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 perso