From Chapter 20 of Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity:
“There is light for the understanding both of the Church and of our own lives in this truth that the Church as a whole and we its members have some kind of share in the redemptive suffering of Christ. This truth like almost everything else relevant to membership in the Mystical Body may best be studied in relation to Christ’s mother, because she is the one perfect member of the Body. Every element in the life of the Body will be seen at its most intense in her.
In the natural order, one imagines that Christ must have been like His mother – this was one infant, at least, about Whom no question could arise as to which parent He resembled; and she found it, probably, as much of a delight as most mothers find it, that her Son was like her. But that remains in the natural order. In the supernatural order her supreme glory is that she was like her Son. That she was like Him is for any Catholic a commonplace, yet we may miss certain important elements in the likeness. He was sinless and the Man of Sorrows. She was sinless and we think of her most naturally as the Mother of Sorrows. From the moment of her Son’s birth, almost all that we know of her is shot through with grief – the flight into Egypt to save her Child from murder, the knowledge of the other mothers’ children massacred by Herod, the three days’ loss of Christ when He was twelve, his death while she stood by the cross. He suffered; she suffered; but the analysis we have just made of that strange episode in the Temple points to a relation between her suffering and His that we might otherwise have failed to see. Her suffering was related to His, but it was not merely her reaction to His, it was hers. She suffered not simply with Him, as any mother must suffer in the suffering of her son, but in her own right. Before He experienced His desolation, she experienced her desolation. He had His Passion, but she had her passion too. And while His accomplished everything, hers was not for nothing. It was part of the design of the Redemption that while the Divine Person suffered the Passion that redeemed us, a human person should suffer a passion parallel with His.
Remember that in the redemptive act itself there were two elements, the human nature in which the act was done, and the divine Person by Whom the act was done. Because it was an act in human nature, it could rightly be offered for the sin of the human race. Because it was the act of the Divine Person, it had an infinite value which no merely human act could have had. That being so, we considered the question why some lesser act in the human nature could not have sufficed and we saw how it accorded with the demand of all that is best in man that in expiating the sin of man human nature should give of its very uttermost, and in the human nature of Christ it did. In the human nature of Christ it did: but if only there, then human nature has not given of its uttermost, for in that event the rest of men would be merely spectators, the human nature that is in them contributing nothing. The infinite Person of Christ did not need so total a giving in His human nature, yet it was fitting that He should redeem us by that total giving. Similarly our redemption thus effected did not require that humanity as a whole should give what it has to give. But it was in the glorious design of God that human love should not be denied all place in the expiation of human sin, and men be condemned to be no more than spectators of their own redemption. Redeemed humanity should suffer in union with Christ, and in union with Christ these sufferings should be co-redemptive.
There is then a co-redemptive activity of the whole Mystical Body, deriving the whole of its effectiveness from the redemptive action of Christ; and in this co-redemptive activity every member of the Mystical Body plays some part insofar as He unites His sufferings with Christ’s: human nature is privileged to repeat in the persons of men what it has completed in the person of Christ. But what all of us may do according to our imperfection, Our Lady did perfectly. Even St. Paul could not make all of his sufferings available for the Church, since some at least must be set against his own sins. Our Lady had no sins, and whatever she suffered could be wholly for the sins of mankind. But how could she suffer? She could suffer like any other mother to see her Son suffer, and more than any other mother because she was better than any other and had a Son more worthy of love. But for the completion of suffering, she must have sufferings of her own, and at their highest these must be in the soul. Her Son chose for her and she chose for herself the suffering that would lead to the uttermost increase of her sanctification, and give her the most to contribute to the spiritual needs of all of us.
We all have a share in the co-redemptive suffering of the Mystical Body by uniting our sufferings with the sufferings of our Head. But when Our Lady did perfectly what we must do in our own fashion, she was suffering not simply as one of us, even as the best one, the one closest to Christ, but as our representative. We shall not see her clearly if we do not grasp this representative function of hers. And not only here. When in answer to the angel’s message that she was to bear the world’s Redeemer she said “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” she was uttering the consent of the whole human race. When she died, she was taken up into Heaven, body and soul, and there till the Day of Judgment she will be the one human person complete with soul and body standing before the throne of God. So here God allowed that the suffering of the Divine Person should be accompanied by a wholly human suffering, as earnest of the suffering of redeemed humanity that was to be spread throughout the ages. As Christ represents humanity in the Redemptive Act, she represents humanity in the co-redemptive act.”