Pope Francis and the “Co-redemptrix” Title: Responding in Faith

Updated: May 29, 2020

In an ex tempore homily on Friday, April 3, 2020, the Friday before Holy Week traditionally known as the “Friday of Sorrows” (in commemoration of Our Lady’s suffering with Jesus), Pope Francis called the Catholic faithful to contemplate the Seven Sorrows of Mary as a fruitful subject of Christian meditation in preparation for Holy Week. The Holy Father then went on to state that Mary “received the gift of being His Mother and the duty to accompany us as Mother, to be our Mother. She did not ask for herself to be a quasi-redemptrix or a co-redemptrix: no. The Redeemer is one and this title does not duplicate."

These seemingly adverse comments by the Holy Father against the traditional Co-redemptrix title for Our Lady (in addition to similar comments made during another ex tempore homily on December 12, 2019) have led to a spirited international discussion and strong papal critique as the pope appears to be speaking against a Marian title which has been in the Church’s Tradition since the 15th century, invoked positively by Pope St. John Paul II on seven occasions, and as well by a litany of contemporary saints like St. Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Jose Maria Escrivà, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and even by Our Lady herself in local Church approved apparitions.

What, then, is the faithful Catholic to do regarding the Marian title of Co-redemptrix?

As St. Thomas Aquinas would habitually say in such cases, it’s time to make distinctions.

First, when our Holy Father said that Mary “did not ask for herself to be a quasi-redemptrix or a co-redemptrix,” he is absolutely correct. Our Lady, in her perfect humility, did not request the title of Co-redemptrix, just as she did not request the title of “Mother of God.” But it is also true to say that God willed in his perfect providence that a human woman would both be granted the unparalleled dignity of giving flesh to the world’s Redeemer as Mother of God; and also that the same woman by giving birth to the Redeemer and by suffering with him in his saving mission, would become the unique human cooperator with her Divine Son in the historic redemption of the world. This is precisely the authentic doctrinal meaning of the title, “Co-redemptrix.”

In a beautiful testimony of God’s desire to involve humanity in his greatest act of mercy which we call Redemption, God chose a woman to participate, not in equality or competition, but in human cooperation and love, in the salvation of the human race. As the Fathers of the Church echo from the earliest centuries, Mary was the “cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race” (St. Irenaeus, 180A.D.) as the human “New Eve” with the divine “New Adam”(cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 56). As summed in Mother Teresa’s succinct quip: “Of course, Mary is the Co-redemptrix. She gave Jesus his body, and his body is what saved us” (August 14, 1993).

As to the second comment of our Holy Father, that “The Redeemer is one and this title does not duplicate,” once again the Holy Father is correct in a univocal sense. Truly, there is only one divine Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and neither he nor his role, which is indicated by his title in a first and exclusive sense, cannot in any way be duplicated.

At the same time, Catholic Tradition, theology, and Magisterial teaching has embraced theological terms of analogy and the principle of “participation.” We as members of Christ’s Church and body, are called to profoundly share in the Redemptive work of Jesus Christ, of which he is divine source, foundation, and head.