Pope Francis’ Guadalupe Homily and Mary “Co-Redemptrix”

The Blessed Virgin Mary participated, in a unique way, in the historical redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, the only divine Redeemer.

Pope Francis offers Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Francis offers Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, in St. Peter’s Basilica. (photo: Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)

During his Dec. 12 homily at the Vatican Mass commemorating Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Francis made some spontaneous comments regarding the Marian title, “co-redemptrix” and a potential Marian definition which, coupled with somewhat misleading headlines and dubious summaries, have caused the most hotly-contested worldwide discussion about this traditional title for Our Lady and the doctrine that it signifies in recent history.

The actual words of the relevant lines of the homily of Pope Francis, transcribed from the video of his Dec. 12 homily given in Spanish during his non-scripted extemporaneous homily, are as follows:

Faithful to her Master, who is her Son, the unique Redeemer, she never wanted to take anything away from her Son. She never introduced herself as ‘co-redemptrix.’ No. ‘disciple’(Fiel a su Maestro, que es su Hijo, el único Redentor, jamás quiso para si tomar algo de su Hijo. Jamás se present como co-redentora. No. discipula).

Our Holy Father is completely accurate in stating that Mary never “introduced herself” as “co-redemptrix,” neither in the biblical contexts of the Annunciation, Visitation or Cana, nor in the historical events at Guadalupe, which was the subject of his homily. This, though, does not in itself deny the doctrinal truth and traditional legitimacy of the co-redemptrix title when it is used with its proper meaning: the unique participation of Mary in the historical redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, the only divine Redeemer.

Our Holy Father is further most accurate when he states that “She [Mary] never wanted to take away anything from her Son.” Fortunately, when Pope St. John Paul II (and Pope Pius XI before him) repeatedly used the title “co-redemptrix” for Our Lady, he likewise did not seek to take anything from Jesus and give it to Mary, but rather to identify Mary’s unique cooperation in the redemptive work accomplished by Christ. The co-redemptrix title for Our Lady has been part of the Church’s Tradition since the 14th century, and is typically used correctly to identify Our Lady’s unequalled cooperation with and under Jesus Christ in the redemption by popes, saints, mystics, bishops, clergy, theologians and the faithful People of God. The extraordinary lineup of recently canonized saints who have legitimately referred to Mary as the co-redemptrix include St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Josemaría Escrivá, St. John Henry Newman and, once again, Pope St. John Paul II. The great Fatima seer, Sister Lucia, uses and sublimely explains the co-redemptrix title for Mary on seven occasions in her final writing, Calls from the Message of Fatima.

The co-redemptrix title seeks to represent, in one term, the Church’s official doctrine of Mary’s unrivaled participation in the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, the sole Divine Redeemer. The official and undeniable Marian doctrine of the Church is repeatedly taught at the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, 56, 57, 58, 61) and by the papal magisterium of the last three centuries.

Our Lady’s cooperative role with Jesus in the work of redemption is theologically based on the central Catholic principle of “participation” where we, as disciples of Jesus, truly share in his divine life of grace, but without adding or subtracting anything from Jesus himself. Our Lady’s role as co-redemptrix is the perfect human model for all Christians to likewise participate in Jesus’ great work of redemption, in properly responding to the words of St. Paul to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church (Colossians 1:24),” or as Pope St. John Paul II instructs us, to be “co-redeemers in Christ.”

Our Holy Father does strongly confirm in his Dec. 12 homily the legitimacy of the title, “mother of all,” which has been proposed over the last century as the overall title and doctrine for a potential Marian definition. Currently, none of the existing four dogmas (Mother of God, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption) refer to Mary’s direct and maternal relationship with humanity as our spiritual mother, and hence, one could argue, the theological appropriateness of a solemn definition or “dogma” of Mary as the spiritual mother of all peoples.

The century-old international movement for a proposed fifth Marian dogma of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood (which necessarily includes her foundational roles as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces) was started by the renowned Belgian cardinal, Cardinal Désiré Mercier, in 1915, and by 1918, Pope Benedict XV has received hundreds of other cardinal and bishop petitions for the solemn papal definition or “dogma” of Mary’s relationship with humanity as a “mother to us in the order of grace” as delineated by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, 61).

But over the course of the last 100 years, it has especially been the holy People of God who, as an expression of the sensus fidelium, the common consensus of the faithful, have prayed and petitioned the various popes for this dogmatic crowning for Our Lady. Over the past 25 years, the People of God from over 170 countries have sent over 8 million petitions to the Holy See for this dogmatic crowning for Our Lady. This contemporary movement of the Christian faithful has constituted a massive worldwide “People of God petition drive” to recent pontiffs, which follows the Church precedent of the past petition drives from the laity that successfully led to the last two Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950).

Later during his spontaneous homily, the Holy Father also referred to the general topic of declarations and dogmas by stating:

When they come to us with stories about having to declare this, or make this or that other dogma, let’s not get lost in foolishness. Mary is woman, she is Our Lady, Mary is the Mother of her Son and of the Holy Mother hierarchical Church …(Cuando nos vengan con historias de que había que declararla esto, o hacer este otro dogma o esto, no nos perdamos en tonteras: María es mujer, es Nuestra Señora, María es Madre de su Hijo y de la Santa Madre Iglesia jerárquica…).

Regarding the specific issue of the proposed dogma of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood, the Holy Father seems to currently hold a certain position, but he can also experience a further development in his position. This has clearly been the case regarding Pope Francis’ position to the Medjugorje apparitions, which has certainly developed from earlier comments that appeared to be somewhat negative, to his recent positive and unprecedented granting of permission for official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, even before find word on the apparitions’ authenticity has been determined.

While it is certainly true that a desire for a formal definition of a Marian truth could theoretically distract from the central truth that Mary is “Our Lady” and the Mother of the Church, fortunately in this particular case, it is precisely the central truth of Mary being the Spiritual Mother of the Church and of all peoples that would be the very subject and focus of this proposed fifth Marian dogma.

Of all creatures, Mary alone can say of the Divine Redeemer of the universe that he is “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” And as the Second Vatican Council teaches, Mary alone, as the New Eve with the New Adam, “lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim born of her” for the world’s redemption (Lumen Gentium, 58).

The international movement, Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici, continues to pray and work in joyful anticipation of further development toward the potential solemn definition of Our Lady’s unique maternal role in our redemption, as well as her overall doctrinal role as Spiritual Mother of All Peoples. The prayer and petition movement for the fifth Marian dogma continues, always in complete fidelity and obedience to our Holy Father and to the Church’s Magisterium, and in solidarity with the faithful conviction of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “The papal definition of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate will bring great graces to the Church (Aug. 14, 1993).”

Mark Miravalle PhD holds the St. John Paul II Chair of Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

He is also President, Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici (Voice of the People for Mary Mediatrix), an international lay organization

that seeks to work for the papal definition of our Lady as CoRedemptrix.