The topic of Mary, the Mother of Jesus as a “co-redemptrix” has become the most hotly contested Mariological discussion of the day, due to non-scripted comments by Pope Francis on the title during his December 12, 2019 homily, during which he stated that Mary “never introduced herself as the co-redemptrix” (see “Pope Francis’ Guadalupe and Mary “Co-redemptrix”, National Catholic Register, December 21, 2019).
The doctrine of Mary’s unique human participation in the Redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, the sole divine Redeemer, which is theologically contained in the single term, “co-redemptrix,” is already an official teaching of the Catholic Church and of the Second Vatican Council (see Lumen Gentium, 56, 57, 58, 61). The present global debate nonetheless begs the question: why? Why does the Church call Mary the unique human Co-redemptrix with Jesus?
The prefix “co” comes from the Latin word, cum, which means “with” and not “equal.” The title “co-redemptrix” applied to the Mother of Jesus never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ, the world’s sole divine Redeemer. To place Mary on a divine level of equality with Jesus constitutes both Christian heresy and blasphemy.
Rather, the Co-redemptrix term applied to Jesus’ human mother denotes Mary’s singular human participation with and under Jesus, her Divine Son, in the saving work of Redemption (redimere: to “buy back”) for the human family.
The biblical and the liturgical make clear that the prefix “co” does not mean equal. St. Paul refers to All Christians as “co-workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9) but is not teaching that we are “equal workers” with God. The Liturgy refers to Christians as “co-heirs” with Jesus, but is certainly not signifying that we are “equal heirs” with Jesus. Pope St. John Paul II repeatedly called the Catholic faithful to be “co-redeemers in Christ” (e.g., May 8, 1988). Again, “co” signifies “with” and not equal, as it appropriately used biblically, liturgy, papally, and in the Marian title, “Co-redemptrix.”
Mary’s unique cooperation in the Redemption illustrates the central Catholic principle of participation, where creatures can share in an attribute or work of God, but without adding, subtracting, or competing with God through that participation. For example, every Christian participates in the very nature of God by sharing in his divine life through sanctifying grace (cf.2 Peter 1:14), but without adding, subtracting or competing with divine life of the Trinity. All Christians likewise participate in an entirely dependent and subordinate way in the “one mediation between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5) through, as St. Paul urges a few verses earlier, our own “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving” for one another (1 Tim 2:1).
In a similar way, St. Paul calls Christians by example to participate in Jesus’ work of Redemption by “making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the Church (Col. 1:24)” that is, by participating in the mysterious release of the graces merited by Jesus through the patient endurance and faithful offering of our sufferings in union with Jesus for the salvation of souls. This is why Pope St. Paul II (and Pope Pius XI before him) rightly called all Christians to be co-redeemers in Christ: to share in Jesus’ saving mission of Redemption for our human brothers and sisters through our prayers, our intercession, our evangelization, our catechesis, our charity, our witness, and most of all by our sufferings united to that of the one divine Redeemer.
Couples “co-create” with the Eternal Father when they have children; bishops “co-sanctify” with the Holy Spirit when they administer Confirmation; and all Christians “co-redeem” with Jesus by offering their prayers and sacrifices in union with Jesus for the salvation of souls.