I heard someone mention that Mary was the co-redemptrix. What does that mean and is this Catholic teaching?

Over the last several years, many Catholics worldwide have signed petitions urging the Pope to make a dogmatic declaration that Mary is the “co-redemptrix.”

What exactly does this mean?  Supporters of the title say that “co-redemptrix” signifies the unique and irreplaceable role that Mary played in the salvation of the world: namely, she conceived, gave birth to, and supported Christ in his saving mission.  In doing so, she was intimately involved in redeeming the world from sin.  These supporters do clarify (correctly) that she is subordinate to her Son, and that Jesus himself is the true and only Redeemer.

What they say about Mary has, in fact, been taught by the Church for centuries.  The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium says, “[Mary] conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls.” (LG #61)

The problem, of course, is that there is great unease around the term “co-redemptrix.”  To many Catholics (and non-Catholics), calling Mary the co-redemptrix seems to go against two core teachings: it seems to put her on the same level as Christ (she isn’t), and it seems to imply that she is divine (she isn’t). Critics feel that the title would foster theological misunderstanding and undermine ecumenical efforts.

And though the term “co-redemptrix” has been used occasionally by various popes (including John Paul II), there has been no dogmatic declaration coming forth from the Pope to formalize the title.  Whether there ever will be remains to be seen.

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is the author of Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. You can visit her blog at www.blog.maryandme.org