Mary’s Role in the Redemption and the Contemporary Church

Updated: May 30, 2020

Msgr. Florian Kolfhaus, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State, gave the following presentation at the Franciscan University of Steubenville on October 19, 2013 in a dynamic articulation and defense of Our Lady’s title of Co-redemptrix, and her even more ancient title of “Redemptrix. ” Msgr. Kolfhaus is also a member of the Marian Pontifical Academy in Rome -Ed. Despite the fact that veneration of Mary has entered ever deeper into the faith of ordinary people, as demonstrated by the countless pilgrimages made to and Masses celebrated at Marian shrines, Mariology has vanished from most Catholic Universities theology departments. I am therefore pleased that this University is an exception, and I want to congratulate all the professors and students for this. To study Mary means to enter deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Christ and his Church. She is the mirror in which we can contemplate the great truths of our faith. The Church needs Mariology to better understand who she is because Our Lady is the mother of Christ and of his mystical body.1 Like Mary, the Church is a Virgin – chastely and faithfully waiting for the coming of the Divine spouse. Like Mary, the Church is a Mother – generating Divine life within souls by preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments. The Church, like Mary, is immaculate – she is not without sinners, but doctrinally she is without error, both in the sacraments she celebrates ex opere operato without any flaw, and in her liturgy, full of beauty and perfection. The Church is assumed into heaven like Mary – not only is she on earth, but she is already triumphant in heaven where her members help their fellow pilgrims to gain entrance. Like Mary, the Church is the Mediatrix of salvation – she gives us Christ, for it was through his mother that he entered the world. Extra Ecclesiam, extra Mariam nulla salus. Finally, the Church, like Mary is Redemptrix – she works with Christ for redemption and she is the instrument by which he brings salvation to sinners. It is through Mary, therefore, that the Church obtains a better sense of her own identity, which is essential for her members.2 The Church is not an NGO, a political party or just a club to join or to leave whenever one pleases. We need a supernatural view to understand what she is: a divine institution, the body of Christ, his immaculate spouse. By contemplating Mary we can better understand what this really means. The task of dedicating oneself to offering reflections on the Mother of God, on her essential contribution to salvation history, her constant work of intercession for the children of God and her essence as Mediatrix of all races3, seems for most a useless, outdated, exaggerated endeavor and outside the realm of reality.4Doctrines on Mary, in particular, are considered by many a “maximalist” exaggeration. It is surprising that only two schools” of study exist on the subject of Mary – Maximalism and Minimalism – and their respective representatives do not hesitate to label each other this way.5 Karl Rahner, for instance, takes pride in being a “minimalist” in regards to Mariology. 6 Regarding other mysteries of our faith, the most holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, there is no mentioning of minimalists, who say little, or maximalists, who look for further development to express the truth in question. But these categories, which seem to target the quantity or beauty of certain expressions of Marian theologians, are indeed mistaken. With these come the risk of evaluating the practical value of a concept more than the truth it contains. A blatant example of this is the discussion centered around the title of “Co-Redemptrix”, which many reject. There is the fear of misconceptions –especially among non-Catholics – not because they criticize its meaning, but because they consider the word to be undiplomatic. This is not only, cowardly but above all unscientific. Science must be about truth and not – speaking as a bad diplomat – diplomacy. We cannot be minimalist theologians, who try to reconcile divine revelation with the secular world. Behind the unfavorable expressions of Marian “minimalism” and “maximalism” we can discover two lines of thought if we take a closer look. While the minimalists – and those who define themselves as such, like Karl Rahner – underscore the ordinary life of Mary, which in all aspects seems to be similar to that of any human being. The so-called maximalists emphasize the distinctiveness and excellence of the Mother of God. The point of division – if we can call it that – between the two theological approaches is the “anthropological turning point” of Karl Rahner. Theology becomes anthropology; reflection on God becomes the thought about man. With this way of thinking, the distinction between nature and grace is lost. Both become one single reality, which is dialectically connected to that of every human being who, in turn, is a priori and forever inserted into the supernatural life. In this line of thought, Mary is just an excellent example of who we all are. Mary is one of us. “The anthropological turning point does not lead to measuring Mary with the perfection of God, but with the imperfection of a creature pro Statu isto.”7 The minimalistic approach, more or less, sees Mary as merely one of us. The maximalist approach on the other hand emphasizes the unique event of a creature who was elevated above all others by divine grace and through her definite yes to the will of the Lord. Perhaps we could also speak of two theologies: one theology from below and one from above. The first falls easily into the risk of not really being theology; which by definition receives its object of study from above, that is, from divine revelation. History, sociology, psy