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The Council and Co-redemptrix

This article is from Dr. Mark Miravalle's “With Jesus”: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, Queenship Publications, 2003, and can be downloaded for free on Mother of All Peoples.

On January 25, 1959, “Good Pope” John XXIII, now Blessed, announces his desire to call an ecumenical council. The working preparations for the Second Vatican Council soon commence. On June 18 of that year, a circular letter is sent from Rome to all cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and general superiors of Religious families, followed on July 18 by a letter to Catholic universities and faculties of Theology. The purpose of the letters is to request from the future Council Fathers suggestions for the themes that should be eventually treated at the Council itself. (1)

These suggested topics are obtained during the antepreparatory period completed by spring of 1960. (2) The Secretary of the antepreparatory council then compiles a summary of the petitions and proposals from the bishops and prelates. Among these petitions, there are approximately four hundred requests by bishops for a dogmatic definition of Our Lady’s mediation, which included her cooperation in the Redemption, and particularly her role as Mediatrix of all graces. (3) Approximately fifty bishops request a dogmatic definition of Mary specifically as the “Co-redemptrix.” (4)

It is reported that the highest number of petitions on any single issue that the future Council Fathers agree merit a conciliar statement is on Our Lady’s mediation; the second largest number of petitions seeks a condemnation of communism; and the third issue of greatest agreement is the need for a solemn dogmatic definition on the Mother’s role of universal mediation “with Jesus.” (5)

The later direction for Vatican II, which is announced by Blessed John XXIII on the Council’s opening day of October 11, 1962 (at that time, the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary), will be “predominantly pastoral in character” and not dogmatic. Even so, the great quantity of “vota” or petitions for a dogmatic definition of the Mother’s Coredemption and mediation is historically significant, for it is evidence of how greatly the Council Fathers love the universal Mother and seek to profess the whole truth about her role in salvation history. (6)

The first draft or “schema” on the Blessed Virgin Mary is presented to the Council Fathers on November 23, 1962. The schema is prepared by a subcommission of theologians and titled, “On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men.” (7) Little known is the fact that the documentation contained in this first schema from the Second Vatican Council provides a beautiful synthesis of the history of the doctrine of Mary as “Co-redemptrix,” from the New Eve doctrine of the Early Fathers to the rich teachings of the nineteenth and twentieth century papal Magisterium leading up to the Council.

In the section which refers to the various titles in which the cooperation of the Mother of God with Christ in the work of human Redemption is expressed, (8) the documentation offers the following substantiation of the legitimacy of the title of Co-redemptrix and its doctrine (which follows an extended notation in support of the New Eve tradition):

All these things developed from the Pontiffs and the theologians, and a terminology was created in which Mary is soon called the “spiritual Mother of men, Queen of heaven and earth”; in other ways, “New Eve, Mediatrix, Dispensatrix of all graces,” and indeed, “Co-redemptrix” . . . To that which pertains to the title, “Co-redemptrix,” and “Associate of Christ the Redeemer,” some things must be added.

Already in the tenth century, the title of “Redemptrix” was used: “Holy Redemptrix of the world, pray for us.” When in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, this familiar title was used, already an immediate cooperation of the Blessed Virgin in the work of our Redemption was recognized, and to the name, “Redemptrix” is added “co,” and therefore the Mother of God was called, “Co-redemptrix,” while Christ continued to be called, “Redeemer.” From that time to the seventeenth century, the title Co-redemptrix was brought into use not only in devotional works of piety and holiness, but also in a great number of theological tracts. (9) This also pertains to the Roman pontiffs, as it has occurred in certain texts of St. Pius X and Pius XI . . . . (10)

The schema notation goes on to mention how Pope Pius XII used formulas such as “Associate of the Redeemer,” “Noble Associate of the Redeemer,” “Loving Associate of the Redeemer” and “Associate in the divine work of Redemption” without the specific term, (11) but also how the help of Mary “cum Iesu” in the economy of salvation is frequently praised by the supreme pontiffs. It subsequently quotes Pope Pius XI using the Co-redemptrix title on December 1, 1933, and proceeds to cite further references in support of the Co-redemptrix doctrine by Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, and Pius XII. Its documentation even refers back to Pius VI in the eighteenth century, who condemns the thesis that unless a title of Mary is not explicitly contained in Scripture then it cannot be believed, even though approved by the Church and incorporated into its public prayer (Auctorem fidei, 1794). (12)

With such extensive documentation for Co-redemptrix and its doctrine in the Church history and papal teachings, why then was the title not used in the final version of the Marian schema which later appeared as Chapter Eight of Lumen Gentium?

One certain reason for the absence of the Co-redemptrix title in the final version of the conciliar treatment on the Blessed Virgin is the inclusion of a “prohibition” for the title written by a theological subcommittee in the form of an “Explanatory Note” (Praenotanda), which immediately follows the text of the original Marian schema as it was distributed to the Council Fathers. The subcommission’s prohibition reads: “Certain expressions and words used by Supreme Pontiffs have been omitted, which, in themselves are absolutely true, but which may be understood with difficulty by separated brethren (in this case, Protestants). Among such words may be numbered the following: ‘Co-redemptrix of the human race’ (Pius X, Pius XI) . . . .” (13)

The theological commission’s prohibition is not based in any way on concerns over the doctrinal legitimacy of Co-redemptrix, for the note unequivocally states that titles like “Co-redemptrix of the human race” which have been used by the popes are “in themselves absolutely true.” But the term is prohibited, rather, due to the opinions of certain members of the subcommission that Co-redemptrix is a term that “may be understood” by Protestant Christians “with difficulty.”

Is it not fair to examine the prohibition of the Co-redemptrix term in the light of the entire genus of Catholic terminology? One is compelled to consider what would happen to the entire Catholic theological tradition if all our theological titles of faith were to be measured by the same standard. Certainly, Catholic terms such as “transubstantiation,” “papal infallibility” or even “Mother of God” would suffer, since these terms certainly run the danger of being “understood with difficulty” by our brother and sister Christians who are not in the full Catholic communion.

Nonetheless, the subcommission’s prohibition is followed. Sadly, the issue of including the Co-redemptrix title in Vatican II’s treatment on Mary, in spite of its documented Catholic Tradition and authority, and the numerous petitions for its inclusion during the antepreparatory phase, is not permitted to reach the Council floor for discussion by the Council Fathers themselves, among whom the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing.

Even so, the Spirit does safeguard a true and bountiful testimony to his coredemptive Bride. The doctrine of Mary’s suffering “with Jesus” receives its greatest and most explicit witness of authority by any ecumenical council in Church history.

Marian Coredemption in Lumen Gentium

Early in Chapter Eight of Lumen Gentium, the Fathers of Vatican II introduce the humble clarification and disclaimer that this chapter on the Blessed Virgin in no way constitutes a “complete doctrine on Mary.” On the contrary, the Fathers encourage the “work of theologians” to further clarify those opinions which can be “lawfully retained” as propounded in Catholic schools regarding her:

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 (Lumen Gentium, 54).

It is evident to anyone willing to examine most any international mariological journal of the nineteen forties, fifties, and early sixties (14) that a dominant, probably the most dominant, Mariological topic being studied by theologians and being “propounded in Catholic schools” at the time is the doctrine of the Mother’s Coredemption and mediation. This is why any idea that the Second Vatican Council sought to put an end to the doctrinal development of Mary Co-redemptrix is simply an erroneous contradiction of the Council’s own words and teachings.

Four years prior to the commencement of the Council, the 1958 International Mariological-Marian Congress held at Lourdes is dedicated to the subject of the “Cooperation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Church in the Redemption of Christ.” (15) At this congress, a moral unanimity is reached by the theologians present in support of the doctrine of the Mother’s unique cooperation in Christ’s Redemption. (16) Mary Co-redemptrix is indeed being propounded in Catholic schools, mariological congresses, and seminaries, and with a vivacious appreciation of its doctrinal integrity.

The Council begins its theological treatment of Mary’s Coredemption in section II of Lumen Gentium, titled “The Function of the Blessed Virgin in the Plan of Salvation” (LG, 55-59). Here they refer to the Old Testament prophecies of the Mother of the Redeemer, which is fulfilled in the new plan of salvation, when the Daughter Zion gives flesh to the Son of God to free man from sin:

. . . The earliest documents, as they are read in the Church and are understood in the light of a further and full revelation, bring the figure of a woman, Mother of the Redeemer, into a gradually clearer light. Considered in this light, she is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of victory over the serpent which was given to our first parents after their fall into sin (cf. Gen. 3:15). Likewise she is the virgin who shall conceive and bear a son, whose name shall be called Emmanuel (cf. Is. 7:14; Mic. 5:2-3; Mt. 1:22-23). She stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion and the new plan of salvation is established, when the Son of God has taken human nature from her, that he might in the mysteries of his flesh free man from sin. (17)

The document then quotes the ancient Fathers in articulating the Mother’s active cooperation in the plan of salvation by citing the New Eve model and the principle of Recapitulation:

The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life . . . Thus the daughter of Adam, Mary, consenting to the word of God, became the Mother of Jesus. Committing herself whole-heartedly and impeded by no sin to God’s saving will, she devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God. Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St Irenaeus says, she “being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.” Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert with him in their preaching: “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”

Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her “Mother of the living,” and frequently claim: “death through Eve, life through Mary.” (18)

We see here how the Council teaches that the Mother “devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and the work of her Son, under him and with him, serving the mystery of Redemption.” This is the Mother “with Jesus” in the work of Redemption—unequivocal and straightforward. We have here Vatican II’s certain teaching of the legitimacy of Marian Coredemption. But this is only the beginning.

The Council Fathers refer to the Mother’s singular co-operation which lasts throughout her earthly life: “The work of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death” (LG, 57). They then summarize the first years of this cooperation, from the Visitation, to the miraculous birth, to the coredemptive prophecy at the Presentation, to the Virgin’s sorrow at being separated from her son at the Temple (cf. LG, 57).

The Council’s most profound testimony to Coredemption comes in number 58 of Lumen Gentium. Substantiated by the papal teaching which led up to the Council, the Fathers synthesize the previous ordinary teachings of the Magisterium regarding Mary’s co-suffering with Jesus at Calvary:

In the public life of Jesus Mary appears prominently; at the very beginning when at the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah (cf. Jn. 2:1-11). In the course of her Son’s preaching she received the words whereby, in extolling a kingdom beyond the concerns and ties of flesh and blood, he declared blessed those who heard and kept the word of God (cf. Mk. 3:35; par. Lk. 11:27-28) as she was faithfully doing (cf. Lk. 2:19; 51). Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to his disciple, with these words:

“Woman, behold thy son” (Jn. 19:26-27).

Enduring with Jesus his suffering; associating herself with his sacrifice; consenting to his immolation as Victim. Co-suffering; co-sacrificing; co-satisfying; co-redeeming. Does the Council not rally behind the best of the Tradition of Coredemption?

To further elaborate their teaching on Marian Coredemption, the Council summarizes again Mary’s lifelong work of sharing the sufferings of the Redeemer and teaches that her sharing in the restoration of the supernatural life with Christ is the foundation for her role as the spiritual mother of all peoples. Taken up to heaven, Mary becomes the maternal Mediatrix of the “gifts of eternal salvation,” but without any loss to the dignity of efficacy of Jesus, the one Mediator:

The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator. (19)

Without question, the Second Vatican Council’s testimony to the story of the Co-redemptrix is both doctrinally generous and theologically profound. Without using the title, it extensively teaches the doctrine—the truth without the name.

And yet the doctrine of Marian Coredemption and the title of Mary Co-redemptrix have an essential, ontological, revelational connection. They cannot be artificially separated. If one accepts the doctrine, as does the Second Vatican Council, then one must accept the truth of the title, which finds its source, its being, its history in the doctrine. To state, therefore, that Vatican II did not teach the doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix is an error of history and a violation of truth.

The Second Vatican Council does not use the Co-redemptrix title “absolutely true in itself,” (20) but nevertheless professes the doctrine, which is the true mother of the title. The Catholic doctrine of Mary “with Jesus, from the Annunciation to Calvary” is the authoritative teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Its title, for the historical moment, is left out. But this moment of silence will soon pass with the Marian pontificate of John Paul II.

On June 4, 2002, Theologian of the Papal Household, Fr. Georges Cottier, O.P., publishes an article in the Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, titled, “The Coredemption.” (21) In this article, the papal theologian defends the legitimate use of the title of Co-redemptrix in light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. He also voices an authentic interpretation of the Council’s doctrinal teachings on Mary’s Coredemption:

The Council’s text, which we have quoted, strongly emphasizes this: Beneath the cross, Mary suffers deeply with her only born Son, she joins in his sacrifice with maternal love; lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim generated by her: what could these words mean if not that Mary plays an active role in the mystery of the Passion and the work of redemption? The Council itself clarifies this . . . .

Can we add to the title Mediatrix that of co-redemptrix? In the light of the above, the answer is affirmative. (22)

This article is from Dr. Mark Miravalle's “With Jesus”: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, Queenship Publications, 2003.


(1) Cf. G. M. Besutti, O.S.M., Lo Schema Mariano al Concilio Vaticano II, Edizioni Marianum, 1966, p. 17.

(2) 1998 responses were received which represented seventy-seven percent of those asked for suggestions, cf. Besutti, Ibid.

(3) Besutti states the number of bishops for the definition of Mary’s Mediation was over 500, cf. Besutti, Ibid.; Cf. also A. Escudero Cabello, La cuestión de la mediación mariana en la preparation del Vaticano II, Rome, 1997, pp. 86-92; O’Carroll, Theotokos, p. 352.