Why do Catholics call Mary ‘co-redemptrix’?
AL KRESTA says that the title Co-Redemptrix doesn’t make Mary equal to Jesus . . .
by Al Kresta
Just to be clear, Jesus is the redeemer of humanity; Mary is not. While “Mary, co-redemptrix” has been part of Catholic thought and devotion, it’s not yet clear whether this title will receive dogmatic definition.
This designation of Mary has long been part of the devotional life of the Church and further developed during the pontificates of Popes Pius X, Pius XI, and John Paul II. The Church usually considers co-redemptrix in connection with two other titles: mediatrix and advocate.
The first reference to Mary as co-redemptrix dates back to the 14th century. The concept, however, is already present in the writings of Irenaeus and Justin Martyr in the idea of the “Second Eve.” Just as Adam and Eve killed the life of God dwelling within them by disobedience, so too do the New Adam and the New Eve restore that life by obedience to the will of God. Eve hands the instrument of death to Adam in the Garden: Mary hands Jesus the instrument, a body, which brings eternal life.
Unfortunately, in English co-redemptrix sounds like co-chair or co-captain, implying that Jesus needed to split the office of Redeemer with someone else because the task of dying for the sins of the world was just a little too much for him. Rather, the “co” in co-redemptrix refers to a “cooperator” or “collaborator” with the Redeemer.
The Word of God never places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ. Mary is everything that she is through Christ. She needed a savior, and her savior was Jesus. But her divine maternity is an unparalleled sharing in the mysterious work of the divine Redeemer. To say that she plays a singular role in salvation history is not to claim that she is equal to Jesus.
Redemption is first prophesied immediately after the original sin (Gen 3:15). In this protoevangelium or “first gospel,” we hear the ground bass motif that will recur throughout salvation’s song: “the Woman” is “with the Redeemer.” This pattern is heard repeatedly in scripture.
Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation and her motherhood at the Nativity begin her union with her son in his work of salvation. Jesus’ mission of redemptive suffering causes profound suffering for her as well.
The title “co-redemptrix” is not a claim to equality with Christ, but an obedient and free cooperation with him in suffering for the sake of the gospel. While a hot brick warms, it receives its warmth from something other than itself — a heat source like a furnace. While the furnace is the “warmer,” the brick warmed by the furnace mediates the furnace’s heat to others. In this sense, the brick can be called a “co-warmer.”
Mary is “co-redemptrix” because of her unique maternity. She holds the title for all of us since she is the Mother of all Christians. Under her feet, the God of peace will crush Satan.
AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Are Catholic So Concerned About Sin?” Servant Books, 2005.
This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation…. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.
By pronouncing her “fiat” at the Annunciation and giving her consent to the Incarnation, Mary was already collaborating with the whole work her Son was to accomplish.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #969, 973