Many of our non-Catholic friends wonder why we Catholics pay so much attention to her. They find that loyalty is puzzling, and many times they wonder if we are guilty of some idolatry of sorts. There are scant references for Mary the Mother God in the New Testament, but she is found in the Old Testament very many times. Dr. Brant Pitre has authored a book that shows in scriptural detail why the Catholic faithful venerates Mary. The title of the book is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.
According to Dr. Pitre’s biblical research based on Christian typology, Mary has many characters: she is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, the Mother of God. According to Dr. Pitre, some Judaic biblical scholars recognize her as the new Rachel. Islam exalts her as the mother of the prophet Jesus.
Typology in Christian theology is the interpretation of some figures and events in the Old Testament as foreshadowing the same in the New Testament. It is a significant mode of interpreting ancient literature. Saint Augustine says, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.” For this reason, Catholics place a big emphasis on typology. And, just as we look to the Old Testament to understand Jesus, we should look to the Old Testament to understand Mary. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, once said, “The image of Mary in the New Testament is woven entirely of Old Testament threads.”
Mary the New Eve
Genesis tells us that God created Adam from the earth and Eve from Adam’s rib. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Primarily, the Word was made flesh in Mary’s womb the moment she said “yes” to the angel Gabriel. Nothing is impossible for God. Adam and Eve were responsible for original sin and death. Jesus and His Mother Mary are responsible for the reconciliation of sins and the defeat of death to everlasting life. God chose the Virgin Mary to be the earthly Mother of His Son Jesus. Thus, as Jesus is the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve.
Mary as the New Ark
The Ark of the Covenant held the ten commandments stone tablets, the gold jar of manna and Aaron’s staff that had budded. Those items formed God’s presence in the Ark. Throughout the Old Testament scripture, God was present in the Ark of the Covenant. King David danced with joy upon the return of the Ark to Jerusalem; then, he built a temple for God to dwell in!
According to the New Testament scripture, Mary became the New Ark of the Covenant because Jesus was present in Her womb. Jesus is the Word made flesh. His body and blood are the fresh bread of life. His death and resurrection are the budded staff of new eternal life. As David celebrated God’s return to Jerusalem with music and dance, tidings of great joy were sung by the angels when Jesus was born! When viewed through the lens of typology, Dr. Pitre connects Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant.
Mary Mother of God
In Old Testament times, the mother of the king was the second most influential figure in the kingdom, probably because kings in those days had many wives. Jesus, as King of Heaven and Earth, had no wives; His wife is His Church. His Mother is the Mother of His Holy Church. Hence, Catholics venerate Mary as the Mother of Jesus (God-King).
Mary’s importance is not only relevant to Catholicism but the two other Abrahamic faiths: Judaism and Islam. Mary is considered by Jewish scholars to be the New Rachel — a mother who suffers for her people Israel. Islam honors Mary as the Mother of Jesus, the prophet; she is called Maryam. Maryam is the 19th chapter of the Quran.
If a typology is our means of interpretation, then Mary can be considered the New Eve, the New Ark, the Mother of God, and as such, the mother of us all! Many others extol the importance of Mary. The writings of Ven. Fulton Sheen and Caryll Houselander are two who proclaim the importance of our Blessed Mother to Catholics.
Ven. Fulton Sheen on Mary
Dr. Pitre’s work looks to bridge The Old Testament to the New Testament using typology to explain why Christian theology so reveres Mary. Ven. Fulton Sheen, who had a special devotion to Mother Mary, explains her Catholic significance a little differently.
According to Bishop Sheen’s The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God, Mary “existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of Mothers — she is the world’s first love.” He believed that Mary was part of a dream that God had when he created the earth and everything in it. The Prophets reflect God’s vision of his Son being born of a Virgin, then the reality of the Virgin Birth handed down in the Creed.
The Apostles taught the early Christians the Creed; it is what the Apostles believed by their witness. Bishop Sheen thought that during the forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus himself taught or reinforced the story of His birth by the Virgin Mary because it was too unusual for anyone to make up. If it had not come from Jesus, nobody would have believed it! When the Apostles were discussing a creed for their followers, they made sure the Way contained certain beliefs.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
Bishop Sheen said that the key to understanding Mary is to not start with Her, but instead, begin with Jesus her Son! The more we think of Him, the more we will think of her. The less we think of Jesus, the less we think of Mary! According to Bishop Sheen, Jesus made sure His followers knew who His Mother was in His own words at the Cross:
In His Own Words
Standing by the Cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, 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 into his home. (John 19:25-27)
On His Cross, Jesus is saying that Mary is His Mother, and by addressing the disciple whom he loved “Behold, your mother.” He is telling all of us, through John, that Mary is the mother of all of us. This message, which is part of the Eucharistic Prayer, is communicated by the priest at every Mass said in the world today.
In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse …
Mary and Islam
When Muhammad revealed the Angel Gabriel’s messages, a great emphasis on Mary, Mother of the Prophet Jesus, was clear. Bishop Sheen feels that Mary is a way to convert the believers of Islam to Christianity. The Quran mentions Mary (Maryam) more than any other woman. According to Islamic teaching, she is one of the four spiritually perfect women in the world. Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah is also considered one of the four. Do you think it a coincidence that Our Blessed Mother chose Fatima as one of her significant apparitions? Bishop Sheen believes that “the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Muslim people and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.”
Mary, an Ordinary Human Mother of Jesus
Through a series of meditations and thoughtful prose, Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God gives us a glance at the ordinariness of life that Mary, as Mother of Jesus, must have lived. Is there anything more tender, caring, loving, compassionate than a mother’s love? What great joy Mary must have had with her baby boy, toddler, and young child. When He became a teenager, a young adult, and a young man, did she know He would become what He became? Her sorrow at His passion and Cross must have been unbearable. Simeon’s prophecy of the sword cut deep into her heart.
When Mary said yes to God to be Jesus’s Mother, she said yes to be the mother of all humankind for all time. Jesus and Mary spent much time together. Was she so committed to her Son’s plan for redemption that every thought and action focused on her Son? At what point did Jesus begin teaching His Mother about His Father’s business?
According to Houselander, Mary is honored and emulated because she models a wholehearted and loving surrender to grace as the Mother of God! “Mary was wed to the Holy Spirit and bore Christ into the world.” We need to bring Jesus into our world as she brought him into the world. Mary is always about her Son and through Him about us.
Devotion to Our Lady is the treasure of the Catholic Church. If proof were wanting that she is Christ’s church, none could be surer than this. [The Church] has never ceased, all through the ages of Catholicism, to foster this tender love for the Mother of God.
Is It Worship or Honor?
We do not worship Mary; we are faithful to her, and we pray to her. She has the ear of her Son Jesus and her father, God. Who better should we pray to, petition, or seek an intercession? She is our advocate; she is our Holy Mother. We worship God the Father, His Son Jesus, and their Holy Spirit. We honor our Blessed Mother. Big difference! We are devoted to her because, without her, we would not have had her Son as our Savior! She is the mother of our Lord and, as such, our mother. We always honor our mother, human, and spiritual!