A Fifth Marian Dogma?

6 Jun

We recently received this inquiry via email:

What is the status of the fifth Marian dogma? How is it that Our Lady has asked that this dogma be proclaimed and we hear next to nothing about it? Is it even being considered? What’s the problem?

The question correctly implies that there are four teachings regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary that are already considered “dogmas” of the faith (see Catechism, nos. 88-90). They are:

(1) Mary as “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” (Theotokos), as solemnly defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

(2) Mary’s Perpetual Virginity (“Ever virgin”), as defined by Pope St. Martin I and local Church councils in the seventh century. It was accepted without question in the third ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 681 and reaffirmed at several subsequent councils.

(3) Mary’s Immaculate Conception, that she was conceived without the stain of original of sin (Catechism, no. 491), as formally defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854 in a document entitled Ineffabilis Deus.

(4) Mary’s Assumption into heaven (Catechism, no. 966), as formally defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in a document entitled Munificentissum Deus.  

In recent times, there has been speculation about a fifth Marian dogma on Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. These titles summarize Mary’s role as our spiritual mother, and are part of the constant teaching of the Church.

The title “Co-redemptrix” is a term that refers to Mary’s unique and intimate cooperation with her divine Son in redeeming the human family. The title is rooted in Genesis 3:15, where Mary is “prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of victory over the serpent” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 55). This passage foreshadows the divine work of redemption brought about by Jesus as the Savior of the world, with the Mother of the Redeemer’s intimate cooperation. 

Mary is called “Mediatrix” (Catechism, no. 969) because all grace comes from Christ, and Christ comes to us through Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, at the time of His death, Jesus gave Mary to John and John to Mary. “From that hour [John] took her to his own home” (John 19:27). John represented the Church at the foot of the Cross. All of us, in imitation of the Beloved Disciple, are invited to welcome Mary into our homes as our mother.

This leads to the third title of Mary, that of “Advocate for the People of God.” The early Church manifested her heartfelt belief in the intercessory power of Mary, to whom she called for help and protection in the midst of dangers and trials. The Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen), composed in the eleventh century, includes this venerable title. Vatican II continues this ancient practice of invoking Mary under the title that conveys her role as intercessory helper for the People of God in times of peril: “Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the [title] of Advocate[.] . .” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 62).

So while this teaching is already part of the Church’s body of beliefs concerning our Blessed Mother, the issue is whether this teaching should be dogmatically defined by the Pope to add further clarity and weight to this teaching. It certainly could help our understanding our own role as co-redeemers (or co-workers or ambassadors) in Christ for a new evangelization (see for example, 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Colossians 1:24).

While many prominent Catholics have spoken in favor of a “fifth Marian dogma,” there are other concerns that need to be taken into account. For one thing, the Church does not lightly make dogmatic pronouncements, and when she does, it is  usually to clarify a teaching that has been the subject of intense controversy or debate. One can argue that the doctrinal teaching concerning Mary’s spiritual motherhood is already settled, so a dogmatic statement would be “theological overkill.”

A serious concern would be the ecumenical dimension. Terms such as “Co-redemptrix” and “Mediatrix” could create undue confusion and misunderstanding among other Christians. For example, we often think of the prefix “co-“as implying equality (e.g., “co-captains” or “co-chairpersons”), which in this case would lead to erroneously equating Mary with Jesus. In the word “Co-redemptrix,” however, the prefix “co-” is derived from the Latin word cum, which means “with,” and not “equal to.” Jesus as true God and true man redeems the human family, and Mary as “Co-redemptrix” participates with the divine Redeemer in a unique yet completely subordinate and dependent way.

Similarly, as 1 Timothy 2:5 teaches, Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. However, in Jesus’ one and perfect mediation, subordinate and secondary mediators are able to participate. In the Old Testament, God used the patriarchs and prophets to mediate His reconciliation with the people of Israel. In the Old and New Testaments, God used angels to mediate His messages and His grace.

Saint Paul says that all Christians are mediators or “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), sent and entrusted by Christ’s authority to mediate God’s message of reconciliation. Those who receive these ambassadors receive Christ Himself: “[H]e who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (John 13:20; cf. Luke 10:16; Matthew 10:40).

Mary participates in the mediation of Christ in a way unlike any other creature. In John 2, her mediation at the wedding of Cana led to the first public miracle and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In Luke 1:41, her physical mediation brings the unborn Jesus to His unborn cousin, John the Baptist, who is sanctified in Elizabeth’s womb. Vatican II teaches that after Mary was taken up into heaven, “she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 62).

So again, Mary’s mediation magnifies the Lord (Luke 1:46) without in any way “competing” with Him.

In the end, any dogmatic pronouncement by the Holy Father must be rooted in the deposit of faith. We believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Holy Father in these judgments, and it is his decision whether and when to issue such a pronouncement for the good of the faithful.

The Pope certainly is aware of the desire for such a dogma in such circles, but (like his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II) he has thus far determined that the time is not ripe to declare a new dogma on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The questioner alludes to private revelations that purport to call for the Holy Father’s action in this regard. We must be clear that deference and obedience are owed to the Holy Father in this matter, in his role as Vicar of Christ and shepherd of the universal Church.

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