The Coredemptrix in the Magisterium
Rev. John A. Schug and Dr. Mark I. Miravalle observe that “the ordinary Magisterium of the Church – in substance and in word – portrays Mary as a direct, immediate, effective cooperator with her Son in His redemptive sufferings – a Marian role that is fittingly called ‘Coredemption,” with Mary fittingly called our ‘Coredemptrix.’” (132) Indeed, a survey of evidence supporting the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix would not be complete without a glimpse into this Magisterial teaching, especially that of the popes, the Vatican II Council, and the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. Each of these sources further consolidates and develops Mary’s coredemptive role, adding even more depth and beauty to this profound doctrine.
The Popes on Mary Coredemptrix
Papal teaching on the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix has been abundant during the reigns of popes from Pius IX through John Paul II. In fact, these Vicars of Christ, building on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, have “become the main impetuses for the complete development of the doctrine,” expounding it to the point of a possible formal dogmatic definition as soon as the current Holy Father deems it appropriate. (133) Representative excerpts from the writings of each pope will reveal the essence of his teaching on Mary Coredemptrix.
As early as Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), Holy Fathers began referring to Mary’s coredemptive activities. Benedict XIV, in Gloriosae Dominae, the first ever Marian Encyclical, notes that Mary is “the Mystical Ark of the Covenant, in whom the Mysteries of our reconciliation have achieved their goal.” Mary, he explains, was with Christ at the foot of the cross, where she was given to humanity as mother, thereby participating in and even completing the reconciliation of God and man. (134)
Pius IX (1846-1878), in Ineffabilis Deus, speaks of Mary as a Reparatrix and the New Eve: “…the most holy Virgin, united with [Jesus] by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with Him and through Him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.” (135) Mary shared intimately in both the enmity between her Son and the devil and in her Son’s great victory over the evil one.
The Rosary Pope, Leo XIII (1878-1903), teaches in Jucunda Semper that Mary suffered with Jesus at Calvary “in the very depths of her soul,” and “Insofar as her Son was concerned, she offered Him to the justice of God. In her heart she died with Him…” (136) Furthermore, Mary, according to Leo in I, was Jesus’ aid or “cooperatrix” “in effecting the sacrament of Redemption of mankind” and “the restorer (reparatrix) of the whole world” who was “intimately associated with the mystery of human salvation.” (137) In a 1901 Encyclical on the Rosary, Leo teaches that through this prayer, “we recall Mary’s exceptional merits by which she became a participant with her Son Jesus in the Redemption of mankind…She was not only present in the mysteries of our Redemption, but she played a part in them…the Virgin Mother…is the means and the agent of our salvation…” (138) Leo does not yet use the term “Coredemptrix,” but his meaning is clear. Mary suffered with her Son, offered Him to God, and, through her merits, helped Him save humanity.
Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914) went a step further than Leo by sanctioning the use of the title “Coredemptrix” by three Congregations of the Roman Curia: first, in a decree by the Congregation of Rites on the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, and then, in two documents from the Holy Office on indulgences. (139) For the first time, the Magisterium endorsed the term as well as the concept of Mary Coredemptrix. Pius clearly teaches the doctrine in his personal writings as well. In Ad Diem Illum, he states, “So perfect was the identity of [Mary’s] suffering with her Son that, if at all possible, she would sustain even more intensely all the torments her Son endured. Through this communion of pain and will between Christ and Mary, ‘she merited to become the most worthy restorer of a lost world…’” (140) He goes on to further explain Mary’s meritorious cooperation: “…because she surpasses all in holiness and in union with Christ, and because she was chosen by Christ to be His partner in the work of human salvation, she merits for us de congruo, as they say, that which Christ merits for us de condigno…” (141) Because of the inseparable, intimate union between Jesus and Mary and because of God the Father’s “generosity of grace,” Mary merited “in the order of fittingness” or de congruo what her Son merited by right or de condigno. Pius X was the first pope to recognize and teach this distinction, contributing thereby to a greater development and deeper understanding of Mary’s role as Coredemptrix.
Pius’ successor Benedict XV (1914-1922) chose to focus his attention on Mary’s personal sacrifice in the coredemptive act. In Inter Sodalicia, he notes, “To the same extent to which she almost died with her suffering and dying Son, she abdicated her maternal rights over her Son to save mankind and appease the justice of God. With every fiber of her being she immolated her Son, so that she may rightly be said to have redeemed the human race together with Christ.” (142) Mary offered Jesus as a Mother. She gave up all the rights she would normally have to protect her Child, to comfort Him, and to prevent His death. She obediently said “yes” to the Father when He asked her to sacrifice Jesus to Him for the salvation of humanity. (143) Benedict recognizes that Mary’s role as Coredemptrix was performed at greatest personal cost to this most loving Mother.
The next Vicar of Christ, Pius XI (1922-1939), teaches in Miserentissimus Redemptor that Mary “offered the Victim of sacrifice at the foot of the cross” as “Reparatrix” because of her “inscrutable and absolutely unique bond with Christ.” (144) This pope personally used the term “Corepemtrix” three times. In a 1933 papal audience, he says, “In the very nature of things, the Redeemer could not help but associate His Mother in His work; and therefore we invoke her under the title Coredemptrix.” He goes on to explain that Mary gave humanity its Savior, raised Him, and suffered with Him on Calvary. (145) The next year, in another papal audience, Pius XI tells pilgrims that they must “follow the thoughts and wishes of Mary most holy, who is our Mother and Coredemptrix.” (146) Finally, in a 1935 radio message to Lourdes, the pope prays to Mary, saying, “O Mother of love and mercy, when your sweet Son was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross, you stood next to Him, suffering with Him as a Coredemtprix…” (147) Pius XI had finally joined the term “Coredemptrix” to the doctrine that had been so long expressed in papal teaching.
Pius XII (1939-1958), while not using the actual word, continued to maintain and develop the doctrine of coredemption. In Mystici Corporis Christi, his great Encyclical on the Church, he describes Mary as the New Eve who offered her Son “on Golgatha to the Eternal Father, together with the holocaust of her maternal rights and love, on behalf of all the children of Adam.” (148) Other texts like Munificentissimus Deus, Ad Caeli Reginam, and a 1946 radio message to Fatima also emphasize Mary’s role as the New Eve who, along with Christ, the New Adam, brought supernatural life back to the human family. (149) The 1956 Encyclical Letter Haurietis Aquas sums up Pius XII’s position on coredemption: “By the will of God, the most Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably joined with Christ in accomplishing the work of man’s redemption, so that our salvation flows from the love of Jesus Christ and His sufferings intimately united with the love and sorrows of His Mother.” (150)
John XXIII (1958-1963) wrote prolifically on Mary, to a total of 476 pages. On Mary Coredemptrix, he teaches that Mary is “intimately associated in the Redemption in the eternal plans of the Most High.” (151) Like his predecessor, John XXIII emphasizes that Mary is Coredemptrix because God willed her to be so.
John’s successor, Paul VI (1963-1978), continued teaching the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix in his 1967 Apostolic Exhortation Signum Magnum, where he writes, “Mary, the Mother of God, has been united with Christ in a tight and indissoluble bond. To her has been granted a most exceptional responsibility in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body, that is, in God’s plan of salvation.” (152) Bound as she is to both Jesus and, as Paul adds in Marialis Cultus, to the Holy Spirit, Mary is intimately associated in the process of human Redemption through her consent to the Incarnation of the Word of God and through her presence at the foot of the Cross, were she was “associated as a mother in the sacrifice of the Son for the redemption of the human race.” (153)
The next pope, John Paul I (1978), reigned for only about a month. Unfortunately, he did not have time to contribute to the ongoing development and deepening of the doctrine of Mary Coredemptrix as he might have done had he lived longer.
John Paul II (1978-2005) has been titled “The Pope of Mary Coredemptrix,” and indeed he has spoken at “greater length and more often” than any other pope on the “theme of collaboration in the work of Redemption” and particularly on Mary’s active cooperation as Jesus’ associate, the New Eve, the one who offered both her Son and herself to the Father, and the one who sacrificed her maternal heart on the altar of the Cross. (154) Mary’s coredemptive activity, as Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins remarks, was a “significant component of [John Paul II’s] ordinary magisterium,” and this pope unfolded and refined the doctrine more than any previous Vicar of Christ. (155) A few brief excerpts from John Paul’s many reflections on Mary Coredemptrix will illustrate this point. (156) This Holy Father uses the term “Coredemptrix,” or a variation of it, at least five different times in published statements, revealing how deeply committed he was to the expansion and greater understanding of the doctrine. (157) For example, during a general address in Ecuador he notes that when Mary said yes at Nazareth and on Calvary, “accepting and assisting at the sacrifice of her Son,” she became “the dawn of Redemption” and was “[c]rucified spiritually with her crucified Son”; she continues her “role as Coredemptrix” even beyond Calvary due to her “privileged experience” of her Son’s Passion and Resurrection. (158) Note that John Paul II is the first pope to point out that Mary’s coredemptive activity extends beyond her Son’s glorification and into her own eternal life in Heaven as she assumes the roles of Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate for the People of God. (159) This illustrious pope elaborates further on Mary’s role as Coredemptrix in documents like Salvifici Doloris and Redemptoris Mater. In the former, he writes, “It was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view…which was mysterious and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world.” (160) He goes on to remark that Mary’s “ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the Cross together with the Beloved Disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son.” (161) Mary was not just passively standing at the foot of the Cross; she was actively participating in some beautiful, painful, mysterious way in her Son’s sufferings and thereby helping gain salvation for the world. Redemptoris Mater delves even more deeply into this mystery. In #38 of this document, John Paul II explains that Mary, as the Mother of the Son of God is His “‘generous companion’ in the work of redemption.” (162) He continues in the next paragraph, “…she advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and in this pilgrimage to the foot of the Cross there was simultaneously accomplished her maternal cooperation with the Savior’s whole mission through her actions and sufferings.” At the foot of the Cross, John Paul notes in #18, Mary completely “‘abandons herself to God’ without reserve, offering full assent of the intellect and the will to Him whose ‘ways are inscrutable’…Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in His self-emptying.” (163) She “shares in the death of her Son,” offering Him and abandoning herself to the Father for the salvation of humanity. (164) One could cite numerous other teachings from John Paul II on Mary’s role as Coremptrix, but these few show clearly his deep grasp of the doctrine and his rich theological reflection.
Will the current Holy Father, Benedict XVI, be the pope to provide a formal dogmatic definition of Mary Coredemptrix? Only time will tell. Certainly Benedict XVI is a brilliant scholar who upholds and even enriches the teachings of his predecessors. Evidence suggests that he does support the doctrine of Marian coredemption. For instance, in an address on the Solemnity of the Assumption, August 15, 2008, he calls Mary the New Eve who “followed the New Adam in His suffering.” (165) Supporters of the dogma of Mary Coredmptrix can rest assured that Benedict XVI will allow himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, as well as by the work of his predecessors as Vicar of Christ, and define the dogma as soon as he feels the time is right.
132. Schug and Miravalle, 246.
133. Miravalle, “With Jesus,” 149.
134. Schug and Miravalle, 218.
135. Ibid., 219.
136. Ibid., 220.
137. Ibid., 221; Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 261; Calkins, “Liturgy,” 72.
138. Schug and Miravalle, 222.
139. Ibid., 223-224; Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 155-156.
140. Schug and Miravalle, 222-223.
141. Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 261.
142. Schug and Miravalle, 225.
143. Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 263.
144. Schug and Miravalle, 225.
145. Ibid., 226
146. Ibid., 227.
148. Ibid., 228.
149. Ibid., 229-230.
150. Calkins, “Liturgy,” 67.
151. Schug and Miravalle, 231.
152. Ibid., 234.
153. Ibid., 235.
154. Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 189; Arthur Burton Calkins, “Pope John Paul II’s Teaching on Marian Coredemption,” in Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate Theological Foundations II Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical, ed. Mark I. Miravalle (Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing Company, 1996), 113, 126-144.
155. Calkins, “John Paul II,” 144-145.
156. To copy out every one of John Paul’s references to Mary’s coredemptive role would be beyond the scope of this study. For more information on John Paul II and Mary Coredemptrix, see Calkins, “John Paul II,” 113-147; Miravalle, “With Jesus”, 189-211; Schug and Miravalle, 235-242; and Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 266-268.
157. Calkins, “John Paul II,” 121.
158. Ibid., 123. Note: See this reference for the wording of John Paul II’s other four uses of the term “Coredemptrix.”
159. Miravalle, “Foundational Presence,” 269.
160. Schug and Miravalle, 237.
162. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater
165. Benedict XVI, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary August 15, 2008 (Vatican), http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20080815_assunzione_en.html (accessed October 14, 2008).