Why I find Pope Francis’s contempt for the title of Co-Redemptrix so offensive
March 29, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — It is a sad state of affairs in the Church when a simple child of God, devoted to Our Lady, hears words shocking to pious ears coming from the Vicar of Christ himself and feels the need to cry out in protest, from the depths of a heart consecrated to the Immaculate Heart, in order to defend Our Lady’s honor, against anyone — even the Holy Father — who would appear, through apparently casual and careless remarks, to very nearly deny Her the just veneration due to Her as Mother of God who participated, through her Compassion, in Her Son’s salvific mission from His Conception to Calvary. However, such is the sorry state of Holy Mother Church today.
Already back in December 2019, during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Francis had qualified the idea of Mary being given the title of Co-Redemptrix as being mere “foolishness”. And now, on March 24, 2021, in his general audience, he has reiterated his hostility to this title: “The mother who covers everyone under her mantle as a mother, Jesus entrusted us to her as a mother, not as a goddess, not as a co-redemptrix, as a mother.” Does the Holy Father mean to suggest that Pope St. John Paul II, who repeatedly and lovingly referred to Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix, worshiped her as a goddess, along with Saint Padre Pio, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Mother Teresa, and many others in a long line of saints and Popes? Do his words simply deny the dogma of Marian co-redemption, which indeed has not yet been solemnly proclaimed, or do they strike at the heart of the doctrine itself, which belongs to the Tradition of the Church? And we might further wonder whether the Holy Father does not even go so far as to belittle the title of Mother of God when he says: “Mary is completely directed towards Him, she is more His disciple than His mother, we could say.” Who can deny the ambiguity of this last remark? Does this remark made in passing not at the very least hint at a certain disparagement of Mary as Mother of God? Why such murky words from the Vicar of Christ?
And so, a zealous desire to defend Our Mother’s honor, seemingly sullied in muddied waters, has prompted me to pen a few reflections in response to Pope Francis’s open hostility to the title of Co-Redemptrix, and even, perhaps, to a certain belittling of the title of Mother of God. I have no claims to being any sort of theologian, nor anything other than one of the myriad of little ones devoted and consecrated to Our Lady. The following reflections are simply those of a Marian devotee, and are a simple sharing of some spiritual nourishment I have recently benefited from through my reading of good devotional books during this year’s Lenten journey and which – providentially – seem to provide a response, and perhaps even a rebuke, to those who would appear to disparage Our Lady’s co-redemptive role.
“No, no, cries Saint Bernard, may no one imagine that the glory of the Son is in the least obscured by praising the Mother greatly, because ‘the more we honor the Mother, the more we praise the Son.’” (Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, quoting Saint Bernard, in The Glories of Mary [Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, in his Paraphrase of the Salve Regina, chapter 5])
Indeed, fortunately for us, in these dark times in the Church, we can choose to pay less attention to the uninspired improvisations of unfortunate shepherds and to spend more time reading the beautiful words of great saints and theologians who, for their part, don’t hesitate to crown Our Lady with the most glorious titles. Let’s question Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and see how he might respond to Pope Francis’s opinion that the title of Co-Redemptrix would somehow take away from Our Lord’s unique mediating role and is therefore mere pious exaggeration. In his great masterpiece of Marian devotion, The Glories of Mary, Saint Alphonsus devotes the entire fifth chapter of his Paraphrase of the Salve Regina to refuting a thesis which, oddly, resembles the opinion expressed by Pope Francis, and which our saint attributes to some theologian whose name no one any longer cares to remember.
Saint Alphonsus begins by ardently defending the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces which derives from that of Our Lady’s role as Co-Redemptrix. Along with a host of saints, whose words he amply quotes, Saint Alphonsus affirms that “no grace is accorded to mankind without passing through the hands of Mary.” He continues: “This proposition, that all the graces that we receive from God come to us through the hands of Mary, is hardly to the taste of a certain modern author, who shows himself to be very stingy when it comes to speaking of devotion to the divine Mother … This author claims that such a proposition, namely that God grants no grace, except through the intermediary of Mary, can only be a hyperbole, an exaggeration escaped from the fervor of some saints.”
When Saint Alphonsus mentions this “certain modern author”, I can’t help thinking of Pope Francis’s recent remarks from this past March 24: “They [Marian titles] are expressions of love like a son to the mother, sometimes exaggerated, but we know love always makes us do exaggerated things. Lovesickness.” These titles would somehow, according to both the author Saint Alphonsus refutes, as well as to Pope Francis, “take [something] away from the unique mediating role of Jesus,” as Pope Francis himself says. Saint Alphonsus refutes this opinion by distinguishing between the mediation of strict justice, which belongs solely to Jesus Christ, our unique Redeemer, and the mediation of grace, through prayer, which belongs to Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of All Graces.
Saint Alphonsus goes on to say that it is one thing to say, wrongly and blasphemously, that God cannot accord his graces without the intercession of Mary, and that it is entirely another thing to say, rightly and piously, that He does not wish to accord his graces except through Mary. Such is His divine Will, says our saint, affirming the Tradition of the Church: “The Church … teaches us to have recourse to this divine Mother and to invoke her as the salvation of the infirm, the refuge of sinners, the help of Christians, as our life and our hope …”; and he goes on to quote a host of saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church: “… in order to rid ourselves of the fear of going too far in our praise, it is more than sufficient to have the authority of Saint Augustine, who assures us that all that we can say in praise of Mary is insignificant in comparison with what she deserves due to her dignity as Mother of God.”
Saint Alphonsus would surely agree with the words of another saint, canonized by Pope Francis himself, who likewise protested against those who would deny Mother Mary the title of Co-Redemptrix. Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, objecting to a theologian of his day, could likewise address the Holy Father with the following words: “When they found you with the Fathers calling her Mother of God, Second Eve, and Mother of all Living, the Mother of Life, the Morning Star, the Mystical New Heaven, the Sceptre of Orthodoxy, the All-undefiled Mother of Holiness, and the like, they would have deemed it a poor compensation for such language that you protested against her being called a Coredemptrix.” [Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman to Pusey, quoted in “With Jesus”, The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, by Mark Miravalle, Queenship Publishing, 2003, p. 7.]
Finally, let us pause to consider for a moment the troubling words of the Holy Father when he states that Our Lady, with regards to her Son, “is more His disciple than His mother.” What does this mean? Is Our Lady less Mother of God and more mere disciple, like the rest of us? Or how else should we understand such a seeming semi-negation? A simple faithful Catholic cannot but be disheartened and troubled by words such as these. When we consider what the Church Tradition teaches us, that all the titles and honors which are given to the Blessed Virgin are rooted in her essential role as Mother of God, as taught in the Council of Ephesus in 431, how can we not be taken aback by such off-the-cuff remarks? When we think, just a moment, of what Church history tells us of the great battle which was waged in order for this important dogma to be solemnly proclaimed, how can we not wonder how the likes of Saint Cyril of Alexandria would react to such a dismissive remark? Considering the significance of this dogma for our Faith as a whole, how can such a careless remark not shock us or do anything other than pierce our hearts devoted to Our Lady’s Heart?
Fortunately, we can, however, find some solace in reading the wise and seriously pondered reflections of Father Frederick William Faber in his beautiful work entitled At the Foot of the Cross; or, the Sorrows of Mary. Concerning the use of the title of Co-Redemptrix by so many saints, he asserts that “it seems rash to assert of language used both by Saints and Doctors, that is only exaggeration and hyperbole, flowery phraseology intended to startle, but without any real meaning hidden beneath it…”
And he goes on at length to defend this title, using many arguments, but one in particular which might be of interest to us in response to the Holy Father’s recent unfortunate remarks. Indeed, this theologian explains beautifully in what sense Our Lady cooperated with our Lord in the redemption of the world by showing the necessary link between the Divine Maternity and Our Lady’s Coredemption, and so between Mary as Mother of God and as Co-Redemptrix:
Her free consent was necessary to the Incarnation … She gave Him the pure blood, out of which the Holy Ghost fashioned His Flesh and bone and Blood. She bore Him in her womb for nine months, feeding Him with her own substance. Of her was He born, and to her He owed all those maternal offices which, according to common laws, were necessary for the preservation of His inestimable life. She exercised over Him the plenitude of parental jurisdiction. She consented to His Passion; and if she could not in reality have withheld her consent, because it was already involved in her original consent to the Incarnation, nevertheless she did not in fact withhold it, and so He went to Calvary as her free-will offering to the Father … the cooperation of the Divine Maternity was indispensable. Without it our Lord would not have been born when and as He was; He would not have had that Body to suffer in … It was through the free will and blissful consent of Mary that they flowed as God would have them flow. Bethlehem, and Nazareth, and Calvary, came out of her consent, a consent which God did in no wise constrain. [At the Foot of the Cross; or, the Sorrows of Mary, by Father Frederick William Faber (initially published in 1858), Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2014, p. 439-440.]
These are profound words worth rereading and meditating upon. But why should this question of Our Lady’s co-redemption matter to us in the first place? What does this title of Co-Redemptrix mean for us as Catholics? Isn’t it just some fancy theological jargon that has little to do with our day-to-day Christian life? Nothing could be further from the truth. And this leads us to our last point, which concern Mary’s increasingly important role in the latter times.
“Mary must become as terrible as an army in battle array to the devil and his followers, especially in these latter times. For Satan, knowing that he has little time — even less now than ever — to destroy souls, intensifies his efforts and his onslaughts every day.” (Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, n. 50)
Few faithful Catholics would deny that these are difficult times we are living in, and that these times have even some hint of the latter times when, as Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort states, Mary will “become as terrible as an army in battle array to the devil and his followers” [Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, n. 50.]. Whether or not we are living in these times is not for us to ascertain with certainty, but unquestionably our Church is navigating some rather rough seas at the present time. The Faith of the Church seems to be in a sort of eclipse, which is why we need to seek refuge in Our Lady’s Heart in order to survive what appears to be the great apostasy coming from the very heart of the Church.
The martyr-saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe links the promise of a Co-Redemptrix at the dawn of time with Her essential role in the triumph of the end times: “From the moment of the Fall, God promised a Redeemer and a Co-Redemptrix, saying ‘I will place enmities between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and her Seed: She shall crush thy head.’” And, quoting Pope Leo XIII, Saint Maximilian calls for prayers to Our Mother to hasten the solemn dogmatic proclamation of Our Lady’s role as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of All Graces: “We have recourse to the Immaculata and we are instruments in Her hands, because She distributes all the graces of conversion and sanctification to the inhabitants of this valley of tears … Every grace passes through Her hands from the Sweetest Heart of the pure Jesus to us … In his encyclical on the Rosary (September 22, 1891), Pope Leo XIII says: ‘It can be affirmed in all truth that according to the divine will nothing of the immense treasury of grace can be communicated to us except through Mary.’ Let us pray, therefore, that our Holy Mother may expedite the solemn proclamation of this Her privilege, so that all humanity may run to Her feet with complete trust, since today we are in great need of Her protection.” [Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, quoted in “With Jesus”, The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, by Mark Miravalle, Queenship Publishing, 2003, p. 217-219.]
Indeed, the proclamation of the 5th Marian dogma affirming Our Lady’s spiritual maternity, and most especially her role as Co-Redemptrix, according to Father Seraphino M. Lanzetta, “would be propitious to officially gather that special Marian army needed in the latter times, marked by a special presence of Our Mother and Queen. No doubt, this would also prepare the triumph of the Immaculate Heart so dear to each one of us.”
So, let’s pray for this intention, confident that Our Lady will hear our prayers and that this time of trial will eventually, in God’s good time, come to an end. Devotion to Our Lady is the best, and indeed the sole remedy to the never-ending litany of shocking statements coming from so many of our shepherds who appear to have abandoned the Eternal Word in favor of the secular worldview. The solution to our Church’s and to the world’s woes is to be found in Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart and, in order for this Heart to truly triumph as she promised at Fatima over a century ago, we must consecrate ourselves completely to her Heart. And what better way to show our devotion than to pray to Our Mother to hasten this triumph through the proclamation of the 5th Marian dogma which will crown our spiritual Mother with the glorious title of Co-Redemptrix?
“Mary, Redemptrix of the human race, because by providing your flesh in the Word, you redeemed the world. Christ redeemed with his Passion and you with your sorrow of body and mind.” (Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, from Oratio XI, delivered in Rome on the feast of the Annunciation, 1379)
By way of conclusion, I would like to share the following poem in honor of Our Mother Co-Redemptrix, written on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 2021, humbly offered in reparation for the offenses against the Blessed Virgin, committed by all those who would deny her the just veneration due to her as Mother of God who, through her Compassion, participated in her Son’s salvific mission from cradle to Calvary.
“In the womb of the Immaculate the soul is reborn in the form of Jesus Christ … She must nourish the soul with the milk of Her grace, lovingly care for it and educate it, just as She nourished, cared for, and educated Jesus. On Her lap the soul must learn how to know and love Jesus. It must draw love for Him from her Heart, or even love Him with Her Heart, and become like unto Him by means of love.” – Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe [from the writings of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, SK 461, SK 1295, quoted in The Three Crowns: The Seven Joys, the Seven Sorrows, and the Seven Glories of Mary, Academy of the Immaculate, 2013, p. 45]
To You, our hearts’ sweet home, we humbly dedicate
This poem which our love for You does now dictate,
So that we always may your praise perpetuate,
And wholly may our hearts to Yours now consecrate.
So now to you we sing, sweet Mary, full of grace!
Your womb, where God made man does banish our disgrace,
Is, thanks to you, where our salvation can take place.
You gave warm welcome in your womb immaculate
To the Eternal Word for us made incarnate.
In your pure womb his flesh and blood God did create:
All other miracles He wrought take second place!
With joy today your fiat do we celebrate,
When with God’s holy will you did cooperate;
On this deep mystery we now must meditate.
Ours souls now educate, help us to contemplate!
Your blessed soul is sanctified by sacred grace,
Your blessed womb is now God’s hiding place,
And, for our souls’ rebirth to grace, our holy place.
How this Divine Maternity does elevate
Your womb as tabernacle of God incarnate,
In whose salvific mission you participate,
Oh, Coredemptress of the human race!
You nourish all our souls with purest milk of grace.
As nestled on your lap we gaze upon your face,
Sheer solace do we seek in hopes You will replace
Our heart with Yours, so they may beat at kindred pace.
Enfold us in your arms, and in your cloak enlace
Our souls: just as you nourish, care for and embrace
The Infant God, please help us to our pride efface,
To humbly love Him with your Heart Immaculate.
Before the starry throne of God, please mediate
For us, dear Mother; be our Advocate,
Until in heaven we see Jesus face-to-face!
Give to our sinful souls your tender, loving care,
So in divine life we may now receive a share,
And may become like Him: such is our prayer
To You, oh Blessed Virgin, fairest of the fair.