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The Co-redemption

By Cardinal Georges Cottier, O.P.

The following is a presentation given by Cardinal Georges Cottier when he was a Theologian of the Papal Household, on behalf of the Congregation of the Clergy during a world video conference held in Rome on May 29, 2002.

In the beautiful final Chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, we read «After this manner the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, (see John 19:25) in keeping with the divine plan (294), grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: "Woman, behold thy son." (see John 19:26-27)» (no. 58). These very intense lines are the echo of a long tradition authenticated by the Magisterium. The Mother of the Son of God made man is consecrated, at the foot of the cross, the Mother of His Mystical Body.

She was then proclaimed Mother of the Church by Paul VI. This title enlightens the meaning of Mary’s «intimate union» with the Church, where she occupies, «in an eminent and singular way» the «first place» (see no. 63). It is in her person that the Church has already achieved that perfection which makes her without stain or wrinkle (see Eph 5:27). She is the model of the Church (typus). One must perceive that Mary is not outside the Church, since she is its eminent and exemplary member, and that she exercises a maternal function for the Church. The Church’s mystery and Mary’s mystery include and enlighten each other reciprocally.

How can this be explained? The Council, after remembering the words of the apostle (1 Tim 2:5-6): «Since there is only one God, there is only one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ, who is a man, and gave Himself as a ransom for them all,» and added that «The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no ways obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power» (n.60).

A life of grace, participation in divine life, exists in principle and in fullness with Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, so as to be communicated to His Body, which is the Church. With this communication Christ attracts the Church and all its members to be assimilated in Him, to conform to Him and to participate in the gift of Himself to the Father, through whom He saved mankind. The only Mediator: the gift of Himself is totally and infinitely sufficient for the redemption of the world. Allowing His Church to participate in this is the mark of His love and the depth of the union to which He introduces her. Like all lives, a life of grace is fruitful, it brings its fruits in abundance. There is a law here both for the Church and for Mary, in proportion to the singular privileges.

The Council’s text, which we have quoted, strongly emphasises this: Beneath the cross, Mary suffers deeply with Her only born Son, she joins in His sacrifice with maternal love; lovingly consenting the immolation of the victim generated by her: what could these words mean if not that Mary plays an active role in the mystery of the Passion and the work of the Redemption? The Council itself clarifies this: the divine Redemptor’s mother was «and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate»: «(...) was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace» (n.61). «Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.» For this reason «the Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix» (n. 62).

Can we add to the title Mediatrix that of co-redemptrix? In the light of the above, the answer is affirmative. In fact the Council itself, so as to avoid any false interpretation, adds that the use of these titles is legitimate. But it must be understood «that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator» (ibid.).

You will notice that this title of co-redemptrix does not appear in the Council’s texts. One might envisage that this intentional absence was the answer to a ecumenical reason. The use of this term needed further development. It is true that, if the word co-redeemer was to evoke a juxtaposition and an addition to the Savior’s redeeming work, it should have been strongly rejected. It is as predestined, provoked, contained by Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, in a subordinated manner, participated, totally dependent on Him, that Mary’s co-redemption beneath the cross is meant, just as it is fully permeated by the intercession of the Son in glory, His mediation in interceding with heaven. The Council enunciated the principle that, translating an intuition of faith, regulates theological meditation in this field: «For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ» (n. 60). In the light of this principle, we understand in which sense Mary, and only Her, is the co-redeemer, and how proportionally the Church is also the co-redeemer. We also understand in which sense, the vocation of all who are baptised for sanctity leads them to participate in the mystery of Redemption. Each of these participations is like an epiphany of the fruitfulness of the cross of Jesus.

1 This of course also applies to the word mediatrix, but this word is covered by the authority of a liturgical tradition.

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