Building upon the Scriptural and Traditional bedrock of over eighteen centuries of the story of the Co-redemptrix, the Vicars of Christ become the main impetuses for the complete development of this doctrine. The nineteenth and twentieth century papal pronouncements bring the doctrine, and eventually the title, to the ranks of the ordinary teaching of the Church’s Magisterium—guided by the Holy Spirit and exercising the Petrine authority they alone possess.
So great is the Church’s love of the Mother of God, so forthright is its articulation of the truth about her during this period, that it has been universally designated as the “Age of Mary.” Generally dated from the 1830 “Miraculous Medal” apparitions of Our Lady of Grace to St. Catherine Labouré and extending to our own present day, this remarkable period of Church history has seen the declaration of two Marian dogmas, an explosion of Marian life, literature, art, and devotion, and has experienced exponentially more ecclesiastically approved Marian apparitions than at any other period in the Church’s history. It should not be surprising, therefore, to observe the remarkable Mariological development of doctrine and devotion to their Co-redemptive Mother taught by the Holy Fathers of the Marian Age.
This brings us to the question of what, precisely, constitutes the papal teaching of the ordinary Magisterium, the Church’s authoritative teaching office?
The Second Vatican Council instructs us that a “loyal submission of will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra (1) This supreme teaching authority is “made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain document is proposed, or by the manner in which a certain document is formulated” (Lumen Gentium, 25).
As we shall see, the “character” of the papal documents which articulate the doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix include encyclical letters, the official channel of communication for the ordinary Magisterium, as well as other forms of papal teachings such as apostolic letters, exhortations and general addresses (as well as the later ecumenical conciliar teachings of the Second Vatican Council). The truth of Mary Co-redemptrix has also been confirmed by the “frequency” of papal teaching of the Coredemption doctrine (2) and a repeated papal use of the Co-redemptrix title. (3) In fact, all the conciliar criteria for the ordinary teachings of the papal Magisterium are fulfilled by the nineteenth and twentieth century successors of Peter regarding Marian Coredemption and its title. (4)
It is of little wonder, therefore, that during this Marian Age, the Holy Fathers would bring greater precision and authoritative status to the story of Mary Co-redemptrix through their unprecedented papal testimony. (5) Building upon the scriptural, apostolic, patristic, and medieval theological foundations, they have validated its most prominent elements with a pneumatological guidance and protection possessed by no other teaching office on earth.
Remembering the principle that before the title there must first be the role, we see this rule of priority pedagogically respected by the pontiffs, who begin by examining the role of Marian Coredemption and then the role’s expression in the actual Co-redemptrix title.
In his Apostolic Letter, Ineffabilis Deus, which defined the Immaculate Conception (1854), Blessed Pius IX makes reference to the Mother’s Coredemption by recalling the early medieval declaration of her as the “Reparatrix of her first parents” and its scriptural origins in the Genesis 3:15 prophecy of her coredemptive battle with the Serpent: “Also did they declare that the most glorious Virgin was the Reparatrix of her first parents, the giver of life to posterity, that she was chosen before the ages, prepared for Himself by the Most High, foretold by God when he said to the Serpent, ‘I will put enmities between you and the woman’—an unmistakable evidence that she has crushed the poisonous head of the Serpent” (Bl. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus,Dec. 8, 1854).
In his encyclical, Jucunda Semper, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) teaches that Mary shared with Jesus the painful atonement on behalf of the human race in the depths of her soul: “When Mary offered herself completely to God together with her Son in the temple, she was already sharing with Him the painful atonement on behalf of the human race… (at the foot of the cross) she willingly offered Him up to divine justice, dying with Him in her heart, pierced by the sword of sorrow.” (6)
The “Rosary Pope” of the nineteenth century also began a series of successive papal teachings which identify the Mother of the Lord as a “cooperatrix” (“co-operare,” to work with) in the distribution of the graces of Redemption as a direct result of her cooperation in the obtaining of the graces of Redemption: “She who had been the cooperatrix in the sacrament of man’s Redemption, would be likewise the cooperatrix in the dispensation of graces deriving from it.” (7) Again, Our Lady is Mediatrix of all graces because she is first the Co-redemptrix; there is acquisition of grace before its distribution. The “Mother suffering” becomes the “Mother nourishing.”
St. Pius X (1903-1914) carries on the papal tribute to Marian Coredemption in his first Marian encyclical, Ad Diem Illum (1904). In this famous text, the Pope of the Eucharist gives papal authority to the many previous theological testimonies to Mary’s share in the merits of Redemption in light of her joint suffering with the Redeemer:
Owing to the union of suffering and purpose existing between Christ and Mary, she merited to become most worthily the reparatrix of the lost world, and for this reason, the dispenser of all the favors which Jesus acquired for us by His death and His blood…. Nevertheless, because she surpasses all in holiness and in union with Christ, and because she was chosen by Christ to be His partner in the work of human salvation, she merits for us de congruo, as they say, that which Christ merited for us de condigno, and she is the principal dispenser of the graces to be distributed. (8)
In its traditional understanding, condign merit in its strict sense (meritum de condigno ex toto rigore justitiae) refers to a merit or “right to a reward” with an equality between the meritorious work and the reward, and also an equality between the person giving the reward and the person receiving the reward. Congruous merit (meritum de congruo) refers to a reward based both on the fittingness of a recompense for the act, and on the generosity of the one giving the reward.
The Catholic Catechism teaches that supernatural merit is both a gift of grace and a reward for man’s co-working with God, which is founded upon God’s free choice to associate man with his salvific work:
With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.
The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit. (9)
Who, then, is more deserving of God’s merit for collaborating in the work of salvation with Christ than the Mother Co-redemptrix? No other creature, human or angelic, chose to co-work with God in the redemptive plan more than the Immaculata, created full of grace and without sin by the Father of all mankind precisely for this very purpose.
St. Pius X validates on the authoritative level of the ordinary Magisterium that Mary merits for humanity in the order of “fittingness” or congruous merit, that which Jesus merits for us in the order of “justice” or strict condign merit. The Mother at Calvary obtains merit for humanity at least de congruo, (10) based on the appropriateness of recompense for her joint suffering with Jesus, coupled with the generosity of the Eternal Father for the Virgin Daughter’s sacrifice of love and obedience offered to Him for the world’s salvation.
The Magisterium’s Use of the Co-redemptrix Title
The first usages of the Co-redemptrix title in the official pronouncements of the Roman Congregations also take place under the Magisterium of St. Pius X. Co-redemptrix is used three times by the Holy See in the initiatives of three Congregations of the Curia, and is thus contained in the publication of their official acts, Acta Sanctae Sedis (later to become Acta Apostolicae Sedis).
The first official use of Co-redemptrix comes on May 13, 1908, in a document by the Congregation of Rites. In positive response to a petition to raise the rank of the feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary to a double rite of second class for the universal Church, the Congregation of Rites expresses its hope that “the devotion of the Sorrowful Mother may increase and the piety of the faithful and their gratitude toward the merciful Co-redemptrix of the human race may intensify.” (11)
The Congregation of the Holy Office (currently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) is the next congregation to use the term. On June 26, 1913, expressing the Congregation’s satisfaction in adding the name of Mary to the name of Jesus in the indulgenced greeting, “Praised be Jesus and Mary” which is then responded to, “Now and forever,” the official document signed by Cardinal Rampolla states: “There are those Christians whose devotion to the most favored among virgins is so tender as to be unable to recall the name of Jesus without the accompanying name of the Mother, our Co-redemptrix, the Blessed Virgin Mary.” (12)
Six months later, the same Holy Office grants a partial indulgence for the recitation of a prayer of reparation to the Blessed Virgin (Vergine benedetta). The prayers ends with the words: “I bless thy holy Name, I praise thine exalted privilege of being truly Mother of God, ever Virgin, conceived without stain of sin, Co-redemptrix of the human race.” (13)
In these instances, the Holy Office which is commissioned by the Church as the guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, freely uses the Co-redemptrix term in a complementary reference to the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which manifests its sense of familiarity with and confidence in the term itself. The same Dicastery then grants indulgenced graces to a prayer that identifies the role of Mary, Co-redemptrix of the human race, as a privilege worthy of blessing. The use of the title by the Congregation of Rites (currently the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) also speaks to the appropriateness of the title as part of authentic Catholic devotion.
It is, moreover, under the pontificate of St. Pius X that the First International Mariological Congress takes place in Rome in 1904 (in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception), where the theme of Mary Co-redemptrix dominates the Congress. The French theologian (later Cardinal) Alexis Lépicier († 1936) presents a paper which is soon published as a book entitled, The Immaculate Mother of God, Co-redemptrix of the Human Race. (14) In the text, Lépicier states that after the Mother of God, the title of Co-redemptrix is the most glorious that can be granted to the Virgin. Lépicier’s contribution is favorably received by numerous theologians and Mariologists at the Rome congress. (15)
The following pontiff, Benedict XV (1914-1922) provides an invaluable contribution to the exactness of the doctrine of Coredemption as the unequivocal teaching of the papal Magisterium. In his classic text from the Apostolic Letter, Inter Sodalicia (1918) Pope Benedict articulates the Mother’s co-suffering participation in the Passion, her immolation of her Son in appeasement of the Father’s justice, and concludes with the explicit papal teaching that Mary “redeemed the human race together with Christ”: “To such extent did (Mary) suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him—insofar as she could—in order to appease the justice of God, that we rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ.” (16)
Upon the shoulders of these pontiffs and their official teachings on Coredemption, Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) becomes the first pontiff to use the title of Co-redemptrix in papal addresses.
The first occasion is on November 30, 1933, in a papal allocution to the pilgrims of Vicenza, Italy. Pastorally sensitive as well as doctrinally sound, Pius XI explains in this first papal usage of “Co-redemptrix” precisely why it is a legitimate term under which to invoke the Mother of the Redeemer: “By necessity, the Redeemer could not but associate (Italian, non poteva, per necessità di cose, non associare) his Mother in his work. For this reason we invoke her under the title of Coredemptrix. She gave us the Savior, she accompanied Him in the work of Redemption as far as the Cross itself, sharing with Him the sorrows of the agony and of the death in which Jesus consummated the Redemption of mankind.” (17)
In this simple passage, Pope Pius XI gives the rationale for the Co-redemptrix title, in light of how the Redeemer could not “not” have associated his Mother within God’s perfect providence in Redemption. (18)
During the 1934 Holy Year of Redemption, Pius XI repeats the Co-redemptrix title during the Lenten commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows. L’Osservatore Romano reports the pontiff’s remarks to Spanish pilgrims on that occasion: The Pope notes with joy that they have come to Rome to celebrate with him “not only the nineteenth centenary of the divine Redemption, but also the nineteenth centenary of Mary, the centenary of her Coredemption, of her universal maternity.” (19) The Holy Father then exhorts the youth to: “follow the way of thinking and the desire of Mary most holy, who is our Mother and our Coredemptrix: they, too, must make a great effort to be coredeemers and apostles, according to the spirit of Catholic Action, which is precisely the cooperation of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate of the Church.” (20)
In the following year, Pius XI for a third time invokes the Mother of Jesus as the Co-redemptrix in a radio broadcast, which the pontiff knew would reach far beyond the limits of a smaller papal audience in Rome, which would “carry weight and of universal outreach.” (21) In his April 28, 1935 Radio Message for the closing of the Holy Year at Lourdes, Pius XI directly invokes the Mother as the “Co-redemptrix” who assisted the Lord in the offering of the “sacrifice of our Redemption”: “O Mother of love and mercy who, when thy sweetest Son was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross, didst stand next to Him, suffering with Him as Coredemptrix… preserve in us, we beseech thee, and increase day by day the precious fruit of His redemption and thy compassion.” (22)
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) does not explicitly use the title, but repeatedly elucidates Coredemption’s doctrinal teaching on the level of the ordinary Magisterium. In his encyclical, Mystici Corporis (1943), he states that the ancient New Eve doctrine is properly fulfilled by Mary’s Coredemption at Calvary, and that Mary as the “New Eve” offers Jesus to the Eternal Father, sacrificing with him on behalf of “all the children of Adam”: “It was she who, always most intimately united with her Son, like a New Eve, offered Him up on Golgotha to the Eternal Father, together with the sacrifice of her maternal rights and love, on behalf of all the children of Adam, stained by the latter’s shameful fall.” (23)
During a May 13, 1946, radio message for pilgrims on the anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, Pius XII speaks of the Immaculate Virgin as the “co-operatrix” in association with the “King of Martyrs” in the “ineffable work of human Redemption”:
He, the Son of God, reflects on His heavenly Mother the glory, the majesty and the dominion of His kingship; for, having been associated with the King of Martyrs in the ineffable work of human Redemption as Mother and cooperatrix, she remains forever associated with Him, with an almost unlimited power, in the distribution of graces which flow from the Redemption. Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest; through Him, with Him and subordinate to Him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest and by singular election. (24)
Note how eloquently this pontiff relates Mary’s Coredemption with her Queenship, obtained by right of her victorious conquest with Christ the King in the restoration of grace. Pius XII is also reiterating the successive papal teaching that the Mother distributes the graces of Redemption as a direct result of her association with Christ in the work of Redemption through which the graces were acquired.
In his 1954 encyclical on Our Lady’s Queenship (Ad Caeli Reginam), Pius XII uses his favored expression of “Associate” of the Redeemer (25) in referring to the Mother’s share in Redemption. He cites the seventeenth century Jesuit mariologist, Suarez in attesting to her unique cooperation in Redemption: “Just as Christ, because He redeemed us, is by a special title our King and our Lord, so too is Blessed Mary (our Queen and our Mistress) because of the unique way in which she cooperated in our redemption.” (26) In another allocution, the pontiff affirms the unity of the New Adam and the New Eve in making “satisfaction” for the guilt of the first Adam and Eve: “Are not Jesus and Mary the two sublime loves of the Christian people? Are they not the new Adam and the new Eve, whom the tree of the cross unites in sorrow and in love in order to make satisfaction for the guilt of our first parents in Eden?” (27)
What, then, can we conclude from the authoritative witness of the pontiffs of the Marian Age leading up to the Second Vatican Council? This brotherhood of remarkable Holy Fathers grants official papal approval to the doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix and, by example and explanation, to the title of Mary Co-redemptrix. They confirm the Mother’s merit (28) and satisfaction (29) at Calvary, her participation in the sacrifice, (30) and her sharing in the payment of the price for humanity’s debt. (31) The popes of the Marian Age repeatedly use the new terminology applied to Mary, such as “co-operatrix” (32) and “co-redemptrix,” (33) and confirm her co-suffering and co-dying with Jesus at Calvary. (34)
In short, these Marian Age pontiffs bring to the official teachings of the papal Magisterium the best ideas and formulations on Coredemption, drawing from the deep reservoir of insights of the Church Fathers and Doctors, of John the Geometer, St. Bernard and Arnold, St. Albert and Tauler, the best of the seventeenth century Golden Age, and the mysticism of St. Catherine and St. Bridget of Sweden. Indeed, the mystical revelation from the lips of Our Lady herself through St. Bridget, which testifies that, “My son and I redeemed the world as with one heart,” (35) is affirmed with papal authority from the lips of Benedict XV, who testifies that Our Lady “redeemed the human race together with Christ.”
This article is from Dr. Mark Miravalle's “With Jesus”: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, Queenship Publications, 2003.
(1) Lumen Gentium, 25.
(2) A number of citations have been found in the more extensive work by Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins, “The Mystery of Mary Coredemptrix in the Papal Magisterium,” Mary Co-redemptrix: Doctrinal Issues Today, Queenship, 2002, pp. 25-92.
(3) The criterion of repetition in regards to the papal use of the title of Co-redemptrix includes the six usages by John Paul II which will be examined in the next chapter.
(4) For the same application of conciliar criterion to Marian Coredemption specific to the Magisterium of John Paul II, cf. Calkins, “Pope John Paul II’s Teaching on Marian Coredemption,” Mary Coredemptrix Mediatrix Advocate: Theological Foundations II, Queenship, 1996, p. 145. Note: While the Co-redemptrix title has not been used in papal documents of a conciliar or encyclical character, (Pius XI and John Paul II collectively) fulfills the conciliar criteria of frequency” of papal teaching.
(5) For an extended treatment, cf. Calkins,