Speaking on the topic “Praying in communion with Mary,” at the March 24 General Audience, Pope Francis dealt with devotion to Our Lady.1 Contrary to what anyone would expect from a pope, his words recall St. Louis de Montfort’s definition of Our Lady’s “critical devotees” in his famous book, True Devotion to Mary:
Critical devotees are for the most part proud scholars, people of independent and self-satisfied minds, who deep down in their hearts have a vague sort of devotion to Mary. … When you tell them how admirably the Fathers of the Church praised our Lady, they reply that the Fathers were exaggerating as orators do, or that their words are misrepresented. These false devotees, these proud worldly people are greatly to be feared. They do untold harm to devotion to our Lady. While pretending to correct abuses, they succeed only too well in turning people away from this devotion.2
Indeed, such false devotees seek to extinguish devotion to Our Lady among the faithful by favoring a ‘protestantized’ Catholicism.
Co-Redemptrix Is an Exaggerated Love Expression?
This is not the first time the Argentine pope criticizes “exaggerations” in devotion to Mary Most Holy. For him, the titles that Catholic piety attributed to Mary are “exaggerated.” So to avoid exaggeration, he adopts a minimalist position, presenting the Mother of God as “more disciple than Mother,” a “humble handmaid of the Lord,” emphasizing: “nothing more.”3
No Catholic Sees Mary as a Goddess
As he made clear in his sermon on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 2019, Pope Francis is uncomfortable with the title of co-redemptrix, which popes and theologians have long used.4
At the General Audience on the Annunciation’s vigil, he again expressed his malaise over this title. He insinuated that by calling the Blessed Mother “co-redemptrix,” Catholics turn her into a “goddess.”
He stated: “the Madonna who ‘covers,’ like a Mother, to whom Jesus entrusted us, all of us; but as a Mother, not as a goddess, not as co-redeemer: as Mother.”5
This suggestion, contrary to all Catholic tradition, that calling the Blessed Virgin “co-redemptrix” is equivalent to calling her “goddess,” is seriously offensive to the Mother of God and her devotees.
The title of co-redemptrix is not an expression of an exaggerated childish love, as Pope Francis implies,6 but the result of long theological maturation, endorsed by the ordinary papal and episcopal magisterium.7 Indeed, the great mariologist, Fr. J. A. de Aldama, S.J., shows how one finds the doctrine on Mary’s co-redemption in the Church Fathers, in medieval and modern theologians, and papal teachings.8
A Lutheran-Flavored Tirade
Pope Francis exclaims in a Lutheran-flavored tirade: “Christ is the Mediator. … He is the only Redeemer: there are no co-redeemers with Christ. He is the only one. He is the Mediator par excellence; he is the Mediator.”9
Catholic theologians answered this objection long ago. It is true that Our Lord is the sole, absolutely necessary Mediator and Redeemer, and that He alone, through His infinite merits, redeemed the entire human race, including Mary Most Holy. However, by a free act of His will (not by necessity), God associated a co-redemptrix to the Redeemer, in a subordinate way.
Fr. Royo Marin, O.P. aptly summarizes: “In the economy of our salvation there is not a co-redeemer and a co-redemptrix, but only one Redeemer and a co-redemptrix.”10
God Associated Mary With the Redemption From the Beginning
According to God’s designs, the Word became incarnate to redeem us. The Redeemer needed to be true God and true man, a descendant of Adam. Therefore, He had to become incarnate in a woman’s womb. This woman would be His mother according to the flesh.
Now, as Pope Pius IX says in the bull proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: “From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world.”11
Thus, God Himself linked the redemption of the human race to the divine maternity. They cannot be separated. Mary, the Redeemer’s Mother, joined in the work of redemption. That is why Pope Leo XIII teaches that God began “the redemption of the human race … through her.”12
However, God wanted Mary Most Holy to give her free consent to this sublime act and, therefore, to participate in our redemption by accepting to be the Redeemer’s Mother.13 By accepting the divine maternity, She chose to suffer with her Son, offering Him as a victim on the Cross, as His Mother, for our salvation.14
Co-redemptrix, a Title Used by Several Popes
As we said above, the Church Fathers, theologians and popes expressed the idea of co-redemption even though not everyone used the expression.
Some popes, like Benedict XV (1914–1922), expressed just the concept: “So did she suffer with her suffering and dying Son, and almost die; so did she abdicate her maternal rights over her Son for the salvation of men, and to placate God’s justice, insofar as was fitting for her, so did she sacrifice her Son, that it can properly be said that she with Christ redeemed the human race.”15
Other popes, however, used the very term, co-redemptrix. For example, Pius XI (1922–1939) taught:
Oh! Mother of love and Mercy, who were close to your sweet Son when consummating the redemption of mankind on the altar of the Cross, suffering with Him as co-redemptrix.16
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.17
And, in his turn, Pope John Paul II (1978–2005) stated: “Mary, though conceived and born without the stain of sin, participated in a marvelous way in the sufferings of her Divine Son to be co-redemptrix of humanity.”18
Hope in Devotion to Our Lady
Whenever Pope Francis talks about the Blessed Virgin, he minimizes her importance in our salvation, criticizing her glorious titles as exaggerations. It is a constant. What a difference between Pope Francis’s “critical devotion” and the true devotion of the Saints!
We close with a fabulous text by Pope Saint Pius X in the encyclical celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:
“True, we are passing through disastrous times, when we may well make our own the lamentation of the Prophet: ‘There is no truth and no mercy and no knowledge of God on the earth. Blasphemy and lying and homicide and theft and adultery have inundated it’ (Os. 4:1–2). Yet in the midst of this deluge of evil, the Virgin Most Clement rises before our eyes like a rainbow, as the arbiter of peace between God and man: ‘I will set my bow in the clouds and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me and between the earth’ (Gen. 9:13). Let the storm rage and sky darken—not for that shall we be dismayed. ‘And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it and shall remember the everlasting covenant’ (Gen. 9:16). ‘And there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh’ (Gen. 9:15). Oh yes, if we trust as we should in Mary, now especially when we are about to celebrate, with more than usual fervor, her Immaculate Conception, we shall recognize in her that Virgin most powerful ‘who with virginal foot did crush the head of the serpent’ (Office of the Immaculate Conception).”19
- See Pope Francis, General Audience (Mar. 24, 2021), http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2021/documents/papa-francesco_20210324_udienza-generale.html.
- St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, no. 93, accessed Apr. 1, 2021, https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/treatise-on-true-devotion-to-the-blessed-virgin-6064.
- Pope Francis, General Audience (Mar. 24, 2021). (Our emphases throughout.)
- “Homilía del Papa Francisco en la Misa por la Virgen de Guadalupe,” ACI Prensa, Dec. 12, 2019, https://www.aciprensa.com/noticias/homilia-del-papa-francisco-en-la-misa-por-la-virgen-de-guadalupe-49320. See Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Having Worshipped Pachamama, Pope Francis Now Disparages Mary’s Co-Redeeming Role,” Dec. 23, 2019, https://tfp.org/having-worshipped-pachamama-pope-francis-now-disparages-marys-co-redeeming-role/.
- Pope Francis, General Audience (Mar. 24, 2021).
- “They are expressions of love like a child for his or her mamma – some are exaggerated. But love, as we know, always makes us exaggerate things, but out of love.” Pope Francis, General Audience (Mar. 24, 2021).
- Regarding the episcopal magisterium, it is enough to mention the petition of fifty-five cardinals and 518 bishops to the Holy See for the solemn definition of Mary as co-redemptrix. Among them, Curia members such as Pedro Cardinal Palazzini, Alphonse Cardinal Stickler, and Luigi Cardinal Ciappi, Theologian of the Pontifical Household emeritus. (See Solimeo, “Having Worshiped Pachamama.”)
- José Antonio de Aldama, S.J., Tratado de Mariología o de la Madre del Redentor, nos. 156ff, https://www.mercaba.org/TEOLOGIA/STE/Vol%20III/Tratado%202/cap_4.htm#Articulo%20%20III, accessed Apr. 2, 2021.
- Pope Francis, General Audience (Mar. 24, 2021). (Emphasis in the original.)
- Antonio Royo Marin, O.P., La Virgen Maria: Teologia y spiritualidad mariana (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1968), 153.
- Pius IX, Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus (Dec. 8, 1854), https://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius09/p9ineff.htm.
- Leo XIII, Encyclical Magnae Dei Matris (Sept. 8, 1892), no. 10, http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_08091892_magnae-dei-matris.html.
- See Luke 1:26–38.
- Aldama, Tratado de Mariología, nos. 171, 165ff, 173ff.
- Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter Inter sodalicia (Mar. 22, 1918), Denzinger-Rhaner (English translation), no. 1978a, fn. 2.
- L’Osservatore Romano, Apr. 29–30, 1935, p. 1, quoted in J. B. Carol, O.F.M. et al., Mariologia (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1964), 766.
- Pius XI, “Greetings to Pilgrims Assembled in Rome for the Jubilee of the Redemption,” Nov. 30, 1933, in Domenico Bertetto, S.D.B., ed., Discorsi di Pio XI, 2:1013, in Calkins, “Mary as Coredemptrix.”
- John Paul II, General Audience (Sept. 8, 1982), Vatican.va, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/it/audiences/1982/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_19820908.html. (Our translation and emphasis.)
- Pius X, Encyclical Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum (Feb. 2, 1904), https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_02021904_ad-diem-illum-laetissimum.html.