In the course of two millennia and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Catholic Church has come to an ever more focused understanding of the person and role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The first Marian dogma stating that Mary is in fact the Theotókos, the God-bearer or Mother of God was solemnly declared by the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus in 431.1
Subsequently at the Lateran Council of 649 convoked by Pope St. Martin I the Church reached the certitude that Mary is ever Virgin: that she was a virgin before, during and after giving birth to Jesus.2 After centuries of debate the Catholic Church arrived at the assurance that Mary was immaculate from the first moment of her conception. 3 Finally in 1950, after ascertaining the Church’s long held belief, the Venerable Pius XII formally defined that the Virgin Mary was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.4 Each of these truths are mysteries of faith which means that they are so deep our human minds can never fully exhaust their richness.
All four of these dogmas refer to the person of Mary in relation to her Son, the God-man, Jesus Christ. But, in fact, Catholics believe even more about Mary than these profound mysteries regarding her person. They also believe that she played and continues to play an entirely unique role in the work of our salvation. In the course of the second millennium saints and theologians have been meditating, preaching and writing about Mary’s collaboration in the work of redemption and in the distribution of grace while for over one hundred fifty years the Popes have teaching about her maternal role.
I. The Mystery of Marian Coredemption
It is precisely this role or function that I would like to present today and I believe that there is no better place to begin than with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which devoted more space to the Mother of God than any other Ecumenical Council of the Church. Thus the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium speaks of Mary as “under and with him [Christ], serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God” [sub Ipso et cum Ipso, omnipotentis Dei gratia, mysterio remdeptionis inserviens], as “freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation” [humanæ saluti cooperantem] (#56), of the “union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation” [ cum Filio in opere salutari coniunctio] (#57) and of how she faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan [non sine divino consilio], enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her [ vehementer cum Unigenito suo condoluit et sacrificio Eius se materno animo sociavit, victimæ de se genitæ immolationi amanter consentiens] (#58).
Likewise the Council Fathers state that Mary shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls [Filioque suo in cruce morienti compatiens, operi Salvatoris singulari prorsus modo cooperata est, oboedientia, fide, spe et flagrante caritate, ad vitam animarum supernaturalem restaurandam] (#61).
The twentieth century Popes had already clearly taught the doctrine upon which the Council Fathers could base themselves. In his great Marian Encyclical Ad Diem Illum of 2 February 1904, Saint Pius X stated:
It was not only the glory of the Mother of God to have presented to God the Only-Begotten who was to be born of human members the material by which he was prepared as a Victim for the salvation of mankind, but hers also the office of tending and nourishing that Victim, and at the appointed time of offering Him at the altar.
Hence the ever united life and labors of the Son and the Mother which permit the application to both of the words of the Psalmist: “My life is wasted with grief and my years in sighs”. When the supreme hour of the Son came, beside the cross of Jesus there stood Mary, His Mother, not merely occupied in contemplating the cruel spectacle, but rejoicing that her only Son was offered for the salvation of mankind; and so entirely participating in His Passion that, if it had been possible “she would have gladly borne all the torments that her Son underwent” [St. Bonaventure, I Sent, d. 48, ad Litt. dub. 4].5
In his Letter Inter Sodalicia of 22 May 1918 Pope Benedict XV wrote: According to the common teaching of the Doctors it was God’s design [non sine divino consilio], that the Blessed Virgin Mary, apparently absent from the public life of Jesus, should assist Him when He was dying nailed to the Cross. Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother’s rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind [ut dici merito queat, Ipsam cum Christo humanum genus redemisse.]. 6
Several years ago I discovered that the same Latin phrase – non sine divino consilio – which occurs in Benedict XV’s document is also used in Lumen Gentium #58, which I have cited above, but without acknowledging the authorship of Benedict XV. The point being made in both places is that Our Lady’s active collaboration in the work of redemption was explicitly willed by God and we can affirm, along with Blessed Pope Pius IX in his Bull Ineffabiliis Deus declaring the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that this is clearly supported by the Catholic understanding of the role of the “Woman” of Genesis 3:15 and her “Seed” who together are in an eternal state of enmity with the serpent. 7
The Venerable Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Letter Ad Cæli Reginam of 11 October 1954 insists just as firmly that it is God’s will that Mary is joined with Jesus in the work of our redemption.
Mary in the work of redemption was by God’s will joined with Jesus Christ, the cause of salvation, in much the same way as Eve was joined with Adam, the cause of death. Hence it can be said that the work of our salvation was brought about by a “restoration” (St. Irenaeus) in which the human race, just as it was doomed to death by a virgin, was saved by a virgin.
Moreover, she was chosen to be the Mother of Christ “in order to have part with Him in the redemption of the human race” [Pius XI, Auspicatus profecto].
“She it was, who, free from all stain of personal or original sin, always most closely united with her Son, offered Him up to the Eternal Father on Calvary, along with the sacrifice of her own claims as His mother and of her own mother love, thus acting as a new Eve on behalf of Adam’s children, ruined by his unhappy fall” [Mystici Corporis].8
Pius XII would go on to continue to underscore Mary’s unique role in his great Sacred Heart Encyclical Haurietis Aquas of 15 May 1956:
By the will of God, the most Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably joined with Christ in accomplishing the work of man’s redemption, so that our salvation flows from the love of Jesus Christ and His sufferings intimately united with the love and sorrows of His Mother [Cum enim ex Dei voluntate in humanæ Redemptionis peragendo opere Beatissima Virgo Maria cum Christo fuerit indivulse coniuncta, adeo ut ex Iesu Christi caritate eiusque cruciatibus cum amore doloribusque ipsius Matris intime consociatis sit nostra salus profecta].9
No pope has taught more clearly and more consistently about Our Lady’s role in the work of redemption than Blessed John Paul II. Here is an important text from his general audience address of 4 May 1983:
Dearest brothers and sisters, in the month of May we raise our eyes to Mary, the woman who was associated in a unique way in the work of mankind’s reconciliation with God. According to the Father’s plan, Christ was to accomplish this work through his sacrifice. However, a woman would be associated with him, the Immaculate Virgin who is thus placed before our eyes as the highest model of cooperation in the work of salvation. …
The “Yes” of the Annunciation constituted not only the acceptance of the offered motherhood, but signified above all Mary’s commitment to service of the mystery of the Redemption. Redemption was the work of her Son; Mary was associated with it on a subordinate level. Nevertheless, her participation was real and demanding. Giving her consent to the angel’s message, Mary agreed to collaborate in the whole work of mankind’s reconciliation with God, just as her
Son would accomplish it. …
The orientation toward the redemptive sacrifice dominated Mary’s entire life as a mother. Unlike other mothers who cannot know in advance the sorrows that will come to them from their children, Mary already knew from those first days that her motherhood was on the way to a supreme trial.
For her, participation in the redemptive drama was the end of a long road. After seeing how the prediction about the opposition Jesus would undergo was fulfilled in the events of his public life, she understood more keenly, at the foot of the cross, the meaning of those words, “And you yourself shall be pierced with a sword”. Her presence on Calvary, which allowed her to unite herself with the sufferings of her Son with all her heart, was part of the divine plan: the Father wanted her, called to the most total cooperation in the mystery of redemption, to be integrally associated with the sacrifice and share all the pains of the Crucified, uniting her will to his in the desire to save the world. 10
Let us note two very important points here. The first is that, like his predecessors, John Paul stressed the fact that Mary’s collaboration is “according to the Father’s plan”, that is willed by God from all eternity. The second is that Mary’s cooperation is always “on a subordinate level”, but nonetheless “real and demanding”. It is the highest participation in the redemption possible for a creature, but always secondary, subordinate to and entirely dependent on the redemption wrought by Christ, her Son. This is the way the Council Fathers put it in Lumen Gentium #60:
For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ.
Two statements in the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully echo this conciliar teaching. The first occurs in #616:
No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible hi redemptive sacrifice for all.
The second in #618:
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. … In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its 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.
Here is a carefully balanced outline of the Church’s teaching on this matter that Blessed Pope John Paul II gave in his general audience address of 9 April 1997.
Down the centuries the Church has reflected on Mary’s cooperation in the work of salvation, deepening the analysis of her association with Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. St. Augustine already gave the Blessed Virgin the title “cooperator” in the Redemption (cf. De Sancta Virginitate, 6; PL 40, 399), a title which emphasizes Mary’s joint but subordinate action with Christ the Redeemer.
Reflection has developed along these lines, particularly since the 15th century. Some feared there might be a desire to put Mary on the same level as Christ. Actually the Church’s teaching makes a clear distinction between the Mother and the Son in the work of salvation, explaining the Blessed Virgin’s subordination, as cooperator, to the one Redeemer.
Moreover, when the Apostle Paul says: “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), he maintains the real possibility for man to cooperate with God. The collaboration of believers, which obviously excludes any equality with him, is expressed in the proclamation of the Gospel and in their personal contribution to its taking root in human hearts.
However, applied to Mary, the term “cooperator” acquires a specific meaning. The collaboration of Christians in salvation takes place after the Calvary event, whose fruits they endeavor to spread by prayer and sacrifice. Mary, instead, cooperated 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. 11
Here, once again the Pope highlights the uniqueness of Mary’s cooperation in the work of redemption. She “cooperated during the event itself and in the role of mother”, the mother specially prepared in advance for this unique role.
Blessed John Paul II again maintains a marvelous balance in presenting Mary’s unique function in the work of redemption in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris of 11 February 1984. He speaks first of the “unique and incomparable depth and intensity of suffering which only the man who is the only-begotten Son could experience” (Salvifici Doloris #18), a mental, emotional and physical suffering beyond our ability to comprehend.
Commenting on Colossians 1:24, in which St. Paul states “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church”, the Pope goes on to say:
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. 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 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. In this dimension – the dimension of love – the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limit; but at the same time He did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened Himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed (Salvifici Doloris #24).
While Jesus’ suffering was more than sufficient to redeem the world, the Pope insists that it remains “open to all love expressed in human suffering”. This is, indeed, a mystery, something that is at the same time beyond our comprehension, but also a truth of faith. All of our sufferings can be united with those of Jesus for the sake of his body, the Church. While we can share in applying the work of the redemption to ourselves and to others by the patient
endurance of our sufferings, Mary had the unique role of joining her sufferings with those of Jesus at the very same moment when he was suffering for our redemption. The Pope continues:
It is especially consoling to note – and also accurate in accordance with the Gospel and history – that at the side of Christ, in the first and most exalted place, there is always His Mother through the exemplary testimony that she bears by her whole life to this particular Gospel of suffering.
In her, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakable faith but also a contribution to the Redemption of all. … It was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world. Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the cross together with the beloved disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son. …
As a witness to her Son’s passion by her presence, and as a sharer in it by her compassion, Mary offered a unique contribution to the Gospel of suffering, by embodying in anticipation the expression of St. Paul which was quoted at the beginning. She truly has a special title to be able to claim that she “completes in her flesh” – as already in her heart – “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Salvifici Doloris #25).
These two citations from Salvifici Doloris already help us to hold in tension the dynamic truths that underlie Mary’s compassion or cooperation in the redemption. On the one hand “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.” On the other hand “Mary’s suffering [on Calvary], beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world.” Thus the Pope strikes once again that careful balance which is always a hallmark of Catholic truth: he upholds the principle that the sufferings of Christ were all-sufficient for the salvation of the world, while maintaining that Mary’s co-suffering “was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world.” This is an axiom that may be discovered in the lives of the saints of every era of the Church’s history from the days of the apostles to our own.
Now we must deal with a matter of terminology: How do we best describe this secondary and subordinate, but nonetheless active and unique role willed by God for Mary in the work of our redemption? Blessed Pope John Paul II used a good number of descriptive titles such as collaborator and cooperator, associate and ally. He has called her “the perfect co-worker in Christ’s sacrifice” (perfetta cooperatrice del sacrificio di Cristo) 12 and “the perfect model for those who seek to be united with her Son in his saving work for all humanity”.13
This is a matter on which neither our present Holy Father nor any of his predecessors have pronounced and we are quite free to debate it. My argument would simply be that none of the one-word titles such as collaborator, cooperator, co-worker, associate, partner and ally sufficiently accentuates the uniqueness of Mary’s role whereas others seem to me to be either lengthy phrases or cumbersome circumlocutions. 14
The fact is that there is a word that was coined and has become hallowed by usage to describe Mary’s unique role: Coredemptrix. The first use of the word Coredemptrix of which we are presently aware dates from the fourteenth or fifteenth century.15 It passed into theological circulation 16 and then into the vocabulary of the magisterium. It was first used in official documents issued by Roman Congregations at the beginning of the twentieth century17 and subsequently by Pope Pius XI in allocutions to pilgrims18 and in a radio message on 28 April 1935 for the closing of the Holy Year at Lourdes.19 The word was not used by Pius XII (1939-1958) because of controversies about the doctrine which were only clarified at the end of his pontificate 20, and was described in the Prænotanda of the first draft of the schema which would eventually become chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium as among those words which are “absolutely true in themselves” [in se verissima], but were being avoided out of ecumenical sensitivity.21 We are also free to debate about the wisdom and effectiveness of such a strategy.22
Although the doctrine of Mary’s unique collaboration in our redemption was clearly taught by the Second Vatican Council as we have seen, the word Coredemptrix was not used out of what I call “political” and “misdirected ecumenical sensitivity”. 23 What is even more significant, however, is that after a period of artificial suppression Blessed John Paul II used the word “Coredemptrix” or “coredemptive” at least seven times to describe Mary’s intimate cooperation in the work of our Redemption.24
The term Coredemptrix usually requires some initial explanation in the English language because often the prefix “co” immediately conjures up visions of complete equality. For instance a co-signer of a check or a co-owner of a house is considered a co-equal with the other signer or owner. Thus the first fear of many is that describing Our Lady as Coredemptrix puts her on the same level as her Divine Son and implies that she is “Redeemer” in the same way that he is, thus reducing Jesus “to being half of a team of redeemers”.25 In the Latin language from which the term Coredemptrix comes, however, the meaning is always that Mary’s cooperation or collaboration in the redemption is secondary, subordinate, dependent on that of Christ – and yet for all that – something that God “freely wished to accept … as constituting an unneeded, but yet wonderfully pleasing part of that one great price”26 paid by His Son for world’s
redemption. As Dr. Mark Miravalle points out:
The prefix “co” does not mean equal, but comes from the Latin word, “cum” which means “with”. The title of Coredemptrix applied to the Mother of Jesus never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ, the divine Lord of all, in the saving process of humanity’s redemption. Rather, it denotes Mary’s singular and unique sharing with her Son in the saving work of redemption for the human family. The Mother of Jesusparticipates in the redemptive work of herSavior Son, who alone could reconcile humanity with the Father in his glorious divinity and humanity. 27
II. The Mystery of Mary’s Mediation of Grace
In its treatment of Mary’s Motherhood with regard to the Church the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites the text of Lumen Gentium 62 that “the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” 28 and then follows immediately with these further texts from Lumen Gentium by way of commentary:
Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men … flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it [Lumen Gentium 60]. No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold co-operation which is but a sharing in this one source [ Lumen Gentium 62].29
Although the conciliar text does not make any allusion to it, there is a striking corroboration of the analogy between the priesthood of Christ and his unique mediation and the various ways of sharing in this priestly mediation developed in Pope Leo XIII’s Rosary Encyclical of 20 September 1896, Fidentem Piumque. Let us look at the argument that he develops with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas:
Undoubtedly the name and attributes of the absolute Mediator belong to no other than Christ; for being one Person and yet both Man and God He restored the human race to the favor of the Heavenly Father. “One Mediator of God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself a redemption for all” (I Tim. 2:5-6).
And yet, as the Angelic Doctor teaches: “There is no reason why certain others should not be called in a certain way mediators between God and man, that is to say in so far as they cooperate by predisposing and ministering in the union of man with God” (ST III, q. 26, a. 1). Such are the angels and saints, the prophets and priests of both Testaments, but especially has the Blessed Virgin a claim to the glory of this title. For no single individual can even be imagined who has ever contributed or ever will contribute so much toward reconciling man with God. To mankind heading for eternal ruin, she offered a Savior when she received the announcement of the mystery brought to this earth by the Angel, and in giving her consent gave it “in the name of the whole human race” (ST III, q. 30, a. 1). She is the one from whom Jesus is born; she is therefore truly His Mother and for this reason a worthy and acceptable “Mediatrix to the Mediator”.30
We should note that the first passage that Leo XIII quotes from St. Thomas speaks explicitly of those who “cooperate by predisposing and ministering in the union of man with God” [cooperantur ad unionem hominis cum Deo dispositive et ministerialiter]. 31 Among such secondary and subordinate mediators – the pope points out – Mary is
preeminent. It is precisely this role of Mary’s ministering in the union of man with God as a Mediatrix of grace that we now treat. Perhaps no Pope explained the intimate correlation between Mary’s coredemptive role and her role in the distribution of grace than did St. Pius X in his great Marian Encyclical Ad Diem Illum:
From this community of will and suffering between Christ and Mary “she merited to become most worthily the reparatrix of the lost world” (Eadmer, De Excellentia Virg. Mariæ, c. 9) and dispensatrix of all the gifts that our Savior purchased for us by his death and by his blood.
It cannot of course be denied that the dispensing of these treasures is the particular and supreme right of Jesus Christ, for they are the exclusive fruit of His death, who by His Nature is the Mediator between God and man. Nevertheless, by this union in sorrow and suffering, We have said, which existed between the Mother and the Son, it has been allowed to the August Virgin “to be the most powerful Mediatrix and advocate of the whole world, with her Divine Son” (cf. Ineffabilis Deus [OL #64]).
The source, then, is Jesus Christ, “and of his fullness we have all received” (Jn. 1:16); “from him the whole body (being closely joined and knit together through every joint of the system according to the functioning in due measure of each single part) derives its increase to the building up of itself in love”. But Mary, as St Bernard justly remarks, is the “aqueduct,” or if you will, the neck by which the body is joined to the head and the head transmits to the body its power and virtue: “For she is the neck of our Head, by which he communicated to his mystical Body all spiritual gifts” (St. Bern. Sen., Quadrag. de Evangelio æterno, Serm. X, a. 3, c. 3). We are thus, it will be seen, very far from declaring the Mother of God to be the authoress of supernatural grace. Grace comes from God alone. But since she surpassed all in holiness and union with Christ, and has been associated with Christ in the work of Redemption, she, as the expression is, merits de congruo what Christ merits de condigno, and is the principal minister in the distribution of grace.32
Pius X’s predecessors, especially Leo XIII, had referred with some frequency to Mary’s function in the distribution of grace, but none of them had insisted so clearly on the fact that this flows from her coredemptive role.
On several occasions Pius’ successor, Benedict XV, referred to Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces, but perhaps the most striking of his statements deals with one of the miracles approved by him for the canonization of Joan of Arc.
First of all, grateful to God and to the powerful Virgin, We must recognize that we are debtors to God alone for the two miracles attributed to Joan of Arc, the authenticity of which has today been proclaimed. And if in every miracle We must recognize the mediation of Mary by means of whom according to the divine will all graces and favors come to us, no one can deny that in one of the miracles approved by Us this mediation of the Blessed Virgin has been manifested in a very special manner.
We think God has so disposed matters to remind the faithful that we must never forget Mary even when the miracle seems to be attributed to the intercession or the mediation of one who has been beatified or canonized. We believe that such is the lesson to be learned from the fact that Thérèse Belin was completely and instantaneously cured at the Sanctuary of Lourdes. On one hand Our Lord shows us that even on this earth, which is confided to the care of His Blessed Mother, He can work miracles through the intercession of one of His servants; on the other hand, He reminds us that even in such cases it is necessary to postulate the intercession of her whom the Holy Fathers greeted as “Mediatrix Mediatorum omnium”.
In other words, even while attributing a miracle to the intercession of a given saint, we can never discount the intercession and mediation of Mary.
In the reign of Pope Pius XI we find the terminology of Our Lady’s “ministry of grace” in the conclusion of his great encyclical on reparation through and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Miserentissimus Redemptor of 8 May 1928:
Trusting in her intercession with Christ our Lord, who though sole Mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5), wished however to make His Mother the advocate for sinners and the dispenser and mediatrix of His grace, from the bottom of Our heart as a token of heavenly favor and of Our fatherly solicitude We heartily impart to you and to all the faithful entrusted to your care Our Apostolic Benediction.33
In this case we find Mary’s function with regard to the grace of Redemption delineated with two words in apposition, “dispenser and mediatrix” [ ministram ac mediatricem].
The Venerable Pope Pius XII used the occasion of a radio broadcast to the Shrine of Fatima for the coronation of the statue of Our Lady on 13 May 1946 to set forth the doctrinal foundations of Our Lady’s Queenship, a matter he would take up with even greater solemnity eight years later in his Encyclical Ad Cæli Reginam. In the Portuguese transmission, widely publicized and commented upon, he said:
He, the Son of God, gave His heavenly Mother a share in His glory, His majesty, His kingship; because,
associated as Mother and Minister to the King of martyrs in the ineffable work of man’s Redemption, she is likewise associated with Him forever, with power so to speak infinite, in the distribution of the graces which flow from Redemption.34
As in many other papal texts we note here a description of Our Lady in her capacity as both Coredemptrix and Mediatrix. In the first role she is described as “Minister to the King of martyrs in the ineffable work of man’s Redemption” and in the second as “associated with Him forever … in the distribution of the graces which flow from Redemption”. Here the term “minister” refers explicitly to the coredemptive phase of Mary’s activity, while the mediatory phase is characterized as “the distribution of graces”.
While Blessed John Paul II’s teaching on Marian coredemption is striking in its clarity and originality, his teaching on Mary as minister and mediatrix of all graces is more subtle and does not so readily fit as neatly into the scholastic mold of his predecessors, but nonetheless harmonizes with their teaching and is profound. I have treated this topic at length in a published essay.35 For our purposes it will suffice to make a number of points. First among these is that in the wake of the post-conciliar crisis in Mariology John Paul singlehandedly re-launched the discussion on Mary’s maternal mediation in #38-47 of his Marian Encyclical Redemptoris Mater of 25 March 1987. He had already prepared the ground in his first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis of 4 March 1979 in stating that
For if we feel a special need, in this difficult and responsible phase of the history of the Church and of mankind, to turn to Christ, who is Lord of the Church and Lord of man’s history on account of the mystery of the Redemption, we believe that nobody else can bring us as Mary can into the divine and human dimension of this mystery. Nobody has been brought into it by God himself as Mary has.36
Now from Blessed John Paul’s many statements, I will choose just a few. On 25 August 2001 the Holy Father introduced the Mass he was celebrating for Polish pilgrims in this way:
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman …” (Gal. 4:4). This saving mystery, in which God has assigned to the woman Mary of Nazareth, a role that cannot be replaced, is continually made present in the Eucharist. When we celebrate the Holy Mass, the Mother of the Son of God is in our midst and introduces us to the mystery of His redemptive sacrifice. Thus,she is the mediatrix of all the grace flowing from this sacrifice to the Church and to all the faithful. 37
In his Apostolic Letter Spiritus Domini of 1 August 1987 commemorating the Bicentenary of the Death of St. Alphonsus de’ Liguori he wrote:
Devotion to Mary occupies a totally unique place for him [St. Alphonsus] in the economy of salvation: Mary is the Mediatrix of grace and Companion in redemption; for this reason she is Mother, Advocate and Queen. In fact, Alphonsus did everything under her protection from the beginning of his life until his death.38
In his Message of 8 September 1995 to the Ordinary General Chapter of the Cistercian Order he offered this profound exhortation, obviously fully endorsing the teaching of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, its original formulator:
From this theological and spiritual approach there stems a deep and strong devotion to Our Lady, of which Bernard is the distinguished master and witness. “Do not forget”, he teaches, “to make all that you decide to offer pass through Mary, so that grace, by returning to its Author, may take the same path that it took in its descent” (Sermo in Nativ., V).39
In his general audience address of 9 December 1998 John Paul made this striking statement about Mary’s intimate involvement in the outpouring of the living water of the Holy Spirit:
From the Cross the Savior wished to pour out upon humanity rivers of living water (cf. Jn. 7:38), that is, the abundance of the Holy Spirit. But he wanted this outpouring of grace to be linked to a mother’s face, his Mother’s. Mary now appears as the new Eve, mother of the living, or the Daughter of Zion, mother of all peoples. The gift of a universal mother was included in the Messiah’s redeeming mission: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished … ”, the Evangelist writes after the two statements: “Woman, behold, your son!” and “Behold, your mother!” (Jn. 19:26-28). 40
These few examples serve as an indication of how Blessed John Paul II presented the perennial doctrine of the Church according to his own unique insights and approach.
Concluding the presentation of papal texts on Marian mediation, I would like to offer three texts on Mary’s mediation of grace from our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The first comes from his homily on 11 May 2007 at the canonization of the Franciscan friar Frei Antônio de Sant’Ana Galvão at Campo de Marte, São Paulo, Brazil:
Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, stands particularly close to us at this moment. Frei Galvão prophetically affirmed the truth of the Immaculate Conception. She, the Tota Pulchra, the Virgin Most Pure, who conceived in her womb the Redeemer of mankind and was preserved from all stain of original sin, wishes to be the definitive seal of our encounter with God our Savior. There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady. …
Let us give thanks to God the Father, to God the Son, to God the Holy Spirit from whom, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, we receive all the blessings of heaven.41
His statement that “There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady” is, indeed, a declaration of extraordinary clarity.
Secondly, I would like to present a text that comes from Pope Benedict’s general audience address of 30 March 2011 on St. Alphonsus de’ Liguori:
Precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsus’ piety is also exquisitely Marian. Deeply devoted to Mary, he illustrates her role in the history of salvation: an Associate in the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen. 42
I believe that this citation not only serves as Pope Benedict XVI’s synthesis of St. Alphonsus’ Mariology, but it also also illustrates the papal teaching which I have briefly sketched here provided that we understand that “Associate in the work of Redemption” is one of the ways in which a number of popes – especially the Venerable Pius XII – have chosen to speak of Mary’s coredemptive role. She is Mediatrix of all graces because she actively cooperated in the work of our Redemption, thus becoming our spiritual Mother, our Advocate with her Son and the Queen who now sits at his right hand. 43
Finally, I conclude with this graceful reference that Pope Benedict made in his German homeland at the Marian Shrine of Etzelsbach on 23 September 2011, using a classical image of Our Lady’s mediation of grace:
Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. 44
Cf. Heinrich Denzinger, S.I., Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum: Edizione Bilingue (XXXVII) a cura
di Peter Hünermann (Bologna: Edizioni Dehoniane, 2000) [=D-H] #252; Jacques Dupuis, S.J. (ed.), The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church Originally Prepared by Josef Neuner, S.J. & Jacques Dupuis; Sixth
Revised and Enlarged Edition (New York: Alba House, 1998) [=TCF] #606/1.
Cf. D-H #503 [TCF #703].
Defined by Blessed Pius IX on 8 December 1854. Cf. D-H #2803 [TCF #709].
Cf. D-H #3903 [TCF #715].
Acta Sanctæ Sedis
[= ASS] 36 (1903-1904) 453; Our Lady: Papal Teachings, trans. Daughters of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1961) [=[OL] #231-232].
Acta Apostolicæ Sedis
[= AAS] 10 (1918) 181-182 [OL #267].
Acta Pii IX
(Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1971) 599 [OL #34].
46 (1954) 634-635 [OL #705].
48 (1956) 352 [OL #778].
Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II
[= Inseg GP] VI/1 (1983) 1135-1137; L’Osservatore Romano (weekly English edition) [= ORE] 783:1 (first number = cumulative
edition number; second number = page number ).
XX/1 (1997) 621-622 [ORE 1487:7; Pope John Paul II, Theotókos – Woman, Mother, Disciple: A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God
(Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000) [= MCat] 185-186].
XIX/1 (1996) 1344 [ORE 1446:6].
XVIII/2 (1995) 54 [ORE 1399:3].
With apologies to Father Aidan Nichols, O.P. I would put his proposal of “The Redemptive Collaboratrix” among these. Cf. his article “Von Balthasar and
the Coredemption” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross: Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (New Bedford, MA: Academy of
the Immaculate, 2001) 314.
René Laurentin, “Le Titre de Corédemptrice. Étude historique,” Marianum 13 (1951) 399-402.
Cf. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., “Our Lady’s Coredemption,” Mariology 2 (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1957) 398-400; René Laurentin,Le titre de Corédemptrice: Étude historique (Rome: Éditions «Marianum», 1951) 15-16; Gabriele Roschini, O.S.M., Problematica sulla Corredenzione (Rome: Edizioni «Marianum», 1969) 15-17.
1 (1908) 409; 5 (1913) 364; 6 (1914) 108.
Domenico Bertetto, S.D.B., ed., Discorsi di Pio XI 2:1013; L’Osservatore Romano [=OR] 25 marzo 1934, p. 1.
29-30 aprile 1935, p. 1
Cf. Alessandro M. Apollonio, F.I., Il “calvario teologico” della Corredenzione mariana (Castelpetroso: Casa Mariana Editrice, 1999) 7-8.
Cf. my treatment in Foundations II 119 and MMC 155-156.
Cf. my article “‘Towards Another Marian Dogma?’ A Response to Father Angelo Amato,” Marianum LIX (1997) 163-165.
Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani Secundi
, Vol. I, Pt. VI (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1971) 99 (my trans.). Cf. Ermanno M. Toniolo, O.S.M., La Beata Maria Vergine nel Concilio Vaticano II (Rome: Centro di Cultura Mariana “Madre della Chiesa”, 2004) 98-99; Gabriele M. Roschini,
O.S.M., Maria Santissima nella Storia della Salvezza II:111-112.
The specific instances may be found in Inseg GP III/2 (1980) 1646; [ORE 662:20]; Inseg GP V/3 (1982) 404; Inseg GP VII/2 (1984) 1151 [ORE 860:1]; Inseg GP VIII/1 (1985) 318-319 [ORE 876:7]; 889-890 [ORE
880:12]; Inseg GP XIII/1 (1990) 743:1; XIV/2 (1991) 756 [ORE 1211:4]. Cf. Arthur Burton Calkins, “Pope John Paul II’s Teaching on
Marian Coredemption” in Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., (ed.), Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II: Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship
Publishing Company, 1997) 113-147.