Jesus: that Mary is Mother of God (“Theotokos”), that is, true human mother of God the Son made man in Jesus Christ (Council of Ephesus, 431); her Perpetual Virginity, which proclaims that Mary was virginal before, during, and after the birth of Jesus Christ (Lateran Council, 649); her Immaculate Conception, that Mary was conceived without original sin (infallibly defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854); and her Assumption, which proclaims that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life (infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950).
These four dogmas, sublime in their articulation of Our Lady’s unique prerogatives, nonetheless, say nothing explicitly about her relationship to humanity, nor about her role in the Redemption of humanity. This fifth Marian dogma which would solemnly define Our Lady’s role as the Spiritual Mother of all peoples and incorporate her three foundational maternal roles as Co-redemptrix (the “Mother Suffering”) Mediatrix of all graces (the “Mother Nourishing”) and Advocate (the “Mother Interceding”) would thereby effectively bring to dogmatic completion the “whole truth about Mary,” to use the expression of Pope St. John Paul II.
How appropriate that during what many contemporaries believe to be the historical climax of the “Age of Mary,” an age which boasts of more Marian dogmas declared, more Marian apparitions approved, and more Marian popes than in any other single period of the Church’s history, her coredemptive role with Jesus for humanity and her relationship with humanity as our Spiritual Mother would be solemnly defined.
Additionally, authentic love of Mary must always be grounded upon authentic truth about Mary. For example, The Rosary, Marian Consecration, and the Scapular devotion are all theologically based upon the doctrine of Our Lady’s Spiritual Maternity. It would thus be appropriate to have a dogmatic definition of the Marian doctrine upon which the greatest contemporary manifestations of Marian devotion depend.
3. Declaring the Redemptive Value of Human Suffering: Mary Co-redemptrix