Why we call Mary ‘co-redeemer,’ and what that means for us

A few weeks ago, we had a visitor in our home who went straight for the jugular. “You Catholics are going to hell because you believe in a religion instead of Jesus Christ.”

“No,” I said, “that’s not true. The Church is Jesus, here on earth.”

She swatted away my answer and said, “And you call Mary the co-redeemer!”

I was taken aback by the look of horror and disgust on her face. “Because she said yes,” I replied, wondering why this offended her so much. “She allowed Jesus to come to earth through her, as a willing participant to God’s will.”

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My friend walked away then, and I thought about what I could have said to reach her. I called my oldest son, who spent a year and a half in seminary. I told him about the conversation and asked what I could have said: “What do they teach in the seminary about Mary being the co-redeemer?”

He said: “Mary showed us what we’re all supposed to do. We should all become co-redeemers by saying yes to Jesus and allow him to work through us, for the salvation of others.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. Mary was around 15 years old when the angel Gabriel came to her and told her God’s plan. Reputation was everything for a young girl about to marry in those times. According to some traditions, it was likely her neighbors knew she’d promised God to remain a virgin. How could she explain an unexpected pregnancy? What would Joseph, her betrothed, say?

The Bible tells us that when Joseph heard the rumor, he was planning to quietly divorce Mary. He didn’t want to bring her further shame but couldn’t accept her as his wife. It was only when the angel explained things to him that he went ahead and became the protector of Mary and her child.

Jesus could have come here on his own power, without the aid of a lowly human. How much richer is our Christian experience because he chose to enter the world in the act of childbirth? Without Mary, in her alliance with the Holy Trinity, we wouldn’t have Christmas, the Rosary, the Holy Family, Fátima, Lourdes, the Magnificat, and so much more. God apparently decided that heaven needed “a woman’s touch,” and we needed a heavenly mother.

There are several instances in Scripture where the Holy Spirit enables unexpected pregnancies in order to bring into existence someone essential to our human history. In addition to Mary, there is Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) and Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Contrast that openness to life with a culture that no longer values life and children and God’s plan. It is heartbreaking to consider what incredible leaders and healers we have lost in the last few decades by working within our will instead of God’s will.

Mary’s title of being called the co-redeemer highlights her humanity. While many misunderstand this teaching, believing that she is being made equal to the Holy Trinity, she is not divine. She is human like the rest of us, yet she rose to the occasion, though young and fearful. Mary said yes — fiat.

With that in mind, it makes sense that God expects us to be co-redeemers. What would we say if he asked something life-changing of us? Would we be able to say yes, or would we say, “That’s too hard, Lord. Ask me something else.”

Mary should not be despised because of any title given to her out of love and respect by her divine son. Most of us love our mothers and would be offended if anyone disrespected them. It’s obvious how much Jesus loved his mother. He was with her until he began his public ministry.

At the wedding at Cana, it was Mary who gently prodded her son about the wine. Wasn’t she also saying: “It’s time, my beloved son. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. Go ahead and do what you came to do.” Mary knew from Simeon’s prophecy that along the way her heart would be pierced by the sword of sorrow. Yet, she said “yes” once again. “Do whatever he tells you.” The act of changing water into wine set him on the road to Calvary.

Even from the cross, when he was struggling to breathe, Jesus thought of his mother and said to John, “This is thy mother.” He was speaking to all of us. To Mary, he said, “This is thy son.” John represented the whole of the human race as Mary’s beloved children.

Is it such a stretch to honor her by the title co-redeemer? Can we see this is also our role? Doesn’t he ask us to allow him to work through us to reach souls? “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).

Will we say yes?

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