Last week, Pope Francis affirmed, once again, that Saint Mary is not the “co-redemptrix,” a title and role some theologians, and at least one purported visionary, have urged the Church to adopt as a dogma. The theological basis for the title “co-redemptrix” is that Mary’s role in our redemption is essential, in that it was through her assent to God’s plan for her that Jesus entered into the world and into history.
Jesus gave Mary to us “as a mother,” Francis said, “Not as a goddess. Not as a co-redemptrix. As a mother.” Francis went on to say, “It’s true that Christian piety always gives beautiful titles to her, like a son to the mother … how many beautiful things does a son say to the mother? But pay attention: the things that the Church, the saints, say to Mary, take nothing away from Christ’s uniqueness as a redeemer.”
“[Christ] is the only redeemer,” Francis said.
The title of “co-redemptrix” for Mary dates to the Middle Ages. It was discussed during the Second Vatican Council, but the bishops of the council elected against declaring it a dogma of the Church. In the 1990’s the title gained attention again when theologian Mark Miravalle of Franciscan University of Steubenville began a petition asking that Pope St. John Paul the Great declare Mary co-redemptrix. St. John Paul did not act on the petition.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is also in agreement with his predecessor and successor on the question. In an interview with Peter Seewald when a cardinal working at the Vatican, Benedict pointed out, “The formula ‘co-redemptrix’ departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers, and therefor gives rise to misunderstandings. Everything comes from Him [Christ], as the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to the Colossians, in particular, tell us; Mary, too, is everything she is through Him. The word ‘co-redemptrix’ would obscure this origin. A correct intention being expressed in the wrong way.”
In a related story, Bishop Jan Hendriks of the Dutch diocese of Haarlam-Amsterdam, has re-affirmed the 1974 judgment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that purported visions of Mary claimed by Dutch laywoman Ida Peerdeman were not of supernatural origin. Peerdeman had claimed that she received visions and messages from Mary from 1945-1959, including one where Mary asked her to request that the pope promulgate the dogma that Mary is co-redemptrix, mediatrix, and advocate. At the time, Pope St Paul VI confirmed the 1974 judgment of the CDF that the visions were not supernatural.
Mary is Mother of God. She is Mother of the Church. She is Queen of Heaven, and Queen of All Saints. The Church has bestowed many titles on Mary, as testified by the numerous litanies that honor her and her role in salvation history. But, our faith is not to Mary. It is always to Jesus through Mary. A beautiful, artistic expression of this can be found at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. If you enter through the main front doors (and you should, in order to appreciate the symbolism), your eyes are immediately drawn to the main altar at the center of the church. On top of the canopy that covers that altar is an enormous statue of Saint Mary, our Mother, with her arms outstretched, reaching out to all the faithful. But, as your eyes adjust, the focus moves behind and beyond Mary to the gigantic mosaic icon of Christ Pantocrator that dwarfs her. This is what it means to go to Jesus through Mary. Mary always takes us beyond her to her Son.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.