MARY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of the woman prophesied in the Old Testament in ways beautiful, mysterious, and profound. The greatest events of the New Testament, in particular the Incarnation and the Redemption, manifest the central role played by Mary in intimate cooperation with and under her Divine Son in the historic work of human salvation.
Further, the comparative obscurity of Mary was important to avoid any rash conclusion of an all too human conception of Jesus. In other words, to avoid concluding that the “wise, pure and holy” Jesus was simply the product of a very “wise, pure and holy” mother. Mary’s obscurity protected and focused the attention of the Apostolic Church towards the single primacy of Jesus and his heavenly origins.
Of great importance in the appropriate biblical revelation of Mary was the avoidance of anything that would support any perception of her as a goddess. An immediate full revelation of all the extraordinary prerogatives and roles of Jesus’ Mother could inadvertently encourage seeing her as a goddess along side Jesus himself. Since it was commonplace for many pagan religions of the time to deify woman in representing a particular virtue or power, the revelation of the roles and virtues of Mary had to be revealed both in truth and in humility.
At the same time, the New Testament manifestation of the Mother of Jesus remains a revelation of the greatest creature in human history who participates more than any other creature in the mission of the Savior. From her “yes” which brings us our Redeemer, to the prophecy of the piercing of her heart by Simeon, to her intercession for the newly married couple at Cana, to her united suffering with her Son for the world’s Redemption at Calvary, the New Testament reveals not a woman in Scripture, but The Woman of Scripture.
Let us now survey the principal Marian references in the New Testament, with a greater treatment of their inspired meanings as they relate to the respective dogmas and doctrines:
The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary (Lk 1:26-38): “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” When Mary gives her “fiat” or “let it be done to me” to the angel’s invitation directed to her as “full of grace,” the Virgin of Nazareth becomes the Mother of Jesus and all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah are brought to life and fulfillment. Mary freely and actively participates in God becoming man, and is thus immediately the unique cooperator (or Co-redemptrix) with the Redeemer, a cooperation that will continue unto Calvary and for the rest of her earthly life.
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56): Mary immediately departs for the hill country to serve her cousin, Elizabeth. In bringing the unborn Jesus into the presence of Elizabeth, two events of grace take place: Elizabeth prophesies by the Holy Spirit and the unborn John is sanctified in Elizabeth’s womb: “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb leapt, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41). Mary then, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, proclaims her “Magnificat” or song of praise glorifying the Lord, in which she rightly prophesies that all generations will call her blessed (Lk. 1:46-55).
The Nativity of Jesus (Lk 2:4-20): Mary “brought forth her first-born Son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Lk 2:7). Mary gives birth to God the Son made man, and thus, as one ancient antiphon states, a wonderment of nature takes place, for a creature gives birth to her Creator.
The Presentation of the Infant Jesus to the Temple (Lk 2:22-39): Jesus is presented to the Temple in fulfillment of Jewish law, and in a prophetic offering that finds its fulfillment with the offering of Jesus at Calvary. Simeon foretells the suffering of Mary’s heart that will ultimately take place at Calvary in this biblical introduction to devotion to the Immaculate and Sorrowful heart of Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own heart too” (Lk 2:35).
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52): When the child Jesus is found after three days (foreshadowing his three days in the tomb), Mary is informed by Jesus: “I must be about my Father’s business” (Lk 2:49), and the Gospel tells us that Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:51). Due to her freedom from original sin and all its effects, Mary possessed an infused knowledge concerning the things of God, (as did Adam and Eve) and therefore Mary pondered fully the mysterious events of her Son and forever kept them in her heart.
The Gospel of St. Matthew adds several more Marian scriptural references:
Note that many of these infancy references repeatedly bespeak the unity of “the Child and his Mother” as a sign of the profound union of Jesus and Mary that would continue for all time, as well as continuing to indicate Mary’s virginity, as the child is not referred to as Joseph’s child, but Mary’s child.
Beyond the infancy narratives of St. Luke and St. Matthew, other principal Marian Scripture references include:
The Wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-10). “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). The Mother of Jesus intercedes at Cana for two events of grace: the first public miracle of Jesus and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, which eventually leads them both to Calvary. When Jesus calls his mother, “Woman,” far from anything derogatory, he is in fact identifying and connecting her with the “Woman” of Genesis (cf. Gen. 3:15), the “Woman” who will be at his side at Calvary (cf. Jn. 19:25), and the “Woman” who will be crowned and glorified in Heaven as Queen in the Kingdom of God (cf. Rev. 12:1). Jesus’ response, “what is this to you and to me, my time has not yet come” essentially asks the question, “Are you ready to begin a public mission that will end in Calvary in untold pain and suffering?” Mary responds directly to the servants in manifesting her readiness to initiate the public journey that will lead to the redemptive sacrifice at Calvary, which was foretold by Isaiah in the prophecies of the “Suffering Servant” (cf. Is 52:13-53:12) and also prophesied by Simeon in the piercing of Mary’s heart (Lk. 2:35). It is indeed Mary’s faith in her Son and his divine power that makes it the “right time” to begin his public ministry.
The motherly mediation of Mary brings to the attention of Jesus the needs of the wedding couple, who have run out of wine, as she does for all followers of Christ and for all humanity. The last words of Mary recorded in the Bible “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5) profoundly reflect the goal of the Mother of Jesus’ intercessory role for all nations and peoples—to direct all humanity to her divine Son so they might receive the miraculous graces necessary for salvation.
As the beloved disciple “took her into his own home” (Jn. 19:27), so too is every Christian and every member of the human family invited to imitate John by taking Mary into our “homes,” that is, the interior lives of our Christian faith and life—the inner home of our hearts.
The Presence of Mary in the Upper Room (Acts 1:13-2:4). After the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, Mary is central amidst the Apostles and disciples in the Upper Room who await and petition for the descent of the Holy Spirit, Mary’s divine spouse. Once again, “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14) is seen at the heart of the infant Church, mothering and nurturing the Church as she did the infant Jesus himself, through the overshadowing and power of the Holy Spirit.
Pauline Reference of Galatians 4:4: where St. Paul tells us the Savior was “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). St. Paul testifies here to the Divine Motherhood, that God the Father sent his only begotten Son on his redemptive mission through Mary. His reference “born of a woman” again associates Mary as the Woman of the Bible who works intimately with and under the Redeemer in their united mission of obtaining “adopted sons,” a coredemptive mission as given by the Father and as sustained by the “Spirit of the Father,” who leads all true sons and daughters of the Lord to cry out “Abba, Father” (Gal 4:5-6).
The Woman Clothed with the Sun (Rev. 12:1). “A woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Here Mary is seen in her assumed and crowned glory as the Queen-Mother of the male child who will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5). While this feminine image also refers to the Church, it must in the first place refer to Mary, as only Mary gave birth to the “male child” who is Jesus, King and ruler of all nations. The passage immediately preceding the description of this heavenly woman crowned in glory, is the powerful revelation of the Ark of the Covenant as appearing in heaven: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail” (Rev 11:19). As Mary is the New Ark of the New and everlasting Covenant, the appearance of the Ark of the Covenant in heaven to St. John, which is immediately followed by the description of the Woman clothed with the Sun, further identifies and confirms the first meaning of the Woman of Revelations 12 as revealing the Mother of Jesus.
In sum, we can witness to the sublime revelation of the immaculate daughter of the Father, the coredemptive Mother of the Son, and the fruitful spouse of the Holy Spirit as contained in the written Word of God. These pregnant scriptural passages about Mary will gradually experience their gestation and birth in the form of dogmas and doctrines in the fruitful womb of the Church, over the course of time and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The Sacred Word of God written down testifies to the unparalleled dignity and role the Mother of Jesus possesses in the perfect plan of God for the salvation of humanity. May all believers of the Bible accept the gift of Jesus from the Cross to “behold your Mother” (Jn 19:27) so that we can do our Christian part in fulfilling scriptural prophecy: “All generations shall call me blessed” (Lk1:48).
The question may be asked, “Why is there not a greater quantity of references or degree of development concerning Mary in the New Testament?” For several reasons the New Testament revelation of the Mother of Jesus had to be both profound and concise.
The complete attention of the faithful in the infant years of the one Church of Christ had first to be directed pre-eminently to Jesus Christ himself. The proper adoration of Jesus had to be established before any secondary veneration of Mary would be appropriate or fitting. Her honor, of course, arises first and foremost from her being the Mother of Jesus.
Moreover, it was important that during Mary’s lifetime her humility was rightly respected and protected. Mary was to be the perpetual example of hidden holiness, of interior sanctity—a model for Christians of all future ages.
For these reasons, it was very fitting that Mary, as the humble handmaid of the Lord, not receive a more developed treatment in the New Testament, so as not to diminish the primacy of her Son and the efficient preaching of the Good News.
The Betrothal of Mary (Mt 1:18) to Joseph.
The Ordeal of Joseph (Mt 1:20) concerning the virgin conception of Jesus in Mary, where the angel tells Joseph “do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived of her is of the Holy Spirit.”
The Arrival of the Magi (Mt 2:1-12), the wise men, and how “going into the house they saw the Child with Mary his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him” (Mt 2:11).
The Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt (Mt 2:13-18), where Joseph was again instructed by a dream to “take the Child and his Mother and flee into Egypt” (Mt 2:13).
The Return into Israel (Mt 2:19-23), where Joseph is instructed to “rise, take the Child and his Mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the Child’s life are dead” (Mt 2:20).
Mary at the Foot of the Cross (Jn. 19: 25-27). “Woman, behold, your Son… behold, your Mother” (Jn 19:26-27). As the final gift of the crucified Savior from the Cross, Jesus gives to John, and symbolically in John to all who seek to be “beloved disciples,” and even to all humanity, the gift of his own Mother to be our own Spiritual Mother. The redemption event at Calvary was a universal spiritual event for all humanity, and Jesus’ gift of his mother also constituted a universal spiritual gift. Mary’s spiritual motherhood is a personal gift which Jesus Christ offers personally to every Christian and to every person.
This woman is also in mortal combat with Satan, the ancient dragon (cf. Rev 12:3-6). Hence the perennial battle between God’s greatest creature, Mary, and his most evil creature, Satan, constitutes the “bookends of Scripture” as found in the first book of the Bible (cf. Gen 3:15) and in the final book of the Bible (cf. Rev 12:1-6). The labor pains referred to in Revelations 12:2 while at first glance might be mistakenly attributed to Mary in giving birth to Jesus, are actually a reference to the pains experienced by Mary in giving “spiritual birth” to the Church with and under Jesus at Calvary (cf. Jn. 19:25-27), a “mystical birth” by the “New Eve” which brings forth children of God who are spiritually conceived and baptized in the blood of Jesus Christ, the “New Adam.”