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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its Foundation in Her Role as Coredemptrix

One of the problems that arise in any discussion on Co-redemption is the limiting of Redemption exclusively to the events of Good Friday. We must realize that the whole life of Christ is of salvific value, from His Annunciation to the hidden years of Nazareth, His public ministry, His passion, death, resurrection and ascension. Throughout His life Jesus is true to His name as the one who saves.

In the West when the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, falls on Good Friday, the feast is moved to another day as if the two events are unrelated and cause a distraction. The Fathers of the second century speak of the inseparability of the Incarnation and the Passion of the Son of God. The Incarnation was Salvation. For them to invoke the former is to include the latter. John Saward in the “Mysteries of March” states that for the Fathers “to say Incarnation is to say Cross.” (1)

In presenting this talk on the Assumption and Co-redemption, it is essential that we keep the whole of the plan of salvation together. As Mary is introduced into the mystery of Redemption with her Immaculate Conception, followed by the Annunciation and Divine Maternity, so then the Assumption event at the end of her earthly life must also be considered and understood as part of the plan of Redemption. If Mary has shared intimately in the joys and sorrows of the Lord through His birth and death, so then it is fitting that she should share in the glory of the Lord’s resurrection. One day we will experience the fruit of the resurrection, but Mary already has partaken of it in an anticipatory way by the resurrection of her body and soul in the Assumption.

As the definition of our Lady’s Assumption has already been solemnly defined by Pius XII in 1950 with Munificentissimus Deus, I will try to show how we can come to a greater understanding of Co-redemption by having recourse to the dogma of the Assumption. We will be able to see how a full and proper appreciation of Co-redemption is a prelude and necessary foundation that leads to the definition of the Assumption. If this defined dogma can only be fully understood as a consequence of, and in relation to, our Lady’s Co-redemption then we will have the impetus to have this fifth and final dogma defined as well.

Before we can proceed to develop this further, it is fitting that we look at the usage of the title Co-redemptrix and its theology which was commonly held up to the time of the definition of the Assumption. I will then return to the main argument of Co-redemption as a necessary foundation for the Assumption. This is confirmed by post Conciliar Mariology with reference to Redemptoris Mater and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Our Lady as “Mother of the Church” and “Image of the Church” receives the reward of her pilgrimage of faith by the resurrection of her body. This in turn inspires and leads us on our pilgrimage through life until we too will share what we profess to believe in—the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

The Theology and Use of the Title Co-redemptrix to the Time of the Definition of the Assumption

The discussion on Co-redemption since the turn of the twentieth century has been systematically recorded by a number of people. I am most grateful to Dr. Miravalle for his excellent reference book, Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate, Theological Foundations, vol. 1.

The path to the proclamation of the Assumption in the twentieth century begins with Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914). In the numerous encyclicals of Pius X there is an emphasis on the intimate union of mother and Son in accomplishing redemption. Mary distributes the gift of eternal life and actively obtains the gift together with her Son.

Through this communion of pain and will between Christ and Mary, “she merited to become the most worthy restorer (reparatrix) of a lost world,” and hence, too the disburser of all the gifts which Jesus bought for us by the price of His death and His blood. (2)

Miravalle notes that “Pope Pius adds to mariological development when he sanctions the use of the title ‘Co-redemptrix’ by three Congregations of the curia.” (3) The first usage concerns an actual feast of Mary that commemorates her seven sorrows (4) and her participation in the whole plan of Redemption. This feast was raised to a double of the second class, with the intention of giving greater honor to Mary who is known as the Co-redemptrix. (5) The Holy Office repeats the title in the following section on Indulgences.

There are some people whose love for our Most Blessed Virgin inclines them never to pray to Jesus without mentioning the name of His mother, Blessed Mary, our Co-redemptrix. This laudable custom expands the invocation, or the Christian salutation: “Praised be Jesus Christ” concerning which this congregation issued a decree on March 27, 1913. (6)

The third time the title is used is in an indulgence prayer of reparation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which her prerogative as Co-redemptrix of the human race is blessed. (7)

Miravalle and Schug comment that “we can do no more than presume that Pope St. Pius X personally approved their statements. After all they were published in the official Acta Apostolicae Sedis and were never recanted.” (8) So already we can see that this is none other than the Magisterium’s first three endorsements of Mary’s title “Co-redemptrix.”

Benedict XV (1914-1922) during his pontificate witnessed and supported the upsurge in the theology of Mary as “Mediatrix of Grace.” In 1921, Cardinal Mercier of Belgium petitioned and obtained from the Holy Office a special Mass and Office of Our Lady, Mediatrix of Grace. In Benedict’s encyclical, Inter sodalicia, Mary’s coredemption and her mediation of the fruits of that united sacrifice with her son are clearly stated.

“The fact that she was with her Son crucified and dying, was in accord with the divine plan. To such an extent did she suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such an extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him, in so far as she could, in order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ. For this reason, those graces that flow from the treasury of the Redemption are administered as it were, through the hands of the same sorrowful Virgin. No one can fail to see that the work of our Redemption is effectively and permanently completed especially by this gift.” (9)

It is possible to see then in Benedict’s own writing the extent to which the understanding of Mary’s co-redemption and its subsequent mediation had been developed.

Pius XI (1922-1939) made a specific contribution to the theology of Mary’s coredemption, by frequently designating Mary as “Co-redemptrix.” In 1933 the title was first used by him in an address to pilgrims from Vicenza, as recorded in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano. Since Jesus is the Redeemer, then there is a natural association with Mary as she is His Mother; so “the Redeemer could not help but associate His Mother in His work, and therefore we invoke her under the title of Co-redemptrix.” (10)

1934 was designated as a Jubilee year to commemorate the nineteenth hundred anniversary of the Redemption. During an audience with Spanish pilgrims celebrating the anniversary of the Divine Redemption, Pius XI acknowledged that it was also the anniversary of Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix. (11) “These young (pilgrims) must follow the thoughts and wishes of Mary most holy, who is our Mother and Co-redemptrix. They must make every effort to be Co-redeemers and apostles.”

In 1935, Pius XI officially closed the Jubilee year; he addressed Mary as the Co-redemptrix in a radio message to pilgrims at Lourdes. In the closing prayer Pius XI recalled Mary’s presence at the foot of her Son’s cross. “O Mother of love and mercy, when your sweet son was consummating the Redemption of the Human race on the altar of the cross, you stood next to Him, suffering with Him as Co-redemptrix.” (12)

During this inter-war period, the theology of Mary’s Co-redemption gained wide acceptance leading some to postulate that it would soon be solemnly defined by the Magisterium.

The Pope of the Assumption—Pius XII

We now arrive at our study of the Pope who defined the dogma of the Assumption. The pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958) has been seen to be a great Marian era for the Church. As well as defining the Assumption Pius XII made a contribution to Marian doctrine and devotion. In 1942, he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The feasts of Mary’s Queenship and of her Immaculate Heart were established. Pius XII canonized three “Marian” saints: St. Catherine Labouré, St. Louis Marie de Montfort and St. Anthony Mary Claret. There were centenaries of the definition at Lourdes and the recognition of the Marian shrine at Fatima. Pius XII wrote an Encyclical Fulgens Corona for the Marian year 1953-1954, centenary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In 1950 a Holy Year was celebrated and it was during this year that Pius XII, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption. “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary having completed the course of her earthly life was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”

The Mariology of Pius XII was based upon the patristic notion of Mary as the “New Eve,” a concept essential to a full understanding of Co-redemption and the Assumption. Evidence of this “New Eve” typology is found in four major encyclicals: Mystici Corporis (on the Mystical Body), Mediator Dei (on the Liturgy), Sacra Virginitatis (on Holy Virginity) and Haurietis Aquas (on the Sacred Heart).

The New Eve Typology

The title, New Eve, has been applied to the Blessed Virgin from the time of the Fathers of the Church. The Fathers saw Mary as having a unique role with Jesus Christ, the “new Adam.” It was through Eve’s disobedience that salvation was lost, but through Mary’s obedience that salvation was found; as Eve co-operated with Adam so Mary, the New Eve, co-operates with Jesus, the new Adam. There have been great allegorical studies and comparisons of the opening of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament: the narrative of Eve and the serpent and the narrative of Gabriel and Mary; the pride of Eve and the humility of Mary. A comparison is also made with the Calvary scene, the tree of life and tree that brings death in the Garden of Eden, alongside which, are found Mary who stands at the foot of the cross, and Eve who is next to the tree.

This participation of Mary in the work of Redemption’ is regarded as a universal teaching in the early church; J.H. Newman comments that by the time of Jerome (331-420), the contrast between Eve and Mary had almost passed into a proverb, which says “Death by Eve, life by Mary.” (13)

The principal papal contribution to this typology comes from Pius XII. In Mystici Corporis 1943 he writes “Mary offered Him on Golgotha to the eternal Father together with the Holocaust of her Maternal rights and motherly love, like a new Eve, for all the children of Adam contaminated through this unhappy fall.” Later Ad caeli Reginam (1954) Pius writes “Mary, in the work of Redemption, was by God’s will joined with Jesus Christ, the cause of salvation, in much the same way as Eve was joined with Adam, the cause of death…” Pius continues, “the Blessed Virgin is Queen not only as mother of God, but also because she was associated as the second Eve with the new Adam. Pius XII combines both the Annunciation narrative and the Calvary scene with the Genesis account of the fall and hence sees it as the basis for Mary’s part in our salvation. However, the most interesting quote that combines the Mary-Eve typology with the theology of Co-redemption and the Assumption comes from Munificentissimus Deus. “We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been designated by the holy Fathers as the new Eve, who, although subject to the new Adam, is most intimately associated with Him in that struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the protoevangelium, would finally result in that most complete victory over sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles.”

The period before the definition of the Assumption was one when Mary as Co-redemptrix had its strongest support. It was at this time that the official investigation on the suitability of the proclamation of the Assumption began. In 1946 the Apostolic Letter, Deiparae Virginis was circulated to investigate the sensus fidelium on the Assumption of Mary. The favorable replies to Deiparae Virginis for the definition of Mary’s Assumption may well have been argued from the wide acceptance and support of Mary as Co-redemptrix. In the same year of the definition of the Assumption there was an International Mariological Congress held at Rome. The title of the Congress was Alma Soda Christi, which may well have been chosen in the light of discussions about Mary as Co-redemptrix. Miravalle notes that a petition was sent from the Roman Mariological Congress for a dogmatic pronouncement on Mary’s coredemption and mediation now that her personal attributes were already defined. (14) This was followed by another petition in November 1951 from the Cuban hierarchy, headed by Cardinal Manuel Arteaga y Betancourt, Archbishop of Havana.

We can see then that as the influence and interest in Co-redemption rises, there is a simultaneous increase in the influence and interest in the Assumption. This eventually leads to the proclamation of the Assumption as a dogma of faith. This must lead us to ask what happened to the definition of Co-redemption? Or can we postulate that in the dogma of the Assumption there is implicitly contained the definition of Our Lady as Co-redemptrix. What is required now is to bring it to light. From the evidence I have shown so far, I personally believe that it is only from fully understanding Co-redemption that we can fully understand the Assumption.

Pius XII provides one solution which we can develop. He states that the new Adam and the new Eve, who was subject to Him, obtained the victory over sin and death. If Christ is victorious over sin and death by His crucifixion and resurrection, then we must ask: is it logical to deduce that Mary, the immaculate one, who suffers on Golgotha and acts as the Co-redemptrix, should therefore to that victory over sin and death by her anticipated Resurrection in her glorious Assumption? If she does share in the victory then it can only be as the consequence of her role as the Co-redemptrix.

When the Letter Deiparae Virginis was sent out, the different schools of Mariology promoted various arguments in favor of the Assumption. J. B. Carol in the American Ecclesiastical Review of March 1948 presents a short summary of these schools of thought and then his own understanding in favor of the definition of the Assumption from our Lady’s Coredemption.

There exists a positive correlation between the Assumption and the other Marian dogmas. The study of our Lady’s Assumption has for some been regarded as a consequence of the divine maternity in her role as Theotokos, the Mother of God. Others have seen that the prerogative of the Assumption as a consequence of the Immaculate Conception. Others argue in favor of the Assumption from the Perpetual Virginity of our Lady. I will now briefly present these different arguments.

1. The Divine Maternity

On January the first each year we celebrate the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. Our Faith teaches that in Jesus Christ there are two natures, human and divine, united in the one person. As Mary is the Mother of the person of Jesus Christ she can be called the Mother of God. This unique role of our Lady as Theotokos, God bearer, gives Mary a unique place and dignity in the plan of salvation. The argument in favor of the Assumption from divine maternity rests upon the unique dignity of Mary as Mother of God. It is impossible to assume that the body of her, who conceived and gave birth to the God-Man and who by that very fact, was endowed with an almost infinite dignity, should be indefinitely confined to the state of death.

Carol views this argument as a weak one. The reasoning is based on what is unbecoming on the part of Christ, to allow His mother to remain in the state of death at the end of her earthly life. If it is unbecoming then it is impossible for Christ to allow this. But what is unbecoming for us is quite different from what is becoming or unbecoming for Almighty God. It would be unbecoming for us to give birth in the poverty of a stable or to be stripped and crucified; yet this is the way of God. Carol states “It must be borne in mind that we are here considering the divine maternity in its purely essential concept, that is, in as much as it implies the conceiving and giving birth to the God-Man and the quasi-infinite dignity of God’s Mother. We are, therefore, abstracting from any other privilege or aspect which, although not necessarily implied in the concept of the divine motherhood, is de facto connected with it in the present dispensation. And we are of the opinion that the divine maternity in this sense does not seem to furnish an apodictic argument in favor of the revealed character of Mary’s Assumption. In other words, a mere analysis of the concept of divine maternity does not disclose the concept of the Assumption.” (15)

2. The Immaculate Conception

It has been argued that by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, through which the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without sin, and lived exempt from personal sin and concupiscence, she therefore, could not be subject to death up to the time of the general resurrection on the last day. This understanding of a preservation from death that necessitated the Assumption is based on the concept that death is a penalty for sin, therefore the argument runs, if our Lady is Immaculate she cannot be punished and consequently is assumed into heaven. Whilst it is true that the Scriptures make a connection between sin and death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12) it would be necessary to show that the doctrine of the Assumption is formally, implicitly revealed in the revelation of Mary’s absolute exemption from sin. It would have to be proved that death, whether final or transitory, until the day of resurrection, is always and necessarily a punishment for sin even after Christ has redeemed the world on the cross. This is the problem, for we know that through baptism original sin is forgiven and all punishment associated with it and yet those who are baptized and remain in that grace not only die, but are subject to corruption until the last day. Undoubtedly, the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Lady does have vital implications for her Assumption, but it is only a contributory factor.

3. Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

The third argument proposed in favor of the Assumption is as follows: that Mary remained a Virgin before, during and after childbirth. The virginity during birth is rightly seen as an immunity from the curse of Genesis 3:15, but this particular curse referring to the pain connected with childbirth is only one of the punishments resulting from original sin. It is therefore proposed, that if she is immune from this, then it is logical to suppose that likewise she was immune from the corruption of the grave, which is another aspect of the same general curse.

This argument is not entirely convincing as an exclusive proof in favor of the Assumption. Just because Mary is free from one aspect of the curse, it doesn’t necessarily follow by simple analysis that she is free from all other aspects of the same. If virginal integrity before, during and after childbirth implied the concept of bodily incorruptibility, it would not necessarily establish the fact of Mary’s anticipated resurrection by her Assumption. It would prove that Mary was not subject to the corruption of the grave. But this is a privilege, which is not exclusive to the Blessed Virgin and has been granted to many saints, whose incorrupt bodies remain visible today and have not had the privilege of an anticipated resurrection.

The Coredemption of Our Lady

So far, our previous attempts have failed fully to assert the dogma of the Assumption. We now turn to our Lady’s Coredemption to find a fully comprehensive guide to the Assumption. Before we proceed it is useful and necessary to clarify the title Co-redemptrix and coredemption.

The title Co-redemptrix theologically connotes the cooperation of Mary in the work of Redemption. It is a co-operation that is dependent on Christ and subordinate to Him. It can be understood as a passive or a remote co-operation that is, Mary provided Christ for redemption, (by being His mother). Co-redemption can also be understood as it usually is, as an active and immediate co-operation uniquely sharing in Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice which destroys sin and death. This is a complete and total victory over the dominion of the devil and all that this implies.

When we consider this understanding of co-redemption in relation to the Assumption we see how fittingly and necessarily the two theological concepts match.

Carol presents the argument thus: “The manner in which Christ fulfilled His office as Redeemer of the human race was precisely by obtaining a complete and total victory over the devil and his dominion which victory culminated in His anticipated glorious resurrection. Now our Blessed Lady, being the Co-redemptrix of mankind, shared Christ’s identical victory over the devil and his dominion. Therefore, she, too, enjoyed the privilege of an anticipated glorious resurrection.” (16)

The argument hinges on the association of Christ, the new Adam with Mary, the new Eve; the Redeemer with the Co-redemptrix, the man with the woman. This close association in the plan of Redemption must be continued through to the full fruit of redemption, the destruction of death and the promise of everlasting life and the resurrection of the body on the last day.

Throughout the numerous examples of magisterial approval of the cooperation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, either in its explicit reference to her as the Co-redemptrix or to its theology, we cannot doubt the close and indispensable association of Mary in the plan of God for the salvation of the world. We have seen how she has been called “the restorer of salvation,” how “she redeemed the human race together with Christ,” her “suffering as Co-redemptrix” and as her title of “the new Eve.”

Although the title Co-redemptrix is absent from the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus there is express recourse to the doctrine and paraphrases pertinent to the association of the theology of Coredemption with its consequence, the Assumption. This close association between Christ and Our Lady is stressed five times in the Constitution.

1. Pius XII speaks of the “wonderful harmony and order of those privileges which the most provident God has lavished upon this revered associate of our redeemer.”

2. The second reference is in connection with the scholastics who “base the strength of their proof on the incomparable dignity of her divine motherhood and of all those prerogatives which follow from it. These include her exalted holiness, the intimate union of Mary with her Son.”

3. The third reference in favor of the Assumption reads “All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation. These set the revered Mother of God as it were before our very eyes as most intimately joined to her divine Son and as always sharing His Lot.”

4. We have already seen in our treatment of the new Eve that Pius XII in the Constitution speaks of the intimate association of Mary with Christ in that struggle against the infernal foe which as foretold in the Protoevangelium (Gen. 3, 15), finally resulted in that most complete victory over the sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Consequently, just as the glorious Resurrection of Christ was an essential part and final sign of this victory, so that struggle, which was common to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her divine Son, should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: “when this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.”

5. The last reference that we need to look at follows on immediately from the above: “Hence, the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, was finally granted, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of Heaven.”

The Constitution makes it clear to us that the Assumption of our Lady is a sharing in the victory of redemption over sin and death in which she herself has taken an active part by being associated with the Redeemer.

The Complete Victory of Christ the Redeemer Over Sin and Death in the Resurrection, and the Complete Victory of Mary as Co-redemptrix Who Is Assumed into Heaven by the Anticipated Resurrection of Her Body and Soul

Christ was victorious over death, not by not dying, but by not remaining dead, by rising again with a glorified body. St. Paul reminds us that “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:17).

The glorious Resurrection of Christ is an essential part and final sign of victory over the dominion of the devil and its effects. Into this struggle, and associated with the victory, is Our Lady. If the fruits of Christ’s death have been applied to her in an anticipatory way by her Immaculate Conception, thus enabling her to co-operate with our salvation, so now Mary, who though subordinate to and dependent upon Christ, acts as our Co-redemptrix and is entitled to share in the full effects of the victory of the resurrection by her own anticipated resurrection in the glorious Assumption. The words of Pius XII in the dogma of the Assumption confirm our argument that our Blessed Lady shared most intimately in the Redeemer’s struggle against the infernal foe. “Consequently, just as the glorious Resurrection of Christ was an essential part, a final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body.” Christ and Mary shared the selfsame absolute struggle and complete victory over Satan. Christ’s Resurrection was an essential part of that struggle; therefore, so was Mary’s. The role of our Blessed Lady in the whole process is, of course, entirely subordinated to that of Christ from Whom it derived its very existence and all its efficacy. Christ, then, remains our only Redeemer. It is not a question of a Redeemer and a Redemptrix, but the Redeemer who makes use of the divine plan for Mary in salvation in her role as Co-redemptrix. For Christ, by not needing but allowing His Mother, is dependent upon no other and has destroyed the dominion of Satan and sin and death.

Apart from Munificentissimus Deus which infallibly defines the Assumption, there are some earlier petitions requesting this definition that are likewise based upon the wide belief and acceptance of Mary as the Co-redemptrix. At the time of the first Vatican Council a petition was sent (signed by 113 bishops and archbishops) requesting the definition of our Blessed Lady’s Assumption. It begins as follows: “Most Holy Father: Since according to the apostolic teaching, as recorded in Rom. 5-8; I Cor. 15:24-26, 54-57; Heb 2:14-15 and other texts, the triumph which Christ gained over Satan, the ancient serpent, consists of a threefold victory over sin and it’s effects, concupiscence and death; and since in Gen. 3:15 the Mother of God is shown as being associated in a unique manner in this triumph with her Son, which is also the unanimous opinion of the Fathers, we do not doubt that in the aforesaid prophecy (the Protoevangelium) this same Blessed Virgin was foretold as being prominent by that threefold victory; and therefore, that same passage (Gen. 3:15) foretells her singular triumph over hostile death by an anticipated resurrection similar to that of her Son, the same as it foretells her victory over sin by her Immaculate Conception, and over concupiscence by her virginal Motherhood.” (17) To the above is added two other testimonies petitioning for the Assumption in the first decade of the twentieth century. The first one, endorsed by eighty-six Ordinaries reads “It is evident that the privilege of the Assumption fits in admirably with the title and office of Mary as Coredemptrix of the human race.” (18) The other petition signed by thirty bishops and archbishops is more explicit still. It reads: “The same privilege of the Assumption is implied (continetur) in the revealed doctrine of Mary’s coredemption.” (19)

Carol summaries the conclusion “The victory of our Lady it must be remembered is an associated one, in other words she triumphs over Satan (and hence over death) through her close association with Christ, whose Victory she intimately shares. Christ triumphed over death, not by remaining alive, that is, by not dying, but precisely by not remaining dead, i.e., by His anticipated glorious resurrection, according to Romans 6:9. Hence, our Blessed Lady, because of her share in that victory (“arctissimo et indissolubii vinculo,” as Pius IX expressed it) triumphed over death, not by remaining alive, (that is by not dying), but rather by her anticipated glorious resurrection.” (20)

The Post-Conciliar Approach to Mariology and the Confirmation of the Assumption as a Result of Mary’s Cooperation in Redemption

There were two strands within Mariology of the period immediately prior to Vatican II. The predominant strand was to link Mariology with Christology. With the acknowledgement of new movements, both within and outside the Church, the emerging “Marian Model” was that of the “Mary-Church” theme. John XXIII, and subsequently Paul VI, were confronted with a dilemma: some of the council Fathers, rather nervous about the innovations of the Council and about a seeming break with the style of Marian piety of the last two centuries, wanted the Pope to do something that would recall the style and Marian devotion of Pius XII and his predecessors. The arguments were heated, new texts and schemas were written and re-written. The end result was the inclusion of Our Lady in the Schema on the Church in Lumen Gentium.

Within Chapter Eight of Lumen Gentium, the Fathers acknowledge that their presentation on Mary is incomplete and that the Mariological teaching prevailing in Catholic thinking up to that time was still viable.

“It (this sacred synod) does not, however, intend to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified. Those opinions therefore may be lawfully retained which are propounded in Catholic schools concerning her, who occupies a place in the Church which is highest after Christ and also closest to us.” (21)

The co-operation of Mary is presented in the Constitution, not as a once-only event but as a “role” in the ongoing “working out” of Redemption. Mary remains united to her Son throughout His life, until its climax on Calvary. This Conciliar teaching echoes the previously mentioned papal teaching of Benedict XV in Inter sodalicia, as well as the teaching of Pius XI and Pius XII.

The co-operation and intimate union of Mother and Son in salvation understood in relation to victory over sin and death has been written about by the present Pope in the encyclical Redemptoris Mater and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The main Marian work of John Paul II is the 1987 encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater. Throughout it John Paul II refers to his predecessors and their teaching on Mary’s ongoing presence in the mysteries of Redemption. Within the encyclical, there is no mention of the title “Co-redemptrix” (though he has used it on other occasions). Yet the theological understanding of Mary co-operating in Redemption is implied not only in the title, but also in various passages within the text.

John Paul II reminds us of the truth of the Assumption as defined by Pius XII and reaffirmed by the second Vatican Council. In quoting Lumen Gentium, the Pope recognizes the conformity of Mother and Son. “Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, in order that she might be more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the conqueror of sin and death.” The Pope continues that “By the mystery of the Assumption into heaven there were definitively accomplished in Mary all the effects of the one Mediation of Christ the Redeemer of the world and Risen Lord: ‘In Christ shall all be made alive, but each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (I Cor. 15:22-23)'” (22) The Pope throughout this section on the Assumption speaks of the close and indissoluble bond of Mary and Christ. The plan of Redemption was obtained through the singular and unitive collaboration of Mary with (subordinate and dependent upon) Christ the Lord. We can rightly deduce from the teaching of John Paul II, that Mary, who so intimately co-operated with the life and death of Christ, has also partaken and received the definitive effects of His victorious resurrection by an anticipated resurrection of her own body in its Assumption into Heaven. The Pope further confirms this in 1985 in Ecuador. Not only does he call Mary the Co-redemptrix, but “as she was in a special way close to the Cross of her Son, she also had to have a privileged experience of His Resurrection. In fact, Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son.” (23) Therefore, the only way we can understand this is as follows: as the Redeemer has been glorified in His resurrection, then the Co-redemptrix who was united to the work of Redemption also experiences the resurrection in her body through her glorious Assumption.

John Paul II, in other words, continues the teaching of the Magisterium by asserting that, the glorification of Mary in her Assumption is a fulfillment of her singular participation with her Son in Redemption in her role as the Co-redemptrix.

The Catechism of The Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church continues previous Magisterial Teaching on the co-operation of Mary in the Redemption. The foundation for this teaching on co-operation is Lumen Gentium and is presented in a section entitled “Wholly united to her Son.” In expounding Lumen Gentium Mary is identified as having a singular co-operation with Redemption that begins at the conception of Christ. This union is manifested above all at the hour of the passion where Mary joins her own suffering to that of her Son and renews the consent of the victim born of her. (24)

The Catechism views the Assumption of Mary in relation to her Son. “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.” (25)

We can conclude from the Catechism that, Mary is wholly united to her Son especially at the hour of His death and therefore is able to participate in her Son’s Resurrection by her Assumption. If Mary has remained faithful throughout the life of Christ and at His death, then why should she not also share in the new life He has obtained for each one of us? This new life which we hope for, is bestowed on Mary in an anticipated way by her Assumption.


To conclude, the theological understanding of Mary’s cooperation in Redemption gives her a unique role. This co-operative role in no way diminishes or detracts from Christ’s mission as “Redeemer of the World.”

As Mary is chosen to participate in the plan of God, she is the “Woman” who is united with the life and death of the “Man” of redemption. This typology was developed by the Fathers who see a link between Eve’s cooperation with Adam which brought death to the world, and that of Mary, the “New Eve” co-operating with Jesus, the “New Adam” who brings life to the world.

Mary came to be called the “Co-redemptrix” through theological and liturgical development. As the theological implications of this title became more precise, it has been positively used in magisterial teaching. With deeper study of the early church Fathers in the twentieth century, awareness of an ancient feast of the Dormition or falling asleep of Mary reawakened. This was commonly known in the West as the Assumption. As a consequence of the intimate union of Mother and Son in Redemption, the evidence points to the accepted role of Mary under the title of the Co-redemptrix. If Mary co-operates in the whole plan of Redemption, then she must also participate in its ultimate event, the resurrection, through her own resurrection of the body in the Assumption.

As the dogma of the Assumption is already defined, we have seen that this could well be as the result of the belief in the role of Mary as the Co-redemptrix. We therefore find encouragement in bringing this truth to greater clarity.

One day, each of us hopes to share in the joy of the resurrection of our own bodies. “While in the Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle, the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness.” (26) May we like Mary be of service to the Lord and be brought by His passion and cross to the glory of the resurrection.

Father Jason Jones is a diocesan priest with the diocese of Menevia, Wales.


(1) J. Saward, The Mysteries of March, London, 1990, p. 3.

(2) Pius X, Ad diem illum (eng. Trans.), in D. J. Unger, Mary Mediatrix, New Jersey, 1948, p. 8.

(3) M. Miravalle and J. Schug, “Mary Co-redemptrix: The significance of her title in the Magisterium of the Church” in M. Miravalle (ed.), Mary Co-redemptrix, pp. 215-246. p. 223.

(4) The seven sorrows of Mary are traditionally recognized as the presentation in the Temple, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the child Jesus, the meeting of mother and Son on the way to Calvary, Mary at the foot of the cross, the descent from the cross, the entombment.

(5) “Through this decree… may devotion to the merciful Co-redemptrix increase.” Congregation for Rites, May 13, 1908, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 41 (1908); 409, cited in Ibid.

(6) Holy Office (Indulgences) June 26, 1913, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 5, (1913): 364-365, cited in Ibid. p. 224.

(7) An indulgence of 500 days granted to the following prayer for reparation addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “… I praised thine exalted privilege of being truly Mother of God, Ever Virgin, conceived without stain of sin, Coredemptrix of the human race.” Holy Office, Jan. 1914: Sacred Penitentiary Apostolic, Dec. 4, 1934, in J.P. Christopher and C.E. Spence (eds.), The Raccolta, New York, 1944, p. 302.

(8) M. Miravalle and J. Schug, Ibid., p. 224.

(9) Benedict XV, Apostolic letter Inter Sodalicia C.T.S., London, 1918, p. 5.

(10) “The Papal Audience with a Pilgrimage from Vicenza: The glories of Mary. Coredemptrix of the Human Race.” In L’Osservatore Romano (Italian) Dec. 1 (1933) 281 n. 123, 344, p.3, in Miravalle and J. Schug, Mary Co-redemptrix, p. 226.

(11) “By these words the Pope meant that the pilgrims had come to celebrate with the Vicar of Christ not only the nineteenth centenary of the Divine Redemption but also the nineteenth centenary of her role as Coredemptrix and of her universal motherhood.

“These young (pilgrims) must follow the thoughts and wishes of Mary most holy, who is our mother and Coredemptrix. They too must make every effort to be Coredeemers and apostles.” Papal Audience with pilgrims from Spain, in L’Osservatore Romano, March 25, 1934, n. 69, n. 22, 437, Cited in Ibid., p. 227.

(12) “O Mother of love and mercy, when your sweet son was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross, you stood next to Him, suffering with Him as a Coredemptrix…. Day by day preserve and increase in us, we beg you, the precious fruit of his redemption and your compassion as His Mother.” Radio Message to Lourdes, April 28, 1935, L’Osservatore Romano, April 29, (1935), cited in M. Miravalle and J. Schug, Mary Co-redemptrix, p. 228.

(13) Eileen Breen, (ed.), Mary the second Eve, from the writings of John Henry Newman, England, 1983, p. 7.

(14) M. Miravalle and J. Schug, Mary Co-redemptrix, p. 231.

(15) J. B. Carol, “The Definability of Mary’s Assumption,” in The American Ecclesiastical Review, vol. 118, Nr. 3, March (1948) pp. 161-177, p. 168.

(16) Id., “The Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus and our Lady’s Coredemption,” Edizioni Marianum, Rome, (1951) p. 6.

(17) J. B. Carol, The Definability, p. 175.

(18) Ibid., p. 175.

(19) Ibid., p. 175.

(20) Ibid., p. 176.

(21) Lumen Gentium, n. 54.

(22) Pope John Paul II, Lumen Gentium cited in Redemptoris Mater, C.T.S. London, 1987 p. 88.

(23) Pope John Paul II, in Address at Alborada, Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 31, 1985 in L’Osservatore Romano, 876, March 11, (1985), cited in M. Miravalle and J. Schug, Mary Co-redemptrix, p. 238.

(24) Lumen Gentium 58.

(25) Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 966, p. 221.

(26) Lumen Gentium 65.


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