top of page

Her Station Keeping: Immaculate Conception to Co-redemptrix


The recent history of Mariology has not always been told and so the recent reinvigoration of the movement for a fifth Marian Dogma by the group of five Cardinals remains a curiosity to some. Others believe the movement should be dropped since Cardinal Ratzinger in the year 2000 mentioned in an interview with Peter Seewald that he was not in favor of the title “Co-redemptrix.” The interview caused a stir in the English-speaking world when it was published two years later in God and the World; used ever since to question those who speak of the need for the official promulgation of the title. Since then, many still fail to make the distinction that Cardinal Ratzinger was not pope at that time, and he was not speaking in an official capacity. In fact, a careful examination of Joseph Ratzinger’s writings reveals he has a much deeper Mariology and understanding of all the issues necessary for such a title; he actually provides foundations that were missing in previous attempts to clarify the need for the title “Co-redemptrix.”

The intention of this article is to demonstrate that promulgation of the title and dogma “Co-redemptrix” is not a luxury but much rather a necessity, as even the dying of many religious orders reveals. John Paul the Great did much to heal misunderstandings in Mariology since Vatican II, but Joseph Ratzinger’s own words still ring true. Concerning Lumen Gentium, he made the statement: “The immediate outcome of the victory of ecclesiocentric Mariology was the collapse of Mariology altogether” (1), an outcome that not even Paul VI’s “introduction of the title ‘Mother of the Church’” could prevent (2). What allowed false interpretations that led to the collapse? What is the needed healing for the Church and the world? The five Cardinals are on the right track. The title “Co-redemptrix” is not a luxury, it is a necessity. It will help make sense of the titles “Mediatrix” and “Advocate” which Lumen Gentium did bestow on Mary. More importantly, it will restore the Mariology that our religious orders and our “domestic churches” (family homes) need to flourish.

Lourdes 150 Years Later

“I am the Immaculate Conception” was the response to St. Bernadette’s question, “What is your name?” It is a response the Church has meditated upon for the past 150 years, marked by the passing of the first anniversary of the Virgin’s apparitions in Lourdes in February 1858. Of course we know this is the same person who was the Mother of Jesus and that even before this interesting “new name” (cf. Rev 2:17) at the Lourdes apparition site the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had already been proclaimed. Almost 2000 years earlier, even the Angel Gabriel had already greeted Mary by just as fascinating a “new” name: “Full of Grace” (Lk 1:28). Names from God reveal callings or missions. Those who receive grace are to be sources of grace for others as St. Basil the Great tells us in his treatise on the Holy Spirit.

Some of Pope Benedict’s earlier writings on Mary (from 1979-1980) are contained in a more recent book calledMary: The Church at the Source. He follows an insightful observation to penetrate the mystery of Mary’s mysterious calling. He alludes to the mystery of personhood when discussing that John the Evangelist never uses Mary’s name in his gospel, but only calls her the “Mother of Jesus.” Ratzinger continues: “it is as if she had handed over her personal dimension, in order to be solely at (Jesus’) disposal, and precisely thereby had become a person” (3).

The most important moment that Mary is identified as the Mother of Jesus is when John the Evangelist is preparing us to understand that Mary is now the New Eve. This moment is at the foot of the Cross when Jesus looks down and says to her, “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26). What then is the mystery of human personhood which we are called to contemplate concerning the one revealed as: “Full of Grace,” “Immaculate Conception,” “Mother of Jesus,” and “Woman.” Can we as beloved disciples understand it better if we will stand with her “at the Cross her station keeping”? How is Mary’s calling as “Immaculate Conception” further revealed at the Cross?

Orientale Lumen and Human Personhood

In his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, we catch John Paul the Great’s deep appreciation for the East’s theology of the person: “The East helps us to express the Christian meaning of the human person with a wealth of elements. It is centered on the Incarnation, from which creation itself draws light. In Christ, true God and true man, the fullness of the human vocation is revealed. In order for man to become God, the Word took on humanity” (4). It is the same theology which guides his “Theology of the Body”; inspired by the mysticism of St. John of the Cross whose writings are immersed in the tradition of the Greek Fathers.

In Orientale Lumen, John Paul the Great basically reiterated the great Doctor of the East and West, St. Athanasius: “God became Man, that man might become God” (5). It is the very source of St. Louis de Montfort’sTrue Devotion proclamation that “what God is by nature, the Virgin is by grace.” Pope John Paul the Great wants the West to recover this aspect of the catechetical tradition which the East preserved more consistently: “We believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it” (6).

Several articles on Catholic Exchange discuss deification through Christ’s grace … the patristic understanding of how man “becomes God” without loss to man’s personal identity (7). These have not always emphasized that where this takes place is in man’s self-emptying (cf. Phil 2:7 kenosis) … where Christ makes it possible for human love to become divine. The basis of John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body is the development of Vatican II’s Christology when it proclaims that “Jesus fully reveals man to himself” (8) and so “man can fully discover his own self only in a sincere giving of himself” (9). Jesus had already explained the process of deification:

“Whoever loses himself (becomes a gift) for my sake will be found (become a true person)” (cf. Mt 10:39, Lk 9:24); and: “Man has no greater love than to lay down his life for his beloved” (Jn 15:13). If we are to “become God”…Who is the model of true Personhood, then we must become Love by God’s power working within us “to desire and to work” (Phil 2:13). The Fathers tells us that we are made in the image of God to become the likeness of God … real persons.

Vatican II: Her Station Keeping?

Ratzinger’s comment becomes more revealing. It is Mary who loses herself for Jesus’ sake: “It is as if she had handed over her personal dimension, in order to be solely at (Jesus’) disposal, and precisely thereby had become a person” (10). In her self-emptying at the foot of the Cross something greater is occurring in her than in any other human redeemed by Christ. As the Immaculate Conception she is already the Church (the Spouse) in person and an actual part of Jesus’ Redemption by her special share in the Spirit prior to all others. Jesus’ Spirit is at work in her at the Cross to suffer in faith with the Redeemer. The fuller meaning of the Immaculate Conception is being revealed. The “mournful mother weeping” is the Woman, “wailing aloud in pain as she labored to give birth” (Rev 12:2). Jesus then proclaims: “Woman, behold your son!” (Jn 19:26). At the Cross, her calling as the Immaculate Conception was further revealed…she was now the new Eve. Jesus could now say to all disciples:

“Behold your Mother!” (Jn 19:27)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “Mary became the Woman, the new Eve” (11). Though she was the Immaculate Conception from the beginning, the fuller meaning of this grace was not revealed in her without her always making a gift of herself in the service of her Son. Whenever the Spirit applies Christ’s redemption to us, we now always find Mary “again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (cf. Gal 4:19). We never experience the Spirit apart from Mary, the Woman. She is truly our Mother here and now whenever we are touched by grace and participate in Jesus. She is redeemed by Christ’s coming into this world for us men and our salvation, but the Church has been clear she is redeemed in a unique manner: “Mary belongs more to Christ than to Adam” (12). Her work as the Immaculate Conception remains a work of Christ in her.

When Vatican II placed the Virgin within the framework of the Church by including chapters on Mary within the document Lumen Gentium, a shift in emphasis was made to correct false exaggerations (even tendencies) that seemed to make Mary an alternate to Christ. Lumen Gentium’s structure was a reaffirmation that she, too, is redeemed by Christ and was dependent upon the Word’s Incarnation for the grace in which she shared. Sadly this shift of emphasis was misinterpreted by many. Some people began to think that talk of Mary as “model” and “exemplar” meant that her motherhood was an analogy only. She became for many more of a model than a mother.

Restoring Her Station

Ratzinger wrote that the immediate effect of this shift, known as the victory of ecclesiocentric Mariology, “was the collapse of Mariology altogether” (13). Paul VI tried to prevent such misunderstandings by officially bestowing the title “Mother of the Church” upon Mary with the promulgation of Lumen Gentium. This title was supposed to “express the fact that Mariology goes beyond the framework of ecclesiology and at the same time is correlative to it” (14). In other words, it was supposed to affirm her real motherhood without being a source for false exaggerations that make her parallel to Christ.

What is ironic is that the Church recognized the need to bestow a title on Mary after this shift at Vatican II in order to prevent a breakdown in Mariology. Did Paul VI’s particular title prevent the breakdown? The obvious answer according to Ratzinger is “No.” More ironically, and having spoken against the title “Co-redemptrix” while Prefect for the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict is now being asked by several Cardinals to reconsider the views he held on the title’s fittingness before becoming Pope. In the case of the Arian crisis it took the term homoousios to restore real orthodoxy to Christology. Can the title “Co-redemptrix” do the same for Mariology and give greater glory to Christ?

Lumen Gentium used the actual titles of “Advocate” and “Mediatrix” for Mary (15). Without “Co-redemptrix” these titles are open to misinterpretation and we are left with the idea that Mary is more a model for us as to how each of us is to be an advocate or a mediatrix. The Greek word perichoresis describes how some terms help to explain one another and give a better picture of the whole through their interplay. For a true perichoresisto occur with “Advocate” and “Mediatrix,” the title “Co-redemptrix’ is necessary for orthodoxy. “Co-redemptrix” affirms that Mary is in Christ in the Spirit during the Redemption (16). It is a reaffirmation of her calling as the Immaculate Conception. “Mediatrix” can then explain why Mary is present in our receiving the Redemption because of her priority as “Co-redemptrix”; thus grace is not received apart from her. Grace (the indwelling of the Spirit) is still directly from Jesus as communicated by the Spirit, but inseparable from Mary’s role in the Spirit.

“Advocate” sheds more light on Mary’s continued office of obtaining the Spirit for us and Mary’s constant prayers that Jesus send the Spirit for us.

The five Cardinals who recently relaunched the effort to restore Marian orthodoxy amongst Roman Catholics through the official promulgation of the title “Co-redemptrix” have joined with John the Evangelist to comfort Mary “at her station keeping.” They have wrapped their arm around religious orders in order to lend them support. The have stood with every “domestic church” to reinvigorate them with renewed Marian devotion. The greatest hope is that united with Mary, the rest of us will better learn to give ourselves to God at the foot of the Cross … at every Liturgy of the Eucharist … and become a real person through the grace of sanctification (which is our deification) …

“Hail, O perfect purity, immaculate bridal-chamber of the Word, cause of the deification of us all, sweet sounding echo of the voice of the prophets! Hail, O glory of the apostles! … O most holy Mother of God, save us!” (17)

Matthew Tsakanikas is director of the Benedictine College Institute for Religious Studies, an outreach program for the theological formation of Catholic schoolteachers in Kansas.


(1) Mary: The Church at the Source, p. 24.

(2) Ibid, p. 24.

(3) Ibid, p. 16.

(4) OL #15.2

(5) St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B; quoted in CCC 460.

(6) cf. OL #1.4.


(8) Gaudium et Spes, #22.

(9) Ibid., #24.

(10) Mary The Church at the Source, p. 16.

(11) CCC #726

(12) Ratzinger, God and the World, p. 304.

(13) Mary The Church at the Source, p.24.

(14) cf. Ratzinger, p.29.

(15) see: LG #62.

(16) cf. Paul VI, Credo of the People of God #14-15.

(17) Acathist Hymn, Sixth Ode, Byzantine Daily Prayer, p.964.

52 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page