Many Protestants (especially the tiny minority of anti-Catholics among Protestants) are under the false impression that the teaching of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mediatrix is somehow a new, novel thing, and that if these notions are proclaimed as the Fifth Marian Dogma, that the Catholic Church will turn a new page of ever-more outrageous heresy and unbiblical excess. Some Catholics (many of whom have not studied the issue in much depth at all) also join in on this needless alarm. This is incorrect on all counts, as I have repeatedly shown (see my many papers listed below).
A sub-argument of this strain of thought likes to make out that Pope John Paul II did not agree with the dogma at all. This is also incorrect. Pope John Paul did not reject any additional titles for Mary as unnecessary, in the sense that they are ruled out for good. He was not “against” these things at all. He merely thought that the time had not yet come to define them.
That’s no different than the Church waiting until 1950 to define the Assumption of Mary as de fide, ex cathedra dogma, even though it was a firmly entrenched dogma for many centuries, or till 1870 to define papal infallibility. In both cases, the tradition had already been very strongly established for many hundreds of years . Mediatrix was a title used in Vatican II.
The present Holy Father used the term Mediatrix in a homily of 1 January 2007. He believes no differently, as he is very much (like his predecessor) a “man of Vatican II.” Pope John Paul II has used the term Co-Redemptrix in his own writings at least five times (as I will document below), and has also frequently expressed the conceptual equivalent, without using that word. Here are several examples:
These devotions seek to direct our attention to Christ and to the role of his Mother in the mystery of Redemption . . .
We see symbolised in the heart of Mary her maternal love, her singular sanctity and her central role in the redemptive mission of her Son.
Our act of consecration refers ultimately to the heart of her Son, for as the Mother of Christ she is wholly united to his redemptive mission.
9 April 1997 (General Audience: “Mary’s Co-Operation is Totally Unique”)
Moreover, when the Apostle Paul says: “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9), he maintains the real possibility for man to co-operate with God. The collaboration of believers, which obviously excludes any equality with him, is expressed in the proclamation of the Gospel and in their personal contribution to its taking root in human hearts.
However, applied to Mary, the term ‘co-operator’ acquires a specific meaning. The collaboration of Christians in salvation takes place after the Calvary event, whose fruits they endeavor to spread by prayer and sacrifice. Mary, instead, co-operated during the event itself and in the role of mother; thus her co-operation embraces the whole of Christ’s saving work. She alone was associated in this way with the redemptive sacrifice that merited the salvation of all mankind. In union with the Christ and in submission to him, she collaborated in obtaining the grace of salvation for all humanity.
Paul’s words that we have just heard in the Second Reading help us to understand the significance of the solemnity we are celebrating today. Christ’s definitive victory over death, which came into the world because of Adam’s sin, shines out in Mary, assumed into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was Christ, the “new” Adam, who conquered death, offering himself as a sacrifice on Calvary in loving obedience to the Father. In this way he redeemed us from the slavery of sin and evil. In the Virgin’s triumph, the Church contemplates her whom the Father chose as the true Mother of his Only-begotten Son, closely associating her with the salvific plan of the Redemption.
Pope John Paul II was quite explicit about his support for the doctrine in his encyclical of 25 March 1987, Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer):
18. This blessing reaches its full meaning when Mary stands beneath the Cross of her Son (cf. Jn. 19:25). The Council says that this happened “not without a divine plan”: by “suffering deeply with her only-begotten Son and joining herself with her maternal spirit to his sacrifice, lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim to whom she had given birth,” in this way Mary “faithfully preserved her union with her Son even to the Cross.” It is a union through faith–the same faith with which she had received the angel’s revelation at the Annunciation. At that moment she had also heard the words: “He will be great…and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. I :32-33)
And now, standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary is the witness, humanly speaking, of the complete negation of these words. On that wood of the Cross her Son hangs in agony as one condemned. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows…he was despised, and we esteemed him not”: as one destroyed (cf. Is. 53:3-5). How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God’s “unsearchable judgments”! How completely she “abandons herself to God” without reserve, “offering the full assent of the intellect and the will” to him whose “ways are inscrutable” (cf. Rom. 11:33)! And how powerful too is the action of grace in her soul, how all-pervading is the influence of the Holy Spirit and of his light and power!
Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying. For “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”: precisely on Golgotha “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil. 2:5-8). At the foot of the Cross Mary shares through faith in the shocking mystery of this self-emptying. This is perhaps the deepest “kenosis” of faith in human history. Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death; but in contrast with the faith of the disciples who fled, hers was far more enlightened. On Golgotha, Jesus through the Cross definitively confirmed that he was the “sign of contradiction” foretold by Simeon. At the same time, there were also fulfilled on Golgotha the words which Simeon had addressed to Mary: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” . . .
38. The Church knows and teaches with Saint Paul that there is only one mediator: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). “The maternal role of Mary towards people in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power”: it is mediation in Christ.
The Church knows and teaches that “all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin on mankind originate…from the divine pleasure. They flow forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rest on his mediation, depend entirely on it, and draw all their power from it. In no way do they impede the immediate union of the faithful with Christ. Rather, they foster this union.” This saving influence is sustained by the Holy Spirit, who, just as he overshadowed the Virgin Mary when he began in her the divine motherhood, in a similar way constantly sustains her solicitude for the brothers and sisters of her Son.
In effect, Mary’s mediation is intimately linked with her motherhood. It possesses a specifically maternal character, which distinguishes it from the mediation of the other creatures who in various and always subordinate ways share in the one mediation of Christ, although her own mediation is also a shared mediation. In fact, while it is true that “no creature could ever be classed with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer,” at the same time “the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise among creatures to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this unique source.” And thus “the one goodness of God is in reality communicated diversely to his creatures.”
The teaching of the Second Vatican Council presents the truth of Mary’s mediation as “a sharing in the one unique source that is the mediation of Christ himself.” Thus we read: “The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. She experiences it continuously and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that, encouraged by this maternal help, they may more closely adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.” This role is at the same time special and extraordinary. It flows from her divine motherhood and can be understood and lived in faith only on the basis of the full truth of this motherhood. Since by virtue of divine election Mary is the earthly Mother of the Father’s consubstantial Son and his “generous companion” in the work of redemption “she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” This role constitutes a real dimension of her presence in the saving mystery of Christ and the Church.
39. . . . Mary’s motherhood, completely pervaded by her spousal attitude as the “handmaid of the Lord,” constitutes the first and fundamental dimension of that mediation which the Church confesses and proclaims in her regard and continually “commends to the hearts of the faithful,” since the Church has great trust in her. For it must be recognized that before anyone else it was God himself, the Eternal Father, who entrusted himself to the Virgin of Nazareth, giving her his own Son in the mystery of the Incarnation. Her election to the supreme office and dignity of Mother of the Son of God refers, on the ontological level, to the very reality of the union of the two natures in the person of the Word (hypostatic union). This basic fact of being the Mother of the Son of God is from the very beginning a complete openness to the person of Christ, to his whole work, to his whole mission. The words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” testify to Mary’s openness of spirit: she perfectly unites in herself the love proper to virginity and the love characteristic of motherhood, which are joined and, as it were, fused together.
For this reason Mary became not only the “nursing mother” of the Son of Man but also the “associate of unique nobility” of the Messiah and Redeemer. As I have already said, 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. Along the path of this collaboration with the work of her Son, the Redeemer, Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation, becoming ever more imbued with “burning charity” towards all those to whom Christ’s mission was directed. Through this “burning charity,” which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of “supernatural life to souls,” Mary entered, in a way all her own, into the one mediation “between God and men” which is the mediation of the man Christ Jesus. If she was the first to experience within herself the supernatural consequences of this one mediation in the Annunciation she had been greeted as “full of grace” then we must say that through this fullness of grace and supernatural life she was especially predisposed to cooperation with Christ, the one Mediator of human salvation. And such cooperation is precisely this mediation subordinated to the mediation of Christ.
In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation, based upon her “fullness of grace,” which was expressed in the complete willingness of the “handmaid of the Lord.” In response to this interior willingness of his Mother, Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their “mother in the order of grace.” This is indicated, at least indirectly, by certain details noted by the Synoptics (cf. Lk. 11 :28; 8:20-21 ; Mk. 3:32-35; Mt. 12:47-50) and still more so by the Gospel of John (cf. 2: 1-1 2; 1 9:25-27), which I have already mentioned. Particularly eloquent in this regard are the words spoken by Jesus on the Cross to Mary and John.
40. After the events of the Resurrection and Ascension, Mary entered the Upper Room together with the Apostles to await Pentecost, and was present there as the Mother of the glorified Lord. She was not only the one who “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” and loyally persevered in her union with her Son “unto the Cross,” but she was also the “handmaid of the Lord,” left by her Son as Mother in the midst of the infant Church: “Behold your mother.” Thus there began to develop a special bond between this Mother and the Church. For the infant Church was the fruit of the Cross and Resurrection of her Son. Mary, who from the beginning had given herself without reserve to the person and work of her Son, could not but pour out upon the Church, from the very beginning, her maternal self-giving. After her Son’s departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as maternal mediation: interceding for all her children, the Mother cooperates in the saving work of her Son, the Redeemer of the world. In fact the Council teaches that the “motherhood of Mary in the order of grace…will last without interruption until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect.” With the redeeming death of her Son, the maternal mediation of the handmaid of the Lord took on a universal dimension, for the work of redemption embraces the whole of humanity. Thus there is manifested in a singular way the efficacy of the one and universal mediation of Christ “between God and men.” Mary’s cooperation shares, in its subordinate character, in the universality of the mediation of the Redeemer, the one Mediator. This is clearly indicated by the Council in the words quoted above.
“For,” the text goes on, “taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation.” With this character of “intercession,” first manifested at Cana in Galilee, Mary’s mediation continues in the history of the Church and the world. We read that Mary “by her maternal charity, cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy homeland.” In this way Mary’s motherhood continues unceasingly in the Church as the mediation which intercedes, and the Church expresses her faith in this truth by invoking Mary “under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix.”
41. Through her mediation, subordinate to that of the Redeemer, Mary contributes in a special way to the union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the eschatological and heavenly reality of the Communion of Saints, since she has already been “assumed into heaven.” The truth of the Assumption, defined by Pius XII, is reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which thus expresses the Church’s faith: “Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19:16) and the conqueror of sin and death.” In this teaching Pius XII was in continuity with Tradition, which has found many different expressions in the history of the Church, both in the East and in the West.
Furthermore, Pope John Paul II has used the term Coredemptrix on at least five occasions in the course of his papal teachings (see extensive documentation on this):
In his greetings to the sick after the general audience of 8 September 1982:
Mary, though conceived and born without the taint of sin, participated in a marvelous way in the sufferings of her divine Son, in order to be Coredemptrix of humanity.
In his 4 November 1984 Angelus address in Arona:
To Our Lady—the Coredemptrix—St. Charles turned with singularly revealing accents.
31 January 1985: address at the Marian shrine in Guayaquil, Ecuador:
Mary goes before us and accompanies us. The silent journey that begins with her Immaculate Conception and passes through the ‘yes’ of Nazareth, which makes her the Mother of God, finds on Calvary a particularly important moment. There also, accepting and assisting at the sacrifice of her son, Mary is the dawn of Redemption;…Crucified spiritually with her crucified son (cf. Gal. 2:20), she contemplated with heroic love the death of her God, she “lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth” (Lumen Gentium, 58)…
In fact, at Calvary she united herself with the sacrifice of her Son that led to the foundation of the Church; her maternal heart shared to the very depths the will of Christ ‘to gather into one all the dispersed children of God’ (Jn. 11:52). Having suffered for the Church, Mary deserved to become the Mother of all the disciples of her Son, the Mother of their unity….In fact, Mary’s role as Coredemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son.
31 March 1985: Palm Sunday and World Youth Day:
At the Angelus hour on this Palm Sunday, which the Liturgy calls also the Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, our thoughts run to Mary, immersed in the mystery of an immeasurable sorrow. Mary accompanied her divine Son in the most discreet concealment pondering everything in the depths of her heart. On Calvary, at the foot of the Cross, in the vastness and in the depth of her maternal sacrifice, she had John, the youngest Apostle, beside her….May, Mary our Protectress, the Coredemptrix, to whom we offer our prayer with great outpouring, make our desire generously correspond to the desire of the Redeemer.
Commemoration of the sixth centenary of the canonization of St. Bridget of Sweden on 6 October 1991:
Birgitta looked to Mary as her model and support in the various moments of her life. She spoke energetically about the divine privilege of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. She contemplated her astonishing mission as Mother of the Saviour. She invoked her as the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Sorrows, and Coredemptrix, exalting Mary’s singular role in the history of salvation and the life of the Christian people.
Pope Benedict XVI teaches the same doctrine. For example, he stated on 2 February 2006:
Bringing her Son to Jerusalem, the Virgin Mother offered him to God as a true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. She held him out to Simeon and Anna as the proclamation of redemption; she presented him to all as a light for a safe journey on the path of truth and love.
The following remark from our Holy Father was from his homily at the canonization Mass of Fr. Antônio de Sant’Ana Galvão, O.F.M., in Brazil, on 11 May 2007:
5. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord in the Gospel (Mt 11:28). This is the final recommendation that he makes to us. How can we fail to recognize here God’s fatherly and at the same time motherly care towards all his children? Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, stands particularly close to us at this moment. Frei Galvão prophetically affirmed the truth of the Immaculate Conception. She, the Tota Pulchra, the Virgin Most Pure, who conceived in her womb the Redeemer of mankind and was preserved from all stain of original sin, wishes to be the definitive seal of our encounter with God our Savior. There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady.
Pope Benedict XVI, however, thinks it is unwise to use (let alone dogmatically define) the term Coredemptrix. In 2000, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he stated:
I do not think there will be any compliance with this demand [to define Mary as Coredemptrix], which in the meantime is being supported by several million people, within the foreseeable future. The response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is, broadly, that what is signified by this is already better expressed in other titles of Mary, while the formula ‘Co-redemptrix’ departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings.
What is true here? Well, it is true that Christ does not remain outside us or to one side of us, but builds a profound and new community with us. Everything that is his becomes ours, and everything that is ours he has taken upon himself, so that it becomes his: this great exchange is the actual content of redemption, the removal of limitations from our self and its extension into community with God. Because Mary is the prototype of the Church as such and is, so to say, the Church in person, this being ‘with’ is realized in her in exemplary fashion.
But this ‘with’ must not lead us to forget the ‘first’ of Christ: Everything comes from Him, as the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to Colossians, in particular, tell us; Mary, too, is everything that she is through Him.
The word ‘Co-redemptrix,’ would obscure this origin. For matters of faith, continuity of terminology with the language of Scripture and that of the Fathers is itself an essential element; it is improper simply to manipulate language.
(God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald, translated by Henry Taylor, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002 [from discussions in 2000], p. 306)
Note (it is absolutely crucial to understand this distinction) that he is not disagreeing with the doctrine itself (“what is signified by this is already better expressed in other titles of Mary”) but with this particular way of describing it.
There is also, in addition to the terminological and ecumenical issues, the matter of the right time to define something. John Paul II thought it wasn’t yet the time for the dogmatic definition. The present pope appears to agree, and he also has more of a difficulty with terminology, if not the ideas intended by potentially misleading titles. I wholeheartedly agree with both of them about the doctrine, and I agree with the present Holy Father about the problematic nature of utilizing in such a definition the massively misunderstood term Coredemptrix.
My position is precisely the same: the doctrine itself is firmly rooted in Catholic tradition, and there is nothing unCatholic in believing these things (nor unbiblical; rightly understood), but it is not yet time to define them as infallible at the very highest level (this stance is called by Catholics “inopportunism”). I have defended the doctrine at great length and provide much relevant biblical data in my papers (for those of you whose jaws are dropping in shock at such language and notions!).
Lastly, though I think Coredemptrix is vastly misunderstood, and thus unwise to use (at least not without proximate elaborate explanations), as an apologist it is my task and duty to explain and defend the proper meaning of a word that has been used by many popes, including Pope John Paul II. My task is to defend first and foremost the doctrine meant by it, and secondly, to explain exactly what is intended by it, so as to disabuse folks who are either misinformed, or who wish (on a polemical level) to cynically use and abuse the term as a propagandistic club, in their efforts to distort what the Catholic Church actually teaches, and to foolishly detest a straw man. Mediatrix is misunderstood quite enough, as it is.
As a generality, however, those non-Catholic Christians who have pondered Mariology very little at all, and who have a dim understanding of the rich history of Christian thought on Mary, and biblical and traditional rationales for same, are exceedingly unlikely to comprehend the mediation and intercession of Mary. One can’t grasp trigonometry or calculus without the prerequisite preparation in arithmetic and algebra and geometry. Likewise, many Christians haven’t even gotten to first base in understanding biblical and patristic Mariology, let alone highly developed Catholic Mariology, in the year 2008. Hence, it is almost certain that a word like Coredemptrix would be as incomprehensible to them as transubstantiation or supralapsarianism would be to a two-year-old.
Mary Was United to Jesus on the Cross (General Audience of Pope John Paul II: 25 October 1995)
Mary Freely Cooperated in God’s Plan (Pope John Paul II: General Audience, 3 July 1996)
Mary has a Role in Jesus’ Saving Mission (Pope John Paul II: General Audience, 18 December 1996)
Mary has universal spiritual motherhood (Pope John Paul II: General Audience, 24 September 1997)
Mary’s mediation derives from Christ’s (Pope John Paul II: General Audience, 1 October 1997)
She Gave the Word Flesh, Scott Hahn
Photo credit: Virgin Annunciate (1475), by Antonello da Messina (1430-1479) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]