By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Last month, when Pope Benedict XVI told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square that Mary took part in her Son’s sacrifice “thus cooperating in the mystery of redemption and becoming mother of all believers,” it touched off a new wave of speculation about whether or not he will declare a fifth Marian dogma naming Mary as Co-Redemptrix.
The statement was made in April to a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope said that the Virgin Mary “silently followed her son Jesus to Calvary, taking part with great suffering in his sacrifice, thus cooperating in the mystery of redemption and becoming mother of all believers.”
According to a report by Francis X. Rocca of the Religion News Service, the millions of Catholics around the world who have been hoping for the new Marian dogma saw this statement as a sign that the Pope is moving closer to granting their wish.
To date, at least 7 million Catholics from more than 170 countries, including hundreds of bishops and cardinals, have reportedly signed petitions urging the pope to proclaim Mary “the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the coredemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.”
Proponents say that such a statement would represent the culmination of the church’s traditional teaching on Jesus’ mother, and bring the world untold spiritual and material benefits, Rocca writes.
But critics of the proposed dogma say it would exaggerate Mary’s true importance and undermine efforts toward unity with other Christian denominations.
According to Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, supporters of the dogma of Mary Coredemptrix began petitioning the Holy See in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the movement began to draw millions of supporters.
Pope John Paul II publicly used the term “Coredemptrix” at least six times in his pontificate, and at one point, Miravalle predicted that he would proclaim the dogma before the millennial year of 2000. However, he now believes John Paul was persuaded against the proclamation by advisers who feared this new dogma would pose an obstacle to ecumenical dialogue.
At least one non-Catholic participant in that dialogue says such fears were well-founded.
“Anglicans require that any dogma be provable from Scripture,” said the Rev. William Franklin, academic fellow at the Anglican Centre in Rome and a visiting professor at the Vatican’s Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
According to Franklin, Anglican ecumenists are still struggling to reconcile their beliefs with the papal dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. “Making a new Marian dogma would complicate the journey toward full communion between our two churches,” he said.
But proponents of the dogma say it would actually promote ecumenism.
“This would bring new clarity that Catholics do not adore Mary as a goddess,” Miravalle said. “It would underscore what Catholics do believe — that she is your spiritual mother — but at the same time that she is not the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity.”
Some of the most significant criticism thus far has come from Pope Benedict XVI who, while serving as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told a German interviewer in 2000 that the “formula `Co-redemptrix’ departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the (church) Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings,” threatening to “obscure” the status of Christ as the source of all redemption.
“I do not think there will be any compliance with this demand (for papal proclamation of the dogma) within the foreseeable future,” he said at the time.
Proponents say Benedict may be more open to the dogma now because he has never been so Marian as he has since becoming pope and has already made numerous statements about Mary’s role in the work of our redemption.
However, Rocca says most of the church’s academic experts continue to oppose the dogma.
“To give Mary honor, I would institute a new feast, or a special title,” said the Rev. Johann G. Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio, and a member of a Vatican panel that unanimously advised against the new dogma in 1996.
Prof. Miravalle continues to hope for the dogma, saying papal recognition of Mary as Coredemptrix would lead to an “outpouring of grace,” helping to dispel a range of contemporary problems, including abortion, terrorism and natural disasters.
“To the extent that we acknowledge Our Lady’s roles, to that extent God allows her to fully exercise those roles,” he said. “And we can use some extra grace at this time.”
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