It is enough to consult any pre-conciliar treaty on Mariology, to realize the importance that the concept of co-redemption, applied to the Virgin Mary, has held sway in theological thought for five centuries. The popes themselves encouraged theologians, as well as the faithful, to better understand this title of our Heavenly Mother. It is enough to be convinced of it in recalling the words of the popes, from Pius IX, the Pope of the Immaculate Conception, to Pius XII, the Pope of the Glorious Assumption of Our Lady.
In the bull Ineffabilis Deus, which proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, Pope Pius IX writes: “Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.” If the word co-redeemer does not appear, the idea and its reality are well expressed.
Several texts by Pope Leo XIII express this doctrine as well. Thus in the encyclical Supremi apostolatus officio (1883): “And truly the Immaculate Virgin, chosen to be the Mother of God and thereby associated with Him in the work of man’s salvation, has a favor and power with her Son greater than any human or angelic creature has ever obtained, or ever can gain.”
In an encyclical on the rosary, Jucunda semper (1894), the same pope teaches: “there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, who, in a miracle of charity, so that she might receive us as her sons, offered generously to Divine Justice her own Son, and died in her heart with Him, stabbed with the sword of sorrow.”
In the apostolic constitution Ubi primum (1898), on the Confraternity of the Rosary: “When first, by the secret designs of Divine Providence, we were promoted to the Chair of Peter…Our mind at once turned to the great Mother of God, who was a partner in the work of man’s Redemption.”
Finally, in the encyclical Adjutricem populi (1895), Leo XIII gives the most complete expression of this co-redemption, by associating it with the Universal Mediation of Mary: “From her heavenly abode she began, by God’s decree, to watch over the Church, to assist and befriend us as our Mother; so that she who was so intimately associated with the mystery of human salvation is just as closely associated with the distribution of the graces which for all time will flow from the Redemption.”
Saint Pius X
This holy pope also evoked the doctrine of co-redemption in his famous encyclical Ad diem illum (1904), for the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: “And from this community of will and suffering between Christ and Mary she merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world (Eadmeri Mon. De Excellentia Virg. Mariae, c. 9) and Dispensatrix of all the gifts that Our Savior purchased for us by His Death and by His Blood.” The Holy Pope in turn highlighted the link between co-redemption and universal mediation.
During the pontificate of this glorious pope, a decree from the Holy Office on June 26, 1913 praised “the custom of adding after the name of Jesus that of His Mother, our Co-Redemptrix, the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The same congregation granted an indulgence for the recitation of the prayer in which Mary is called “co-redemptrix of the human race” on January 22, 1914.
In his turn, he clearly spoke of this doctrine, in his Apostolic Letter Inter Sodalicia, March 22, 1918: “By associating herself with the Passion and the death of her Son, she suffered as if to die from it…to appease divine justice; as much as she could, she sacrificed her Son in such a way that one can rightly say that with him she redeemed the human race. And, for this reason, all the kinds of graces that we draw from the treasury of redemption come to us, so to speak, from the hands of the sorrowful Virgin.”
We must first quote his letter Explorata res (February 2, 1923), in which he delivers this beautiful praise to the Mother of Heaven: “This one will not incur eternal death, which will especially enjoy at its last moment the assistance of the Blessed Virgin. This opinion of the doctors of the Church, confirmed by the sentiment of the Christian people and by long experience, is based above all on the fact that the Virgin of sorrows participated with Christ in the work of Redemption.”
But above all, he is the first pope to use the term co-redemptrix. In his message to the pilgrims of Lourdes for the Jubilee of the Redemption, he made this prayer: “O Mother of piety and mercy, who as Co-Redemptrix stood by your most sweet Son suffering with Him when He consummated the redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross ... preserve in us, we beg, day by day, the precious fruits of the Redemption and of your compassion” (April 29, 1935).
And in the Address to the pilgrims of Vicenza (11/30/1933), he clearly stated: “From the nature of His work the Redeemer ought to have associated His Mother with His work. For this reason We invoke her under the title of co-redemptrix.”
The angelic pastor has repeatedly described the fact of the co-redemption of Mary, even if he does not use the word. In the encyclical Mystici corporis (1943) for example: “It was finally Mary who, by enduring her immense pains with a soul full of strength and confidence, more than all Christians, true Queen of martyrs, completed what was missing to the sufferings of Christ...‘for his Body which is the Church’(Col 1:24).”
If the term co-redemptrix is not found in the pen of this pope, the doctrine is there with all the clarity and development possible. Let us judge by this quote from the encyclical Ad caeli Reginam (1954), on the royalty of Mary:
“In the accomplishing of this work of redemption, the Blessed Virgin Mary was most closely associated with Christ… just as Christ, because He redeemed us, is our Lord and king by a special title, so the Blessed Virgin also (is our queen), on account of the unique manner in which she assisted in our redemption, by giving of her own substance, by freely offering Him for us, by her singular desire and petition for, and active interest in, our salvation.”
The rejection of the titles of the Blessed Virgin, especially those of Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix, has its origins in modern ecumenism. Already, when the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin was proclaimed in 1950, the modernists were moved, seeing in it a new obstacle opposed to rapprochement with the Protestants.
At the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers simply deleted the schema prepared on the Blessed Virgin, so as not to give her too much importance, and made it a simple chapter of Lumen Gentium, the constitution on the Church. The Council recognized Mary’s titles, such as Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Succor and even Mediatrix, it proclaimed her Mother of the Church, but the tendency was to minimalism.
This trend became that of all the post-conciliar popes.