Popes of the Marian Age and Mary Co-redemptrix

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 (1878-19