Let us meditate on the great mystery of Mary the Coredemptrix. We are small and we have to ask the light of the Holy Spirit to be able to adequately express and know this mystery. What good would it be to talk about this title if we are not joined in common prayer? Therefore, we are united about Our Lady and in union with the Holy Father in one spirit of profound prayer.
Our Lord Jesus, from the heights of the cross gave His Mother to all redeemed by His blood. Paul VI proclaimed the Virgin Mary Mother of the Church, during the Second Vatican Council, and already in this title we can understand the other three:
Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate
While speaking about the value of suffering, I would like to start the theme of Coredemption with a thought from St. Thomas Aquinas. He said that one drop of the blood of Jesus Christ would be enough to save the whole world, even hundreds of worlds. Yet we also know the words of St. Paul very well: “. . . to make up in my own body all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24).
How can we describe this seeming contradiction? If one drop of the blood of Jesus is enough to save the world, why did Christ have to suffer so much, and why did the Church have to suffer so much in these 2000 years in order to save the world?
Our answer, dear friends, can only be one of faith. God, in His infinite mercy, wanted our cooperation in the redemption which His Son attained for the salvation of all souls. Just as He redeemed us through suffering, we can contribute in the work of redemption only through suffering. St. Paul testifies that Christ wants our contribution in the work of redemption through our suffering.
Our late beloved pope, John Paul II, used more than once the word “coredeemers” in his addresses to the sick. In an audience for the sick on September 8, 1982, he calls Our Lady “Coredemptrix.” He said:
My word goes out to you too, dear sick ones. I invite you to rejoice about the birth of the immaculate Mother, the Immaculata. Mary, who was conceived and born without any stain of sin, participated in a wonderful way in the sufferings of her son, in order to become Coredemptrix of mankind. You know that every pain which is united with the pain of the Redeemer has a great and irreplaceable value for the salvation of souls. Therefore, recognize the inestimable value of your great mission, for which I invoke the consolation of Mary, the deepest joy which the purest Mother’s heart has prepared for you.
John Paul II, who knew from personal experience the value of suffering, called on the Mother of God several times during his pontificate as “Coredemptrix of the human race.” In the light of the Gospel, we understand that we, too, can become coredeemers along with Mary, if we offer up our sufferings.
Our Lady of Fatima’s Invitation to Coredemption
We are living in an age of the greatest Marian revelations. I would like to speak a little about Fatima. There, during the first apparition, the Mother of God asked a favor of the children. Sister Lucia told me about this fifty years after the apparition: “The first thing that Our Lady asked of us children was the willingness to accept every cross and every suffering that the Lord would send us for the salvation of sinners.”
The message of Fatima reminds us that each of us is called to unite our sufferings with those of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Christ took upon Himself death upon the cross for the salvation of sinners. The Coredemptrix, His Mother, was standing under the cross and carried deep suffering in her Immaculate Heart for thirty-three years, as Simeon prophesied: “Also your soul a sword shall pierce.”
What a great love the hearts of Jesus and Mary have for us! She came to Fatima to remind all people through three shepherd children that Coredemption is part of the central mystery of Christianity. She did this in a very dramatic way by showing them hell and told them: “Look, how many souls go to hell because there are few who sacrifice for them.” We are also all aware of the well-known prayer that the angel taught to the children: “My God I believe, I adore, I hope, I love you. I ask forgiveness for all those who don’t believe, don’t adore, don’t hope, and don’t love you.” This prayer teaches us that we have to accept the burden of the infidelity of others in order to save them through our prayer and coredeeming suffering. God wants to make us little redeemers through accepting, supporting, and offering this suffering. Our Lady repeats the same thing to us as she did to the three children of Fatima: “The hearts of Jesus and Mary need you for their plan of mercy. Continuously offer prayers and sacrifices to the Almighty.”
The Experience of Coredemption During the Persecution
At this point I would like to tell you my own experience and that of many others who were imprisoned in the East because of Christ and the Gospel. Certainly you all know that in the Eastern countries — I am from Slovakia — there was heavy persecution of Christians for forty years. When this atheist-communist regime came to power as prophesied in Fatima, all bishops, and the best diocesan priests were imprisoned, along with all religious: Franciscans, Capuchins, Salesians, Dominicans…; all were deported to concentration camps or prisons. Later, all nuns — more than 10,000 — were arrested; shortly thereafter thousands of laity, especially all those who worked in the service of the Church.
In that time I was a theology student and Jesuit seminarian. At midnight the police came and occupied our convent. Three policemen came into my room and since there were three of us together they said: “All of you get up and follow us.” Outside a bus was waiting for us in which we had to take our place. Next to every religious there was an armed policeman. This is how they brought us to the unknown.
Allow me to tell you what I felt in my soul at that moment. I can say that I was afraid. Not afraid of the manual labor which likely awaited me, but I was afraid of not being able to become a priest anymore. This was my one goal, the only great desire of my life. I have the prayers of my mother to thank for my priestly vocation. She wanted, already as an unmarried woman, to give her children to the Lord as priests and nuns. There were eight of us, four brothers and four sisters, but none of us could study; we were poor. And yet my mother never ceased to pray and hope.
Then I became a worker and along with my work I studied privately. This is how I was allowed to enter the Jesuits. It was towards the end of the war and there were bombing raids. Often we had to leave the house and move to another city. Often we hid in cellars while the bombs fell, and you could hear them explode. As the dirt began to fall from the ceiling, our father superior began to pray the Act of Contrition and then he gave us the general absolution since we were in danger of death. I couldn’t pray, but I fought with the Lord: “Let me live, let me live, let me say at least one Holy Mass. Then I will be ready to die.”
I had the same fear and the same fight on that bus which brought us toward the unknown. I didn’t know if it would bring us to Siberia or somewhere else. Maybe I would never encounter a bishop who could ordain me a priest. Again, I began to pray: “Lord, let me live, allow me to say one Holy Mass.”
Only in the Light of Christ can We Understand Coredemption
To save me from this fear I pulled out the Gospel which was the last thing I stuck in my bag before leaving my room. I opened it to read something to free me from this fear which practically took the breath out of me. The first words which came to my eyes were these: “You foolish men! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?” (Lk 24:26).
They were Jesus’ words to the two disciples of Emmaus who found themselves in this same situation, fleeing from Jerusalem despairing, confused, and depressed. They couldn’t quite understand the sense of the suffering which appeared in their eyes, as it does in ours today, as a defeat. They awaited the Messiah, and now their hope was gone.
Jesus came though, to the aid of their poor faith and opened their eyes: “Don’t you know that all of that suffering was necessary?”
These words were an enlightenment for me; a light which illuminated me and got rid of the darkness and fear. Then a profound peace came into my heart and into my mind, a peace which up to this point I had never experienced before. In this light, I understood that the essence of Christianity and the priesthood was sacrifice, the cross, and suffering offered in love. So, much more than before I felt my unworthiness of becoming a priest, because I hadn’t yet understood the immense value of suffering with Christ and for Him.
Exactly this glorious light of the cross illuminated millions of other imprisoned, oppressed, and persecuted Christians of the Church of the East.
In the concentration camp, I found myself with 700 other religious, priests, and seminarians. There was maltreatment, hunger, and cold, but that which made us suffer the most inside was to hear how our persecutors mocked and cursed everything which we held sacred: the Lord, Our Lady, the Holy Father, our vocation. The priests, instead of taking the chalice and offering it to the Father, had to take the pick-ax and do seemingly useless work.
But the Lord visited us there with His light just like the disciples of Emmaus. The priests found the original meaning of their priesthood more deeply, which is the priesthood of Christ. What was the first goal of Jesus? To preach? No, the prophets also preached. Also the apostles proclaimed the Kingdom of God. To perform miracles? But Jesus said: “You all will perform even greater ones.” So the goal of His coming upon the earth was the redemption through immolation on the cross. This was the height of His priestly mission: the suffering and the agony of the cross out of love for each one of us, for the salvation of the world.
As with the priests, so too, the nuns and laity were happy during the persecution because “they made up in their own body all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church.” That means that they became coredeemers: saving the world together with Jesus and His Mother, the Coredemptrix.
The Coredeeming Mother, Present in the Mystery of Redemption
In that time of pain, we turned ourselves to Our Lady with ardent supplication: “You became our Mother when your Son was on Calvary, on the cross. Now it is we upon the cross and you cannot abandon us.”
This is how we united ourselves to her, to the Coredemptrix, to her sufferings. Like
her, we also were under the cross and we united our sufferings with her Son’s, just as she did. Led by the hand of the Coredemptrix, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we understood how our suffering was necessary, desired by God, as a contribution in the redemptive work of Christ. That which seemed unbearable to us at the beginning became a source of joy and happiness because we felt like participants of the Stations of the Cross, of the suffering of Jesus for the salvation of souls.
Here are a few testimonials from those who lived the Stations, who compassionated with Jesus:
The work which the authorities demand from the sisters is inhuman. Our sisters are breaking down physically. The cause of the trouble lies also in the fact that the meals are irregular and their rest at night is disturbed. One group of sisters goes to work at four in the morning and returns at three in the afternoon. Another group works from one o’clock at night till ten o’clock in the forenoon. A third group begins work at ten o’clock at night and comes back at six in the morning. We are lodged in one hall of the factory with forty-five beds. But how can one sleep quietly with such a coming and going of sisters almost the whole night long?
We arrive at the factory at one o’clock in the morning and recite in common the prayer: “Actiones nostras Domine…” Then each of us goes to her department, to the machines — our altars — on which we celebrate our Holy Mass all day long…
Only our Guardian Angel knows the prayers, the sacrifices, the acts of adoration of each one of us. It is precisely through these sacrifices that we would like to save the lives of many, to share in Christ’s work of Redemption for the glory of God, to cooperate with our divine Spouse for the salvation of souls. May His faithful spouses become His instruments!
We are in the press and as long as our Lord has not pressed from us all that is an obstacle to our perfection, we have to stay here. We find it hard to learn this lesson from our Lord. Our hearts are still attached to our convents, to our houses, to our language. We were too well off. But now a strict rule is imposed on us, which does not admit of relaxation. Our apostolate in these circumstances consists in our example, our prayers, and especially in the acceptance of the cross and daily sacrifice. We continually feel our human weakness, but the Lord is with us. At this moment the Lord has no need of our teaching profession. Instead He calls us to a total denial, to a life of prayer and faith. We practice charity between the families of the various religious orders. We live peacefully with them so that all our sisters find a place in the heart of each one of us… In this consists our strength.
Thus united we find ourselves in a little shell, as it were. The Lord loves us in a strange way. He wills that we pay with our sufferings for our own guilt and for that of the whole world.
And here are examples of spiritual exercises conducted while working in a factory.
I have finished the eight days. It was wonderful. I have never experienced such moments before. This new experience, this discovery has filled my heart with such a joy, that I cannot keep it all to myself. I wish all men could be as happy as I am now… The Lord lives in me! Never have I realized it so profoundly: I can see I had first to pass through these trials…
Believe it or not, we have had eight such days here. We can state with certitude that the retreats we made formerly cannot be compared at all with these we have made now, which have been much more beautiful, much richer, at least for me, perhaps because now the Holy Spirit guides us, while formerly we were guided by spiritual directors, who probably were wanting in experience. Today they too perfect themselves and so can become efficient teachers.
And here an excerpt from the diary of a theologian of the Society of Jesus who wanted to become a missionary in India, but thrown into prison gave his crucifix to a friend:
Take the crucifix! When on the battlefield the standard-bearer falls, another takes the banner out of his dead hands. It does not matter who carries it to victory, the only important thing is that it is carried aloft till the end of the battle. Take then the banner, which for us is the holy cross, and if you come to India, then at least my crucifix can take part in the mission work, while I, as it seems, have to go on suffering. The standard of the Savior has, for the good of all mankind, to be carried till the end of time. Carry then this crucifix: I could not use it just now; it is in safe keeping with you. Many of my confreres have lost it, from some it was stolen. With you it is at least in good hands.
Our final extract is taken from the letter of a bishop. He was kept in communist prisons for a long time, where he had to undergo torture and vexations of all kinds. From eyewitnesses who shared the prison with him we know that once when he returned from a cross examination in a state of complete exhaustion, he entertained the thought of committing suicide. When he came to himself, he deplored his passing weakness. His letter testifies in fact what spiritual strength supports him today and with what courage he prepares himself to face the way of the cross with the faithful under the communist regime.
If up to now it has not been given us to reach complete union with the Mystical Body, now it is possible. The enemy thinks of separating us from the Church, when he strives to hinder our contact with the Father by violence and when he actually promotes schism through traitors. The truth however is this: Even if I do not receive any news from Rome, from the Holy Father, even if all faithful priests are taken away, even if we cannot celebrate Mass in the Catholic Rite any more either in public or in secret — even in such situations we remain indissolubly and perfectly united to the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, so completely does our heart belong to her…
As in these times, when violence rules with such cunning subtlety and when even the wise can lose their way, such uncertainties must arise. We beg you to maintain the most vital union possible with the Catholic and Apostolic Church, with the Rock of Peter. Read the previous and the recent words written by the Holy Father and have faith in him to whom the Lord has entrusted the task of comforting the brethren and guiding the Church with a strong hand.
Before fleeing from Slovakia, I made a vow to the Coredemptrix: If I arrive alive in Rome, I want to inform the Holy Father about the real condition of the persecuted Church. I want to spend my life deepening the doctrine of the Coredemptrix and making known to all of us the mystery of Coredemption in the light of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, I have chosen as my Episcopal insignia: the Holy Spirit and the Pieta.
I would briefly like to say now, that in the West, I learned of the message of Amsterdam. To a simple woman a great mystery was revealed: that Mary at the side of Jesus was the Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and universal Advocate, and that the renewal of the Church depends on the proclamation of this final dogma. It is interesting that the Bishop of Haarlem in Holland, the diocese in which Amsterdam is found, inspired by that message, in 1996, publicly approved the devotion to Mary as “Lady and Mother of All Nations,” with the next bishop subsequently giving official approval to the apparitions themselves on May 31, 2002. Such a title expresses the universal motherhood of the Blessed Virgin.
This pontificate “Totus tuus,” more than any other pontificate, has shed light upon the mystery of Mary under the cross. There are well over two-hundred references by the Pope on this topic, which is so closely connected to the spiritual motherhood of Mary for all men. Through this, the Holy Father wants to illustrate the deepest mystery of Mary. Under the cross the coredeeming Mother was pierced by the sword, and together with Jesus she saved us; the New Eve, Mother of the living in Christ. Here she became our Mother and was solemnly given to us by Christ. I believe that the title of Coredemptrix is completely legitimate and is the most appropriate title that theologically defines the intensity of Mary’s participation in redemption.
To say “Coredemptrix” means recognizing our Mother as an essential instrument united to Christ for our salvation. She was Coredemptrix already at the Annunciation, but under the cross this title reaches its fullness and is given to the world. When Jesus says to Mary: “Woman, behold your son” her universal motherhood is proclaimed. As the Fathers of the Church teach: through one woman, Eve, misfortune came; through one woman, Mary, salvation was attained.
We don’t have to be afraid to call our Mother “Coredemptrix” because she is truly that. I am sure that the reserves and opposition which are encountered sometimes in regard to the title of Coredemptrix will be overcome, because the light of the Holy Spirit will illuminate minds and hearts more and more. We cannot forget, too, that before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception there were big disputes. With prayer, sacrifice, and humble theological studies the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception finally arrived in 1854, thanks, above all to the contribution of Duns Scotus.
Today, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Our Lady promised in Fatima that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph. I believe that we are close to this triumph but surely the battle which is mentioned in the Apocalypse is not over yet. That is why every day we renew our consecration to Mary as “the way towards victory,” as the way towards the dogma. In the spirit of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort and St. Maximilian Kolbe, we all believe in the power of the Coredemptrix, who in the end will crush the head of the serpent. Her humility will always be victorious over the pride of Satan and man.
Now the last Holy Father was in a very special way the Pope of Fatima. Let me conclude by recounting some personal recollections. After the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, I made a present of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the Holy Father. First he blessed the statue and then he kissed it on the heart. Then he said to me: “In these months of suffering and prayer in the hospital, I came to understand that the only solution for its extremely serious problems, preventing a genocidal world war and apostasy from God and overcoming militant atheism, is the conversion of Russia, according to the Message of Fatima.”
After his trip to Fatima the Holy Father asked me, “When will we succeed in converting Russia?” I replied, “Padre Pio has said: Russia will be converted when there are found as many true believers in the West as there are atheists without God in Russia.” I added, “This is the message of Fatima: ‘Believe, hope, love for those who do not believe, hope, love anymore.’ Today Our Lady has the same mission as Abraham in Sodom and Gomorra… If Abraham had found just ten just, Sodom would have been saved…”
The Holy Father then asked, “But how many just are necessary to save the world… ?” I answered, “We do not know, but Our Lady does. She knows and she will not leave us in peace, until the number of just — we may say coredeemers — needed for the salvation of the world today has been reached.”
I believe and I am convinced that also at this symposium, our meeting, it is the Coredemptress who has united us here.
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady at Fatima asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart: by the Pope and the Bishops. At that very moment there was arising in Russia an atheistic regime which would spread its errors throughout the world. The Church would be persecuted and millions would perish.
“To prevent this God wishes Russia’s consecration to my Immaculate Heart.” — So Mary said to Lucia in 1929, and indicated that the time had come for the Pope and Bishops to do this.
When Rome did not respond, Sister Lucy lamented with Jesus: “Why is this consecration by Pope and Bishops so necessary”?
“There is no other way to save Russia,” Jesus replied, “for I want my entire Church to know and acknowledge the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of my Mother; I want My Heart to be venerated aside the Immaculate Heart of my Mother.”
“But the Holy Father will not believe me,” continued Lucy, “if you do not give him a sign, a stimulus.”
Jesus answered: “Holy Father, Holy Father, pray much for the Holy Father. He will do it (that is, the consecration), but too late… (reference here is the prevention of the second world war and of the expansion of atheistic communism beyond the borders of Russia, e.g., into Poland, and the other Slavic nations). Nonetheless, continued Jesus, I have entrusted Russia to my Mother. Only She can save it…
Note well: when Jesus said to Lucy that the Holy Father would do it (the consecration), He knew which Pope would do it: Pope John Paul II… And so it may have been no mere coincidence that the conversation of Sister Lucy with Jesus occurred on May 18, 1936, the birthday of this Holy Father…. Jesus also gave the sign, the stimulus which Lucy asked, the assassination of May 13, 1981. This attempt on the Pope’s life was foretold by the little Jacinta (now blessed) when she said that the Pope would have much to suffer, as Our Lady of Fatima said.
This Pope was the Pope of the “Totus tuus,” the Pope of the Coredemptress!!!
Together with the Coredemptrix, we always have to become smaller and humbly accept all the crosses which God entrusts in our life. His mercy always triumphs over evil, and we, as humble servants of the Lord, will be raised up by God to understand the height, depth, and width of the mystery of redemption and of our Coredemption, together with and under the guidance of Mary our coredeeming Mother.
His Excellency, Bishop Pavel Maria Hnilica, S.J., is the titular bishop of Rusado and as is known throughout the world for his Marian work. This article was originally published in Mary at the Foot of the Cross: Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, Academy of the Immaculate, 2001.