top of page

Co-Redeemers in Christ: the Church as Type of Mary Co-Redemptrix

Updated: May 29, 2020

I. The Nature of Typology and its Relation to Mary and the Church

The classic meaning of typology derives principally from its significance in scriptural exegesis and hermeneutics. Old Testament typology is essentially linked with its New Testament fulfillment. The meaning of “type” refers essentially to a person, place, thing, or event which signifies something greater than itself. It is metaphysically not so much a question of time, i.e., which came first, but of essence, i.e., which possesses the greater goodness, truth, or beauty.

As we know, the supernatural significance of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, or David, does not cease in these men themselves, regardless of how profound or supernatural their roles in covenantal salvation history, but can only be fully understood in light of their typological fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Both for the purpose of understanding the type itself, and in appreciating what the type ultimately signifies beyond itself, the typological fulfillment is what is required. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (cf. Gen 22:1 ff); Joseph’s saving of his own brothers and people from starvation (cf. Gen 45:4-7); Moses’ outstretched arms in the battle against the Amalekites (cf. Ex 17:11); David’s slaying of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam 17:1 ff.) all point to (and can only be fully understood in relation to) that which is greater than themselves and their actions: the universal Redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ.

Simply stated: the type is essentially secondary and subordinate in nature and significance to the person, thing, or event which it signifies beyond itself. For example, we do not say the Ark of the Covenant-divinely designed, set in gold, and possessing within itself the rod of Aaron, the fragments of the Commandments, and the Manna-holds greater prominence or significance than the Immaculate Mother of God, which the Ark of the Covenant typifies who, after her consent, held within herself Jesus, the High Priest; Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law; Jesus, the Eucharist.

Without question, there is a legitimate diversity of how the term, type, has and can be used within the theological tradition. One perfectly valid use of the term, type, refers to something that can serve as a model of imitation for another. We see this, for example, in the well-known Ambrosian patristic reference to Mary as “type of the Church” as referred to at the Council (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 63). The Immaculate Mother of God is the perfect model for the People of God to imitate as she is, at once, mysteriously, both Mother and pre-eminent member of the Church.

At the same time, if we follow the logic of biblical typology and the classic biblical-exegetical understanding of type, it seems most accurate and precise to use the term to refer to something which points to and signifies something ontologically beyond and greater than itself.

If we then apply this primary scriptural understanding of typology to the relationship between Mary and the Church, we are bound by Revelation and consistency to state the following: In its most accurate formulation, it is most appropriate to say that Mary is not, in the first sense, a type of the Church, but rather the Church is a type of Mary. Mary, in virtue of her Immaculate Conception, divine Maternity, Coredemption, Queenship, Mediation, and advocacy, possesses an intrinsic and qualitative participation in divine goodness, truth, and beauty which exceeds any member and all members of the People of God combined. Which member or groups of members of Christ s Body would position themselves as immaculate, as giving flesh to the Word, as suffering with Him on Golgotha and thus uniquely contributing to the Redemption of the entire world? As we shall see, the papal texts based on Scripture will testify that the Mother of Jesus gives both mystical birth to the Church as spiritual Mother and, at the same time, is mysteriously the Body’s greatest Member.

Hence, while we can say, as does St. Ambrose when quoted by the Council, that Mary is a type of the Church{footnote}Cf. LG 63.{/footnote} insofar as Mary becomes the perfect model of what the Church should be in the order of faith, hope, and charity, this should not be construed as placing Mary in a position of inferiority to the Church which she anticipates as its Mother-a Mother who spiritually conceives the People of God; a Mother who suffers in an unprecedented way in saving the People of God; and a Mother who distributes the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the graces of Christ’s Redemption to the People of God.{footnote}Cf. LG 58, 61, 62.{/footnote} Perhaps it is most accurate to say that Mary is a type for, and not of, the Church.

In the natural order, the infant is not put before its mother, who conceives, nurtures, and forms her offspring from the womb. The Church, the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is mystically brought forth, as St. Pius X profoundly states, “from the womb of Mary”{footnote}Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical, Ad diem ilium, 10; cf. St. AUGUSTINE, De S.Virginitate, 6, 6.{/footnote} should not be placed in superiority before its Immaculate Mother, but seen as the greatest fruit of that womb after its first divine-human fruit, the Redeemer of all and the Head of the People of God in its quintessentially mystical dimension.

Moreover, we will find in the major magisterial writings on ecclesiology of the past two centuries, that a defining element of the Church as a People of God and as a Mystical Body, is the presence of the Holy Spirit as its “soul.” This pneumatological soul also comes to the Church through the intercession of Mary its Mother, who is made Immaculate by the Spirit; is overshadowed by the Spirit at the Annunciation where the People of God are first mystically united to their Physical and divine Head; at Calvary where the New Adam and New Eve pay the price for the Spirit’s later descent; and at Pentecost, where the Spirit is brought definitively to the People of God through the intercession of his Immaculate human spouse.

II. Ecclesiology Leading Up to and Including Lumen Gentium: Mystical People of God

We are all aware of the richness of the Council’s ecclesiological development in its inspired articulation of the Church as the “People of God” contained in Lumen Gentium, for example the new emphases of the universal call to holiness and the Church’s ad extra evangelical mission to bring Christ to the world. But in keeping with the appropriate method of understanding the Council via a hermeneutics of continuity,{footnote} insegnamenti di Benedetto XVII (2005) 1023-1031{/footnote} it is helpful to understand the People of God ecclesiology in light of the two principal magisterial documents on the Church which preceded the Council.

What is arguably the most pervasive model of the Church as found in Pope Leo XIII’s Satis Cognitumt Not surprisingly, it is the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, with a particular emphasis on “the Body”:

For this reason the Church is so often called in Holy Writ a body, and even the body of Christ. “Now you are the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27) and precisely because it is a body: is the Church visible; and because it is the body of Christ:

is it living and energizing because, by the infusion of His power, Christ guards and sustains it, just as the vine gives nourishment and renders fruitful the branches united to it. And, as in animals, the vital principle is unseen and invisible, and is evidenced and manifested by the movements and action of the members, so the principle of supernatural life in the Church is clearly shown in that which is done by it.

The Church is not something dead: it is the body of Christ endowed with supernatural life. As Christ, the Head and Exemplar, is not wholly in His visible human nature, which Photinians and Nestorians assert, nor wholly in the invisible divine nature, as the Monophysites hold, but is one, from and in both natures, visible and invisible; so the Mystical Body of Christ is the true Church, only because its visible parts draw life and power from the supernatural gifts and other things whence spring their very nature and essence. But since the Church is such by divine will and constitution, such it must uniformly remain to the end of time.

{footnote}Satis Cognitum, 3{/footnote}

Leo XIII further emphasizes the “Body” dimension of the Church as revelation and protection of its unity:

Furthermore, the Son of God decreed that the Church should be His mystical body, with which He should be united as the Head, after the manner of the human body which He assumed, to which the natural head is physiologically united. As He took to Himself a mortal body, which He gave to suffering and death in order to pay the price of man’s redemption, so also He has one mystical body in which and through which He renders men partakers of holiness and of eternal salvation. God “hath made Him (Christ) head over all the Church, which is His body” (Eph 1:22-23). Scattered and separated members cannot possibly cohere with the head so as to make one body. But St. Paul says: All members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). Wherefore this mystical body, he declares, is “compacted and fitly jointed together.” The head, Christ: from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly jointed together, by what every joint supplieth according to the operation in the measure of every part” (Eph 4:15-16).{footnote} Ibid., 5{/footnote}

Pope Leo goes on to quote St. Augustine’s use of the body analogy for the Church’s nature and unity against division:

Another head like to Christ must be invented—that is, another Christ—if besides the one Church, which is His body, men wish to set up another. “See what you must beware of—see what you must avoid—see what you must dread. It happens that, as in the human body, some member may be cut off—a hand, a finger, a foot. Does the soul follow the amputated member? As long as it was in the body, it lived; separated, it forfeits its life. So the Christian is a Catholic as long as he lives in the body: cut off from it he becomes a heretic—the life of the spirit follows not the amputated member.”{footnote} Ibid.; cf. St. Augustine, Sermo 267, n. 4.{/footnote}

While Leo’s principal concern seems the defense of the Church against separation via the rejection of the papacy, his reliance on the Mystical Body, as his principal model of the Church, is foundationally present throughout the document. We will see Pius XII’s expansion on the Mystical Body as ecclesiological model to include greater emphasis on the mystical relationship between the members themselves united to Christ the Head in the order of suffering and merit, accompanied by a direct teaching on the primordial role of Mary as the universal, spiritual Mother of the entire Mystical Body.

From the outset of Pius XII’s historic document, Mystici Corporis Christi, he establishes that to conceive the Church as a Mystical Body, spiritually united to Christ the Head, is an ecclesiology revealed directly by the divine Redeemer:

The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, was first taught by the Redeemer himself. Illustrating as it does, the great and inestimable privilege of our intimate union with so exalted a Head, this doctrine, by its sublime dignity, invites all those who are drawn by the Holy Spirit to study it, and gives them, of the truths of which it proposes to the mind, a strong incentive of performance of such good works as are conformable to its teaching.{footnote} Mystici Corporis Christ!, n. 1.{/footnote}

Later in the document, Pius XII asserts the best, most “divine” definition of the one true Church of Christ to be none other than in the term and concept of the Mystical Body:

If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ—which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church—we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression “the Mystical Body of Christ”—an expression which springs from and is, as it were, the fair flowering of the repeated teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Fathers.{footnote} Ibid., 13.{/footnote}

The Christology of Pius XII in this document is immediately linked with redemption and human cooperation in the work of Redemption in connection with the Mystical Body doctrine. It was the direct intention of the Redeemer, not through divine necessity but rather through divine disposition, to distribute His graces of Redemption through the members of His Body mystically united to Him. This refers to the direct, active role of all Christians to participate in a form of Christian coredemption in the order of the grace distribution:

As He hung upon the Cross, Christ Jesus not only appeased the justice of the Eternal Father which had been violated, but He also won for us, His brethren, an ineffable flow of graces. It was possible for Him of Himself to impart these graces to mankind directly; but He willed to do so only through a visible Church made up of men so that, through her, all might cooperate with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. As the Word of God willed to make use of our nature when, in excruciating agony, He would redeem mankind, so in the same way throughout the centuries, He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.{footnote} ibid., 12.{/footnote}

After substantiating the Church as a Mystical Body in the teachings of St. Paul,{footnote} Cf. ibid., 14.{/footnote} Pius XII refers again to the essential unity and purpose of suffering in the Body. We as members of the Mystical Body do not live for ourselves alone, but must work in unison as spiritual collaborators for the common good of the Church (and, by extension, all humanity):

But a body calls also for a multiplicity of members, which are linked together in such a way as to help one another. And as in the body when one member suffers, all the other members share its pain, and the healthy members come to the assistance of the ailing, so in the Church, the individual members do not live for themselves alone, but also help their fellows, and all work in mutual collaboration for the common comfort and for the more perfect building up of the whole Body.{footnote} ibid., 15{/footnote}

At the end of the encyclical, the Pontiff provides a profound mariological-ecclesiological instruction. Mary is clearly the perfect member of the Mystical Body, but she is also something more—the Mother of the Mystical Body, which ontologically and temporally precedes all other members and the most significant moments of the Church. Mary cooperates with the Redeemer in the Incarnation and the Redemption, and she calls down the Spirit for the Church’s definitive birth at Pentecost—all actions in accord with the Heavenly Father’s perfect providential plan or events which, by their nature, exceed in excellence and merit all other members individually and collectively:

Venerable Brethren, may the Virgin Mother of God hear the prayers of Our paternal heart—which are yours also—and obtain for all a true love of the Church—she whose sinless soul was filled with the divine spirit of Jesus Christ above all other created souls, who “in the name of the whole human race” gave her consent “for a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature.” Within her virginal womb, Christ our Lord already bore the exalted title of Head of the Church; in a marvelous birth, she brought Him forth as the source of all supernatural life, and presented Him newly born, as Prophet, King, and Priest to those who, from among Jews and Gentiles, were the first to come to adore Him. Furthermore, her only Son, condescending to His mother’s prayer in “Cana of Galilee,” performed the miracle by which “his disciples believed in Him.” It was she, the second Eve, who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his unhappy fall, and her mother’s rights and her mother’s love were included in the holocaust. Thus she who, according to the flesh, was the mother of our Head, through the added title of pain and glory became, according to the Spirit, the mother of all His members. She it was who, through her powerful prayers, obtained that the spirit of our divine Redeemer, already given on the Cross, should be bestowed, accompanied by miraculous gifts, on the newly founded Church at Pentecost; and finally bearing, with courage and confidence, the tremendous burden of her sorrows and desolation, she, truly the Queen of Martyrs, more than all the faithful “filled up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ… for His Body, which is the Church”; and she continues to have, for the Mystical Body of Christ born of the pierced Heart of the Savior, the same motherly care and ardent love with which she cherished and fed the Infant Jesus in the crib.

May she, then, the most holy Mother of all the members of Christ, to whose Immaculate Heart We have trustfully consecrated all mankind, and who now reigns in heaven her Son, her body and soul refulgent with heavenly glory—may she never cease to beg from Him that copious streams of grace may flow from its exalted Head into all the members of the Mystical Body (MCC, 110-111).

Mary is “filled with the divine Spirit above all other created souls.” She conceives and bears in her womb the Head of the Mystical Body, the source of all supernatural life for all later members of the Body. She, as the coredemptive New Eve, offers the Redeemer on Golgotha for the Redemption of the world. Her prayers of advocacy for the divine Advocate to descend at Pentecost, uniquely contribute to the ultimate birth of the Body. She is the Mother of all the members, who brings to us the copious streams of redemptive grace.

In sum, the Mystical Body ecclesiology and Our Lady’s role as mystical, but true Mother of the entire Mystical Body, which is the Church, both of which constitute the authoritative teachings of the Magisterium, makes evident the superiority and pre-eminence which the Immaculate Theotokos ontologically possesses in relation to the People of God. This relation of supernatural and metaphysical primary is also organically contained{footnote} Pope PAUL VI, Mary, Mother of the Church Declaration, Second Vatican Council, November 21, 1964{/footnote} in the solemn declaration by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council that Mary is truly the “Mother of the Church.”

Yes, in all these ways we, as a Mystical Body and as a People of God, are called to acknowledge ourselves as a pilgrim type of her—that from the greatest and most sublime acts, just as in those never performed by any of us members, we can see her as what we ourselves must strive to become; while at the same time, in humility, clearly acknowledge that we can never fully arrive at what she uniquely and irrevocably is and always will be.

III Co-redeemers in Christ: Type of Mary Co-redemptrix

Perhaps a contemporary understanding of and reference to the Church as a Mystical People of God—an ecclesiology which accentuates both the quintessential characteristic of the Church as mystically united to Christ the Head and possessing the Holy Spirit as its soul, as well as highlighting the important ecclesiological advances of the Second Vatican Council—would serve to keep in mind and heart these two critical dimensions of ecclesiological revelation and life. This mystical, salvific, and evangelical understanding of the Church also provides an optimum foundation for witnessing to the Christian truth that each member of the Church is likewise called to be a “co-redeemer” with Christ.{footnote} Cf. Pius XI, Papal Allocution at Vicenza, Nov. 30, 1933.{/footnote} John Paul II’s call for all those baptized in Christ to be “co-redeemers,”{footnote} Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Address to the sick at the Hospital of the Brothers of St. whn of God (Fatebenefratelli) on Rome’s Tiber Island on April 5, 1981, LOsservatore Romano, English edition, April 13, 1981, p. 6); Address to •j1® sick after a general audience given January 13, 1982, Inseg., V/l, 1982, c ” Address to the Bishops of Uruguay gathered in Montevideo concerning dndidates for the priesthood, May 8, 1988, L’Osservatore Romano, English ed’tion, May 30, 1988, p. 4).{/footnote} finds its foundation in Scripture, in the form of a profound mystical participation with Jesus the Redeemer and Mary the Co-redemptrixin the mysterious release of the graces of Redemption.

St. Paul’s teaching of Colossians 1:24 reveals the role of each Christian, in imitation of the Apostle, to “rejoice” in our sufferings and to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church (Col 1:24).” John Paul II’s commentary on this key passage provides ample explanation that, while the sufferings of Jesus are superabundant in the order of objective redemption, nonetheless it was the desire or the Redeemer that we, through our own patient endurance of suffering, participate in the subjective and personal release of redemptive graces for humanity:

Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others.{footnote} Pope JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, n. 27.{/footnote}

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 in itself is 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. In so far 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 that the Redemption achieved 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.{footnote} JOHN PAUL II, Salvifici Doloris, n. 24.{/footnote}