What is your first response when you hear someone refer to the mother of Jesus Christ as the “Co-redemptrix”?
Extreme? Excessive pietism, even if well-intended? Heresy? Only Jesus is the Redeemer. If not directly heresy, then extremely dangerous? At least anti-ecumenical?
Now let’s look at some people who have in fact called the Virgin Mary the Co-redemptrix: John Paul II (on six different occasions); Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta; St. Padre Pio, stigmatic wonder worker of the 20th century; Sr. Lucia, the Fatima visionary; St. Francis Cabrini, the first American citizen to be canonized; St. Jose Maria Escriva, founder of the Opus Dei; St. Edith Stein, co-patroness of Europe; papal theologians Cardinals Ciappi and Cottier; contemporary Church leaders such as Cardinal Schönborn, General Secretary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; Mother Angelica, foundress of worldwide Catholic television and radio network EWTN; and a host of other saints, popes, mystics, prelates, theologians, and doctors of the Church, and lay leaders, with an ecclesial line of succession dating back to the 14th century.
Do we see dangerous extremism, heresy, or any anti-ecumenical spirit in people like John Paul II and Mother Teresa? Would saints like Padre Pio and Mother Cabrini participate in Marian excess to the detriment of Jesus and his Church? Would Cristoph Cardinal Schönborn, general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, use and defend the Co-redemptrix title if it were in any way unorthodox or theologically questionable? Would a Fatima visionary use, explain and defend the Co-redemptrix title six times in her last great writing, Calls from the Message of Fatima, when doing so would be offensive to the Holy See, who granted the imprimatur to her book? Or, even more, to Our Lady herself, with whom Sr. Lucia experienced mystical communications for decades?
Why, then, would we be afraid of calling Mary the Co-redemptrix with Jesus, the divine Redeemer of humanity, when these pontiffs, saints, theologians and mystics for the past 700 years have been doing so?
What do people like John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio and the throng of saints, mystics, and popes, precisely mean when they say that Mary is the Co-redemptrix? First of all, let’s be clear as to what do they not mean: 1.) They do not mean that Mary is equal to Jesus. 2.) They do not mean that Mary has an equal share in the redemption of the human family. This would indeed be heresy.
What they do mean when they refer to the Mother of Christ as the Co-redemptrix is that Mary uniquely cooperated with Jesus and entirely subordinate to and dependent upon Jesus, in the historic work of Redemption.
Let’s define our terms. What is Redemption? Redemption is the saving act of Jesus Christ, through his life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection, repairing our relationship with the Father by offering just compensation for the sins of humanity, and thus restoring the possibility of sanctifying grace, and friendship between God and humanity, which results in the inheritance of heaven.
The term, “redemption,” derives from the Latin, redimere, and literally means “to buy back.” Jesus, through the merits of his passion, death, and resurrection buys us back from the bondage of Satan and the debt of original sin.
Now the question remains: can a human creature participate in this divine historic redemptive work of Jesus Christ?
It is important to remember that the Redemption of Jesus Christ is an act of restoring what was lost by two human beings, Adam and Eve. Although Adam, as father of the human race, was principally responsible for the original sin passed on to his descendants (cf. Rom 5:12), Eve also has an instrumental though secondary role in the loss of grace for the human family (cf. Gen 3:6). This is why the Fathers of the Church referred to Mary as the “New Eve” or “Second Eve,” since through her obedience with Jesus Christ the “New Adam” (cf. 1 Cor 15:45), she became in the words of the 2nd century Church Father, St. Irenaeus the “cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race” (Adv. Haer. III, 22, 4: PG 7, 989 A).
But can a human creature participate in a divine act, such as the divine act of Redemption?
Let us first examine ourselves. Can you or I as creatures positively participate in the salvation of someone else by our cooperation? By our prayers, by our good works, by our sacrifices, but our Christian witness, have we done anything that assisted in the “buying back” of another person from the bondage of Satan through the grace of Jesus Christ?
If you are a father or a mother and have raise