The Role of Mary in Redemption

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

A Document of the Theological Commission of the International Marian Association

1. “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Through the free cooperation of a woman, Jesus Christ, the divine and human Redeemer, entered the world (cf. Gal 4:4-6). Mary, the Immaculate Virgin of Nazareth, through her free and feminine “yes,” consented to the conception of divine Word in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus mediated the “one mediator” (1 Tim 2:5) to the world, bringing salvation to the human race. St. Irenaeus declared that Mary is the “cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race”(1); St. Jerome pronounced, “Death through Eve; life through Mary”(2); and St. Teresa of Calcutta stated simply, “No Mary, no Jesus.”(3)

2. Mary’s participation in the saving work of Jesus is entirely dependent on the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, the only divine Redeemer. Mary’s sharing in the redemptive work of Jesus relies entirely on the salvation accomplished by Christ, who is the “one mediator between God and man,” and who “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:5-6). Mary’s human participation in Redemption (λυτρώσις)(4) is entirely dependent upon the unique Redemption achieved by the Word made flesh, relies wholly on his infinite merits, and is sustained by his one mediation. Mary’s sharing in the redemptive mission of her Son in no way obscures or diminishes the unique Redemption of humanity accomplished by Jesus Christ, but rather serves to manifest its power and fruits.(5)

3. Mary’s unique participation in the Redemption accomplished by Christ is founded upon her role as Mother of God, as she cooperated in bringing Jesus into the world, and providing the Redeemer with the very instrument of Redemption, which is his body: ”We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all” (cf. Heb 10:10). Mary is the “woman” prophesied as the mother of the “seed” of victory (cf. Gen 3:15) who was blessed by the Father with a divinely granted “enmity” between herself and the serpent. Mary, the “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) was providentially prepared by the Father through her Immaculate Conception to participate with the Son in the crushing of the head of Satan and redeeming humanity from sin, and to pass on to her divine Son an immaculate human nature like her own in order to accomplish the mission of Redemption.6 Mary’s Immaculate Conception, along with her Divine Motherhood, makes appropriate her unique cooperation in the redemptive work of Christ.

4. The unique human cooperation of Mary with Jesus in the work of Redemption which began at the Annunciation, was explicitly confirmed at the Presentation in the words of Simeon, “and a sword shall pierce through your own heart, too” (Lk 2:35). Mary’s saving role with Jesus continued uninterruptedly until the historic summit of Redemption on Calvary (cf. Jn 19:25-27). As the Second Vatican Council teaches:

Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in 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 your son” (Jn 19:26-27).(7)

And again:

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.(8)

5. Within the rich Tradition of the Church the patristic concept of Mary as the “New Eve”(9) who uniquely worked with Jesus, the “New Adam,”(10) to restore the life of grace to the human family contains within itself the doctrine of Mary’s unique participation with Jesus in the Redemption.(11) The early Fathers of the Church taught that God willed to restore grace to the human race by using the same three elements used by the Adversary for its loss: a man, a woman, and a tree,(12) and that Mary was the obedient Virgin who actively participated with Jesus as the “cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.”(13) We can see, therefore, how the role of Mary as the New Eve was not arbitrary, but central alongside Christ, the New Adam, in the plan of God for the redemption and con sequent restoration of grace to the human race. It is evident that God wanted a woman, in her free feminine and maternal dignity, to play a central role in the re deeming work of Jesus.(14)

The doctrine of Mary’s role in the Redemption, sometimes referred to as “Marian Coredemption,” which was initially focused upon the redemptive Incarnation, gradually extended to Mary’s co-suffering at Calvary by the end of the first millennium, as exemplified in the writings of the Byzantine monk, John the Geometer.(15) At the same time, the legitimate term “redemptrix”(16) first appeared in reference to Mary’s subordinate participation in the salvation wrought by Christ (in ways analogous to the earlier historical appearance of the term “Mediatrix” as applied