On the blessed mother

The object of the Christian life is growing in relationship with the Triune God. We see this perfect model in the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, and Spouse of God the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Mother is wedded to the Holy Spirit on a deeper level than any creature in existence; she conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit and thus was one flesh with the Holy Spirit during the course of her life—for in a marriage the two become one flesh (Matt. 19:5). At first glance, we don’t see much from Mary in the Scriptures, but when we begin to examine her typology as the new Eve, a new level of profundity is introduced. 

In order to see Mary as the new Eve, we must first look at the old Eve. It is unmistakable that the Book of Genesis is mirrored in the opening of St. John’s Gospel. We see from the start:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
—Genesis 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
—John 1:1

St. John’s motivation for doing this is to appeal to his audience from an ancient Jewish perspective. While Genesis documents the physical creation of the world and fall of man, St. John seeks to present the Person of Christ as bringing a spiritual recreation that is a response to the Fall in Genesis 3. Let’s take a look at another example:

And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
—Genesis 1:4
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
—John 1:5

We can see here that St. John is seeking to add a spiritual meaning to light and darkness, transcending what was originally perceived as Day and Night. We also see an enhancement occur with the theme of water and the Holy Spirit:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
—Genesis 1:2
And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
—John 1:32-33

The theme of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters is present in both of these texts. One refers to the waters of the formless earth; the other refers to the waters of baptism in the river Jordan. If you were a first century Jew hearing St. John’s account in this first chapter, chances are you would be picking up on all these little details; at this point, you’d likely be keeping track of the days as well, given Genesis’s emphasis on the days of creation:

The next day… —John 1:29 [Day 2]
The next day… —John 1:35 [Day 3]
The next day… —John 1:43 [Day 4]
On the third day… —John 2:1 [Day 7]

Adding up the days, by the time we get to the Wedding Feast of Cana in the second chapter of John, it’s the seventh day. Recall what happened on the seventh day of creation in Genesis:

And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
—Genesis 2:22-23

From the side of Adam, the woman is made, who would later be named Eve (Gen. 3:20). The woman is the flesh of Adam’s flesh and the bone of Adam’s bones. Understanding Mary as the new Eve, there is a reversal of these roles: Christ, the new Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), is the flesh of Mary’s flesh and the bone of Mary’s bones. Mary alone has been bestowed the honor of having the Son of God assume His human nature from her. With this in mind, let us examine closely what transpires at the Wedding Feast of Cana, the seventh day in the Gospel of John:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you."
 —John 2:3-5

Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, Christ decides to save the wedding. He listens to His mother’s request, and subsequently performs His first miracle recorded in the New Testament: turning water into wine. The old Eve tempted Adam to commit the first sin; the new Eve here is tempting the new Adam to commit the first miracle. Jesus referring to His mother as “woman” initially appears disrespectful, but unveils a deeper reality when we realize it is a reference to the Garden of Eden, where Adam called Eve “woman.” 

Eve listened to a bad angel (Satan); Mary listened to a good angel (Gabriel). Eve sinned at the tree of knowledge of good and evil, bringing death into the world. How does Mary bring life into the world? She gives birth to God the Son, the fruit of her womb (Luke 1:42). The Marian hue in which St. John’s Gospel is presented is further enriched by what occurs at the Cross, the tree of life:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
 —John 19:26-28

Jesus here again hearkens back to Eden, referring to Mary as “woman.” St. John also refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Why does he do this? Was he trying to make a statement about which disciple Jesus loved most? On the contrary, St. John employs this rhetorical technique in order to paint a pattern of discipleship. St. John wants us to place ourselves in his shoes as fellow disciples of Christ. The disciple whom Jesus loves is the one who leans on Jesus’s bosom—the one who rests his head on the Sacred Heart of the Savior (John 13:23). The disciple whom Jesus loves is the one to whom He says, “Behold, your Mother!” Jesus gave us a mother—not just St. John, but every Christian.

Christ offered everything for us on the Cross, the last of which was His mother; it is interesting to note that directly after He entrusts His mother to St. John, the Gospel says “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished” (v. 28). Jesus’s mission is only finished after He entrusts his mother to the Church, represented by St. John. Adam called Eve “the mother of all living,” alluding to the fact that her biological descendants would inherit the earth (Gen. 3:20). Through the Cross however, Mary becomes the spiritual mother of all living. Eve took the fruit of a living tree, and death entered into the world. Mary, at the foot of the Cross, offered the fruit of her womb onto a dead tree, and life entered back into the world. Each and every one of us are presented with a choice in this life—to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree or to eat the Eucharist, the fruit of the tree of life (the Cross). One fruit fosters an enlightenment toward evil, the other an enlightenment toward good. We see this example comparing the Fall with the Road to Emmaus:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 
—Genesis 3:7
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 
—Luke 24:30-31

The forbidden fruit, which represents sin, darkens the soul. The Eucharist, the fruit of eternal life, enlightens the soul. St. Thomas Aquinas comments that the Eucharist is “the consummation of the spiritual life” and “the end of all the sacraments” (Summa, III, Q. 73, A. 3, Resp.). When we view the Eucharist from a Marian perspective, it is remarkable that the summit of the Christian life involves consuming the flesh of Mary’s flesh.

Mary gave birth to Christ, thereby making her mother of His Body, the Church (Eph. 1:23). When we are baptized into Christ, we become children of Mary. If we desire to walk in imitation of our Lord, the first step is to have Mary as our mother. No creature understands nor loves the Savior as she does. It is for this reason that God has placed enmity between the serpent and the woman (Genesis 3:15). Satan despises Mary because God has specifically chosen her to be the humble instrument by which the Church conquers the spiritual life. We see the typology of Mary as the new Eve continued in another writing of St. John, the Book of Revelation:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.
—Revelation 12:1-5

In this passage, we learn that Mary is the Regina Caeli, the Queen of Heaven. She appears in heaven with a crown and is once more referred to as “woman.” There is no doubt that this figure is the Blessed Mother, as it says she gave birth to a male child (Christ) who would rule the nations. From the Gospels, we know that Jesus is instituting a kingdom. If Jesus is the king, who is the queen? Understanding Jesus’s kingship as the fulfillment of the Davidic monarchy (Matt. 1:1), we must look to the Old Testament. In the line of King David, the mother was the queen:

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”
—1 Kings 2:19-20

In the ancient biblical context, sitting at the right hand of a king implies co-regency, a sharing in the king’s authority. We see this in the prophetic Psalm 110, which discusses Jesus’s co-regency with the Father: “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (v.1). Note that Mary’s queenship does not place her above or on par with Jesus in authority, in the same way Queen Bathsheba was not above King Solomon. The king is not bound to fulfill the queen’s requests, but he wishes to do so. In the same way, this points to the intercessory power of Mary, whose requests Jesus desires to fulfill (as evidenced at Cana).

St. John clearly loved the Virgin Mary. We know that from the day of the Crucifixion, he brought her into his home and took care of her. He would’ve been sanctified by her constant presence, and thus, his theological writings reflect a Marian identity. He desires to show that Mary is not only his mother, but the mother of all who belong to Christ. He expands the Eve motif from Genesis in Revelation:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
—Genesis 3:15
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
—Revelation 12:17

Pairing these verses together, we can confirm that Our Lady has offspring. Who is her offspring? It is the Church—those who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). We also learn that the dragon, Satan, is coming after the Church. It is Mary’s role to be your mother and help wage war against the dragon who is coming after you. While we have God as Father, Mary introduces a maternal aspect that enhances the spirituality of the Christian soul. She does what a mother does, except better—she gives sweetness, she comforts, and she nurtures spiritually.

Mary teaches her children many things. For one, she teaches humility; to approach Mary, you must become like a child and admit that you are in need of spiritual milk. In addition, Mary serves as a model of purity; the new Adam and Eve are unstained by original sin, unlike the first human parents. Lastly, she teaches us obedience. Her fiat (in Latin, “let it be done”) at the Annunciation teaches us joyful abandonment to divine providence:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
—Luke 1:34-38

The Christian soul should take refuge in Mary. Why? Because Jesus took refuge in the womb of Mary. Mary formed Christ in her womb. We too must become like infant babes in order that she might form us into her Son, into Christ’s likeness. Let us ask the Blessed Mother for her help, that we may love her Son supremely above all things, and serve Him in faith and action.

Sub Tuum Praesidium [c. 250 AD]
We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; 
Despise not our petitions in our necessities, 
But deliver us always from all dangers, 
O glorious and blessed Virgin. 

Before the Bible was even compiled (Council of Rome [382 AD]), the Church had always venerated and implored the help of the Queen of Heaven. Entrust your mother with a particular intention, and ask her to pray for you. Honor her, and she will honor your request. In her own words:

Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed 
—Luke 1:48

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