I. Human Co-redeeming with the Divine Redeemer?
“The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.” 1 There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).” “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2.1).
Jesus is our divine Redeemer, our divine Mediator, our divine Advocate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the fundamental Christian mystery of Redemption: “God’s saving plan was accomplished “once for all” (Heb. 9:26) by the redemptive death of his son, Jesus Christ” 2…The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28), that is, he [loved] his own to the end” (Jn. 13:1), so that they might be “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers” (1 Pet 1:18). 3
But what of humanity? Is the human person, created, finite, and fallen, in any way able to share, to participate, to co-operate in the sublime mystery of Redemption accomplished by the divine Redeemer? Has the divine Redeemer, in yet a further manifestation of his infinite mercy and generosity, beyond the Redemption itself, granted to the human individual the capacity to actually participate in the divine activity of saving other human beings?
The answer found in Christian revelation to this question is “yes.” The human person can actually play a significant role in the salvation of other human persons, but only through a free and active cooperation with the Divine Redeemer himself.
St. Paul speaks of the Christian imperative to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). The First Letter to the Corinthians identifies Christians as “co-workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). When Christians participate in the divine life of Jesus by becoming “partakers in the divine nature” through baptism (2 Pet. 1:4), and “co-heirs” with Christ in grace (Rom. 8:17), they become capable of participating in the divine activity of the Redeemer, as “co-redeemers of humanity together with Christ” (to quote the repeated expression of Bl. John Paul II). 4 The more a human person shares in the divine life of Jesus, the more he or she can fruitfully participate in the redemptive work of Jesus.
St. Augustine tells us that “God created us without us, but he did not will to save us without us.” 5 Not only must we freely cooperate with Jesus for our own salvation, but he has willed to dignify human freedom even further by allowing us the capacity to cooperate in the salvation of others. Such is the generosity of the Heart of Christ, who seeks to include his beloved disciples in the greatest of his divine acts, which is precisely human redemption.
Blessed John Paul II provides a commentary on St. Paul’s classic text of Col. 1:24 which continues the papal teaching 6that man indeed is called to participate with and under Jesus in the work of Redemption:
For, whoever suffers in union with Christ…not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to, but also “completes” by his suffering “what is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions. This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good is in itself inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. Insofar as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings –in any part of the world and at any time in history – to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world. Does this mean Redemption accomplished by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. 7
The redemptive graces obtained by Jesus Christ on Calvary are infinite and exhaustible, and are in no way intrinsically “lacking.” Yet, the Redeemer has given humankind, particularly through membership in his Mystical Body (cf. 1 Cor. 12, 27; Rom. 12:4), the ability to participate in the release of a portion of those infinite graces. Thereby we as creatures who “live in Christ” (cf. Gal, 2:20) perform a true, though entirely dependent role with Jesus, in the distribution and consequent reception of the saving graces of Christ for the personal, subjective redemption of others. 8
Lumen Gentium instructs that the secondary and subordinate participation in the one mediation of Christ in no way diminishes the glory of Christ the one mediator, but, on the contrary manifests the glory of the one Mediator himself (cf. LG 60, 61, 62). As Redemption is a dimension of the one mediation of Christ, the same principle applies to secondary and subordinate participation in the one Redemption of Jesus Christ. Human co-redeemers in Christ, far from competing with or obscuring the dignity of the one divine Redeemer, manifest his glory as it mysteriously leads to a new distribution of the fruits of Redemption merited by Christ at Calvary. The more humans participate in the one Redemption of Jesus, the more his infinite sacrifice becomes manifested and supernaturally fruitful as it is received by human hearts.
Pope Benedict XVI furthers the teaching on “Christian coredemption 9” or humanity’s secondary and subordinate participation in the redeeming work of Christ. On May 13, 2011 during his papal pilgrimage to Fatima, the Holy Father instructed the sick present to become “redeemers in the Redeemer” and through this means to participate in the “redemption of the whole world”:
Dear friends who are sick…entrust to [Jesus] every setback and pain that you face, so that they may become – according to his design – a means of redemption for the whole world. You will be redeemers with the Redeemer… 10
When married couples bring children into the world, they “co-create” with the Father. When bishops and priests administer the sacraments to the faithful, they “co-sanctify” with the Holy Spirit. We co-create with the Father. We co-sanctify with the Spirit. We are likewise called to “co-redeem” with the Son.
While confirming the truth of Christian participation in the one sacrifice of Christ and its consequent mission of Redemption, the Catechism goes on to make clear that one human person participated in this mystery of Redemption like no other:
The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, “the one mediator between God and man.” But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to take up [their] cross and follow [him], for “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example so we should follow his steps.” In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be his first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering. 11
II. If We, Then Mary
If all Christians can rightly be called “co-redeemers” 12 with Christ then clearly Mary, Mother of Jesus and his greatest disciple, can also be referred to as a “co-redeemer” with Jesus. But can this title, or its more Latinized and feminized version as “Co-redemptrix” (etymologically, “woman with the redeemer” or “she who redeems with”) pertain to the Mother of Jesus in a special, unique manner among the People of God?
The Papal Magisterium and the Second Vatican Council answer “yes.” In virtue of her Immaculate Conception (cf. Gen. 3:15, Lk. 1:28), her unequalled participation in the redemptive Incarnation as Mother of God (Lk. 1:38, Lk. 2:7), and her intimate and immaculate co-suffering with Jesus throughout his life (cf. Lk. 2:35), leading up to and culminating at Calvary (cf. Jn. 19:25-27), Mary cooperated in the historic act of Christ’s Redemption like no other. Bl. John Paul explains:
Mary’s co-operation is unique and unrepeatable…The cooperation of Christians in salvation takes place after the Calvary event, whose fruits they endeavor to spread through prayer and sacrifice. Mary, instead, co-operated during the event itself and in the role of mother, thus her cooperation embraces the whole of Christ’s saving work. She alone was associated in this way with the redemptive sacrifice that merited the salvation of all mankind. In union with Christ and in submission to him, she collaborated in obtaining the grace of salvation for all humanity. 13
The instruction of the Totus Tuus pontiff is in complete harmony with the Second Vatican Council, where the Fathers isolate and accentuate Mary’s participation in the Redemption as a co-working with Christ which is “above all others” and “in a wholly singular way”:
…She was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, and shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperatd by her faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason, she is a mother to us in the order of grace (LG 61).
In order to appreciate this, Mary’s crucial role in Redemption, we must return to the intense unity between the Son and his Mother. From her and from her alone, He took his flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ could then redeem humanity and transform it into a higher state of being, because Mary offered Him a humanity in its most pure, immaculate form.
The creation of Mary as the Immaculate Conception and her subsequent ‘yes’ to God, by grace and her own free will, which sustained her fullness of grace, preceded and made possible the redemptive work of Christ. Therefore, the work of Mary is also redemptive, even in anticipation of the Redeemer, but in a distinctly human way.
But her cooperation did not end with the Incarnation. She endured the entire life mission-vocation of Redemption with her Son, from before his birth until after his agonizing death, with each suffering of her Son in heart and body having been experienced within her own maternal heart (cf. LG 58).
The Council speaks of this life-long participation of the Mother in the work of the Son: “The work of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception until his death” (LG 57). The Council Fathers further testify in powerful expressions the co-suffering of the Mother with the Son; their union of heart and purpose, her sharing in the intensity of his suffering, and her coredemptive consent to the immolation of the Victim to whom she gave flesh for our Redemption:
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood in keeping with the divine command, enduring with her only begotten son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim born of her (LG 58).
Thus, the Council’s unquestionable teaching on Mary’s Coredemption would likewise become conciliar grounding for Bl. John Paul’s specific use of the “Co-redemptrix” title for Mary on six occasions during his pontificate, 14 including in this 1985 papal address:
Crucified spiritually with her Crucified Son (cf. Gal. 2:20), she contemplated with heroic love the death of her God, she lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which she herself had brought forth (LG 58). She fulfills the will of the Father on our behalf and accepts all of us as her children, in virtue of the testament of Christ: Woman, this is your son…Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son. 15
The nineteenth century English apologist, Fredrick Faber, claimed “there is no other single word”, for Mary’s unique participation in the Redemption other than the term, “Co-redemptrix”:
She has a right to it, first of all, because of her cooperation with our Lord in the same sense as the saints, but in a singular and superlative degree. She has a second right to it, which is particular to herself, because of the indispensable cooperation of her maternity. She has a third right to it because of her sufferings…there is no other single word [than Co-redemptrix] in which the truth can be expressed. 16
Faber’s contemporary, Bl. John Henry Newman, defended the theological legitimacy of the Co-redemptrix title to Pusey, particularly in light of the great richness of Patristic Marian teaching already accepted by his Anglican colleague:
When they found you with the Fathers calling her Mother of God, Second Eve, Mother of All Living, Mother of Life, the Morning Star, the Mystical New Heaven, the Scepter of Orthodoxy, the All-undefiled Mother of Holiness and the like, they would have deemed it a poor compensation for such language that you protested against her being called a Co-redemptrix. 17
But what of the concern that the co-redemptrix title is neither biblical nor patristic? The same must likewise be said about numerous other classical and contemporary ecclesiastical terms, such as “Transubstantiation” and “Papal Infallibility.” In avoidance of any form of theological primitivism, the development of doctrine allows for new theological terms within the Tradition which capture a particular doctrine or mystery in a single word. Mary Co-redemptrix is a development of Mary, the New Eve, as taught by the Fathers of the Church, with the additional understanding of a Christian soteriololgy more proximate to Calvary which developed by the tenth century. 18 The Co-redemptrix term has been in the Tradition since the 14th century, with the “Redemptrix” term for Mary dating back to the 10th century. 19
The Council further provides us with a succinct statement as to the patristic testimony to Mary’s unique and active cooperation in human salvation:
The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined Mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the bringing about death, so a woman should contribute to life…Thus the daughter of Adam, Mary, consenting to the word of God became the Mother of Jesus. Committing herself wholeheartedly and impeded by no sin to God’s saving will, she devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and the work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of Redemption…Rightfully, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation…Comparing Mary with Eve, they called her “Mother of the Living” and frequently claim: death through Eve, Life through Mary.”(LG 56).
Tradition often uses the same root titles for Mary as for Christ, for example, “Co-redemptrix” with “Redeemer”, “Mediatrix” with “Mediator”, etc. but clearly understands them in a distinctly human dimension when applied to the Mother of Christ. Entirely different root titles would not fully express the intimacy, beauty and coherency of the one plan of Salvation shared between the Son and the Mother, between God and humanity, and consequently between Jesus and us as co-redeemers.
Mary is Co-redemptrix with Jesus in the historical obtaining of the graces of salvation.
For this reason, Mary becomes a “mother to us in the order of grace” (LG 61), that is, she becomes the Mediatrix of all graces in the distribution of those redemptive graces 20, and principal Advocate 21 to Jesus for the needs of humanity (cf. Jn. 2:5). The titles “Mediatrix” and “Advocate” ontologically pre-suppose the “Co-redemptrix” title and role and are inseparable from it.
These three titles manifest the three aspects of her one role as humanity’s Spiritual Mother: the Mother suffering (Co-redemptrix), the Mother nourishing (Mediatrix), the Mother pleading (Advocate).
Mary is rightfully invoked in the Church as the Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, because only these three motherly titles combined express her whole mission with the Redeemer: to suffer and redeem with Christ, to dispense all graces of salvation from Christ, to invoke the coming of the Holy Spirit of Christ.
Pope Benedict refers to Mary as the Aqueductus 22. All the graces of Redemption flow through her heart and hands into the world, because more than anyone else, she is uniquely and totally united with the Divine Spring, her Son, Jesus Christ and his Cross.
III. Co-redemptrix Now
Now, as we celebrate the fiftieth year after the initiation of the Second Vatican Council, we can see the prophetic wisdom of Gaudium et Spes in voicing the imperative for the Church to be in constant examination of the “signs of the time” for a proper guidance of the People of God: “At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task” (GS 4).
What, then, are the signs of our time? These signs can be found simultaneously in the headlines of contemporary media, as well as discussed in the private chambers of political, academic, and religious world leaders. While there are some legitimate signs of light and hope, there are also dominant signs of present darkness and potential destruction. Apart from significant differences on causes and moral implications of such signs, there seems to be a general global consensus that these grave present conditions could portend frightening historic consequences for humanity. To mention some of the most prominent:
1) The killing of 42 million unborn children worldwide each year through induced abortion 23, which does not include millions of contraceptive abortifacient-effected abortions annually.
2) Unprecedented global economic crises and uncertainty, particularly with the instability of the euro and the dollar, and its immediate effect on global economic markets.
3) Wars, rumors of war, and terrorism, inclusive of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, civil war in Syria and the Congo; terrorism in Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Lebanon; several Middle Eastern nations such as Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and others having experienced political upheaval and revolution; growing tensions between Iran (with the general allegiance of China and Russia)and Israel (with the general allegiance of the United States), hence the potential for a multi-national conflict and even conceivable nuclear involvement.
4) An unprecedented quantity and gravity of natural disasters, i.e., earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, draughts, floods, etc. within a comparable historical time period.
5) Growing world hunger, with over 1 billion people (1 out of 7 individuals) without proper food. 24
6) Growing world poverty, with an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor.
7) Worldwide moral decline, with increasing numbers in divorce, family breakdown, loss of religious commitment ortraditional Judeo-Christian moral values, drug use, pornography, euthanasia, contraception, abuse of women and children, human trafficking; and Church related scandals of abuse.
The present worldview, particularly in the West, appears dominated by elements of rationalism, skepticism, materialism, consumerism, nationalism, hedonism, atheism, and secular humanism, all of which, it could be argued, to an unprecedented historic degree.
What, then, is the remedy?
Historic grace is the remedy. God’s help is the remedy. Man cannot, on his own, solve the exponentially complex and world threatening moral, geo-political, economic, and social issues of today, which are, in root, the ramifications of his own contemporary rejection of God’s existence, God’s revelation, God’s assistance. A historic outpouring of grace is the remedy, and it is the only true remedy.
At times of historic crises in the early Church, when the first centuries of Christians faced the great secular persecutions, the Church turned to Mary: “We fly to your patronage, o Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver from all dangers, o ever glorious and blessed Virgin.” 25
At times of historic crises in the Church of the middle ages, against, for example, external threats of Islamic domination at instances like Lepanto in 1571 and Vienna in 1683, the Church turned to Mary, “our Lady of the Rosary, and to the “Holy Name of Mary.” 26
In the mid-nineteenth century, when Bl. Pope Pius IX, was forced into exile by secular attacks on the papacy and the Church, he turned to Mary through the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception, and his papacy was restored and the Church profoundly strengthened. 27
Now, in light of the present ubiquitous crises which have the potential of threatening the very core of human life and Christian faith, the Church must again turn to Mary.
Her titles of Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate are her functions. Within the mysterious domain of the providence of God and the freedom of man, the more we freely acknowledge these supernaturally powerful roles of our Spiritual Mother, the more she is permitted by the heavenly Father to exercise them on our behalf.
This is why many contemporaries within the hierarchy, clergy, and laity among the
People of God sense it deep within their hearts and souls that, precisely now is most urgently the time for the solemn definition of the Spiritual Motherhood of Mary and her roles by the supreme pontiff. Only the infallible acknowledgement of these roles can bring into full action the supernaturally powerful intercession of the Mother of God which is providentially contained within these roles.
The proclamation of Marian dogmas has, historically, always resulted in historic graces for the Church and for the world. It is precisely and exclusively a historic grace, mediated by the Mother and Queen of the Church, that will bring forth a Marian and ecclesial Triumph from this contemporary moment of potential human defeat.
The world needs a New Pentecost. The first descent of the Holy Spirit was brought forth through the intercession of Mary (cf. Acts 1:14). As the Spirit is the Divine Sanctifier, he will come again in power once his Immaculate Spouse is rightfully honored as the Mediatrix of all of his graces of sanctification, the human Advocate through whom the divine Advocate works to bring sanctification and protection to the world.
It has been almost a century since the great Belgian prelate and ecumenist, Cardinal Desiree Mercier initiated the ecclesial movement for the solemn definition of Mary’s universal mediation in 1915 28, with the simultaneous support of St. Maximilian Kolbe. 29 The world situation now underscores the critical appropriateness of this definition, as humanity faces new and fresh dangers by the year.
The objection could be raised that a solemn Marian definition now, in the midst of the multi-form crises facing the Church today, would simply be too destabilizing. In response, let us return to the historic example of Bl. Pius IX.
In 1848, hostile secular forces attacked the Vatican causing Bl. Pius IX to flee to Gaeta. Common word on the streets of Rome was that the “Church was now over” and the papacy “finished.” Two Franciscan cardinals, Cardinal Antonio Orioli and Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini (former Secretary of State under Gregory XVI), approached the Holy Father in exile with the following argument: that everything possible which the “Church human” could try had been tried for the protection of the Church and respect for papacy. It was now time to turn to Mary through the solemn definition of her Immaculate Conception. She, in turn, would then lead a new renewal for the Church and the papacy through her powerful intercession.
Bl. Pius IX therefore made the decision, while in exile in Gaeta, to define the Immaculate Conception. In 1849, while still in exile, he issued Ubi Primum in papal communications to the world’s bishops which expressed his consideration to define the Immaculate Conception. Soon after in 1851, the secular forces hostile to the pope were defeated in Rome and Pius IX returned to the Vatican. On December 8, 1854, the Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined, which led soon after to the decision to call the First Vatican Council and make the declaration on papal infallibility. Both Vatican I and the definition on papal infallibility led to a great reunification of the Church under the newly strengthened papacy, and a spiritual renewal of various means throughout Italy and beyond. 30
The parallels between the mid-nineteenth century Church and our present twenty-first century Church in crisis are significant. A papal definition of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood today, in the midst of our present state of ecclesial crisis would have the same effect as the one experienced in the mid-nineteenth century: a renewed Church, fortified and united under a strengthened papacy through the powerful intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church. The Church of today will grow in strength, unity and purification to the degree that she fights for and subsequently proclaims this Marian truth.
Our contemporary Church in crisis needs the full activation of the roles of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood through a public proclamation of its truth more than ever.
Grant the Mother the full ability, through our fiat, to bring grace, redemption, and peace to her earthly children, who are presently, in various manners, on the path of potential self-destruction. Let us solemnly acknowledge Mary on earth for that which she is already greatly venerated in Heaven: our Immaculate Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate.
IV. Mary’s Role in the New Evangelization
It is precisely Mary’s role in coredemption and its subsequent mediation for humanity that becomes the foundation for her crucial role in Christian evangelization.
With the commencement of the Year of Faith and Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, it is quintessential that the roles of Mary be placed and recognized at the heart of the New Evangelization.
Let us incorporate the historic lesson of Guadalupe. When God the Father sent the Virgin of Guadalupe to initiate the Christian evangelization of Mexico and beyond, this resulted in the second greatest evangelization victory in Christian history after the first apostolic evangelization. The result of the Marian evangelization of Guadalupe was the Christian conversion of Latin America, the most populous Catholic continent in the world.
Mary’s “yes” brought Jesus to us. Our “yes” to Mary will allow her to bring Jesus to the world’s peoples and nations today in ways just as supernatural as she did at Guadalupe. But this time, the heavenly Father awaits our “yes” to Mary’s rightful acknowledgement and place in the New Evangelization. This “yes,” once again, is the solemn papal proclamation of her motherly roles of intercession which will in turn effect a worldwide release of the Holy Spirit in sustaining the preaching and acceptance of the gospel of Jesus