Co-Redemption and Marian Consecration in the light of the Fatima message
11 May 2022
by Fr Serafino Lanzetta
As we proceed through the month of Our Lady (and, at the same time, through Eastertide, towards the Ascension and Pentecost), we again turn our eyes to our Mother and Queen and consider her unique role in our redemption and our role as her loving children. The following talk was given by Fr Serafino Lanzetta on 20 May 2020 at the online Rome Life Forum.
The Fatima message: a call to human co-redemption with the Immaculate Heart of Mary
The Fatima message, in its entirety, is a call to cooperate with Our Lady in the salvation of mankind. This cooperation, which can be expressed technically as “co-redemption”, plays a central role in the whole message — present since the first apparition of the White Lady on 13 May 1917, during which she asked the three little shepherds if they were ready to offer themselves to God and to bear all the sufferings He would send them as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners. The children answered that they were. Our Lady, accepting already the oblation of their will, said that they would have much to suffer, but the grace of God would be their comfort. In the July apparition, Our Lady taught the little shepherds a prayer to accompany the offering of sacrifices to God:
“O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
There is also a co-redemptive character of the union of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which shines forth already in the second prayer that the Angel of Peace taught the three shepherds in 1916, so as to prepare the coming of the Lady dressed in white. This prayer is an adoration of the Most Holy Trinity and an offering of Christ’s precious Body and Blood in reparation for all eucharistic sacrileges. The prayer ends this way:
“And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.”
Why this reference to Our Lady’s merits, given that the infinite merits of the Heart of Christ are more than sufficient for our salvation? This is a point that Sr Lucia herself makes in her book, Calls from the Message of Fatima (1998). The seer explains that, in the Fatima message, the mystery of Our Lady’s co-redemption is so prominent as to be second only to the mystery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — but both are inwardly connected. Let us quote a passage from Sr Lucia’s explanation of the reason why the Angel mentioned the merits of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — the only worthy place and the “tabernacle” which keeps the treasure of our salvation:
“God began the work of our redemption in the Heart of Mary, given that it was through her fiat that the redemption began to come about: ‘And Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’ (Lk. 1:38). ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (Jn 1:14). Thus, in the closest union possible between two human beings, Christ began the work of our salvation with Mary. Christ’s heartbeats are those of the heart of Mary, the prayer of Christ is the prayer of Mary, the joys of Christ are the joys of Mary; it was from Mary that Christ received the Body and Blood that are to be poured out and offered for the salvation of the world. Mary, therefore, made one with Christ, is the Co-Redemptrix of the human race. With Christ in her womb, with Jesus Christ in her arms, with Christ at Nazareth and in his public life; with Christ, she climbed the hill of Calvary, she suffered and agonised with Him, receiving into her Immaculate Heart the last sufferings of Christ, his last words, his last agony and the last drops of his Blood, in order to offer them to the Father.”1
What is co-redemption?
Now we turn to the soteriological mystery of Marian co-redemption. What is it about and where does it stand out?
Our Lady cooperated actively with Christ in carrying out the redemption of mankind. Her maternal contribution, though subordinate to that of Christ, was, by the will of God, deemed not only opportune but also necessary in relation to us. As the first Eve had an influential role in the ruin of mankind, so the New Eve, Mary, with her obedient fiat to God’s plan of salvation, caused — in Christ and with Him — the restoration of humankind.
The co-redemptive union of Mary with her Son is made manifest from the Annunciation (when the virginal conception of the divine Word took place) up to Calvary, passing through all the mysteries of Christ’s life; in particular, the Presentation of Jesus in the temple: the dawn of salvation, and the nuptials at Cana, when the “hour” to give us the true wine of salvation is officially inaugurated. But especially on Calvary, at the moment of Jesus’ death, this salvific union is perfectly consummated: Our Lady at the foot of the Cross offered up Her Son to God and, with Her Son, offered Herself. One sacrifice, one salvific love unto the end, offered on two altars: the Body of Christ and the Heart of Mary.
On Calvary, Mary is the Woman whose “hour is come” to be delivered (Jn 16:21), and this is why she suffers the birth pangs of our regenerations (see John 16:21 in relation to the Woman of the Apocalypse 12:2, who cries while giving birth and whose symbolism is fully revealed in the Woman of Calvary, Jn 19:25–27).2 As the true Mother of the living, Our Lady really gives birth to each of us. On Calvary, she generates Christ for us once again as a bloody Redeemer; in Him and for Him She generates us to supernatural life. Her contribution is made possible by Christ and is offered only in Christ, so as to prepare the cooperation of each one of us in our own salvation. Therefore, as redemption is the “price” that Christ paid for us (1Pt. 1:18–19), His Blood being that of the Lamb of God, so co-redemption too is a “price” that Mary paid for us: her maternal sacrifice together with her merits offered up for our salvation. As Immaculate Conception, she was redeemed in a singular manner to become the Co-Redeemer in Christ. Her response to God, her maternal fiat, said on behalf of each one of us, was indeed a gift of grace and raised by grace. It was grace as well that enabled Mary to freely consent to take part personally and actively in the work of our salvation; however, a part, however, that she took with full sacrificial awareness and love for us.
The ordinary magisterium of the Church for more than one hundred years has reiterated the doctrine of the active participation of Our Lady in our redemption. From Leo XIII to Benedict XVI, the teaching of the Church – even when avoiding the technical term “co-redemption” – is clear about the personal and direct contribution of Mary to the work of redemption.3 John Paul II in particular treated on this subject extensively.4
One might argue that the Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, whose final chapter is entirely dedicated to Our Lady, does not use the term “Co-Redemptrix” while it enshrines the title “Mediatrix” (see no. 62); and that this choice would be sufficient to abandon not only the word but also the theology that this word brings about. However, there is an official response from the Theological Commission of Vatican II explaining the reason to avoid the terminology. Although thoroughlly true and present in the previous teaching of the popes, some expressions (such as “Co-Redemptrix”) were omitted for an ecumenical reason, being not easily understood by Protestants.5 With the programmatic discourse of John XXIII, Vatican II opted from the outset for a pastoral and ecumenical approach to the doctrine of faith. Since man’s cooperation with God in the process of justification is one of the main issues with Luther and Protestantism in general — hence denying that faith works through charity (see Gal. 5:6) — the Fathers at the last Council decided not to upset the hope of a new dialogue with the representatives of the Protestant Reform.
But interestingly enough, while Vatican II avoided the technical terminology in reference to the unique cooperation of Our Lady in our redemption, it did not avoid teaching the doctrine — qualified as “singular cooperation” of Mary, the one who is the “generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord” (Lumen Gentium, no. 61). The same paragraph of the conciliar document also states: “In this singular way, she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace.” Moreover, the teaching of Vatican II on this subject is even richer, as the discourse goes on to describe the perfect union that the Mother kept with Her Son up to the supreme offering of Calvary. In a way that “reiterates” the previous teaching of the popes; the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church teaches that: “After this manner the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: ‘Woman, behold thy son’” (Lumen Gentium, no. 58).
Here we should consider the union of Mary’s Heart with Jesus in the offering of the one sacrifice of salvation and, above all, the consent that Our Lady gave to the immolation of her divine Son, so as to contribute personally to the offering of Him for the salvation of all. This, for instance, reiterates what Leo XIII had already taught in the Encyclical Iucunda Semper (8 September 1894). Successively, Benedict XV, in the Encyclical Inter Sodalicia (22 May 1918), would almost literally anticipate the text of Lumen Gentium, when he says:
“Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother’s rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind.”6
The same tenor of the mariological discourse is present in Pius IX’s Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (8 May 1928); in Pius XII’s Encyclical Mystici Corporis (29 June 1943) and in Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974, no. 20).
This soteriological doctrine shows that there is also a “priestly offering” of Mary at Calvary that can be certainly ascribed to the unique participation of Mary in the priesthood of Christ; certainly not as an ordained minister, but in a unique and exclusive manner, as the new Eve and the sorrowful Bride of Christ, literally one flesh with Him. Caro Christi caro Mariae — “the flesh of Christ is the flesh of Mary”. Hence, there is also a unique maternal priesthood of Mary to take into consideration in a theological approach to Mary’s participation in our salvation, laid out and summed up by her being Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces.7 As a priest is essentially a mediator between God and man (see Heb. 5:1–5), so is Mary (and uniquely) the Mother Mediatrix of all the graces that she contributed to winning for us on Calvary. We owe to Mary all that we are as children of God, and all that we can be by God’s grace — holy men and women.
Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
In order to be truly effective in our human response and to take part in her co-redemptive role in saving mankind, the White Lady of Fatima asked for the consecration of Russia and, later, of all nations and of every single soul to Her Immaculate Heart. This consecration is understandable in the context of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as the refuge of salvation, and in the framework of its theology. In the June apparition, Our Lady said to Lucia that her Heart will be the refuge and the secure way leading the little shepherd to God. In the July apparition, after the vision of hell, “where many souls go because there is no one to pray and make sacrifices for them”, Our Lady says that she will come again to ask for the consecration of Russia and of the whole world to Her Immaculate Heart (as she did in 1929) and for the practice of the Five First Saturdays of the month (requested in 1925).
This was to prevent Russia from spreading the errors of materialism and atheism around the world. Unfortunately, the consecration was delayed and then not made precisely according to Our Lady’s request. This lack of promptness caused de facto an increase of marxist ideology, which has thrived even amidst the ruins of collapsed communist states. Marxism, after 1989, would be transformed into a worldwide petition for an equal society, shaping a new man, made in the likeness of man with his instincts and desires, without even gender-based difference. This is our world today. And when ideologies like this are embraced, even by some of the clergy within the Church, it shows the very apex of the crisis of faith in which we are engulfed — a creeping apostasy.
But consecration to Our Lady is still necessary and efficacious in its salvific effects on humanity and on each human being. However, it is good that we pay attention to the word “consecration”. In fact, we are nowadays challenged by a choice: should we opt for “consecration” or should we instead choose something less problematic, such as the easier devotional path of “entrustment”? In order to respond accurately to this — unfolding, at times, as a sort of mariological dilemma, we should now move to the next point.
What is Marian Consecration?
To set oneself apart for God and, analogically (by way of Mary’s participation with God), for Our Lady. The question that immediately arises is this: can we consecrate ourselves to a human creature? Yes, we definitely can, because Our Lady is the Immaculate Mother of God who uniquely shares in the mystery of the hypostatic union (i.e., the union of the divine nature with the human one in the only divine Person of Christ).
The theological foundation of Marian Consecration is essentially the spiritual maternity of Our Lady, whose theological core, once again, is Marian Co-Redemption: “Woman behold your Son”, and “Son behold your Mother” (John 19:26-27). Mary is indeed our dear Mother since she actively contributed, as said above, to generate us to the new life of the children of God. Our eternal life is a gift from Christ through Mary, obtained by the Blood of Christ and the tears of Mary.
“Consecration” derives from being made sacred; set apart for God, and for Our Blessed Mother. But in order to be sacred, namely to belong exclusively to God, one has to be offered up to Him: he has to be sacrificed. Sacrifice, from sacrum facere (“to make something sacred”), is the very root of being made sacred — or consecrated. Perhaps this is the spiritual reason why people, and some of the clergy have preferred “entrustment” to “consecration”. They might wish to choose an easier commitment and to avoid the theology of sacrifice, something that has been sinking into oblivion and makes no more sense, favouring rather a mere pastoral and existential approach to faith. It is not only a matter of a linguistic choice. “Consecration” to Mary derives from a clear co-redemptive theology of Our Lady’s contribution to our salvation; the wish to opt for “entrustment” or for its synonyms, such as “dedication”, “affiliation”, “welcoming”, etc. derives from a shallow consideration of Mary in our salvation and a minimalist approach to marian soteriology.
It is opportune to outline also a brief historical excursus on the swapping of “consecration” for “entrustment”. For this, we have to go back to the years just preceding the beginning of Vatican II. The correct application of the word “consecration” begins to present some doubts only from the ’60s8 and above all, with the revision of the “General Principles” of the Marian Congregations, in which “consecration” was avoided and substituted instead with “permanent commitment”, since “to consecrate oneself” would express an act of adoration and would, therefore, be rendered only to God. The affinity between Jesus and Mary, rooted ultimately in Our Lady’s divine Motherhood and in her sharing in the order of the hypostatic union, was ignored. In the Marian Congregation, such an act had to be directed to Christ — by the hands of Mary — as a confirmation of one’s baptismal consecration. Two Jesuit theologians, Fr Juan Alfaro and Fr Karl Rahner, particularly distinguished themselves in objecting to the Marian Consecration as something theologically inaccurate, to be understood only in a metaphorical way.9 Along this same line we find the work of an influential mariologist, R. Laurentin, especially his 1991 book, Retour a Dieu avec Marie. De la sècularisation à la consecration. For the fact that God alone is the One who consecrates, Laurentin concludes that there is no consecration except that made to God — excluding, in the strict sense, consecration to Our Lady. This was to cause the choice of a new and more biblical vocabulary to slowly develop.
Thus, the way was paved for the word “entrustment”, proposed by the Rector Major of the Salesians in 1984, and later adopted officially also by John Paul II in his Marian Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (1987). More recently, the word “welcome” has been preferred by the Italian mariologist, Stefano De Fiores,10 because of its biblical and therefore more ecumenical connotation. This progressive movement of distancing, in a certain sense, from the term “consecration” becomes rather worrying however when it is said that, today, “it is opportune, or rather, necessary, to use an alternative language, immediately comprehensible in today’s cultures”.11
Our Lady of Fatima asked for a “consecration” (and not for its substitutes), as manifested organically by a long development of the theology of Marian consecration, from St. John Damascene (†749), the first to write a formula of consecration to Mary with the word anatithemi — “to offer oneself as being made sacred”) up until John Paul II, who, in the same circumstances, opted for this word exclusively.12
One’s response today
What does all this mean on a practical level? Being saved by the sacrificial love of Jesus and Mary, we should always acknowledge this by taking Our Lady into our lives. We should consecrate ourselves to her. This is the only response a loving child can have for his mother. If consecration leads us to consider carefully that Mary is truly Co-Redemptrix, that she had a singular maternal role in our supernatural regeneration, conversely, our consecration to Mary lets us live in full the mystery of Marian Co-Redemption, as asked by Our Lady of Fatima. In this way, we can truly respond to Our Lady’s request to offer sacrifices, so that many souls might be saved from an easy fall into eternal perdition. This appeal is urgent and for today, that the life within the Church may give life to a decadent world. Hell is not closed or empty, just as sin is not absent when it is forgotten or ignored and supposedly cured by a “mercy-alone” theological approach.
There could be a special grace which might fulfil all our desires to see Our Lady more loved and her requests heeded — showering us with many other celestial graces: the proclamation of the Fifth Marian Dogma, about the soteriological and personal contribution of Our Lady to our salvation. This possible new dogma would, in fact, weld together co-redemption and consecration as the identity of a Christian in this world, his being and his operation. This would be propitious for officially gathering that special Marian army needed in the latter times, marked by the 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. Let us work together for this.
- Sister Lucia, Call from the Message of Fatima (Coimbra: 2000), p.137.
- On Our Lady’s maternal and co-redemptive “birth pangs”, in the light of the Jewish understanding of the “Birth Pangs of the Messiah”, see B. Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish roots of Mary. Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah (New York: Image, 2018), p.132-148.
- See B.A. Calkins, The Mystery of Mary the Coredemptrix in the Papal Magisterium, in Mark I. Miravalle (ed.), Mary Co-redemptrix: Doctrinal Issues Today (Goleata, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 2002) p.25-92.
- Idem., Pope John Paul II’s Ordinary Magisterium on Marian Coredemption: Consistent Teaching and More Recent Perspectives, in Mary at the Foot of the Cross, vol. II: Acts of the Second International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2002) p.1-36.
- See Schemata Constitutionum et Decretorum de quibus disceptabitur in Concilii sessionibus. Series secunda. De Ecclesia et de B. Maria Virgine, Typis Poliglottis Vaticanis, 10 November 1962, p.100.
- In AAS 10 (1918) 181-182.
- On this subject I wrote my doctoral thesis in theology: Il sacerdozio di Maria nella teologica cattolica del XX secolo. Analisi storico-teologica (Frigento, AV: Casa Mariana Editrice, 2006).
- To have a general overview see S. De Fiores, La problematica della consacrazione mariana, in E. Peretto (edited by), La spiritualità mariana: legittimità, natura, articolazione (Rome: Marianum, 1994) p.357-361.
- Cf. La Civiltà Cattolica, 119/3 (1968) 70. At the origin of this revision, the “Chronicle” of Civiltà Cattolica indicates on the one side the institution of the World Federation of the Marian Congregations (1953) and on the other the Second Vatican Council, along with the work of two Jesuit theologians (cf. Ivi, pp. 69-70): K. Rahner, La consacrazione a Maria nella Congregazione Mariana (Rome: Stella matutina, 1964) e J. Alfaro, Il cristocentrismo della consacrazione a Maria nella C.M. (Rome: Stella matutina, 1962).
- Cf. S. De Fiores, p.365.
- Ivi., p.367. De Fiores himself has an evolution in his thought: starting from a sincere defence of the term “consecration” (cf. his article Riflessioni teologiche sulla consacrazione a Maria, in Id., Maria presenza viva del popolo di Dio, Monfortane, Rome 1980, pp. 365-380), he develops a different preference, as “welcome” or “authentic Marian spirituality” (in the afore-quoted article, until the recent dictionary Maria. Nuovissimo Dizionario, vol. 1 (Bologna: Dehoniane, 2006) 395.
- See A.B. Calkins, Totus Tuus. Pope Saint John Paul II’s Program of Marian Consecration and Entrustment (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate 2017) p.19-73.