By Mark Miravalle
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, SEPT. 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Surely other world religions, and even some fellow members of Christianity, must look at the Catholic Church with a head scratching bewilderment as Sept. 15 arrives and the Church celebrates the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Why would anybody celebrate the suffering of anybody else? And, more specifically, why celebrate the terrible heartfelt sufferings of an innocent mother, who had to stand by and experience her son's public execution by crucifixion, still one of history's most grisly forms of death?
All authentic Christians will grant the necessity and efficacy of the sufferings of Jesus Christ to redeem the world. Humanity could not save itself. Humanity could not offer just compensation for its own sins, for to offend an infinite Creator is to commit an infinite offense.
Only a God-man could free us from the true burden of sin, and in the mystery of human redemption and God's perfect providence, Jesus was called to endure a death infinitely more painful than any other human death. For the killing of the Christ was a deicide with such all-encompassing anguish of betrayal and abandonment even beyond the physical butchery, that no human being can even conceive its full intensity, let alone endure it.
Most Christians, therefore, understand in essence the Sept. 14 feast of the "triumph" of the Cross of Jesus. For through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Satan is defeated, death loses its sting, and the gates of paradise are flung open to all who will receive the pass of the Passion. That is something to celebrate.
But why the Sorrowful Mother?
We could just as well ask St. Paul why he instructs all Christians to "make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church" (Colossians 1:24).
We Christians, too, will suffer and do suffer. Our suffering has the capacity to release a portion of the infinite graces merited by Jesus at Calvary, what theologians call "objective redemption." But as these redemptive graces of Jesus must be personally received by the human heart, every Christian has a role in this mysterious release and reception of grace which theologians call "subjective redemption."
Mary alone, as the "New Eve" with Jesus the "New Adam", participates in both objective and subjective redemption: both in the historic acquisition of redemptive grace and in the providential release of redemptive grace. Blessed John Paul would teach of his mother and ours that Mary's intensity of suffering at Calvary was a "contribution to the redemption of all" ("Salvifici Doloris," 25).
This is why the Church, including popes, saints, mystics, and faithful alike, have traditionally referred to Mary as the Co-redemptrix. In the simplest of explanations, this title means that Mary helped Jesus save souls like no other. In the explanation of popes, it sounds more like this: "For this reason, we invoke her under the title of Co-redemptrix. She gave us the Savior, she accompanied him in the work of Redemption as far as the cross itself, sharing with him the sorrows of the agony and of the death in which Jesus consummated the Redemption of mankind" (Pius XI, O.R., 1 Dec. 1933).
We celebrate the Mother's suffering because it is right to acknowledge her unique role with Jesus in redeeming the world. We also celebrate the Mother's suffering because we crucially need the example of a human who does not have a divine nature, but who also offered every sorrow of mind, heart, and body for the salvation of others. As Pope Benedict instructed last year in Fatima, all Christians are called to become "redeemers in the Redeemer (May 13, 2010)."
The more suffering our contemporary society experiences, the more wisdom and consolation we obtain by bringing to the attention of the Church and the world the truth of Mary Co-redemptrix, who life says in a concrete motherly witness that all human suffering can be redemptive.
Mary Co-redemptrix is not a Catholic truth that should be downplayed now, in our present moment of near unprecedented human suffering worldwide. It is a Catholic truth that should be proclaimed.
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Mark Miravalle is a professor of theology and Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Author of more than a dozen books on Mariology, and editor of "Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons," he wrote "The Seven Sorrows of China" in 2007. He is married and has eight children.