The episode of the presentation of Jesus in the temple brings an essential complement to the revelation of the mission entrusted to the child and to the cooperation requested on the part of Mary. At the moment of the Annunciation the angel had described Jesus as the Messiah destined to inaugurate a reign that would have no end. He had said nothing about the way by which the messianic kingdom would be established, that of the redemptive sacrifice. Mary had to be enlightened regarding this sorrowful fact because she was responsible as mother to prepare her son for his mission.
The occasion chosen from on high in order to provide her this light is an act of offering and ransom. As the firstborn son Jesus had to be ransomed (or redeemed). For Mary it would have been enough to pay a sum of money to a priest, but she wanted to go to the temple to offer her child, to give to this rite of ransoming its full meaning. Accompanied by Joseph, she goes to present Jesus. It is at this moment that the old man Simeon appears, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, confirms to her the messianic destiny of Jesus and situates it in a universal perspective: the child is not only Messiah for Israel, but a light destined to enlighten all the nations and salvation for all peoples. Nonetheless, this future, which is a source of joy, involves a darker aspect: the contradictions which the Savior will meet and which will rebound upon his mother. Mary is expressly warned that her soul will be pierced with a sword. Even if the kind of trial is not further specified, this is a sufficiently clear indication of a cruel suffering.
When, after this prophecy, Mary carries out the formalities of the ransom of the child, she understands that the price to be paid is very high and that her motherly heart will be torn by an overwhelming trial. The offering of her son engages her in a drama which will strike her in her deepest affections. But she doesn’t hesitate even an instant before this commitment. Mary accepts the sorrowful route, as she had accepted the motherhood which heaven had assigned her. She offers her full consent to the prophecy of Simeon, as she had done at the announcement of the angel. She enters deliberately onto the path of a sacrifice which will come about much later, but the divine revelation given by the old man invites her to welcome it right now.
The announcement of Simeon to Mary is not limited to foretelling a painful event. It also sheds light on the redemptive intent of the trial in the divine plan. The contradiction which the child will have to undergo will have as its consequence to “reveal the intimate thoughts of many hearts,” causing “the fall and the rise of many in Israel.”
The sword which will pierce the soul of Mary belongs to this drama, thus associating the mother with the redemptive work which is necessary to assure the “rising” or resurrection of many. The offering which Mary makes of her son hence assumes an essentially salvific meaning.
It can be described as a coredemptive offering because it consists not in a work of which Mary would be the author, but in the redemptive work of Christ. It is true that Mary is the first to make the offering of the redemptive sacrifice, by way of a motherly offering which anticipates by more than thirty years the priestly offering of Calvary. But her motherly offering is intended only as a commitment to the sacrifice of Jesus, an association in the work of which the Savior is the supreme author.
It is at the moment of the presentation in the temple that Mary’s coredemptive role is inaugurated. The title of Coredemptrix has been the object of discussions, but it expresses well the cooperation of Mary in the redemptive work of her son. Far from suggesting an equality, it indicates the subordination of the activity of the mother to that of the son. Jesus is the Redeemer and his mother is associated in his work not as Redemptrix (or female Redeemer) but as Coredemptrix (or Coredeemer ).
All the same, this subordination does not impede Mary from preceding her son in the offering of the redemptive sacrifice. The offering which Mary makes, pledging all of her love, forms a first development of the Coredemption.
Fr. Jean Galot, S.J., theologian and L’Osservatore Romano contributor, is a Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and is internationally known for his biblical and theological scholarship. This article was first published in L’Osservatore Romano, February 2, 1996, p. 4.