Padre Pio and the Mother Co-Redemptrix
It has been written, and rightly so, that “if there is an aspect of the mystery of Mary especially fitting to the life and work of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, it is certainly the coredemptive aspect of the person and mission of the Immaculate in God’s salvific plan of love” (1).
The mystery of Mary Coredemptrix is present in the life and writings of St. Pio of Pietrelcina at the highest levels of mystical experience which he lived out in body and soul, and of the theologia cordis transmitted by him to his spiritual children in the language of that wisdom transcending by far a language limited to the solely notional and conceptual (2).
St. Pio of Pietrelcina in the first place lived the mystery of Marian Coredemption in his exceptional mystical experience of the Passion of Christ Crucified, of which he bore the living and bleeding stigmata in his body for fifty entire years, from 1918 to 1968. He became an “imprinted reproduction of the wounds of the Lord,” according to the happy expression of Pope Paul VI (3). In this exceptional mystical experience he co-immolated himself with Christ, assimilating himself in a most extensive and profound manner to the Mother Coredemptrix who immolates herself with the Son on the Cross in order to bring to pass the universal Redemption (4). It has been written that, “Padre Pio penetrated the sorrows of Mary and participated in them, mirrored them, relived them; as his soul had been a partaker in the sorrows of the Passion, so too he had the gift of participating in the sorrows of Mary” (5).
Into this area of mystical experience, however, the inexperienced are not allowed to enter nor are they in a position to speak of it. St. Bonaventure, the “Seraphic Doctor,” teaches expressly that, with regard to the mystical, “those who are not experts and who do not wish to become experienced, must absolutely keep silent” (6).
What is more within the range of our intelligence, then, is the coredemptive aspect of St. Pio of Pietrelcina’s active ministry. He exercised the ministry of the confessional for more than fifty years, administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to such a vast family of penitents that Pope Paul VI called it, in yet another happy expression, a “worldwide clientele” (7). But to administer the Sacrament of forgiveness and of reconciliation between mankind and God means to operate on the same wavelength, so to speak, as Marian Coredemption. In fact, Mary Most Holy, being united with the Redeemer—”under Him and with Him,” as Vatican II teaches (LG 56)—reconciled humanity with God through the sacrificial offering consummated on Calvary; and after Calvary she continues unceasingly to reconcile man to God with her Mediation and Distribution of all the graces of Redemption. Consequently, she is proclaimed the Mother of universal reconciliation.
The spiritual director of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Fr. Benedict of San Marco, once told St. Pio in a letter of spiritual direction that his particular vocation was a “vocation to coredeem” by means of the daily trials, battles, sufferings, and toils coming from the exercise of his ministry. And in reference particularly to his work as a confessor, it has been accurately observed that “in the ministry of reconciliation, Padre Pio prolonged or, in a certain sense, actualized the fruitfulness of grace of Marian Coredemption which ‘restores the supernatural life in souls’ (LG 61). In fact, the divine grace acquired by the Redeemer and the Coredemptrix in the ‘effecting’ of the Redemption is here distributed and applied to every soul in need by means of the sacramental absolution given by Padre Pio to his penitents” (8).
To understand St. Pio’s “vocation to coredeem” better, one must also consult his writings, of primary value where he speaks of the Coredemptrix in the salvific mystery. And one recognizes immediately that his discourse is not theoretical or notional, but reflects instead the most profound and moving characteristics of the theologia cordis, of theology lived at the level of ascetical and mystical experience , one which gives a knowledge of the mystery characteristically sapiential and experiential, as St. Bonaventure explains (9).
The pages in which St. Pio speaks of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s sorrows are exceedingly numerous (10). In these pages the figure of Our Lady of Sorrows is present in her immense coredemptive suffering, and she is seen walking along the way to Calvary “immediately behind Jesus… burdened with her own cross” (11). A cross for Jesus, a cross for Mary. It is of value here to recall the insight of Arnold of Chartres who speaks of a double altar on Calvary: “one in the Heart of Mary, the other in the Body of Christ. Christ sacrificed His flesh, Mary her soul” (12). And St. Pio recommends to all “to keep always right behind this Blessed Mother, to walk always close to her, since there is no other road which leads to life, except the one trod by our Mother” (13).
When St. Pio wants to describe the sufferings of Our Lady of Sorrows, he finds a very valid point of reference in his very own suffering, be it moral or physical, a suffering so terrible as to dry up every tear and to petrify him in sorrow (14). For this reason in contemplating Our Lady’s sorrows he can expand his soul and say: “Yes, now I understand, oh Jesus, why in admiring You Your Mother did not weep beneath the Cross” (15), because “by the excess of sorrow, she remained petrified before her crucified Son” (16); and on another page of sublime contemplation touching his own measureless sorrows and those of Our Lady, he exclaims movingly: “Now I seem to be penetrating what was the martyrdom of our most beloved Mother (…). Oh, if all people would but penetrate this martyrdom! Who could succeed in suffering with this, yes, our dear Coredemptrix? Who would refuse her the good title of Queen of Martyrs?” (17)
The words “dear Coredemptrix” express most exactly soteriological value of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s maternal mission in the tones of a pure theologia cordis. She coredeemed humanity by offering the divine Victim, her Son Jesus, in the bloody immolation of the Cross, and co-immolating herself with Him in order to “restore supernatural life to souls” (LG 61), became in this way our “Mother in the order of grace” (LG 1.c.) (18). She “gave birth to us in sorrows,” affirms St. Pio. She is, therefore, the Mother Coredemptrix. She desires to raise her children and, what is more, to make them grow even unto the stature of Christ. She is, therefore, the Mother Mediatrix and Dispensatrix of all graces (19), always “associated with Jesus in applying the fruits of the Redemption to souls,” as Fr. Melchior da Pobladura writes (20). The Coredemptrix reacquired the grace lost. The Mediatrix distributes the grace reacquired. There is an operative continuity between the Coredemption and Distribution of saving grace. And, according to the teaching of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, we should be eternally grateful to “our dear Coredemptrix” and to our “Mediatrix and Dispensatrix of all graces.”
Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, F.I., is Founder and Minister General of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. He is internationally known for his distinguished preaching and biblical, Mariological scholarship. His Biblical Mariology has recently appeared in English under the title: All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed.