The following is an excerpt from a chapter in the recently published book Meet Mary: Getting to Know the Mother of God, Sophia Institute Press, January 2008. The book is be available via the Sophia Institute Web site, www.sophiainstitute.com.
Mary in the Bible and the Early Church
So, who is this woman who has had cathedrals named for her, poems written about her, and battles fought in her honor? Who is this Mary?
Of the details of her life, we know little. Much of what we do know was recorded in the pages of the New Testament and passed down through the oral tradition of the early Church. Written on scrolls of parchment and the walls of the catacombs, this history gives only the briefest sketch of the woman who brought Jesus into the world.
The glimpses into her life and character that we do get, however, are rich with significance, which is exactly why millions of men and women through the centuries have found in her a model of holiness, a companion in suffering, and, above all, a mother of their own.
Mary in the New Testament
In the pages of the New Testament, we have the oldest historical record of Mary’s life. Almost all that we know of her earthly existence we know from the four Gospels, which were written sometime between 50 and 100 A.D, along with the oral tradition passed on by the first Christians.
We know she was raised in Galilee, one of the most remote corners of one of the most remote provinces of the ancient Roman Empire. We know that when she came along in approximately 14 B.C., Israel was governed by Herod, a sadistic and power-hungry king who ruled at the pleasure of the emperor in Rome. A representative of that emperor, the governor, also sat in Jerusalem, supervising the soldiers, keeping an eye on Herod, and putting down the periodic rebellions that sprang up among the Jewish people.
We also know that Mary was Jewish, a member of a people that had been persecuted, enslaved, exiled, and oppressed for thousands of years, yet who continued to worship the God of its ancestors and reject the polytheism of its oppressors. We know that she married a carpenter named Joseph, gave birth to a son named Jesus, watched her son become a man, and later watched him die on a cross.
The most detailed written information we have on Mary’s early life and relationship with her son comes from the Gospel of Luke. Luke, more so than any of the other Gospel writers, was concerned with giving an in-depth history of Jesus’ life, so he included more detailed information about Jesus’ early years than the others did. In his Gospel, there are five key events in Christ’s early life that involve his mother. Here they are, according to their traditional names:
1. The Annunciation (1:26-38), where the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with the words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” He then informs her that she will