Mary's Cooperation in Work of Redemption

Author: Salvatore M. Perrella, O.S.M.


Salvatore M. Perrella, O.S.M.
Pontifical Theological Faculty
"Marianum", Rome

Within the vast and diverse reality of the Church, some circles are asking, with a certain insistence, through the presentation of studies and symposia on the manus salutiferum of Mary, that the Bishop of Rome make a dogmatic definition of the so-called "coredemption". Reasons are provided for this request: ours is the appropriate time to complete the Marian dogmas; the previous definitions concerned the "person" and not the soteriological and ecclesial "role" of the Mother of Jesus; a definition would further complete the doctrine of the Church; it would foster the piety of the faithful and appreciation for women. Such reasons are not new; all of them have to be weighed by their consequences. They appear similar, with the exception of the one regarding women, to those expressed by a number of Bishops in 1959 in their desiderata for the Council, which were later summarized and registered by the preparatory synthesis of 1960.1

The request also makes use of terminology belonging to pre-conciliar theological manuals: Coredemptrix, coredemption; Mediatrix, mediaton, objective and subjective Redemption; application and distribution of graces; condign and congruous merit....2

It shows, therefore, a certain "under-appreciation" of the Council's teaching, which is perhaps believed to be not completely adequate to illustrate comprehensively Mary's co-operation in Christ's work of Redemption (coredemption) or her association with Christ in applying and distributing salvation to all people through her intercession of grace and mercy (mediation).

In this sense, the Declaration of the Theological Commission of the Pontifical Marian Academy, assembled at Czestochowa in August 1996, intends to present an authoritative response to the multiplication of such requests. It needs to be acknowledged frankly, calmly and beyond any rushed or superficial conclusion that the titles used to substantiate the request for a dogma relative to the role of Mary in the work of Redemption do not clearly, suitably or in a uniform manner express the doctrine that the drafters of the petition wish to maintain.

From an attentive reading of the theological and Mariological manuals in use before the Second Vatican Council, as well as from an examination of the Marian vota of the Bishops for the Council, it is clear that coredemption and mediation are constant themes. The two are intimately connected: the earthly co-operation of the Blessed Virgin in the salvific work of Christ, or coredemption, is seen as the preamble to her mediation which continues now in heaven. The two doctrinal themes, connected in the one reality of the mystery of salvation, are usually distinguished, as formal object, by theologians,3 although there are some who combine them in the theme of universal motherhood.

The Mediation of Mary: between Tradition and Renewal

Here we will give particular attention to those doctrinal elements which are included in certain theological terms dropped by the Council, for example Coredemptrix and coredemtio, which are now proposed anew by some circles, but not always with the same lucidity and interpretive clarity of recent magisterial teaching (cf. Lumen gentium, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Redemptoris Mater and Collectio missarum de Beata Maria Virgine).

From the pontificate of Leo XIII (1878-1903) to that of Pius XII (1939-1958), with the inevitable differentiations and deepening of understanding, the themes of coredemption and mediation by Mary prove to have been constant in the teaching of the Roman Pontiffs: one thinks of Iucunda semper (1894), Ad diem illum (1904), Inter sodalicia (1918), Mystici Corporis (1943), Ad caeli Reginam (1954), and Haurietis aquas (1956).

However, the Pope—and Bishops in their pastoral letters4—when presenting this doctrine, almost never linger over the scholastic distinctions relative to the nature of the munus salutiferum of Mary; that is, whether it is mediate or immediate, or whether it concerns the objective or the subjective moment. Pius XI, in his radio message concluding the Jubilee of the Redemption (28 April 1935), was the first Pope to formally explicitly give the title "Coredemptrix" to the Blessed Virgin.5 Pius XII, by his choice and conviction, never used this title in his magisterial teaching, preferring to have recourse to a less binding and controversial vocabulary, more in keeping with expressing, even in a formal way, the association of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of Redemption.

In this context, not only did the Council not take the route of a dogmatic pronouncement, but it positively avoided using "coredemptio" and derivative terms: the Council's choice fell predominately to "cooperatio"; in this light, the Blessed Virgin would not be called Coredemptrix, but rather Nova Heva and Socia Redemptoris, continuing the valid choice of Pius XII. The conciliar option was essentially determined by the correct decision "to place at the centre" of the treatment, without any shadow of equivocation, the axiological and soteriological primacy of that unus Mediator attested to in explicit terms by 1 Tm 2:5, as well as many other New Testament passages (cf. also Acts 4:12; Jn 3:17; Acts 17:24-31; Eph 1:3-13) and constant Christian tradition. It is now an unquestionable given that 1 Tm 2:5-6, in placing the accent on the "uniqueness" of Christ the Mediator (heîs kaì mesítes), affirms at the same time his divinity, as God who is one (heîs gàr Theós).

Today also, some have noted, on the purely lexical level, the problematic character and exegetical-theological temerity of the title "Coredemptrix". In fact, if the term "saviour" is placed alongside the title "redeemer" as a synonymous title (cf. Is 60:16), we note that the qualification "con-redeemer" contrasts with what is asserted in both Old6 and New Testaments.7

The conciliar statement of Lumen gentium, n. 62 is explicit in this regard when it affirms that "nulla ... creatura cum Verbo incarnato ac Redemptore connumerari umquam potest", that is to say, no creature, even through a participated co-operation, can be numbered (cum-numerari) with the Word of God on the level of his distinctive redemptive work. In this sense, the insufficiency of attributing a non-univocal significance to the term Redemption when it is used to indicate a participation in the Redemption appears evident. The semantic weight of this expression would require a good many other qualifications and clarifications, especially in the case under examination, where she who is wished to be proclaimed coredeemer is, in the first place, one who is redeemed, albeit in a singular manner, and who participates in Redemption primarily as something she herself receives. Thus we see the inadequacy of the above-mentioned term for expressing a doctrine which requires, even from the lexical standpoint, the proper nuances and distinctions of levels.

Knowledge of the reasons underlying the rejection of specific terms is an important element in understanding the mens which informs a text, just as the choice of others can be indicative of an intentio. The titles used by the Council to illustrate the munus of Mary (a term which recurs nine times: LG, nn. 53, 54, 55, 60, 62, 63, 67), as both maternal and salvific (see LG, nn. 60, 62 and 56) are nova Heva (LG, n. 63), socia Redemptoris (LG, n. 61), mater viventium (LG, n. 56) and ancilla Domini (LG, nn. 56, 61).

Nevertheless, the refusal to proceed to dogmatic definition of "coredemption" and the rejection of a certain terminology do not signify disinterest on the part of the Council regarding the doctrine of the co-operation of the Blessed Virgin in Christ's work of salvation. On the contrary, this question became one of the specific points of chapter eight of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium. In fact, it is treated in both the part dedicated to illustrating the relation between Mary and Christ (II. De munere B. Virginis in oeconomia salutis) considered in the earthly unfolding of the mystery of his incarnation, birth, public ministry and redemptive death on the Cross (cf. LG, nn. 56-58), as well as in the part concerning the heavenly phase (III. De Beata Virgine et Ecclesia), in which the Mother of the Incarnate Word and Redeemer constitutes a maternal presence and intercedes for the sake of those in need of salvation (cf. LG, nn. 60-62).

The co-operation of the Mother of the Saviour, considered in its entirety, is qualified by the Council as unique and utterly special (singulari prorsus modo, cf. LG, n. 61); it is not restricted just to the sphere of the earthly life and mission of the Redeemer, but continues without pause until the definitive crowning of all the elect (cf. LG, n. 62). Such singularity of service was expressed existentially from the moment of the virginal conception of Christ until his death on Calvary, where she united herself to the sacrifice of her Son by her suffering as mother and disciple, and by her consent to the immolation of her Son the Redeemer (cf. LG, nn. 57-58).

Furthermore, this singular association was exercised by Mary by means of her free faith, ardent charity, obedience, hope and maternal love (cf. LG, nn. 53, 56, 63); this unique feature of Mary's cooperatio redemptoris does not derive solely from the pre-eminence of her interior dispositions, but from a maternal co-operation in the life and messianic ministry of the Saviour, directed "ad vitam animarum supernaturalem restaurandam. Quam ob causam mater nobis in ordine gratiae exstitit" (LG, n. 61).

In the Council, the maternal munus of Mary with respect to the brothers and sisters of her Son is said to be salutiferum, as it pertains to the salvation of the human race (cf. LG, nn. 62 and 55), subordinatum to the absolute and universal role of Christ and to his unique —though not exclusive—mediation (cf. LG, nn. 55 and 62).

Furthermore, in the concise but dense expression of the Council's Constitution on the Liturgy, the association of Mary in the work of salvation is indicated as the basis of the special liturgical cult that the Church renders to her.8

The authority of the document, the liturgical context, the treatment ex professo of the material and the technical terms used, confer great importance to the text. Opus salutis, opus salutare, opus redemptionis, tantum opus, opus salutiferum are expressions that recur in the liturgical constitution (cf. SC, nn. 2, 5, 6, 7, 102) to indicate the salvation of man that Christ, according to the design of the Father and in communion with the Holy Spirit, has already radically realized by the paschal mystery and which will be fully accomplished in the parousia.

Thus, it follows that the comprehensive celebration of the saving work of the Lord Jesus implies the proper celebration of the participation of Mary in that work, to which she, by the disposition of divine Providence (cf. LG, n. 61) was indissolubly joined (cf. SC, n. 103; LG, nn 53, 56, 58, 61, 63, 66).

It should escape no one that the conciliar doctrine, authoritatively treating the munus in mysterio redemptionis of the Mother of the Lord, or rather, the manus Matris Salvatoris in salutis oeconomia (cf. LG, n. 55), orients and supports the proper further study by the Magisterium and by theologians. In fact, the question of the salvific co-operation of Mary cannot be considered or treated as a theme peripheral to Christianity, but is to be considered of extreme relevance for its undeniable consequences, which still need to be completely investigated, as well as for its implications of a Trinitarian, Christological, pneumatological, ecclesiological and anthropological nature.

Finally, everyone knows how the traditional terminology of coredemption/mediation, still substantially present in the preparatory schema De Beata Maria Virgine Matre Dei et Matre hominum of 1962,9 is no longer present in the text promulgated by Paul VI on 21 Nov. 1964;10 even less does it appear in the doctrinal development of Redemptoris Mater by John Paul II.

The Salvific Co-operation of Mary as Presented in the Magisterium Today

In this regard, John Paul II, deepening the conciliar teaching in a Christological, theological and anthropological sense, holds that the maternal co-operation in the work of the Saviour, a collaboration marked by faith and sacrificial love, had singular effects in the very motherhood of Mary, filling her with "burning charity" for all those to whom the mission of her Son was directed.

In this way the handmaid of the Lord "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 co-operation with Christ, the one Mediator of human salvation. And such co-operation is precisely this mediation subordinated to the mediation of Christ [quae cooperatio est ipsa mediatio subordinata mediationi Christi].... 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'" (Redemptoris Mater, n. 39).

However, it has to be said that the Holy Father, while making use of the terminology of the Council (function, maternal function, salutary influence for mankind) to indicate this function of Mary in the opus salutis, prefers to recover the term mediation, to which from time to time he adds the adjectives maternal and participated, thus, in a certain way, restoring the pre-conciliar vocabulary of theological reflection, liturgy and the papal the Magisterium. However, in recovering this term, the Holy Father has given it a new content in the light of the teaching chapter seven of Lumen gentium, which interprets and deepens the understanding of Mary's co-operation in the work of Christ in a salvation-historical and Christological-diaconal method and sense, presenting its contents with the appropriate theological and pastoral sensitivity.

The re-appreciation of certain terms, however, does not signify a regression but a reclassification, in a correct sense and sphere, of the different participated mediations of various types and categories, which "acquire meaning and value only from Christ's own mediation and cannot be understood as parallel or complementary" (Redemptoris missio, n. 5): in fact, the mediation of Mary is and remains "mediation in Christ" (Redemptoris Mater, n. 38).

Furthermore the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater has linked the mediation of Mary with her messianic motherhood.11 In this connection, footnote 105 of Redemptoris Mater cites the preface of the Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Mediatrix of Grace (cf. Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine, n. 30). Perfectly configured to her Son, who in heaven "lives forever to make intercession" for the sake of those who approach God through him (cf. Heb. 7:25), the glorious Theotókos is a vox supplex perpetually united to that of Christ, the unus Mediator, on behalf of mankind (cf. 1 Tm 2:5-6).

Furthermore, in loving wisdom, the Most Holy Trinity has entrusted a function in the Church to the Redeemer's Mother and Handmaid, a maternal mission realized through "the power of love"—having its foundation in the one mediation of Christ, from which it clearly draws its efficacy—a mission of intercession and of pardon, of protection and of grace, of reconciliation and of peace" (Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine, n. 30).

If both these authoritative Church documents (one magisterial and the other liturgical) present substantially the same doctrine on "the mediation of Mary", this is due to the fact that both are reflections on the same source: paragraph 62 of Lumen gentium.12

From our point of view, by way of concise synthesis, the salvific co-operation of the Mother and Handmaid of the Lord is the fruit of the divine and Christic goodness; a gift of the Spirit which in faith and love renders creatures, transformed by grace, "capable" of collaborating, "by the sincere gift of self", in the mission of Christ, the one Mediator—of whom Mary, the perfectly redeemed and sanctified one, is the singular "handmaid/co-operator". She herself, the first of the redeemed, receives this grace which, in a singular fashion, associates her with Christ's Redemption and gives her the function of manifesting it and fostering its effectiveness. Thus one understands how the distinctiveness of Mary enlightens and also incarnates the singular function of the Church, ministra pietatis and universal sacrament of salvation.


1 Cf. Acta et documenta Concilio, Oecumenico Vaticano II apparando, vol. II, pars 1, pp. 135-141.

2 Cf. G. M. Roschini, "Mediazione", in Dizionario di Mariologia, Ed. Studium, Rome, 1961, pp. 324-343.

3 Cf. S. M. Perrella, I <<vota>> e i <<consiliao>> dei Vescovi italiani sulla mariologia e sulla corredenzione nella fase antepreparatoria del Concilio Vaticano II, Ed. Marianum, Rome, 1994, pp. 141-250.

4 Cf. J. B. Carol, "Episcoporum doctrina de Beata Virgine Corredemptrice", in Marianum 10 (1948) pp. 210-25.

5 Cf. L'Osservatore Romano, 29-30 aprile 1935, p. 1; and R. Laurentin, "Le titre de Coredemptrice", in Marianum 13 (1951), pp. 396-452.

6 Is 43:11, "It is I, I the Lord; there is no saviour but me".

7 Acts 4:12, "There is no salvation through anyone else [except in Jesus Christ], nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved".

8 "In hoc annuo mysteriorum Christi circulo celebrando, Sancta Ecclesia Beatam Mariam Dei Genetricem cum peculiari amore veneratur, quae indissolubili nexu cum Filii sui opere salutari coniungitur" (SC, n. 103).

9 Cf. Acta synododalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol. I, pars IV, pp. 92-121.

10 Cf. Acta synododalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol. III, pars VIII, pp. 784-836.

11 "Mediatio ... Mariae intime conectitur cum eius maternitate, indolem prae se ferens proprie maternam" (Redemptoris Mater, n. 38); "Materna mediatio ancillae Domini per morten redemptricem Filii eius hanc universalem rationem est consecuta, quia opus redemptionis cunctos complectitur homines" "maternitas Mariae in Ecclesia indesinenter perdurat ut mediatio intercedens" (Redemptoris Mater, n. 40).

12 Cf. S. M. Meo, "La 'mediazione materna' di Maria nell'enciclica 'Redemptoris Mater'", in Marianum 51 (1989), pp. 145-170.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 July 1997, page 9

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
P.O. Box 777
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5380