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The Sufferings of Mary as Co-redemptrix

How Did Mary Make Satisfaction For Us?

The purpose of satisfaction is to repair the offence offered to God and to make Him once more favorable to the sinner. The offence offered by mortal sin has about it a certain infinity, since offence is measured by the dignity of the person offended. Mortal sin, by turning the sinner away from God, his final end, denies in practice to God His infinite rights as the Supreme Good and destroys His reign in souls.

It follows from this that only the Incarnate Word could offer to the Father perfect and adequate satisfaction for the offence of mortal sin (1). For satisfaction to be perfect, it must proceed from a love and oblation which are as pleasing to God as, or more pleasing than, all sins united are displeasing to Him (2). But every act of charity elicited by Jesus had these qualities for His Divine Person gave them infinite satisfactory and meritorious value. A meritorious work becomes satisfactory (or one of reparation and expiation) when there is something painful about it. Hence, in offering His life in the midst of the greatest physical and moral sufferings, Jesus offered satisfaction of an infinite and superabundant value to His Father. He alone could make satisfaction in strict justice since the value of satisfaction like that of merit comes from the person, and the Person of Jesus, being divine, was of infinite dignity.

It was, however, possible to associate a satisfaction of becomingness (de congruo) to Jesus’ satisfaction, just as a merit of becomingness was associated to His merit. In explaining this point, we shall show all the more clearly the depth and extent of Mary’s sufferings.

Mary offered for us a satisfaction of becomingness (de convenientia) which was the greatest in value after that of her Son.

When a meritorious work is in some way painful it has value as satisfaction as well. Thus theologians commonly teach, following upon what has been explained in the previous section, that Mary satisfied for all sins de congruo in everything in which Jesus satisfied de condigno. Mary offered God a satisfaction which it was becoming that He should accept: Jesus satisfied for us in strict justice.

As Mother of the Redeemer, Mary was closely united to Jesus by perfect conformity of will, by humility, by poverty, by suffering—and most particularly by her compassion on Calvary. That is what is meant when it is said that she offered satisfaction along with Him. Her satisfaction derives its value from her dignity as Mother of God, from her great charity, from the fact that there was no fault in herself which needed to be expiated, and from the intensity of her sufferings.

The Fathers treat of this when they speak of Mary “standing” at the foot of the Cross, as St. John says (John 19:25). They recall the words of Simeon, “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce,” and they show that Mary suffered in proportion to her love for her crucified Son; in proportion also to the cruelty of His executioners, and the atrocity of the torments inflicted on Him Who was Innocence itself (3). The liturgy also has taught many generations of the faithful that Mary merited the title of Queen of Martyrs by her most painful martyrdom of heart. That is the lesson of the Feasts of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin and of the Seven Dolors, as well as of the Stabat Mater.

Leo XIII summed up this doctrine in the statement that Mary was associated with Jesus in the painful work of the redemption of mankind (4). Pius X calls her “the repairer of the fallen world” (5) and continues to show how she was united to the priesthood of her Son: “Not only because she consented to become the mother of the only Son of God so as to make sacrifice for the salvation of men possible, but also in the fact that she accepted the mission of protecting and nourishing the Lamb of sacrifice, and when the time came led Him to the altar of immolation—in this also must we find Mary’s glory. Mary’s community of life and sufferings with her Son was never broken off. To her as to Him may be applied the words of the prophet: ‘My life is passed in dolors and my days in groanings.’ To conclude this list of Papal pronouncements we may refer to the words of Benedict XV: In uniting herself to the Passion and death of her Son she suffered almost unto death; as far as it depended on her, she immolated her Son, so that it can be said that with Him she redeemed the human race’ (6).

The Depth and Fruitfulness of Mary’s Sufferings as Co-redemptrix

Mary’s sufferings have the character of satisfaction from the fact that like Jesus and in union with Him, she suffered because of sin or of the offence it offers to God. This suffering of hers was measured by her love of God whom sin offended, by her love of Jesus crucified for our sins, and by her love of us whom sin had brought to spiritual ruin. In other words, it was measured by her fullness of grace, which had never ceased to increase from the time of the Immaculate Conception. Already Mary had merited more by the easiest acts than the martyrs in their torments because of her greater love. What must have been the value of her sufferings at the foot of the Cross, granted the understanding she then had of the mystery of the Redemption!

In the spiritual light which then flooded her soul, Mary saw that all souls are called to sing the glory of God. Every soul is called to be as it were a ray of the divinity, a spiritual ray of knowledge and love, for our minds are made to know God and our wills to love Him. But though the heavens tell God’s glory unfailingly, thousands of souls turn from their Creator. Instead of that divine radiation, instead of God’s exterior glory and His Kingdom, there are found in countless souls the three wounds called by St. John the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life: living as if there were no desirable love except carnal love, no glory except that of fame and honor, and no Lord and Master, no end, except man himself.

Mary saw all that evil, all those wounds in souls, just as we see the evils and wounds of bodies. Her fullness of grace had given her an immense capacity to suffer from the greatest of evils, sin. She suffered as much as she loved God and souls: God offended by sin and souls whom it rendered worthy of eternal damnation. Most of all did Mary see the crime of deicide prepared in hearts and brought to execution: she saw the terrible paroxysm of hatred of Him who is the Light and the Author of salvation.

To understand her sufferings, we must think too of her love, both natural and supernatural, of her only Son whom she not only loved but, in the literal sense of the term, adored since He was her God. She had conceived Him miraculously. She loved Him with the love of a virgin—the purest, richest and most tender charity that has ever been a mother’s. Nor was her grief diminished by ignorance of anything that might make it more acute. She knew the reason for the crucifixion. She knew the hatred of the Jews, His chosen people—her people. She knew that it was all for sinners.

From the moment when Simeon foretold the Passion—already so clearly prophesied by Isaiah—and her compassion, she offered and did not cease to offer Him who would be Priest and Victim, and herself in union with Him. This painful oblation was renewed over years. Of old, an angel had descended to prevent Abraham’s immolation of his son Isaac. But no angel came to prevent the immolation of Jesus.

* * *

In his sermon on the Compassion of Our Lady, we read the following magnificent words of Bossuet: It is the will of the Eternal Father that Mary should not only be immolated with the Innocent Victim and nailed to the Cross by the nails that pierce Him, but should as well be associated with the mystery which is accomplished by His death. … Three things occur in the sacrifice of our Savior and constitute its perfection. There are the sufferings by which His humanity was crushed. There is His resignation to the will of His Father by which He humbly offered Himself. There is the fruitfulness by which He brings us to the life of grace by dying Himself. He suffers as a victim who must be bruised and destroyed. He submits as a priest who sacrifices freely; voluntarie sacrificabo tibi (Vulgate, Ps. 53:8). Finally He brings us to life by His sufferings as the Father of a new people. …

“Mary stands near the Cross. With what eyes she contemplates her Son all covered with blood, all covered with wounds, in form now hardly a man! The sight is enough to cause her death. If she draws near to that altar, it is to be immolated there: and there, in fact, does she feel Simeon’s sword pierce her heart. …

“But did her dolors overcome her, did her grief cast her to the ground? Stabatjuxta crucem: she stood by the Cross. The sword pierced her heart but did not take away her strength of soul: her constancy equals her affliction, and her face is the face of one no less resigned than afflicted.

“What remains then but that Jesus who sees her feel His sufferings and imitate His resignation should have given her a share in His fruitfulness. It is with that thought that He gave her John to be her son: Woman, behold thy son. Woman, who suffer with me, be fruitful with me, be the mother of my children whom I give you unreservedly in the person of this disciple; I give them life by my sufferings, and sharing in the bitterness that is mine your affliction will make you fruitful.”

In the sermon, of which the paragraphs I have quoted are the opening, Bossuet develops the three main points outlined and shows that Mary’s love for Jesus was enough to make her a martyr: “One Cross was enough for the well-beloved Son and the mother.” She is nailed to the Cross by her love for Him. Without a special grace she would have died of her agony.

Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain: but she brings the faithful forth in the most cruel suffering. “At what price she has bought them! They have cost her her only Son. She can be mother of Christians only by giving her Son to death. O agonizing fruitfulness! It was the will of the Eternal Father that the adoptive sons should be born by the death of the True Son. … What man would adopt at this price and give his son for the sake of strangers? But that is what the Eternal Father did. We have Jesus’ word for it: God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son (John 3:16).

“(Mary) is the Eve of the New Testament and the mother of all the faithful; but that is to be at the price of her Firstborn. United to the Eternal Father she must offer His Son and hers to death. It is for that purpose that providence has brought her to the foot of the Cross. She is there to immolate her Son that men may have life. … She becomes mother of Christians at the cost of an immeasurable grief. …” We should never forget what we have cost Mary. The thought will lead to true contrition for our sins. The regeneration of our souls has cost Jesus and Mary more than we can ever think.

We may conclude this section by noting that Mary the Co-Redemptrix has given us birth at the foot of the Cross by the greatest act of faith, hope and love that was possible to her on such an occasion. One may even say that her act of faith was the greatest ever elicited, since Jesus had not the virtue of faith but the beatific vision. In that dark hour when the faith of the Apostles themselves seemed to waver, when Jesus seemed vanquished and His work annihilated, Mary did not cease for an instant to believe that her Son was the Savior of mankind, and that in three days He would rise again as He had foretold. When He uttered His last words “It is consummated” Mary understood in the fullness of her faith that the work of salvation had been accomplished by His most painful immolation. The evening before, Jesus has instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice and the Christian priesthood; she sees now something of the influence the sacrifice of the Cross will exercise. She knows that Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that He is the conqueror of sin and the demon, and that in three days He will conquer death, sin’s consequence. She sees the hand of God where even the most believing see only darkness and desolation. Hers was the greatest act of faith ever elicited by a creature, a faith higher than that of the angels when they were as yet in their period of trial.

Calvary saw too her supreme act of hope at a moment when everything seemed lost. She grasped the force of the words spoken to the good thief: “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise”; heaven, she realized, was about to be open for the elect.

It was finally her supreme act of charity: so to love God as to offer His only Son in the most painful agony: to love God above everything at the moment when He tried her in the highest and deepest of her loves, even in the object of her adoration—and that because of our sins.

It is true that the theological virtues grew in Mary up to the time of her death, for these acts of faith, hope, and charity were not broken off but continued in her as a kind of state. They even expanded in the succeeding calm, like a river which becomes more powerful and majestic as it nears the ocean. The point which theology wishes to stress is not that of Mary’s subsequent growth in the virtues but the equality between her sacrifice and her merits at the foot of the Cross itself: both her sacrifice and her merits were of inestimable value and their fruitfulness, while not approaching that of Christ’s sacrifice and merits, surpasses anything the human tongue can utter. Theologians express this by saying that Mary made satisfaction for us de congruo in proportion to her immense charity, while Jesus made satisfaction de condigno.

Even the saints who have been most closely associated with the sufferings of the Savior did not enter as Mary did into the most secret depths of the Passion. St. Catherine de Ricci had every Friday during 12 years an ecstasy of pain which lasted 28 hours and during which she lived over again all the sufferings of the way of the Cross. But even such sufferings fell far short of those of Mary. Mary’s heart suffered in sympathy with all the agony of the Sacred Heart to such a point that she would have died of the experience had she not been especially strengthened.

Thereby she became the consoler of the afflicted, for she had suffered more than all, and patroness of a happy death. We have no idea how fruitful these sufferings of hers have been during 20 centuries.

Mary’s Participation as Co-Redemptrix in the Priesthood of Christ

Though Mary may be termed Co-Redemptrix in the sense we have explained, there can be no question of calling her a priest in the strict sense of the word since she has not received the priestly character and cannot offer Holy Mass nor give sacramental absolution. But, as we have seen already, her divine maternity is a greater dignity than the priesthood of the ordained priest in the sense that it is more to give our Savior His human nature than to make His body present in the Blessed Eucharist. Mary has given us the Priest of the sacrifice of the Cross, the Principal Priest of the sacrifice of the Mass and the Victim offered on the altar.

It is more also, and more perfect, to offer her only Son and her God on the Cross as Mary did, by offering herself with Him in community of suffering, than to make the body of Our Lord present and to offer It on the altar as the priest does at Holy Mass.

We must affirm, too, as has recently a careful theologian who has devoted years to the study of these questions (7) that “it is a certain theological conclusion that Mary cooperated in some way in the principal act of Jesus’ priesthood, by giving, as the divine plan required, her consent to the sacrifice of the Cross as it was accomplished by the Savior.” In another context he writes: “If we consider only certain immediate effects of the priest’s action such as the Eucharistic consecration or the remission of sins in the sacrament of penance, it is true that the priest can do certain things which Mary, not having the priestly power, cannot. But to look at the matter so as not to compare dignities but merely particular effects which are produced by a power which Mary lacks and which do not necessarily indicate a higher dignity” (8).

But even if Mary cannot, for the reasons given, be spoken of as priest in the strict sense of the term, it remains true, as M. Olier has said, that she has received the fullness of the spirit of the priesthood, which is the spirit of Christ the Redeemer. That is the reason why she is called Co-redemptrix, a title which, like that of Mother of God, implies a higher dignity than that of the Christian priesthood (9).

Mary’s participation in the immolation and oblation of Jesus, Priest and Victim, cannot be better summed up than in the words of the Stabat Mater of the Franciscan Jacopone de Todi (1228-1286).

The Stabat Mater manifests in a singularly striking manner that supernatural contemplation of the mystery of Christ crucified is part of the normal way of holiness. In precise and ardent words it speaks of the wounding of the Savior’s Heart and shows the intimate and persuasive manner in which Mary leads us to Him. Not only does Mary lead us to the divine intimacy, in a sense she produces it in us: that is what the repetition of the imperative “Fac” in the following strophes brings out:

Eia Mater, fons amoris, O Thou Mother! Fount of love!

Me sentire vim doloris Touch my spirit from above,

Fac, ut tecum lugeam. Make my heart with thine accord!

Fac ut ardeat cor meum Make me feel as thou hast felt;

In amando Christum Deum, Make my soul to glow and melt

ut sibi complaceam. With the love of Christ my Lord.

Fac ut portem Christi mortemLet me, to my latest breath,

Passionis fac consortem In my body bear the death

Et plagas recolere. Of that dying Son of thine.

Fac me plagis vulnerariWounded with his every wound,

Fac me cruce inebriari, Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d

Et cruore Filii. In His very blood away.

This is the prayer of a soul which, under a special inspiration, wishes to know in a spiritual way the wound of love and to be associated in these painful mysteries of adoring reparation as were John and the holy women on Calvary—and Peter, too, when he shed his bitter tears. Those tears of adoration and sorrow are what the Stabat asks for in the following strophes:

Fac me tecum pie flere, Let me mingle tears with thee,

Crucifixo condolere, Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,

Donec ego vixero. All the days that I may live.

Juxta crucem tecum stare,By the cross with thee to stay.

Et me tibi sociare There with thee to weep and pray,

In planctu desidero. Is all I ask of thee to give,

—Fr Caswall

Mary exercised therefore a universal mediation on earth by meriting de congruo all that Jesus merited de condigno and also by making similar satisfaction in union with Him. For both Jesus and Mary, the mediation exercised on earth is the foundation of that now exercised in heaven …

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964), consultor to the Holy Office and other Congregations, taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960 and authored over 500 books and articles. This article was excerpted from The Mother of the Savior and Our Interior Life, Tan, 1993.


(1) It is easier to knock down than to build up. The offense of a creature’s mortal sin has a certain infinity from the side of the Person offended, whereas the creature’s love is limited because of the limitations of its principle. Besides, mortal sin destroys the life of grace, and once that has been lost, we cannot be restored to it by ourselves.

(2) IIIa, q. I, a. 2, ad 2; q. 48, a. 2.

(3) Cf. St. Ephrem, Oratio ad Virginem; St. Ambrose, De Instit. Virg., c. 7; Epist. 25 ad Eccles. Vercell.;St. Bernard, Sermo de Passione, Sermo de duodecim stellis, Sermo Dom. infra Oct. Ass.; St. Albert the Great, Mariale, q. 42; St. Bonaventure, Sermo I de B. V.;St. Laurence Justinian, Sermo de nativ. Virginis.

(4) Encyclical Jucunda Semper, Sept. 8, 1894: “Censors cum Christo existit laboriosae pro humano genere expiationis.”

(5) Encyclical Ad Diem Ilium, Feb. 2, 1904: “Reparatrix perditi orbis.”

(6) Cf. Denz. 3034, no. 4. In this same place reference is made to the words of Pius XI: “Virgo perdolens redemptionis opus Jesu Christo participavit,” and to a decree of the Holy Office* praising the custom of adding after the name of Jesus that of His Mother, our Co-Redemptrix, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The same Congregation has indulgenced (Jan. 22, 1914) the prayer in which Mary is addressed as Co-redemptrix of the human race. Cf. Dict, de Theol. Cath., art. Marie, col. 2396: “Since the word ‘Co-redemptrix’ signifies of itself simple co-operation in the work of redemption, and since it has received in the theological usage of centuries the very precise meaning of secondary and dependent cooperation … there can be no serious objection to its use, on condition that it be accompanied by some expression indicating that Mary’s role in this co-operation is secondary and dependent.”

* The Holy Office is now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—Asst. Ed.

(7) E. Dublanchy, Dict, de Theol. Cath., art. Marie, col. 2396 sqq.

(8) Ibid., col. 2366

(9) Ibid., col. 2365.

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