Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D., is professor of Dogmatic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, Michigan USA and former president (2014–2016) of the Mariological Society of America.
Vatican II teaches that we must adhere to ordinary teachings of the Roman Pontiff according to his manifest mind and will, which may be known—among other indications— “from his manner of speaking” (Lumen Gentium, 25). In general audiences, discourses, and homilies, popes sometimes express personal opinions without intending to impose their views on the faithful.
On March 24, the day before the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis dedicated his Wednesday General Audience to prayer in communion with Mary. In his audience, the Holy Father reminds us that Christian prayer is directed to God “through Christ, with Christ and in Christ.” Referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] no, 2674, he points out that “Christ is the Mediator; Christ is the bridge that we cross to turn to the Father.” He then states that Christ is the only Redeemer: there are no co-redeemers with Christ.”
As with any text, including Sacred Scripture, we must understand what is said within a context, taking into account “the manner of speaking” and the intention of the author. When the Holy Father says there are no co-redeemers with Christ, he is highlighting Christ’s unique status as the God-man, the one Mediator between God and the human race (1 Tim 2:5). His intention is made clear when he cites Acts 4:12: “there is no other name by which we can be saved.” He is certainly not denying the teaching of Vatican II that “the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (Lumen Gentium, 62). It was in this sense that St. John Paul II, when speaking to the sick at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital on April 5, 1981, invited them to unite their sufferings to the passion of Christ as “co-redeemers of humanity” (corredentori dell’umanità). Along the same lines, Pope Benedict XVI, when blessing the sick at Fatima on May 13, 2010, reminded them that if their sufferings are united to Christ they can “become—according to his design—a means of redemption for the whole world.” He then told them: “You will be redeemers with the Redeemer, just as you are sons in the Son.”
When Pope Francis tells us, in his General Audience of March 24, that the Madonna covers us “as a Mother, not as a goddess, not as a co-redeemer,” he is emphasizing Mary’s maternal role, which is that of the Odigitria, “the one who ‘shows the way’ … to her Son and in connection with Him” (see CCC, 2674). The Holy Father is absolutely correct that Mary is not a goddess. If the Marian title, “co-redemptrix,” makes her into a goddess, we would need to reject it as a blasphemy. As is well-known, though, the title “co-redemptrix,” when properly used, never suggests that Mary is divine or equivalent to Christ as redeemer. In a similar way, Mary’s role as “co-redemptrix” never challenges the unique role of Christ, the God-man, who is the divine Redeemer of the human race. Following the logic of Vatican II, we must understand Mary’s co-redemptive role in such a way “that it neither takes away nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator” (Lumen Gentium, 62).
The Marian title “co-redemptrix,” however, was never meant to take away from Christ, the one divine Redeemer. The prefix,“co,” comes from Latin cum, which means “with.” This means that Mary, as the co-redemptrix, contributes to the work of redemption with Christ, the Redeemer, in a way that is secondary, subordinate, and dependent—but still essential according to God’s chosen plan of redemption.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God could have chosen to redeem the human race in many ways because of his omnipotence (Summa theologiae, III, q. 1, a.2). God, though, freely chose to redeem us by becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This, according to St. Thomas, was the most fitting or appropriate means of redemption for many reasons (see Summa theologiae, III, q. 1, a.2). God, however, did not wish to become human without the free assent of one representing the human race, and this representative was Mary, the New Eve, Just as the first Eve contributed to the fall of the human race, Mary, the New Eve, contributed to the redemption of the human race. Pope Leo XIII, in his encycl