I Will Put Enmities Between Thee and the Woman

I will put enmities between thee and the woman,
and thy seed and her seed:
she shall crush thy head,
and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
Genesis 3, 15 (DRB)

And a great sign appeared in heaven:
A woman clothed with the sun,
and the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
Revelation 12, 1

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The Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in the Book of Genesis is the first Messianic prophecy recorded in sacred Scripture, and it is pronounced by God Himself to the serpent in the wake of the fall of Adam and Eve. The prophecy does not speak of only the Divine Messiah, but also includes the free Woman of Promise whose fulfilment is ultimately reached in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Divine Lord and Saviour. In view of Eve’s transgression and her moral involvement in the fall of Adam (אָדָם “mankind”), God declares to the serpent, in allusion to Mary, that He will put her (the woman) in complete opposition and hostility with it. This enmity between Mary and Satan shall be in the same likeness with that of her Divine Son’s with the devil’s offspring: wicked humanity.

The woman’s offspring shall not be a descendant of Adam by the seed of man, but rather by the seed of the woman. He shall be of divine origin, and his conception and birth will be supernatural, but not to the preclusion of his full humanity.  Thus, we may believe in faith that this verse implies Mary’s total lack of affinity with Satan together with her Son and thereby her exemption from all stain of sin, both original and personal. There is no surer way to be in complete hostility with the devil or serpent than to be constantly in the state of God’s sanctifying grace. God ordered Mary and Satan to be in a total state of “opposition” to each other so that they should be “hostile” enemies with “hatred” for one another, which the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) denotes. This was because Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Divine Messiah (Lk. 1:31-33, 35).

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It was all part of God’s perfect plan that the Son of Man be “made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), but not so much as for becoming a man in the likeness of Adam. The Serpent, which was envious of Adam and Eve and all God’s creation, sought to destroy it. In its malevolence and shrewdness (‘aruvum), the Serpent targeted Adam to accomplish what it was bent on destroying, for our primordial father was the head of the two covenants God had established: the one between God and Adam and his female Helpmate, and the marital one between Adam and the Woman. Adam was the human representative of both covenants which were rooted in faith and trust. However, in its craftiness, the Serpent targeted Adam indirectly through his Helpmate. For its plan to be successful, the Serpent would need the Woman to co-operate with it. And this it could mange to do by enticing and deceiving her with a lie.

As we know, the Serpent did succeed in gaining the Woman’s trust by appearing to have her best interest at heart, which allowed it to get the upper hand. The Woman rebelled against God in her misplaced faith and, as a result, her friendship with God turned into enmity. By helping to bring about the fall of Adam as the Serpent’s instrument to offer him the forbidden fruit, the Woman made herself out to be an enemy of God. Thus, the Virgin Mary was chosen to be the Divine instrument to help reconcile mankind to God. It was imperative that she be at enmity with the fallen angel by co-operating with the angel Gabriel in faith and with complete trust in God, so that her offspring could undo the fall accomplished by Adam.

“What a grand and most wise strategy against the devil! The world, which had once fallen under the power of sin because of a virgin, is now restored to freedom because of a Virgin. Through the virginal birth, a great multitude of invisible demons has been cast down to Tartarus.”
Amphilochius of Iconium, In natalitia Domini, 1
(ante A.D. 394)

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Mary would have been a friend of Satan if at any moment in her life she sinned against God and fell from His grace like Eve, which would have rendered her unworthy to be the mother of her divine Son, who was like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15), with whom she was intimately associated to undo the evil that the devil had worked to the spiritual detriment of mankind. Eve was at enmity with God along with Adam, for they both did what was hateful in God’s sight and pleasing to the serpent by partaking of the forbidden fruit.

We have only to ask ourselves why it was that Jesus addressed his mother by calling her “Woman”. The answer lies in the Book of Genesis. Originally, Adam had referred to his wife as “woman” (Gen. 2:23). It wasn’t until Eve had mortally sinned and fallen from grace that she was named Eve, which means “mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:13-20). It is in this context that we can see what our Lord’s intention was by calling his mother “Woman” at both the beginning and end of his public ministry (Jn. 2:3-5; 19:26-27). 

The Evangelist understood that Jesus was drawing a parallel between his mother and Eve. He knew that Mary was much more than the biological mother of  his; she was the woman of faith who God promised would be intimately associated with him in his redemptive work, and by being so, she would become the spiritual mother of all those who are alive in Christ and bear witness to him while observing God’s commandments (Rev. 12:17). And what God willed with necessity was that she should be preserved free from all stain of sin.

It was Mary who God foretold would participate with her Son (the new Adam) in his work of undoing the sin of Adam and Eve and reconciling the world to Him as his “helpmate” (Gen. 2:18). Moreover, by calling his mother “Woman,” Jesus was affirming her being in a perpetual state of sanctifying grace. Mary resembled Eve before her fall from grace at which time her husband still referred to her as “the woman”. We have good reason to believe, therefore, that our Lord was alluding to his mother’s Immaculate Conception and freedom from all stain of personal sins which result from the pride of life and concupiscence of the eyes and of the flesh.

“In the beginning, the Serpent, having captivated the ears of Eve, spread poison into the whole body; today Mary receives by means of the ears, the advocate of perpetual happiness. So (woman) who has the instrument of death was also the instrument of life.”
Ephraem of Syria, De devirsis, sermo 3
(ante. A.D. 373)

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Sacred Scripture confirms the ancient Catholic tradition of Mary being the spiritual mother of all the living: The new Eve who never once fell from grace (Lk. 1:28), God’s re-creation of our universal biological mother. Both Eve and Mary were daughters of a covenant with God. Eve was the daughter of the first covenant between God and Adam: ‘The Lord commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day you shall eat from it you will surely die.”‘(Gen. 2:16-17). The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:2-3).

Mary was a daughter of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully… I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me … For I, the Lord, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing loving kindness to thousands to those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deut. 5:1-10). Both Eve and Mary were under a pledge of obedience in their covenants with God, since God had given each of them a free will to choose between life and death by either accepting or rejecting His will for them.

Eve’s disobedience ultimately resulted in the fall of “mankind” (Adam/אָדָם). Because of the fall, all human beings are conceived and born deprived of the original justice and sanctity which Adam forfeited for his descendants by his sin. ‘The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”‘ (Gen. 3:12-13). Mary, on the other hand, observed God’s will, and so, she brought forth the living Font of all grace who would reconcile mankind to God. Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).

“You have heard that it deals with this, that man would return
to life by the same route by which he fell into death.”
Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 142
(ante. A.D. 450)

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By her act of faith working through love, Mary untied the tight knot of  Eve’s grave transgression. Mary’s soul “magnified the Lord”, whereas Eve’s soul was affected by her own vanity and curiosity which rendered her vulnerable to the serpent’s deception and temptation. She knew that God had forbidden her and Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit. But, nonetheless, she decided to experience and judge for herself what was good and evil for them, despite God’s will for what was best for the couple. Adam and Eve raised their own will above God’s will by acting upon the serpent’s devious suggestion, making themselves out to be like God, but apart from God and before Him.

Fortunately, for both herself and all humanity, Mary chose “life and prosperity” rather than “death and adversity” after hearing the words of the angel Gabriel. She heard and observed the word of God as a true servant of Israel in the spirit because it was “very near to her and in her heart.” In the spirit of Daughter Zion, YHWH’s loving and faithful spouse, our Blessed Lady humbly refused to bow down to any idol which the ancient serpent may have presented to her in his jealous hostility with the woman. (cf. Deut. 30:11-12).

Thus, because of her fidelity to God and desire to please Him in her covenant with Him, by her salutary consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour, Mary helped destroy the ravages of sin that the serpent had managed to work in the beginning. Because she welcomed the will of God with outstretched arms in faith and love, our  Redeemer chose to  come  into  the  world  (Rev. 3:20). Peter Chrysologus assures us “without Mary neither death could be done away with, nor life restored” (Sermon 64).

“Think not, O man, that this is a birth to be ashamed of, since it was made the cause of our salvation. For if He had not been born of woman, He had not died; and if, in the flesh, He had not died, neither would He have destroyed him through death, who had the empire of death, that is, the devil.”
Proclus of Constantinople
Oratio 1, Laudatio Dei genitricis mariea
(ante. A.D. 446)

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“You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy,
and have separated you from the peoples,
that you should be mine.”
Leviticus 20:26

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Evidently, the nascent Church perceived Mary to be the exemplary personification of Daughter Zion. The faithful saw the culmination of Israel’s steadfast love and trust in God embodied in her person. St. Luke bears witness to this early Marian tradition in our Blessed Lady’s Canticle of Praise (Lk.1:46-49; cf. Isa.61:10; Zech.9:9; Zeph.3:14-15, 20; Ps.102:13; 126:1-3; 147:12-13). The connection between the election of Israel and the election of Mary in God’s plan of redemption was clear to them. As Israel was elected to be the people from whom the Messiah would come, so Mary was chosen to bring Him to birth as Saviour of the world. Both Israel and Mary had the divine privilege of bringing the Messiah into the world. And because of their common vocations, both had to be specially prepared by God.

If the people of Israel were to receive God Incarnate in their midst as one of them, they would have to be made exclusively worthy by means of a special holiness imparted by the Old Covenant. Far more was expected from the Israelites than from the people of the surrounding nations because of the holiness that was required of them in anticipation of the Incarnation. If that were true of the people of Israel, it would be even truer of Mary in whose maternal womb the holy Son of God became incarnate.  How becoming it would be if she in some way received a means of a singular holiness that would separate her from sinful humanity by a special grace through God’s intervention. Mary was  the living  personification  of  faithful  Daughter  Zion,  and  not  just  a  metaphor: “clothed in  the  garments  of  salvation”  and  “wrapped  in  a  mantle  of  justice”  (Isa. 61:10).

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You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians,
how I have carried you upon the wings of eagles,
and have taken you to myself.
Exodus 19, 4

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As we have seen, the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) is derived from the verb ayab  or אָיַב which means “to be hostile to.” This prim root assumes the form of the noun “enemy”( אוֹיֵֽב ) . In Exodus 15:6, for instance, we read: ‘Thy right hand, O Lord, is magnified in strength: thy right hand, O Lord, hath slain the enemy.’ This verse is part of the Song of Moses and  the Hebrew people who joyfully and gratefully praise God for having caused the Red Sea to swallow up Pharaoh’s chariots of men in their pursuit of the Israelites after their liberation from slavery and departure from Egypt. The fall of the Egyptian army is celebrated in song, for it has resulted from Pharaoh’s obstinate pride and arrogance in his opposition against God. In her Canticle of Praise, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour; for he has looked with favour on the lowliness (humility) of his handmaid” (Lk. 1:47-48). The lord raises the lowly and casts down the mighty from their thrones (Lk. 1:52; Ps. 147:6). The Annunciation happened because of Mary’s humility and purity of heart. She was a friend of God.

Not unlike Moses, who humbled himself before God to be His servant and instrument of salvation, our Blessed Lady joyfully and thankfully praises God for having saved her from the clutches of the enemy, viz., the serpent or dragon which is Pharaoh’s proto-type. It was the angel Lucifer who fell from heaven because of his pride and arrogance (Isa. 14:12-17). And because he opposed God in his vanity and was cast out from heaven, he wished to rally mankind against Him; whereby humanity, in its rebellion against God in league with Satan, would fall, too, from His grace and end up under the Devil’s dominion as his captives together with all the other fallen angels, enslaved to sin and subject to death in its sinful condition.

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Mary rejoices in God her saviour because He has mercifully redeemed her by a singular grace, having been chosen to be the mother of our Lord and humanity’s Saviour, who shall redeem mankind and deliver it from the clutches of the  dragon and  man’s enslavement to sin. (Rev. 12:10). She knows, that together with God, she has been chosen to stand in opposition to Satan to help undo his works. It is by her act of faith and love that our Blessed Lady helps turn the devil’s proud and arrogant opposition to God into his humiliating defeat. Mary’s humble state is a means by which God becomes incarnate and dashes Satan’s pride into pieces along with his rule over humanity. In her humility, Mary stands opposed to the devil’s pride in his opposition to God. She stands with God as His faithful helpmate in His opposition to the inimical serpent.

The free Woman of Promise becomes the Mother of the Son only because she refuses to do what is hateful to God and pleasing to the serpent out of pride, unlike Eve who submitted to the will of God’s adversary and was cast out from paradise because of that same pride which cast the Devil out from heaven. Eve made herself out to be an enemy of God and His “adversary” by her rebellion in collaboration with the serpent in his revolt (Ex. 23:22; Isa. 63:10). Mary made herself out to be a friend of God and a disciple of the Son who she would bear by faithfully assenting to the Divine knowledge that was made known to her through the message of the angel (Jn. 15:15).

What God reveals to us in Mary’s canticle, therefore, is that He has put His handmaid in hostile opposition to the serpent by preventing her from being born into slavery to sin and subject to death in its dominion through the grace of her Immaculate Conception. God ordained that the enemy Satan should have no power and rule over Mary’s soul because of her election to the Divine Maternity, which carried with it a vital co-redemptive role. For her collaboration with God in His redemptive work to be perfect, God raised Mary above Eve’s low estate and that of all her biological descendants who are conceived in sin and born in guilt (Lk. 1:42). Never should our Blessed Lady ever be an adversary of God. Moses, too, was providentially saved from being enslaved and drowned at birth by Pharaoh’s decree, so that one day he could serve God as His covenantal mediator in opposition to Pharaoh for the liberation of the Hebrew people from their bondage in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10).

“Truly elect, and superior to all, not by the altitude of lofty structures, but as excelling all in the greatness and purity of sublime and divine virtues, and having no affinity with sin whatever.”
Germanus of Constantinople
Marracci in S. Germani Mariali
(ante A.D. 733)

Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days…. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. And the dragon cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
Revelation 12, 4-6, 14-15

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There are basically four prevailing themes pertaining to wilderness in the Hebrew Old Testament. To begin, the imagery of wilderness may signify a place where one has a very close encounter with God, notably when they are called for an important task during a time of crisis. Also, for the Jewish people who were delivered from slavery in Egypt by God’s intervention, the wilderness was where they received the Torah (the Divine instructions) so that they could be set apart from all the surrounding nations to become God’s very own and be prepared as a holy nation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

The Talmud says:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…
The azure sky encompasses the parched and barren land:
an untouched, silent vacuum devoid of mortal ploys.
No stamp of human grandeur
imprints the endless sand;
no thoroughfares are chiselled
through the undulating dunes.
Standing in the wilderness
we wait with open hearts:
we may yet tend the desert
and find our way to Eden.
(B’midbar 1:1)

The Talmud says further: “One should be as open as a wilderness to receive the Torah” (Nedarim 55a). Some Jewish commentators understand this statement to mean that God’s chosen people have been called to open themselves to God’s moral demand of living an entirely new way of life that differs from that of the pagans who do not know God, regardless of how intimidating it might be to the Israelites. In preparation for the coming Messiah, God established a covenant with His people through Moses at Sinai so that they would be a moral and godly people, unlike His adversaries. For this purpose, God gave the Israelites the Torah or moral Law. Only those who conducted their lives in accord with the moral precepts of the Divine law reached the promised land after their sojourn in the desert. The unfaithful Jews who failed to “tend the desert” or persevere in faith in the wake of many hardships and trials never found their “way to Eden”.

Moreover, the wilderness can be described as a place untouched by human developments and settlement. In the form of imagery, it represents a moral haven. For the Israelites, the wilderness contrasted with Egypt which was polluted with the vain grandeurs of this world and the many false idols that alienated the Egyptian captors from God and even corrupted many of Abraham’s descendants while living there. The Exodus happened so that the Hebrew people would be free to worship the God of their fathers as He desired they righteously should in the land that He had initially promised to Abraham (Gen. 17:7). The wilderness was where God’s emancipated people could be spiritually refined and come to know God, as to walk in his ways without any worldly distractions that might hinder them. The wilderness provided the straight path that would help enable them to become a holy nation set apart by God and consecrated to Him as worthy of begetting the promised Messiah.

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Indeed, in sacred Scripture, the wilderness is portrayed as the site of the dispensation of divine grace where God disciplines, purifies, and transforms His chosen people by imparting a singular holiness to them through His covenant. It was at the outset of the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn in the desert that God assured Moses: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14). On this occasion, God didn’t simply offer his chosen people guidance, but promised to guide them to the promised land Himself. The wilderness was where the Israelite’s had to learn to place their undivided trust in Divine providence. Adam and Eve were  expelled  from  Eden  for  their failure in trusting  God  and  placing  all their hope in Him. The Jews who lost their trust in God and  their  trial  of  faith  never  made  it  to  the  promised  land.

Here it was where God came down from His heavenly domain to dwell among His people and instruct them in His ways by physically manifesting His presence through the Ark of the Covenant which also served as a channel of His grace (Ex 25:8, 22; Josh 3:5-17; 6:2-5). Outside of Egypt, the Israelites could encounter a personal God who related to them in a loving and caring way and who sought nothing other than their true happiness, albeit the physical hardships they had to endure to prove themselves worthy of being in His favour. ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (Ex 33:11). Through Moses, God would speak to all His people by His theophanies.

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Finally, there are many passages in the Old Testament which present the wilderness as an aspect of the goodness of God’s creation which inspires awe because of its sublimity. For instance, the prophet Isaiah creates an allegory that pertains to the spiritual condition of the Hebrew nation. The language in the text expresses a moral and spiritual desolation in the life of the Jews. Such was the condition of the Judeans before God allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and take His chosen people into captivity and exile because of their apostasy and idolatry.

Still, the prophet anticipates the time that will come when the moral and spiritual wasteland the Jews had created for themselves will be restored to its former beauty which God intended, like “the glory of Lebanon” with its plush cedar trees and fertile land. The “glory of God” shall be manifested in the rejuvenation of His chosen people by His grace which restores them to a new life in the spirit (cf. Ezek. 36:26-27).  A “crocus” (rose) shall beautifully blossom out of what was a desolate wasteland, now that God’s judgement against His people is past and the nation redeemed of its sins through its suffering and subsequent change of heart by the means of discipline (cf. Ezek. 20:36-38).

The majesty of Zion that once was will be restored, now that God’s chosen people have left that pathless desert of alienation from God and spiritual desolation which they had stumbled upon through their infidelity. The excellency of Carmel and the fertility of Sharon will now be restored by God’s grace and renewed blessings in the wasteland that Zion created for herself to her own spiritual ruin. By God’s merciful grace of forgiveness and salvation, His people will now set themselves on the right path in a land fertile with reinvigorated piety in the knowledge of God and His covenant with them (Isa. 35:1-4).

We can imagine the normal characteristics of a desert: a solitary and dry place (ציה or tsı̂yâh), without springs and streams of water which doesn’t produce any verdure and cannot sustain life. But only in this desolate state can it blossom forth to new life by being restored to its original plush condition as God’s re-creation by His regenerating grace. Anagogically, the spiritual plight of the ancient Hebrews points to mankind’s need of baptism and reconciliation to God by means of sanctification or justification.

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Hence, when God fashioned  Mary’s soul and sanctified it at the first instant of her conception in the haven of her mother’s womb,  He put her at enmity with the serpent. All it had wrought at the creation of the world did not affect Mary. God preserved her from being subjected to the spiritual desolation of humanity because of original sin. Mary was God’s re-creation of mankind before the fall. She was untouched by the spiritual ruin Adam had brought upon himself and all his descendants by nature. The majesty of Eve that once was had been restored in Mary. Our Blessed Lady did not set foot upon a pathless desert of alienation from God when she was born. She did not enter this world as a “wandering daughter”. Her soul was fertile and plush in its sanctified state, as she blossomed like a rose by the power of God’s grace, which restored her to the original state of justice and holiness that Adam had forfeited for all his offspring because of his idolatry and infidelity to God.

God set Mary apart from all the descendants of Adam and Eve who would be born in exile and slavery to sin, as to be holy and consecrated to Him in preparation for the Divine Maternity, just as He freed the Israelites from slavery and separated them from the surrounding pagan nations to be His very own people, holy and consecrated to Him, from whom would come the Divine Messiah.  “Thus, shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto to the Egyptians, and how I bear you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (Ex. 19:3-4). God bore Mary on the wings of His grace when He kept her from being taken captive with the rest of humanity and morally subjected to having to dwell enslaved in the dominion of God’s ancient adversary.  God looked with favour on the lowliness of His handmaid when he removed  her from the rest of sinful humanity by  bearing her away on His wings of grace to be His very own virgin bride and the mother of the Son- “clothed in the robes of salvation” and “wrapped in  a mantle of justice.” The flood water could  not reach and engulf  our Blessed Lady Zion as it had sinful humanity at the time of Noah (Isa. 61:10; Gen. 6:17-18) and Pharaoh’s army of chariots.

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In the spirit of the faithful remnant of the Israelites, Mary received the Divine commands and kept them in the depths of her heart and soul. She personified the renewal of Israel after having been liberated from bondage and exile. There was no place for the vain idols of this world in her soul. How she conducted herself throughout her entire life was impeccable by the plenitudes of grace God bestowed on her. Mary observed the word of God and kept it (Lk. 11:28). Not once did she profane God’s holy name by thought, word, or deed. Our Blessed Lady embodied in her person the ideal of a redeemed and resurrected people of God.

When God sanctified Mary’s soul and preserved her free from the stain of original sin and all its ill moral effects, He intended, by His almighty power, to keep her from ever stumbling and falling from His grace (Jude 1:24). God clothed His handmaid in the radiance of the light of His justice. She was enrobed with the sun of His justice. What paled in comparison within the soul of humanity lay under her feet like a waning moon. Our Blessed Lady had crushed the head of the serpent. The Blessed Virgin Mary blossomed like a crocus among thorns and thistles in the desolate wasteland of fallen man.

God “tilled the land that was desolate” and had it “become like the garden of Eden” by restoring  in  Mary  what  Adam  and  Eve  had  reduced  to  a wasteland. God replanted in her what was uprooted from humanity by their transgression (Cf. B’midbar 1:1; Nedarim, 55a). God put His spirit within our Blessed Lady and a heart of flesh that would never turn to stone. And by the efficacious influence of His grace, God caused Mary, without violating her free will, to observe all His commandments and to walk in His statutes free from all abomination that  infests sinful humanity (Ezek. 36: 16:37). Mary was indeed the creation of  God’s sublime handiwork, His greatest masterpiece of grace in all creation, who in awe all generations shall pronounce blessed. The Lord had done great things to her, for holy is His name (Lk. 1:48-49).

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“And I passed by thee, and saw thee: and behold thy time was the time of lovers: and I spread my garment over thee, and covered thy ignominy. And I swore to thee, and I entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God: and thou becamest mine.
And I washed thee with water, and cleansed away thy blood from thee: and I anointed thee with oil. And I clothed thee with embroidery, and shod thee with violet coloured shoes: and I girded thee about with fine linen, and clothed thee with fine garments.”
Ezekiel 16, 8-10

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She Shall Crush Thy Head

inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem et semen tuum et semen illius ipsa conteret caput tuum et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius

God said to the serpent: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”
Genesis 3, 15 {DRB}

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Originally, an epicene Hebrew personal pronoun was used in the Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in Genesis 3:15. This pronoun has only one form to denote either male (hu) or female (hi) in the singular or the two taken together in a gender-neutral way (hem): He/She/They shall crush thy head, and thou shall lie in wait for his/her/their heel.  In the Catholic tradition, both the woman and her offspring are taken in association with each other. It is not only the woman, but also  her  child  who  is  at  enmity  or opposition with the serpent and its offspring: sinful humanity.  Thus, from different theological perspectives, either the woman or her offspring can be seen striking at the head of the serpent in collaboration with each other in their respective roles.

Luke presents both Mary and Jesus to be equally “blessed” (euologomene /eulogemenos) by having absolutely nothing in common with Satan and what he has worked: sin and death (Lk 1:42). For this reason, Mary is elevated above all women, including Eve, by her association with Jesus in undoing the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve. Both the Mother and the Son are equally blessed by having been set apart by God and consecrated to Him for undoing what the serpent started in the beginning (Gen 3:14).

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Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies.”
Judith 13, 18

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Since, in the original Hebrew text, the Protoevangelium has a dual subject (He-She), either the male or female, or even the plural rendering, of the epicene pronoun is acceptable according to one’s proper theological perspective. The Latin translation of the Hebrew female pronoun (ipsa) espoused by St. Jerome in his composition of the Latin Vulgate points to the vital role God granted Mary in His plan of salvation, brought to complete fruition by the final victory of her Son over the serpent and its seed: sin and death. The female rendering of the neuter pronoun in no way serves to denote a final victory attributed to the woman. It was God who directed Judith’s blow against  Holofernes which saved her people from imminent slavery and destruction, just as it was God’s grace  that  preceded  and prompted Mary to pronounce her Fiat at the Annunciation and fulfill  her commitment in  the  Divine  work  of  salvation  by  enduring sorrow at the foot of the Cross to temporally appease God for mankind’s sins.

In like manner, Mary victoriously crushes the head of the serpent by collaborating with God in bringing the Messiah into the world through her act of faith in charity and grace, that He  may save humanity from the ravages of sin and impending death: eternal separation from God. The woman who God is referring to in His exchange with the serpent is not Eve, but a woman who He promises will vindicate our fallen primordial mother by her act of faith.

That the early Church interpreted Genesis 3:15 this way and perceived Mary to be a second Eve is evident to begin with in the apologetic writings of St. Irenaeus (189 A.D.). The Bishop of Lyons bears testimony to the Apostolic Catholic faith: “So, if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God, in this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve” (Against Heresies, 5:19:1). This interpretation of who the woman in the Proto-gospel is makes more sense in Christian thought, seeing that Jesus is the Son of Mary, who vindicates our fallen primordial mother by her obedient act of faith in charity and grace.

In classical Jewish theology, the woman is seen to be Daughter Zion and her offspring: the righteous remnant of Israel, including the Messiah, through whom people of all nations shall come to know and accept God and be redeemed of their sins upon his appearance at the end of this age. At any rate, a Latin reading ipse (he) would directly announce the final victory achieved by the woman’s offspring without necessarily excluding the essential part she had to play in humanity’s redemption in collaboration with him.

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St. Paul tells us that all members of the Church crush the devil’s head by their perseverance in faith: ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom. 16:20). In the order of grace, Mary is the pre-eminent member and proto-type of the Church, for it was by her salutary act of faith in charity and grace that her Divine offspring came into the world to save humanity from its sins and restore it to the preternatural life of grace.  All who are baptized can strike Satan’s head each time they resist his temptations and observe the will of God with the help of His grace (Jas. 4:17). As the Blessed Virgin Mary is a moral channel of grace, she is united with all her Son’s disciples in their battles with the dragon through her prayerful intercession in Heaven (Rev. 12:17).

Thus, the reading “she” (ipsa) is not meant to equate Mary with Jesus by co-ordinating her merits with his. Surely, the final victory over Satan and what he has managed to work for humanity exclusively belongs to her Son in strict justice (meritum perfecta condigno) because of his divine nature and equality with the Father. Yet, theologically, the female  reading  is  acceptable  from  a  correct  point  of view. Depending on what one wishes to emphasise, both the woman and her seed can be said to crush the serpent’s head. This isn’t an either-or, but a both-and proposition. Mary crushes the serpent’s head by her supernatural merits (meritum de congruo) or by right of friendship with God in co-operation with divine grace in and through the merits of her divine Son who is the principal source of all saving grace.

God chose to become incarnate to reconcile the world to Himself, but it was by Mary’s meritorious free consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour in alignment with God’s will that the Incarnation happened according to His righteous design. In their respective roles, both Jesus (hu/ispse) and Mary (hi/ipsa) crushed the serpent’s head together in accord with the Divine initiative. Christ redeemed the world in his humanity, by serving as a ransom for sin paid by his blood, which he should receive with divine necessity  only  by Mary’s act of faith working through love in collaboration with the Holy Spirit.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Although our Blessed Lady was only a finite created being, unlike God who is infinite and uncreated, she could merit for both herself and humanity the Incarnation. This was because she acted in the state of sanctifying grace. In this state of grace, she partook of the divine life of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Pet.1:4; 2 Cor.5:17; Eph.1:13; Phil. 2:13; 1 Jn.3:7,10, etc.). Raised  above her human nature, by which she could merit nothing from God apart from His grace, and sharing in the supernatural life of God in His grace, God honoured  her Fiat. Mary acted understanding and seeing with God’s own supernatural vision, and  she  loved  with His own infinite  and  burning supernatural love in the depths of her soul which was infused with  His  sanctifying grace (Lk 1:46). In Elizabeth’s declaration of praise, “Blessed (eulogmene) are you among women,” the perfect passive participle is a Hebraism meaning “most blessed among women” or “blessed above all women” (Lk 1:42).

We have an example in the following passage from the Hebrew Old Testament.

תְּבֹרַךְ֙ מִנָּשִׁ֔ים יָעֵ֕ל אֵ֖שֶׁת חֶ֣בֶר הַקֵּינִ֑י מִנָּשִׁ֥ים בָּאֹ֖הֶל תְּבֹרָֽךְ׃

“Blessed of women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed above women shall she be in the tent.”
– Judges 5, 24

The second clause qualifies the first clause. The expression “blessed of women” implies Jael is blessed above all other women because of her singular deed in collaboration with YHWH. And how is it that Jael is supremely blessed?

She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman’s hammer, and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
– Judges 5, 25-26

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Catholic scholars and apologists in favour of Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament inform us that the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo (c. A.D. 40) preferred the hi (ipsa) reading, having argued from the Hebrew poetic technique known as parallel poetry (chiasmus). This form of poetry comprises three-quarters of the OT, mostly in the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms. Genesis 1:1-2:3 is chiastic in its structure as well. Although the Book of Genesis is a historical narrative written in prose, parallel poetry (the expression of one idea in two or more different ways, or the idea of one line following the idea of another line) is a literary technique that is also used when recording a spoken prophecy. Genesis 3:15 is the first Messianic prophecy found in the Bible, and it was pronounced by God Himself. Let us examine some examples of this literary device in the OT to see how concepts and ideas are structured to parallel each other in single passages. The verses below are taken from Hebrew Parallelism, by Jeff A. Benner.

Here Psalm 15:1-3 and Isaiah 6:10 are broken down into their poetic sequences. Each thought is represented by the letters A-D. Each expression of a thought is represented by the numbers 1 and 2.

A1. Lord, who may [dwell] in your [sanctuary]?
A2. Who may [live] on your [holy hill]?
B1. He whose [walk] is [blameless]
B2. and who [does] what is [righteous]
C1. who [speaks the truth] from his [heart]
C2. and has [no slander] on his [tongue]
D1. who does his [neighbour] no wrong
D2. and casts no slur on his [fellow man]
[does no wrong – casts no slur]

A. Make the [heart] of this people [fat]
B. and make their [ears] [heavy]
C. and [shut] their [eyes]
C1. lest they [see] with their [eyes]
B1. and [hear] with their [ears]
A1. and [understand] with their [heart], and return, and be healed.

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Now in Genesis 3:15, a couplet (distich) parallel a following couplet:

A1. I shall put enmities between [thee] and the [woman]
B1. and between [thy seed] and [her seed]
A2. [She] shall crush [thy head
B2. and [thou] shalt lie in wait for [her heel]

We see that line A1 corresponds with line A2, and line B1 with B2. The “woman” in line A1 refers to “she” in A2. Thus, to make the subject of line A2 “he” (ipse) or “it” (ipsum) and to say it relates to the seed in line B1, is obviously bad Hebrew poetry. Clearly, the “he” or “it” readings ruin the synonymous parallelism of this verse and so are more likely to be at variance with the author’s intention. Jerome consulted  with eminent Jewish scholars while he translated the Hebrew into Latin in Bethlehem. So, he could have taken this literary device into account in his choice of pronouns. 

Following the rhythm of the text in threefold idiomatic fashion it reads as follows:

You/woman 
Your seed/her seed
She shall crush your head/ you lie in wait for her heel

The following pattern disrupts the rhythm of the verse by making an abrupt switch of focus between subjects:

You/woman
Your seed/her seed
He (It) shall crush your head/you lie in wait for his (its)heel

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In the sacred text, it is the woman who is at enmity with the serpent, while the woman’s seed is at enmity with the serpent’s seed: sinful humanity. If we accurately observe the parallelism here, we should reasonably conclude from the first enmity announced between the woman and the serpent that the subsequent pronouns refer to the first protagonist, the woman, and the first antagonist, the serpent. The pronoun ipsa thereby refers to the female protagonist who, because of the serpent’s antagonism and her opposition against it, victoriously crushes its head by her obedience to the will of God and in collaboration with Him as His “fellow worker” (1 Cor 3:15).

A radical shift to the woman’s seed certainly does violence to the rhythm of the passage from a literary perspective, though theologically there is no conflict. As  previously pointed out, the woman could be said to have crushed the serpent’s head by her act of faith, for it resulted in her giving birth to the offspring who would achieve the final victory over it by destroying its dominion on earth. Mary crushed the serpent’s head in collaboration with her divine Son in concurrence with the graces he merited for her by his passion and death. And the merit of the temporal satisfaction our Blessed Lady made to God for the sins of the world  received its worth from the eternal satisfaction our Lord had made to his heavenly Father. Yet our Lord’s eternal expiation should be completed by the obedience of a promised woman and virgin who, not unlike Eve in the fulness of grace and the state of innocence, vindicates the primordial mother of all the living by untying the knot of her disobedience while never having fallen from His grace (Lk 1:28). 

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And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 12, 17

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Hence, in Genesis 3:15, God  is  speaking  to  the serpent about Eve’s  transgression, which draws our attention to her moral contribution in the fall of mankind (Adam). It’s only reasonable, therefore, that our focus should be kept on the female protagonists in this drama and how it unfolds in the restoration of mankind through the moral contribution of  the woman who  God  promises will undo what the serpent started by tempting Eve. The Serpent aimed to ruin all that was good in God’s creation by targeting Adam, but it was through his helpmate the Woman that it brought about Adam’s fall from grace. The Serpent did not speak to Adam and tempt him directly, but allied with his wife to entice him and join with her in their rebellion against God.

The Woman must vindicate herself by opposing the serpent, but now this could only be accomplished by the woman who God promised shall conceive and bear the Messiah, so that he could restore what Adam brought about by his sin. The Fall of mankind from God’s grace was accomplished by Adam alone. If he hadn’t succumbed to his wife’s suggestion, only she would have been banished from Eden and barred from the Tree of Life in her spiritual death. Meanwhile, God would have provided another female helpmate for Adam who would bear righteous offspring for her husband in the life of grace, if she proved to be faithful to him in their nuptial covenant by believing him instead of the Serpent in what he told her about God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge.  

The Blessed Virgin Mary stands in opposition to the Serpent in her covenant with God, while her offspring, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is at enmity with the Serpent’s works: fallen mankind and creation, which he has come into the world to restore by regeneration and re-creation.  And this Christ (the second Adam) did accomplish more than sufficiently because of his faithful and obedient helpmate who remained true to God in her covenant with Him. The Woman and her Offspring allied themselves against the Serpent.

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St. Luke does draw a parallel between the Virgin Mary and Daughter Zion in her Canticle of Praise (Lk 1:46-49) by referring to the prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah and the Psalms (Isa.61:10; Zech.9:9; Zeph.3:1415, 20; Ps.102:13; 126:1-3; 147:12-13). It does appear, then, that the Ecclesia in apostolic time acknowledged Mary to be not only the new Eve, but also the anti-type of Daughter Zion because of her Divine  Maternity which she acquired by her salutary obedient act of faith. Her divine motherhood would be redefined at the Cross to include redeemed humanity, but especially all her Son’s disciples, her spiritual offspring (Jn 19:26-27).

So, then, who are the offspring of the serpent? We find the answer summed up in 1 John 3:10-12: ‘By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain who was of the evil one and slew his brother Abel. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous.’ The seed of the serpent, therefore, are people who possess the disposition of the devil. They are consumed by pride, jealousy, and malice towards their neighbour and loathe what is righteous. And not unlike their progenitor, they hate God and all his righteous children even to the point of persecuting and putting them to death because they bear witness to the truth against them.

In the apostolic age, Pope St. Clement l (A.D. 98) exhorts the faithful not to conduct themselves in the manner of the serpent’s offspring: “Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. ‘For God,’ saith [the Scripture], ‘resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.’ Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words” (Epistle to the Corinthians, 30).

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Of all human creatures, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the most perfect “portion of the Holy One” clothed with “concord and humility”, graced with temperance and charity, and pure in heart. Rather than being proud, boastful, and judgemental, she was meek and poor in spirit. She “stood far off” from the prince and spirit of this world. The angel Gabriel came to  Mary since she had “found grace with God” (Lk 1:30). The Annunciation wouldn’t have happened if she had possessed the disposition of the serpent and heeded its  words as  Adam’s wife and helpmate had instead. Mary had to have no affinity whatsoever with the Dragon and be completely unlike its offspring  if she were to crush its head in collaboration with God for the world’s salvation.

The virgin spouse of the Holy Spirit was “a garden enclosed” and “a fountain sealed” (Songs 4:12). Not unlike the virgin bride of Christ, which is the Church, pure and unblemished in her faith, the Virgin Mary stood on a rock beyond the Devil’s reach. The serpent could never slither into the garden of her soul, which proclaimed God’s glory and through which the Messiah shone forth as the light of the world in its re-creation. Nor could the gates of Hell prevail against the blessed mother of our Lord.  Meanwhile, it wasn’t the devil whom Jesus and the prophets before  him  were  at  enmity  with,  at least not directly, but rather the serpent’s offspring – that “brood of vipers” who acted as its advocates (Mt 23:29-33).

“For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it unto me according to thy word.’ And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.”
St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 100
(155 A.D.)

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And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
Micah 4, 8

3183c-coatofarmsofpopepiusix-romancatholicchurchinengland-petercrawford

“These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind — words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed”[13] — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”

Pope Piux lX (Apostolic Constitution)
Ineffabilis Deus

[8 December 1854]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Hail, Full of Grace!

One is my dove, my perfect one is but one, she is the only one of her mother, the chosen of her that bore her…Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?
Song of Solomon 6, 9-1
 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43, 1

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
Luke 1, 28

κα εσελθν γγελος πρς ατν επεν Χαρε κεχαριτωμένη κύριος μετ σο ελογημένη σ ν γυναιξίν

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The  female  vocative kecharitomene (κεχαριτωμένη), literally “highly favoured by grace”, can be paraphrased as “enduringly endowed with grace”. It is because Mary was to be the mother of our Lord, that the perfect past participle does “show a completeness with a permanent result” and denotes “continuance of a completed action”. Moreover, since the expression kecharitomene is in the vocative case, the angel is addressing Mary by identifying her as the embodiment of all that this expression denotes. When Gabriel greets her, he doesn’t call Mary by her given name, but by the complete fullness and endurance of her state of holiness.

Here we have the morphological aspectual (not tense marked) stem of kecharitomene: ke. This is the perfect stem of the root verb charitoo (χαριτόω) which may denote a perpetuation of a completed past action (mene). The root verb is derived from charis (χάρις) which means “grace” or “favour”. The completed past action itself, therefore, is “having been highly favoured and made acceptable by grace”, “lovely or agreeable.”

The perfect stem is distinguished from the aorist stem which we have in Ephesians 1:6, for example, escharitosen (ἐχαρίτωσεν): “He graced” or “has freely bestowed grace”. In this active indicative form, the aorist stem describes a completed action which has come to pass and is finished. It is temporal in aspect and a momentary result. The aorist stem does not signify a permanent state of grace. The perfect aspect, on the other hand, exclusively denotes a state which prevails after an event has taken place and which is caused by this event.

Catholics believe this past occurrence to  be  Mary’s Immaculate Conception – the first instant when God fashioned and sanctified Mary’s soul and redeemed her in the most perfect way, in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, because of her election to the Divine Maternity. By His gracious act, God redeemed Mary in the most perfect way by preserving her free from the stain of original sin and all personal sins so that she would be the most acceptable and loveliest mother of the Divine Word in his humanity. For no other reason did God favour Mary with this singular grace.

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“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?”
St. Ephraem of Syria, Nisibene Hymns 27:8
(A.D. 361)

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The perfect may denote an action as already finished, but it may also express the continuance of the result down to the present time. Our Lord’s expression “It is written” (gegrapti/Γέγραπται) is literally “It has been written.” And what has been written remains in force beyond the present time, that being “Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word coming from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). The perfect may implicitly include the future conceptually in its aspectual form. Ephesians 1:6 refers to our predestination to grace as opposed to glory. The active indicative aorist which modifies the root verb and is temporal in aspect indicates that not everyone perseveres in grace beyond the present time. Hence, escharitosen does not imply a permanent state of sanctifying grace for all believers. There is no such thing as “Once-saved-always-saved” in a distributive sense.

In Catholic theology, the endowment of sanctifying grace co-relates with our actions and co-operation with God’s actual graces. For this reason, St. Paul exhorts us “not to receive God’s grace in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1), for the soul is justified by sanctifying grace. Sanctification is the formal cause of justification. The soul is deprived of sanctifying grace by the commission of a mortal sin resulting in spiritual death (1 Jn. 5:16-17). So, the grace God had freely given to Mary endured beyond the present. God’s bestowal of grace on Mary was the permanent result of her being chosen to be the Mother of God (Isa. 7:14; Lk. 1:35, 43) which presupposes that she could never have committed any personal sins and thus forfeited her being in the state of sanctifying grace at any time in her life.

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“The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made.”
St.  Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 140
(A.D. 449)

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Here are a couple of scriptural comparisons between the perfect and aorist aspects of verbs to better distinguish them.

By grace you have been saved.”
– Ephesians 2:5

Christ’s formal redemption of the world continues. The grace of justification and forgiveness which our Lord has merited for humanity is the permanent result of his passion and death on the cross. God has reconciled the world to Himself through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Rom 5:10-11).

“After that you believed (Aorist), you were sealed (aor.) with the Holy Spirit.
– Ephesians 1, 13

The believing and sealing are definite and complete acts confined to the present moment. Some of the Ephesians who believed, however, may eventually have lost their faith and fallen from grace. St. Paul is referring to their predestination to grace rather than glory.

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We have in the Catholic Douay Rheims Bible: ‘And Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people’ (Acts 6:8). Most Protestant Bibles also have “full of grace” (pleres charitos) except three versions which read “full of faith” (pleres pistin). The King James Bible is included: ‘And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.’ (See Acts 6:5.) It is important for us to note here that most Bible versions, including Catholic Bibles, do have “full of grace”, but not in the sense in which Mary is being described. What Luke means to say is that Stephen was granted the actual graces of faith and fortitude for the performance of his salutary acts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, these actual graces do sanctify the person, but are present with the performance of the acts themselves and disappear with the end of the performance. Stephen was abounding in (“full of”/πλήρης) faith and fortitude while he was debating with the religious elders in the synagogue and performing great signs and wonders. If we look at the past tense verb ἐποίει (“was performing”) in Acts, we can place the noun χάριτος (grace) within a restricted time reference. The verb tense is imperfect past progressive, so it indicates that the action – performing great signs and wonders – is completed in the past and left there. Actual grace (faith or fortitude) aids the soul to remain habitually in the state of sanctifying grace, which itself is the quality of the soul sharing in the divine life. Stephen partook of the divine life in his apostolic zeal while evangelising in the Temple.

Whether Stephen remained  faithful and  resilient after this event is of no concern. The Evangelist isn’t concerned with the time before and after the event during which time Stephen was filled with a sufficient supply of actual graces that rendered him completely faithful and strong in his present task. But this is not so regarding Mary. Her maternal vocation extended throughout her entire  existence from the time she was conceived, since she had  been predestined to be the mother of the Lord. Stephen, on the other hand, wasn’t chosen by God to evangelise his entire life. Moreover, the grace that Mary is endowed with relates to the holy state and quality of her soul, not an apostolic action of hers at any present time. The grace that the angel is referring to is the habitual grace of sanctification or justification itself  which is distinguished from actual grace, though the latter does effect sanctification.

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“A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns.”
St. Theodotus of Ancyra, Homily VI:11
(ante A.D. 446)

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As we have seen in Luke 1:28, at any rate, the original Greek text does not read pleres charitos, but kecharitomene, which is a perfect passive participle and singular female vocative. A participle is a verb that is used to describe a subject. The perfect tense describes an action (God’s bestowal of grace) in the present with a completed result. And since this term is used as a title, the evangelist does not intend to describe Mary’s state within the restricted time frame of the present moment. He presents the angel as saying: “Hail, “completely, perfectly, and permanently endowed with sanctifying or justifying grace.” Someone completely endowed with grace is obviously “full of grace”, albeit the verbal difference. But Mary’s complete and perfect endowment of grace is a completed past action with a lasting effect which identifies her person. Mary embodies in her interior life what it requires to be the mother of God incarnate: completely sinless, grace being the antidote to sin.

When the angel Gabriel addresses Mary with the title Kecharitomene, he is not simply describing her state at a given instance of time in concurrence with any actions of hers, as Stephen is described to be in his state of grace. Nor does the angel mean any of the actual graces such as faith and fortitude, which help to sanctify the soul. The grace the angel has in mind with respect to our Blessed Lady is that of sanctification itself, which justifies her before God, making her most worthy to be the mother of the Son. The Greek singular female vocative can be paraphrased in Latin as “full of grace” (gratia plena), since Mary has been endowed with a fullness of sanctifying grace which renders her completely holy and fit to answer her divine call. Not the slightest taint of sin has ever tarnished her soul.

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For Mary to conceive and bear the Son of God as a mother worthiest of him, the spiritual gifts of faith and fortitude, however plentiful and well-supplied these were in her soul, would not have been enough for her to meet her divine call. Mary had to be perpetually holy in every virtuous aspect – from the moment she was conceived to the time of her Dormition – to be the most fitting Mother of the Divine Son. Her Divine Maternity was lifelong, which demanded complete justice and  holiness in soul and in body throughout her earthly existence (Isa. 61:10; Lk. 1:46-49).

For Mary to conceive and bear the Son of God as a mother worthiest of him, the spiritual gifts of faith and fortitude, however plentiful and well-supplied these were in her soul, would not have been enough for her to meet her divine call. Mary had to be perpetually holy in every virtuous aspect – from the moment she was conceived to the time of her Dormition – to be the most fitting Mother of the Divine Son. Her Divine Maternity was lifelong, which demanded complete justice and  holiness in soul and in body throughout her earthly existence (Isa. 61:10; Lk. 1:46-49).

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“Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.”
St. Ambrose, Sermon 22:30
(A.D. 388)

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The Greek word for grace in Ephesians 2:5, which we saw above, is charis, from which the root verb charitoo in the expression kecharitomene is derived. With respect to Mary, therefore, the grace she is endowed with is indeed the grace of sanctification or justification. God kindly bestowed this grace on our Blessed Lady when He sanctified her soul at the first instant of her conception in view of the foreseen merits of Christ. The perfect stem of the root verb charitooke- indicates that her redemption is not only complete, but permanent, whose effect continues in the present at the time of the Annunciation and extends with her Divine Maternity, which itself is ever-lasting.

Mankind’s redemption was formally completed by Christ through his passion and death, but one’s personal salvation is still not guaranteed. The sanctifying or justifying grace that we have received through the Sacrament of Baptism is momentary, although habitual. Unlike the rest of us who have been baptized, but occasionally fall from God’s grace by the commission of a mortal sin, Mary’s salvation was assured, for she never committed any mortal or even venial sins, having been elected to be the mother of our Lord and Savior.

And so, Luke has Mary declare in the figure of Daughter Zion, who has been restored to grace with God in her mother’s womb: “My soul glorifies the Lord, And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his handmaid” (Lk. 1:46-48). Mary’s form of redemption was most perfect when God fashioned her soul upon conception, for He preserved her from contracting original sin and thus falling short of His glory (Rom. 3:23). The words of the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-15) find their secondary signification in Mary’s exemption from all stain of sin, which she was subject to inherit along with mankind until God mercifully intervened by His grace:

Sing aloud, O Daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has cast out your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear evil no more.

The Greek appellation kecharitomene implies, that by the foreseen merits of Christ, God removed His judgment on mankind from Mary when He preserved her free from the stain of original sin. Suffering and death were no longer penalties exacted upon her because of her exemption from sin. Suffering and death entered the world on condition that all have sinned being descendants of Adam (Rom. 5:12). So, Mary had no cause to fear these evils, since she was preserved free from all the moral ill-effects of original sin and remained personally sinless throughout her life by the efficacy of all God’s actual graces. Mary had been liberated from being associated in mankind’s collective guilt by her Immaculate Conception (Gen. 3:15).

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“She is born like the cherubim, she who is of a pure, immaculate clay.”
St. Theoteknos of Livias P
anegyric for the Assumption, 5:6
(A.D. 650)

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Hence, the basic thought of the Greek perfect tense is that the progress of an action has been completed and the results of the action are continuing in full effect. The progress of the action has reached its culmination and the finished results are now in existence. Unlike the English perfect tense which is used to express actions that began in the past and continue in the present, the Greek perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action. For instance, Galatians 2:20 should be translated “I am in a present state of having been crucified with Christ,” indicating that not only was Paul crucified with Christ in the past, but he is existing now in that present condition. The apostle continues: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The Greek perfect tense has to do with the person’s present condition or state that has resulted in the past.

And so , Luke is telling us that the grace Mary was endowed with in the past  was the state of grace she continued to exist in at the Annunciation. Theologically, we may assume that  Mary remained in this state of grace after the angel departed, since he left as soon as Mary consented to be the mother of the Lord, for which reason God highly favoured her with His grace (Lk. 1:38). Nor was Mary endowed with this singular grace upon  conceiving Christ.  In Luke 1:30, the angel says: “Fear not Mary, for you have found favour (grace) with God.” Mary’s permanent state of grace was the result of a completed past action prior to the Annunciation, which reasonably  would have occurred at the instant  God created her soul and predestined her to glory because of her election to the Divine Maternity. God commissioned the angel to call the Blessed Virgin Mary by the name Kecharitomene upon greeting her because of her singular and most perfect form of redemption (Isa. 43:1).

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“Today humanity, in all the radiance of her immaculate nobility, receives its ancient beauty. The shame of sin had darkened the splendour and attraction of human nature; but when the Mother of the Fair One par excellence is born, this nature regains in her person its ancient privileges and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God…. The reform of our nature begins today and the aged world, subjected to a wholly divine transformation, receives the first fruits of the second creation.”
St. Andrew of Crete, Sermon I, Birth of Mary
(A.D. 733)

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In his Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854, Pope Pius lX cites the Divine Maternity as the “Supreme reason for the privilege” of the Immaculate Conception. We should keep in mind that when God predestined Mary to be the mother of Christ our Lord (Lk 1:43), He knew that she would pronounce her Fiat that first instant He fashioned and sanctified her soul. The perfect tense itself does not function to indicate that this state of grace will necessarily continue to exist after the present time. Paul continues to be in the state of being crucified with Christ on condition that Christ lives in him, and as long as he lives his life “by faith in the Son of God,” just as Mary continues to be in the state of sanctifying grace and justified before God provided she is the mother of our Divine Lord. God clothed the Mother of the Son with “garments of salvation” and arrayed her in a “robe of righteousness” so that she would be worthiest of being the Mother of God (Isa. 61:10).

We should keep in mind that the expression kecharitomene is in the vocative case. Kecharitomene is the name the angel gives Mary when he first greets her. The name defines who she is in her standing before God as our Lord’s mother. So, the state of grace Mary continues to exist in at the time of the Annunciation can be of an enduring and permanent quality. In Scripture, the names God gives his servants (Abram-Abraham, Sarai-Sarah, Jacob-Israel, Simon-Peter, Saul-Paul) refer to their defining characteristics as God’s servants. The name Sarah (“exalted princess” in ancient Hebrew), for example, points to her status of being the Matriarch of the Covenant, who prefigures the Davidic Queen Mother (Gebirah) and ultimately the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven.

The name Kecharitomene points to something essential about Mary’s position with God. She isn’t simply described as being full of grace, but is called “full of grace”; she embodies in her person what it means to be completely, perfectly and perpetually endowed with sanctifying or justifying grace. The names God gives His servants are permanent and originate from all eternity in accord with His design. Grammatically and linguistically, therefore, we must keep both the verb tense and the form of case in mind to fully understand what God is revealing to us by the designation Kecharitomene. The perfect tense is being used here in an extraordinary way that never is for any person in the Scriptures, save the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God (Isa 7:14).

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The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.
Revelation 12, 14

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The Lord Is With Thee

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
Luke 1, 28

And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.
Luke 2, 34-35

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In Catholic theology, merit is that property of a good work which entitles the doer to receive a reward from God for having done His will in cooperation with His grace. This is something God has ordained in His mercy; and since God is just, He won’t withhold a reward which may include an increase in faith and charity needed for our sanctification and justification. “The grace of the Holy Spirit can confer true merit on us, by our adoptive filiation, and in accordance with God’s gratuitous justice. Charity is the principal source of merit in us before God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2026). “Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life” (CCC, 2027).

Justification includes not only the remission of sins and sanctification, but also the renewal of the person. Hence, by the fact that our good works in faith and charity originate from Divine grace, we can merit actual graces either for ourselves (condign merit) or others (congruous merit) by our prayers and acts of self-denial for the salvation of souls. When Mary gave her consent to be the mother of the divine Messiah, she didn’t simply seek the gift of the Divine Maternity for herself, which would have been selfish of her, but rather sought the fruit that should increase to humanity’s credit by the personal sacrifices she might have to make for the sake of mankind’s redemption (Phil 4:17).

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Theologically, condign merit designates the kind of goodness that is bestowed on a person because of their actions done in grace. It assumes an equity between service and return (commutative justice). It is reward for having accomplished good works in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, but is still a reward that the doer deserves for having freely consented to act in faith. If the reward due to condign merit is withheld, then there is injustice, for God has willed to obligate Himself to those who love Him (Deut.5:33; Prov.3:3-4; Amos 5:14; Mt.25:21; Lk.6:33,38; Rom.2:6 13:11; 1 Cor.2:9; 15:58; Col.3:23:34; Gal.6:9; Phil.3:14; Heb.11:6; Jas.1:12; 1 Pet.5:6). Condign merit contrasts with strict merit, which must do with some goodness that is owed by legal agreement or the equity of justice.

It is in the strict sense of justice that Christ has merited for us the initial grace of justification and forgiveness which we initially receive when baptised (Eph 2:8-9). Only he could restore the equity of justice between God and ‘mankind’ because of his divine nature and being one with the Father in substance and essence (Jn 10:30). The most Mary could merit for herself (condign merit) and humanity (congruous merit), by freely cooperating with divine grace and doing good works under its influence, was a promised reward, viz., God’s gift of salvation. Now in heaven, where our Blessed Mother prayerfully intercedes for us, our rewards may include subsequent actual graces (i.e., faith, hope, and charity, etc.) needed for our growth in sanctification and justification (2 Cor.3:18; 4:16; 10:15; Col.3:10; Phil.2:13).

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It is important that we distinguish between the nature and extent of Jesus’ and Mary’s merits, which in the context of grace is properly called supernatural merit. First, there is a third kind of merit which belongs exclusively to our Lord and Saviour. This highest kind which is perfect and most worthy of a reward is called perfect condign merit: the act of charity of the Divine Person made man. Jesus’ act of love is at least equal in value to the reward, since it is the act of a Divine person. And even though Jesus did not merit the reward for himself, but for mankind, he could still condignly merit it in strict justice, since in his humanity he acted charitably as the new Head (Adam) of mankind in the fullness of grace which he possessed by divine nature (Jn 1:14), that we all might receive his grace through his merits as he was given it in his humanity.

On the other hand, the human merit which applies to Mary with respect to her acts of charity and grace is congruous merit. She could perform her acts of love in a manner worthy of a supernatural reward for others. But this is not in the sense that it was proportionate to the reward, since her meritorious acts proceeded from the fullness of habitual grace with which she was completely and perfectly endowed by Divine favour and not from any natural merit of hers. (Lk 1:28;1 Pet 2:5, etc).

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This lower kind of merit assigned to human creatures is founded on charity and friendship with God rather than on strict justice. What this implies is that Jesus chose to come into the world more for his righteous mother’s sake than for sinful mankind’s (the principle of predilection) when she meritoriously offered up her body as a living sacrifice by consenting to be the mother of our Divine Lord (Rom 12:1). Mary merited for us, by right of friendship with God, all that Jesus merited for us in strict justice. Though Mary could not merit anything for us de condigno, since she was not constituted head of humanity, she nonetheless could cooperate in our salvation by her congruous merits in God’s grace. None of us can merit condignly except for our own rewards.

Yet, Mary’s meritorious act of faith in charity and grace conferred a right to a supernatural reward for mankind, even though she didn’t herself produce it. Christ’s perfect merits, by his substantial grace of union with the Father, have produced our temporal rewards of grace and our eternal reward of salvation. Still, by Mary’s Fiat, what her Divine Son has gained for humanity is now something we can all hope for and receive provided we persevere in faith just as our Blessed Lady did (2 Jn 1:8-9, etc.). Mary heard the word of God and kept it (Lk 11:28). And so, she had cause to proclaim: “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour!” (Luke 1:47).

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Jesus teaches us in the Parable of the Talents that the amount of grace we have received, no matter how bountiful, is worthless like dead money unless we invest ourselves by spreading this grace to others through self-sacrifice. Our eternal rewards are commensurate with the amount of labour we put in for the conversion of sinners. Christians who bury their talents in safe keeping out of servile fear of infringing upon the prerogatives of their Master are like the presumptuous servant who buried the one talent he received and was admonished for his retention (Matt 25:14-30). Paul rued that none of the other “fellow-workers with God” in the field could match Timothy’s zeal for saving souls. ‘ For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 2:21).

The passive servant in our Lord’s parable, therefore, presumed that he was looking after his master’s interest by keeping his money safely buried, and all the while feared he had no right to use what originally didn’t belong to him. But, on the contrary, he would have better served his master’s interest if he had invested his single talent instead, so that it should increase to his merit. Certainly, it isn’t enough for Christians only to conform their minds to Christ’s way of thinking and to no longer live for the flesh and for the sinful passions, but for the will of God. What is also required of Christ’s disciples is that they use the graces they have received to serve others as good stewards of God’s grace (1 Pet 4:1-7).

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The initial grace of justification and forgiveness, which Christ alone has merited for us as the God-man, marks the beginning of our journey in faith towards life ever-lasting (Eph 2:8-10). This has all been prepared for us by God in the beginning (Gen 3:15). Mary is the sign of humanity’s restoration to the life of grace because of her charitable act of faith (Isa 7:14). By her Fiat, our salvation is nearer than it was. Following our Blessed Lady’s example, she who precedes us in the order of grace, we mustn’t slumber, now that we do believe (Rom 13:11). Saving faith is an active faith. Our salvation is something that we must “work out in fear and trembling” because of our deficiencies of love for God and neighbour. Mary opened her heart to God, and for that she had found grace with Him (Lk 1:30) and helped gain the grace her Son had produced for all human souls by his life and death on the cross as his “fellow-worker” (1 Cor 3:9). The Incarnation wouldn’t have happened by default if Mary had been deficient in love of God and humanity. Nor could she have endured the road to Calvary together with her Son without the fire of the Holy Spirit’s love kindled in her heart.

Divine grace is a supernatural asset which we are expected to invest by collaborating with the Holy Spirit in the life of charity and grace for our increase in sanctification or justification. Grace is added to grace, as St. Paul puts it, by our bearing fruit (merit) through faith in God’s grace. The holding of our spiritual gifts of grace, beginning with faith working through love, is a co-operative enterprise between God and us. We must invest our share in what our Lord has contributed for our salvation in his humanity by his just merits, if we hope to reap the eternal benefits which he alone has produced for us. It isn’t enough for us to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior while passively doing nothing and leaving all the labor up to him as we sit idly by, if we hope to be saved. This being the case, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary in the month of Nisan (Lk 1:27).

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Mary helped gain countless souls for her Lord by the singular gift that he had graced her with, viz., the Divine Maternity. By pronouncing her Fiat in charity and grace, she brought the living Font of all grace into the world for the salvation of souls as her Son’s chief  steward  of  grace. And this entailed that she should sacrifice herself for the sake of God’s goodness and love and for poor sinners so that they might be reconciled to God. In the order of grace, Mary led the way for all Christ’s disciples to gain souls for him. And she did so by taking up her cross after her Son and carrying it with him in spirit along the Via Dolorosa.

Our Lord’s handmaid didn’t presume to look after only her own interest, the blessed and joyous state of being the mother of the Lord and the moral responsibility of raising her divine Son. Rather, our Blessed Lady understood very well that, by her decision, she was called to collaborate with God in His redemptive work; she would have to make many great personal sacrifices in union with her Son for the welfare of human souls.

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Mary knew that her faith wasn’t something that she was expected to put into safe keeping for the benefit of her soul alone, but that God required her to spread the faith she had to others even at the cost of having to endure many trials in the spirit of the Christian martyrs who followed her (Rev 7:14). The Divine Maternity wasn’t the eternal reward that Mary sought, but rather eternal life with God. She believed that this reward could be obtained only by suffering and dying to self for the sake of spreading God’s word and helping to make His truth known to everyone, including the Gentiles.

In the depths of her soul, Mary perceived what her divine Son would bring to light with the establishment of his heavenly kingdom: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken way” (Matt 25:29). Mary couldn’t condignly merit her maternal blessing or eternal life if she buried the talent she received in and through the merits of her divine Son by refusing to make sacrifices to God her spiritual worship and suffer for the sins of the world and the conversion of sinners.

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When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” she was perplexed by the meaning of the angel’s greeting, for she intuited that God must have sent His messenger to ask something very demanding of her for a divine purpose of tremendous proportion, especially to an adolescent girl. After all, Mary must have been familiar with the Jewish traditions of God appearing to the patriarchs, judges, and prophets and calling them to engage in daunting tasks.

When God appeared to Jacob and ratified the covenant He had initially made with Abraham and now entrusted to his grandson, he said: “ I AM WITH YOU and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28:15). Likewise, when God called Moses from the burning bush to lead His people from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, He said: “I WILL BE WITH YOU. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Ex 3:12). Taking Moses’ place, Joshua was called by God to lead the Israelites into battle as to possess the land God promised them with these words: “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I WILL BE WITH YOU; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh 1:5).

Further, when God placed David, a humble shepherd boy, on the throne as head of His everlasting kingdom in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, reminding David of His faithfulness to him, He said: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel; and I HAVE BEEN WITH YOU wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth…When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam 7:9,12). And, finally, when God called Jeremiah to be a prophet for the nations, He said: “Do not be afraid of them, for I AM WITH YOU and will rescue you” (Jer 1:8).

Thus, the words “the Lord is with you” must have signalled to Mary that God was calling her to a great mission which could be as difficult and demanding as it was for the Hebrew heroes who went before her. Sensing her uneasiness, the angel Gabriel assured her not to fear, for  she “had found grace with God” (Lk 1:30). The good news Mary received from the angel dispelled all her uneasiness (vv.31-33), but what she feared in her humility was whether she might not be up to the task. It wasn’t that she dreaded what she might have to suffer or she didn’t trust God. So, when she pronounced her Fiat joyfully, she did so affirming that God would be her “refuge” and “fortress” in whom she could “trust” (Ps 9:12), for God alone was her “help” and her “salvation”, in whom she had nothing to fear (Lk 1:46-49; Ps 27:1). In God alone was her soul at rest.

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Indeed, Mary was conversant with the bloody history of her people, and so, as she pondered on the words of the angel, the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem under the authority of Sennacherib could easily have come to mind in the words of the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps 46:10). On this historic occasion, God is commanding the Israelites to quietly wait upon Him without fear or diffidence. There is no reason for the Jews to tremble before the invaders, for their vain idols are no match for YHWH who shall exalt over the heathen and their false gods.

In the Psalm’s primary context, the command to “be still” is a call for warriors to stop fighting. The word still is translated from the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that those who were fighting can acknowledge their trust in God.

In the Psalm’s primary context, the command to “be still” is a call for warriors to stop fighting. The word still is translated from the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that those who were fighting can acknowledge their trust in God.

Hence, Mary’s soul was at peace when the angel called her to engage with God in His work of salvation. God sent His messenger to Mary because He had an impact on her stillness. In her spiritual state, she saw that God was the only one she could trust: omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. God would certainly exalt Himself over His enemies which were hers as well. All Mary could do, in the meantime, was surrender herself to God and trust in His plan, whatever trials and hardships she might have to endure together with her divine Son. Her greatest enemy must never be herself by losing her trust in God and relying on her own strength and natural resources. If she faithfully co-operated with God like her ancestors before her did, all should work out for the greater good. We can be sure that our Blessed Lady implicitly expressed these thoughts of hers in her Magnificat (Lk 1:50-55).

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A faithful saying:
for if we be dead with him, we shall live also with him.
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.
2 Timothy 2, 11-12

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Since Pentecost, the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Christ alone redeemed the world by suffering and dying for its sins. It was he who liberated us “from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). In other words, to satisfy His justice, God willed that Jesus be made an object of His wrath by laying “the iniquity of us all” on him (Isa 53:6). Unless Jesus was “smitten by God and inflicted” for its transgressions, mankind couldn’t be reconciled to Him and delivered from the stain of original sin, the deprivation of the original justice and sanctity which Adam had forfeited for all his descendants. Nor could our own personal sins be forgiven and our common guilt be removed unless Christ was “bruised for our offenses” (Isa 53:5).

Still, Jesus wasn’t punished for our sins, or else our personal sins would now be non-sequitur. But our Lord and Saviour did take the punishment we all deserve upon himself to propitiate the Father for our offenses against Him. This required that he suffer and die unjustly so that he could restore the equity of justice between God and man. And by doing so, he merited all the graces we need for our regeneration, as to be sanctified and reckoned as personally just before God in his likeness (2 Cor 5:21).

About two millennia later, we see that our Lord desired to work together with his blessed mother so that “everyone might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1-4). The apostle Paul writes: ‘We then, as workers “together with” (sunergountos) him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain’ (2 Cor 6:1). And the apostle adds: ‘God “works for good with” (sunergei eis agathon) those who love Him’ (Rom 8:28). God desired to work for the good of all mankind with a young maiden by the name of Mary when he sent the angel Gabriel to her with His kind proposal. And God prepared the mother of our Lord with a complete and perfect endowment of His grace so that she would be completely faithful and up to the task (Lk 1:28). 

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God’s messenger greeted “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [her] to do” (Eph 2:10). This was all made possible in anticipation of her Son who, through his suffering and death, merited the grace of justification and forgiveness for her by no preceding natural merit of her own outside the system of grace (Eph 2:8-9). And since no soul can ever hope to enter Heaven without having to suffer and die to self, Mary’s Fiat carried with it all the suffering and personal sorrow she would have to endure by her moral participation in the Incarnation in satisfaction to God for the sins of the world.

However, Our Blessed Lady didn’t receive the grace that was bestowed upon her in vain, but invested it in the salvation of souls which required that she suffer in union with her Son’s suffering and anguish of soul for the ungratefulness of sinners. Mary’s first trial of faith came so soon after Jesus was born, when she and her infant Son were forced to flee into Egypt because of King Herod’s decree (Mt 2:13-23). The shadow of the Cross assimilated Mary in Bethlehem where her pilgrimage of faith enshrouded in obscurity began.

Mary’s association with her Son required that she too suffer and die to her maternal self.  For the redemption to be completed, Mary had to willingly endure all the sorrow which only a loving mother could for her offspring. And to make temporal satisfaction to God for the sins of the world, her love was the only means by which God’s justice could be fully appeased. Our Blessed Lady was called through the angel to make up for what was lacking in her Son’s afflictions in her own afflictions (Col 1:24).

Jesus would make both temporal and eternal satisfaction to the Father for mankind’s sins, but not without the temporal satisfaction his mother must make to repair man’s broken relationship with God. Mary satisfied God, for she suffered in filial love of God who was offended by sin, with a motherly love for her Son who suffered and died because of sin, and with the love our heavenly Father has for all humanity which was ravaged by sin ever since the fall of Adam and Eve.

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The truth is, by gladly accepting our suffering in steadfast love of God in acknowledgement of our sins, our pain or loss becomes a fragrant offering to God and thereby a means of temporal satisfaction to Him for our sins. In fact, through suffering and dying to self, we may repair our broken relationship with God. He wills us to endure temporal punishments for our sins because His absolute justice and holiness demands it. “God rules the world in justice, and he judges the people with equity” (Ps 9:8). Human suffering is a temporal consequence of original sin.

However, in and through Christ’s merits, our suffering has redemptive value provided we offer it to God in union with our Lord and Saviour for our sins with humble and contrite hearts over and against our natural desires which often result in the commission of sins. Mary helped make temporal reparation for the sins of the world possible by leading the way in the order of grace. The Lord was with his blessed mother when the angel greeted her because she was already willing to endure any cross God might present her with as a sin offering for others.

It was by means of suffering “that man should not perish, but have eternal life.” By Christ’s death on the cross, spiritual death has been conquered and the second death is no longer an irrevocable prospect facing mankind. Suffering and death are in themselves evil in character, but our Lord and Saviour has made them a basis of something good. Suffering involves pain and loss because of sin, but when offered to God in union with Christ’s suffering and death, it can serve to reconcile us to God.

Whenever we suffer or face death, we can give back to God that which we denied Him, viz., our love for the sake of His love and goodness. Those who have truly acknowledged their guilt before God and are contrite in spirit, accept their suffering and death to this world which temporally appease the Divine justice and renders the eternal satisfaction Christ has made for them personally applicable (Dan 12:10; Sirach 2:5; Zach 13:8-9; 1 Cor 3:15-17; Jude 1:23, etc.).

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Sin and death no longer have absolute power over us because of Christ’s work on the cross, and so we must now take up our own cross together with him if we hope to be saved (Matt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23). The faith that we must have to be saved is a repentant faith that involves doing penance by willingly making personal sacrifices and suffering for God because of our sins and those of others. We owe God so much for our offenses against His love and goodness. Jesus did not suffer and die for us so that we should no longer owe God what He rightly deserves from us and receives by our acts of self-denial – our “spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1-2). Mary’s painful walk along the Via Dolorosa to the top of Calvary was her greatest act of worship to God. By having to sorrowfully watch her beloved Son suffer and die a cruel and shameful death, she offered up the greatest sacrifice to God any mother could have. Her Son’s suffering and death proved to be the heaviest cross she would ever have to carry so that everyone might be saved.

Mary’s painful walk along the Via Dolorosa to the top of Calvary was her greatest act of worship to God. She was chosen to be the mother of our Lord so that a sword should pierce her soul to temporally appease the Divine justice and open the gates for the formal application of her Son’s work of salvation. What Mary’s Son victoriously achieved by his passion and death was instrumentally applied to his most Blessed Mother because of her faith working through love which required suffering and dying to self. We must emulate Mary, if we hope to be saved, since she emulated her Son and shared in his paschal sacrifice of himself for the expiation of sin. Our Lady of Sorrows suffered and died with him on Calvary that we, too, might be saved through the many trials we may face in our lives.

The women and the beloved Disciple who were with her also suffered much anguish because of their love for Jesus, but with a love that paled in comparison with the perfect and unconditional love of a mother for her offspring. Our Blessed Mother had offered a sweet oblation that completely satisfied God and appeased Him for the sins that grieved Him: the fruit of her womb. Thus, the temporal satisfaction she made for the remission of mankind’s debt of sin was unsurpassed. In the order of grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary is our Mother of Mercy. And because of her impeccable perseverance in faith and moral courage in collaboration with God in His saving work, she is rightly the Queen of Apostles.

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St. Paul teaches us that we all have an active share in the work of redemption through suffering (subjective redemption). His teachings, together with those of St. Peter, provided hope and fortitude for the early Christians who were barbarously persecuted by the Romans. The apostle assured his listeners that what they might suffer because of Christ’s name was all for a greater good. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor 1:5). The “comfort” he is referring to is the share in Christ’s glory which can only be attained through suffering as our Lord suffered for the sake of God’s goodness and love in a humble spirit of self-sacrifice (objective redemption) – that is for the remission of the temporal debt of sin in union with our Lord’s eternal expiation.

Just as the apostle bore his tribulations in and through Christ together with all the faithful who had to suffer from persecutions for their “praise, honour, and glory”, so too was Mary called to endure the sorrow she had to face at the foot of the Cross to complete what only her Son could have gained for the world all alone if he so chose. Her participation in her Son’s suffering was a spiritual service to mankind no less than the persecutions the apostles had to suffer in Christ’s name and for the sake of his gospel were. Yet our Blessed Lady’s collaboration with her Son was of immeasurably greater import, for it belonged to the hypo-static order of Christ’s incarnation. Her spiritual work of mercy extended beyond ecclesial communities and embraced all humanity.

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God ordained that the world’s redemption should require that she stand before the Cross and take it up herself by having to suffer interior anguish because of her love of God and hatred of sin. Temporally, she restored the equity of justice between God and mankind by collaborating with God in her sorrow in union with her Son’s eternal expiation of sin. Mary’s sacrifice for sin in praise and thanksgiving was made on humanity’s behalf by restoring moral equilibrium between God and man. Her sacrifice was made in humbleness of heart and in a broken spirit of humanity.

Our sorrowful Lady completed an act of contrition on behalf of us all while valiantly standing erect against the powers of darkness on Golgotha. Our Blessed Lady is the Queen of Virgins whose lamp never dimmed and became extinguished (Mt 25:1-13). The sanctifying light of faith that radiated her soul strengthened her to overcome and defeat the dark  spiritual forces that be. And so, Mary’s final perseverance in grace helped deliver humanity from the snares of death and restore it to new life with God.

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The temporal remission of our debt to God because of sin which Mary gained for us beneath the Cross completed the eternal debt paid for us by her divine Son on the Cross. If the atonement for sin that Jesus made for mankind was all that was temporally sufficient, Mary’s suffering couldn’t have had any redemptive value. Her role as a mother and how she felt at the cross would have been strictly natural and moral in character with no supernatural and salvific merit. In that case, our Lord wouldn’t have needed a mother at all to become man. The dust of the earth would have served as a sufficient means for the creation of the new Adam (Gen 2:7).

Yet God willed that he should have a helpmate like the first Adam, only she would be at enmity with the serpent and undo Eve’s transgression by crushing the head of the serpent with her “immaculate foot” (Gen 2:18; 3:15). Mary was chosen to repair all the minor incidents that led to Adam’s catastrophic fall from grace. The super abundance of God’s plan to redeem mankind wouldn’t have been perfect and complete without her moral participation. The Serpent’s head couldn’t have been entirely crushed if his victory over the Woman and Adam’s helpmate had remained in place as something he could gloat over in his pride against God. 

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Mary is the proto-type of the Church, for she was a woman of faith which was tried and proved to be as genuine as gold through suffering. When she stood beneath the Cross in sorrow by having to gaze upon her Son, who was “wounded for our transgressions”, she looked to him and tried to be like him: meek and humble of heart. Only then could our Blessed Mother have the fortitude and moral courage to take up her cross together with Jesus.

By her perseverance in faith, Mary made temporal satisfaction to God for the sins of the world by remitting mankind’s debt of sin in union with the eternal satisfaction her Son had made. Jesus offered himself to the Father for the expiation of sin, but his mother was called to suffer with him to cover its temporal debt on behalf of mankind. God forgave David his mortal sins of murder and adultery, but He still took David’s child from him because of his sins (2 Sam 2:14). This was done to restore an equity of justice between them. David still owed God something in return for having taken something from Him, viz., His sovereign dignity.

Even though Jesus atoned for mankind’s sins more than sufficiently, suffering and death remained. This was because temporally mankind was still indebted to God for all its sins (past-present-future) which required that reparation be made for the remittance of its debts. The purpose of satisfaction is to repair the offense given to God and make Him favourable to us again. An act of reparation can be satisfactory to God only if there is something painful about it.

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In all righteousness and wisdom, God chose a morally courageous woman who would serenely and happily accept all the sorrows that should come her way so that He would be appeased in His justice. The Son should not have to redeem the world all alone with no moral responsibility on man’s part for his sins (sola Christo). And so that this woman should satisfactorily make reparation for the world’s sins temporally together with the Son’s eternal expiation, she had to be a spotless ewe, a woman worthiest to be associated with the holy Lamb of God as his helpmate (Jn 1:29).

The Blessed Virgin Mary was completely dead to this world and wasn’t the least bit anxious over anything we might naturally be obsessed with, such as honours, personal profits, and vain pleasures. Since the time Mary was of moral age and centred her life on the Torah, she was ever-mindful of the things of God and not the things of man. Living her life in a manner pleasing to God was always first and foremost on her mind. The glory of God was always the primary objective of whatever she did (1 Cor 10:31). Thus, since earliest time, Christians have hailed Mary as the new Eve or spiritual “mother of all the living” who comprise redeemed humanity restored to the life of grace and the preternatural gifts of the Holy Spirit (Jn 19:26-27).

“Adam had to be recapitulated in Christ, so that death might be swallowed up in immortality, and Eve in Mary, so that the Virgin, having become another virgin’s advocate, might destroy and abolish one virgin’s disobedience by the obedience of another virgin.”
St. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 33
(AD 190)

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“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes. 

“For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.”
Isaiah 54, 1-3 

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I Know Not Man

A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring dried up, a fountain sealed.
Song of Solomon 4, 12

Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And, therefore, also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Luke 1, 31-35

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And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done,
because I know not man?
Luke 1, 34

If a fortune teller should happen to tell us that we will die of lung cancer from smoking at some indefinite future time, we might ask how this could be possible, since we don’t smoke. We may add that we never smoke, are not smoking now, and have no intention of ever smoking. We could ask the question in these words: “How shall this be, since I don’t smoke?” and add, “How could I possibly die of lung cancer? Is it because I am going to start smoking (be a smoker) after all?” Mariologist Father Rene Laurentine, in his exegesis of Luke 1:34, notes “we must recognize the present tense ‘I do not know’ as having to do with a condition rather than an instant of time. For example, if someone to whom a cigarette is offered replies, ‘I do not smoke,’ he is understood to mean ‘I never smoke’ and ‘I am not smoking  now.'”

At the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary finds herself in a similar situation when the angel Gabriel announces to her that she “will conceive and bear a son.” She is perplexed no less than we would be because she is a virgin (non-smoker) and intends to be one her entire life. Not unlike a non-smoker who is concerned with what is contained inside the crystal ball, Mary anxiously asks the one who is foretelling her future: “How shall this be, since I do not know man?” And since she has no intention of having sexual relations with any man she might marry, she desires to know how it is that she will have a son. Mary must wonder whether she and her betrothed will have conjugal relations after all. In reply, the angel dispels her confusion by telling Mary that the conception and birth of the child will be supernatural; she will be overshadowed by the power of the Most High and, therefore, her Son will be of holy Divine origin.

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The original Greek text reads: andra ou ginosko (ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω) which literally is “man not I know” or in English “I know not man.” The Greek verb ginosko (Present Indicative Active) is in the continuous present which shows a permanent disposition to not know man. So, Mary has a permanent disposition to not know man, just as the man who says, “I don’t smoke” has a permanent disposition not to smoke. The verb “to know” in the Gospel or Scriptures is a Jewish idiom for sexual relations between a man and a woman. So idiomatically, Mary is telling the angel: “I don’t have sexual relations with man.” Now this Jewish idiom for sexual relations is subject to the same rules of grammar as any other verb is. The verb “to know” may be conjugated in the past tense. We read in Genesis 4:1 in the Septuagint: ‘And Adam knew (αὐτοῦ) his wife who conceived and brought forth Cain.’ In other words, ‘Adam had sexual relations with Eve who, as a result, conceived and brought forth Cain.’ Eve conceived Cain because she had sexual intercourse with Adam.

But Mary does not have sexual relations with man, so she wonders how she will conceive Jesus. She tells the angel: “I do not have sexual relations with man.” She never has sexual relations, and she is not having sexual relations now. Mary is no different from the non-smoker. She has a permanent disposition not to have sexual relations with man, just as the non-smoker has a permanent disposition not to smoke. It is Mary’s permanent disposition and will not to have sexual relations with any man, which explains why she asks the angel how or by what manner she could ever possibly conceive and bear the Messiah, seeing she has no sexual relations with man.

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The King James Bible translation is accurate in that the verb “to know” is in the Present Indicative Active, but it is misleading with the insertion of the indefinite article “a” before “man”, which we don’t have in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. The inclusion of this grammatical exponent can create a misunderstanding of God’s written word. The object in Mary’s statement is andra (ἄνδρα) which means “man”, or more precisely the genre of the male sex. What it does not signify is an individual male, who in this case would be Joseph. The KJB discrepancy may expand to modern readings like this one: “I do not have a husband.”

However, we read in Luke 1:27 that Mary was betrothed (espoused) to Joseph at the appointed time. The couple were already legally married, having observed the first part of the marriage ceremony (Kiddushin) which included the signing of a legal marriage contract. They were in fact husband and wife at the time of the Annunciation, which explains why Joseph could divorce Mary as soon as he discovered she was with child (Mt. 1:18-19). Andra can mean “husband” in a general sense (Jn. 4:17), but Mary does not say: “I have no husband,” since she already has an individual one. The object noun andra does not refer to individual men. There is another word for them, which is anthropos (ἄνθρωπός) as in Matthew 8:9.

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St. Augustine explains how it is that Mary should even contemplate asking such a question, seeing that she was betrothed to Joseph at the time the angel appeared to her and obligated to bear children within her religious culture.

“Her virginity also itself was on this account more pleasing and accepted, in that it was not that Christ being conceived in her rescued it beforehand from a husband who would violate it, Himself to preserve it; but, before He was conceived, chose it, already dedicated to God, as that from which to be born. This is shown by the words which Mary spake in answer to the Angel announcing to her conception; ‘How, saith she, shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’ which she assuredly would not say, unless she had before vowed herself unto God as a virgin.”
– Of Holy Virginity

“Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”
– Numbers 30

The vow of a woman to “afflict herself” included abstaining from having sexual relations with her husband and having a family so that she could dedicate her life exclusively to God. Under the Mosaic Law, provisions were specifically made for such vows, although normally discouraged. A vow made by a woman like this one, however rare and frowned upon, was permissible, since the command to propagate did not apply to females. It applied only to men, which explains why there is no similar statute about vows taken by married men. If Joseph agreed to a chaste marriage, which appears most likely, it was only because he honoured the vow Mary had made before they met, when she was still a young girl serving in the temple and by the time the first part of the marriage ceremony (Kiddushin) was observed, when a contract would have been drawn up and signed making Mary his legal wife.

So, Mary basically asks how it is possible she can conceive and bear Jesus,  seeing she is a virgin who intends to have a chaste marriage. She wouldn’t have asked how if she intended to fully consummate her marriage with Joseph after he brought her into his home upon the second marriage ceremony or Nisuin (Mt. 1:20, 25). And in reply to her question, the angel explains how it is she will retain her virginity and keep her vow to God despite having a child: by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Mary asserts she does not have sexual relations with man within a time frame that includes the future simple. Luke has Mary speak in the present tense, active voice, and indicative mood; since the angel does not say that she has conceived or will conceive at some specific time. The fact is she does not have sexual relations with any man, who includes her husband. Her not having sexual relations with man characterizes what she is, viz. a virgin. The verb tense signifies an on-going state (of not having sexual relations with man), not an instant of time, that extends beyond the present moment and embraces the future. Mary asserts she does not have sexual relations with man – not now or ever – despite the angel’s announcement.

Indicated by the present active voice, Mary’s condition is an objective fact which Mary asserts continues beyond the present moment and into the future, including when she is supposed to have a son. The angel’s announcement that she will conceive and bear a son conflicts with her unchanging, ongoing state. This explains her perplexity. The conjunction “since” serves as a logical connector. The Greek word epei (ἐπεί) in this case can be paraphrased as “because”: Because (since/seeing) Mary does not have sexual relations with any man, including her husband, she wonders how she will conceive and bear a son. We mustn’t presume this adolescent of marriageable age knew nothing of biological human reproduction.

The indicative mood of the verb ‘to know’ tells us Mary has no intention of having conjugal relations with her husband Joseph regardless of what the angel says. For this reason, she can’t possibly be the mother of the expected Messiah, unless God has other plans for her which she is presently unaware of. The angel Gabriel reveals the Divine intention to Mary in the following verses. Only then does she pronounce her Fiat without further ado and the angel depart (Lk. 1:38).

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Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore, it shall remain shut.”
Ezekiel 44, 1-3

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Therefore, we should keep in mind that the verb “to know” in the first person (ginosko) does not have to do with an instant of time, but rather with Mary’s state itself. Mary does not tell the angel: ‘I am not having relations with a man (my husband) now’ or ‘I have not had any relations with a man until now.’ There would be no reason for her to say these things, since the angel does not tell her that she has conceived or suggest even remotely that she will conceive the child immediately or before her marriage is formally solemnized upon the second and final wedding ceremony (Nisuin). The original Greek text reads: “I do not know man.” Mary has sexual relations with no man ever – not presently, not ever. And since the verb is in the active indicative mood, there is emphasis on the progress of the negative action (to not know man) which continues when she is supposed to have the child – whenever that will be.

The Greek present tense denotes either a progressive or repetitive action. In this case, it is progressive and connotes a continuance of state which bears on a future event. So, there is emphasis on the progress of an action (to not know or have sexual relations with man) or a state (virginity) which extends into the future and affects it. The verb “to be” (estai) is in the simple future tense. Mary’s present state in real time is of no concern.

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andra ou ginosko

So, it isn’t really a question of whether she has had relations with her betrothed until now or is having relations with him when she shouldn’t be. The question is how a woman who does not have sexual relations with any man can ever conceive and bear a son. The angel explains how in the following verse: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” There is something about Mary that Luke wishes to give testimony to, that perpetually she is a virgin. If ever there were a conclusive Scriptural proof-text for the Catholic dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, it would have to be Luke 1:34: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?”

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Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
and shall call His name Immanuel
Isaiah 7, 14

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The Power of the Most High Shall Overshadow Thee

And I passed by thee, and saw thee: and behold thy time was the time of lovers: and I spread my garment over thee, and covered thy ignominy. And I swore to thee, and I entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God: and thou becamest mine.
Ezekiel 16, 8

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women… And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Luke 1, 26-35

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The intimate union between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary is redolent of a marriage in a spiritual and mystical sense, no less than the relationship between YHWH and Israel is. Though God calls Israel his servant (Isa 41:8), the relationship between YHWH and His chosen people is far more intimate than one between a lord and his servant, no less than the relationship between God and his handmaid is. In the Old Testament, we find that the relationship between YHWH and Israel was essentially a covenantal one indicative of the moral union between a husband and a wife, which foreshadows the espousal between Mary and the Holy Spirit and, of course, Christ the Divine Bridegroom and his virgin bride, the Church.

A type of wedding vow was made between YHWH and the Hebrews at the time Moses received the Divine laws on Mount Sinai for the people of Israel (Ex 19:5-8). At this moment in the history of the Hebrews, Israel became God’s virgin bride. Being her husband’s chaste spouse, she was committed to remain faithful to him. First and foremost, she was not to have other gods before YHWH (Ex 20:1-3). Israel’s occasional infidelity toward her husband was in principle a violation of their wedding vow, and her worshipping of false Gods was tantamount to acts of adultery in the eyes of God.

God had to send many judges and prophets to declare His word to Israel and remind her of the covenant relationship He established with His bride. Jeremiah was called to admonish the Israelites for having ignored and persecuted the prophets that God had sent to them because of their infidelity towards Him (Jer 24:4-6). By this time, the husband’s patience towards His spouse had run out to the extent that God, however reluctantly, presented Israel with a writ of divorce. This was after God had pleaded with His chosen people for seven centuries to heed His voice and return to Him and be a faithful and loving spouse. But they would not listen as they should in keeping with their marriage covenant with God. “And I saw, when for all the causes for which backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also” (Jer 3:8).

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For your Maker is your husband;
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel;
The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
Isaiah 54, 5

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The decree of divorce did not in any way annul the marriage covenant between YHWH and Israel. It did not liberate the nation from observing the terms of their covenant relationship with God. His intention was to compel the Israelites to come back to Him by removing His protection over them from the surrounding hostile nations and allowing Israel to be taken into bondage because of her infidelity. The people of the Northern Kingdom or House of Israel ended up in Assyrian captivity, followed by the southern kingdom of Judah which fell to the Babylonians and resulted in the destruction of the first Temple.

If God’s writ of divorce was still in effect, His bride couldn’t return to Palestine or, in other words, her husband’s house. The writ served as a means of discipline exacted from an offended husband to his wife to enable her to realise how much she needed him rather than the false idols she had placed before Him in violation of their indissoluble covenant. Yet because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God had no intention to disown, but to restore Israel and renew His covenant with her despite her unworthiness. God willed to take Israel back into His house, notwithstanding her adulterous past, provided she dissolved her marriage with the false gods of Assyria and Babylon and willingly came back to Him (Ezek 20:33-37; Jer 31:31-33).

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And you shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy,
and have separated you from other people,
that you should be mine.
Leviticus 20, 26

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The Old Testament frequently depicts Israel as God’s bride, who is expected to be pure and chaste in her nuptial relationship with Him: faithful and loving. As the virgin bride of YHWH, nothing more is required of her than to place all her hope (hasah) and trust (galal) in her husband in a spirit of “steadfast love” which all the six aspects of faith embrace in Judaism. It is God who espouses Israel, removing her from her lowly origin, her fornication and prostitution, and purifying her to be His worthy spouse.

That God should renew His covenant with Israel is best explained by the fact that Israel was elected to be the people from whom the Divine Word would take his flesh. And since the people of Israel were to receive God Incarnate in their midst as one of them, they would have to be made exclusively worthy by means of a special holiness imparted by the Old Covenant. Both Israel and Mary had the divine privilege of bringing the Messiah into the world. Because of their common roles, both had to be specially prepared by God: set apart from the rest of humanity and consecrated to Him as His chaste and faithful bride.

Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; my covenant which they broke, although I was a husband unto them, says the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31, 31-33

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And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women.
Luke 1, 27-28

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Various translations of Luke 1:27 have Mary “betrothed” or “espoused” to Joseph at the time of the Annunciation. Either term means that the couple were legally married, although their marriage hadn’t been consummated yet. Mosaic law provided a two-part marriage ceremony. It began with the betrothal or espousal (Kiddushin) in which Joseph would have given Mary a marriage document and a token of monetary value, usually a ring. The Hebrew word for “betrothed” is kiddush, which is derived from kadash meaning “holy, consecrated, and set apart” as Israel is described to be in her marital relationship with God. In Jewish practice, this is the central moment of the initial wedding ceremony at which time a contract is signed making the couple legally married.

Now the second part of their marriage would have followed a year after the first wedding ceremony. By this time, Joseph was expected to be able to provide for Mary. And if both were happy with each other and remained faithful to each other, the second and final wedding ceremony (Nisuin) would solemnly take place. The ketubah (contract) was the focal point of the second wedding ceremony. Here Joseph would have formally accepted the responsibilities of providing food and shelter, clothing for his wife, and attending to her emotional needs. After the ketubah was signed by Joseph and the two witnesses, and presented to Mary, the marriage was solemnized. Assured of her marital rights, Mary could now move into her husband’s home and consummate their marriage.

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However, according to early Christian tradition, Mary and Joseph agreed on having a chaste marriage before the first marriage ceremony took place because of a vow of continence she had made to God as a young girl while living and serving in the temple. That Joseph should agree to such an arrangement isn’t at all implausible considering Numbers 30:

Vows taken by a married woman

“And if she is married to a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it, and says nothing to her on the day that he hears; then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he expresses disapproval, then he shall make void her vow which was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her.”

Vows to afflict herself

“Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”

Torah scholar Jacob Milgrom informs us that the woman’s vow “to afflict herself” meant fasting and abstaining from sexual relations to ancient Jews. Judith may have made such a vow after her encounter with God. She never remarried at her young age after her husband died and left her childless, probably because of her close nuptial type of communion with God. Moses himself remained continent in his marriage for the rest of his life once God summoned him to lead the Israelites to the promised land, according to Jewish tradition. Provisions such as these were made under Mosaic law. Vows like these which were taken by women were permissible, since the command to propagate strictly applied to men under ordinary circumstances.

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If Joseph agreed on having a chaste marriage with his wife Mary, it would be because he chose to honour her vow which was made before they had met. Meanwhile, there was no statute that condemned a man for having sinned by honouring his intended wife’s vow. Nor was there any directive for him to abort the initial wedding ceremony upon hearing of the vow. Joseph did have the option to either cancel or go through with the Kiddushin after hearing of Mary’s vow. He would have sinned if he had first accepted the vow and then tried to nullify it after they were legally married. Mary would have sinned if she had sprung the news on Joseph after they became espoused or betrothed. Anyway, this provision in the Mosaic law does help explain how Mary and Joseph could have wed, albeit her vow of chastity in her personal covenant with God.

The angel Gabriel spoke to Joseph in a dream after he discovered Mary was with child to reassure him that his wife hadn’t done anything unfaithful, but that the child she was carrying was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18-25). Until then, Joseph had the legal right to file for divorce on the ground of his wife’s apparent promiscuity. In fact, he had the right to publicly condemn her and have her stoned to death for having committed adultery (Deut 22:22-29). But upon the angel’s visit the table had turned. Now Joseph had to reconsider whether he had any legal and moral right to go through with the second wedding ceremony, since his wife Mary had conceived a child by another person.

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But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD
appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what
is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 1, 20

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We know that Joseph was a just man who faithfully observed the precepts of the Mosaic law (Mt 1:14). Under Mosaic law, according to Louis M. Epstein (Marriage Laws in the Bible and the Talmud: Cambridge), if a man’s wife or betrothed was found to be pregnant by another man (person), the husband was forbidden to have conjugal relations with her from that point on. A woman who had known relations with another man, even if by force, was considered no longer fit to be visited by her husband (Gen 49:4; 2 Sam 20:3, 16:21-22).

True, God did not make physical contact with Mary in the natural way, but in her passivity, she was physically affected by the power of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the two did have a child together. When Adam and Eve were created, God sanctified marriage and decreed that a man and a woman should have children together only on condition that “the two become one flesh” (Gen 2:23-24). In His absolute righteousness, God could never dismiss His own moral law. This is obvious by the fact that the angel appeared to Mary with the good news just before it was time for her husband to take her into his home, which explains why the Jews who knew him regarded our Lord to be the “carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55). Moreover, God chose to beget a child together with a woman who was a virgin and had no children of her own, not even daughters. Morally Mary belonged to God as his virgin bride which Joseph, being a religiously devout Jew, would have keenly understood in principle.

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The angel relieved Joseph of his fear when he instructed him to take Mary into his home as his lawful wife, but not to normally co-habit with her: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt 1:20). In the Greek translation of the original Hebrew, the prepositional phrase “to take home as your wife” reads paralambano gunaika. This shows that there was no need for the angel to tell Joseph that he shouldn’t be afraid to “come together” with his wife (bo-e-lei-ha imma) or “lay with” her (vai-yish-kav imma) (Gen 30:3, 16-17), since the couple had already agreed on having a chaste marriage. And since Mary didn’t commit adultery, Joseph was permitted by law to “take her home” as his lawful wife, regardless of whether the couple intended to have conjugal relations and children of their own.

If Mary and Joseph had intended to have children of their own by the time of the Annunciation, the angel would have told him not to fear “coming together” or “laying with” his wife in the conventional marital sense. But Joseph should be assured that their marriage was still morally valid before God, because not only did Mary conceive Jesus by the Holy Spirit, but also the couple shall not have conjugal relations and any children of their own. Thus, Joseph mustn’t be afraid to formally solemnise the marriage and take his wife into his home in fear of violating the moral law so long as the couple live together, but remain continent.

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And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done,
because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her:
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Luke 1, 34-35

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God conducted Himself with Mary as a husband with his wife no less honourably and righteously as He had with Israel in their mystical marriage covenant. The spiritual and moral marital relationship Mary had with God was fully consummated at the precise moment she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. As the personification of Daughter Zion, Mary was divinely declared to be “holy, consecrated, and set apart” for God when she vowed to enter a personal marriage covenant with Him while still a young temple virgin. Yet she couldn’t have fathomed at the time that she felt compelled to make such a vow by the prompting of the Holy Spirit because she was predestined to be the mother of the divine Messiah.

And so, the nuptial covenant between God and Mary was forever ratified when she faithfully and lovingly consented to be the mother of our divine Lord and permitted the Holy Spirit to cover her nakedness by laying His cloak over her and covering her with His shadow: “Let it be done to me, according to your word” (Lk 1:38). The angel told Mary that she would be “overshadowed by the power of the Most High.” In ancient Jewish culture, a man’s “laying his power over” a woman (resuth) was a euphemism for having marital relations. Similarly, for a man to “overshadow” a woman or “spread his cloak or wing over her” was a euphemism for having conjugal relations in the holy bond of matrimony. 

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Ruth intended to have conjugal relations with her lord Boaz when she replied: “I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread the corner of your cloak over me (“cover me with your shadow”), for you are my next of kin” (Ruth 3:9). Rabbinic scholar and Hebrew convert to the Catholic faith Brother Anthony Opisso, M.D., tells us that the word “cloak” (tallith), literally “wing” (kannaph) is derived from the word tellal, meaning “shadow”. Jesus referred to Israel as his bride when he said: “How many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her children under her wing” (Lk 13:34).

As a chaste and religiously devout Jewish woman, Ruth refused to lay with her lord Boaz unless they were morally joined as husband and wife. It was after Boaz had lain with Ruth as his lawfully wedded wife that God permitted her to conceive and bear a son, whose name was Obed, the grandfather of King David, who prefigures Christ as the royal head of God’s kingdom (Ruth 3:9; 4:13). Likewise, Mary was not merely God’s servant when the Holy Spirit came upon her, but His morally united spouse, who conceived and gave birth to our divine Lord and King, whose “kingdom is not of this world,” and who “shall rule all nations with a sceptre of justice” or “rod of iron” (Jn 18:36; Rev 2:27)..

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The Lord loveth the gates of Zion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. Shall not Zion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her.
Psalm 87, 2, 5

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The early Latin and Greek Fathers of the Catholic Church implicitly perceived Mary to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit in two fundamental ways which reflect the unitive and procreative aspects of conjugal love. First, they portrayed Mary as having been spiritually united with the Holy Spirit and having something supernaturally in common with Him by her interior disposition. The quality of her soul was effected by His sanctifying grace, so that she could worthily be His spouse and the mother of our divine Lord. Our most Blessed Lady had to have a perfect share in His divine nature, seeing she was chosen to conceive and bear the Holy Begotten of God.

St. Hippolytus refers to the Virgin Mary as “the tabernacle” of our Lord and Saviour, and being this “she was exempt from all putridity and corruption” (Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me). Origen pronounces this “Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten Son of God” to be “worthy of God, the immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one” (Homily 1). Indeed, as the most chaste spouse of the Holy Spirit and most worthy Mother of God, in Mary “all things are fair” and, as St. Ephraem adds,” there is “no stain” in the Mother just as there is “no flaw” in her divine Son in his humanity (Nisibene Hymns, 27:8).

Further, St. Athanasius calls Mary the “noble Virgin” who is “greater than any other greatness” and who no human soul “could equal in greatness” since she had been chosen and prepared to be “the dwelling place of God”. He addresses the Virgin Mary as God’s “Covenant”, being “clothed with purity instead of gold”; she is “the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna … the flesh in which Divinity resides” (Homily on the Papyrus of Turin, 71:216). St. Ambrose concurs Mary was “a Virgin, not only undefiled, but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of any stain of sin” (Sermon 22:30). So, for St. Augustine “Mary was the only one who merited to be called the Mother as the Spouse of God” (Sermon 208).

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Further, Mary was perceived to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit by not only having begotten Jesus together with Him through supernatural means, but also by having cooperated with Him in providing spiritual life to the human race. They cooperated as all husbands and wives do in giving life to their children. By consenting to conceive and bear Jesus through the activity of the Holy Spirit, Mary brought the living Source of all grace into the world. The early Church Fathers perceived Mary to be the new Eve, the spiritual “mother of all the living.” Concerning the Incarnation, St. Irenaeus writes: “The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man: The Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God” (Against Heresies, lV.33.12). Mary’s womb was made pure by the Holy Spirit, for it was selected to carry and nourish the holy Son of God.

Thus, as the new Eve and spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mary couldn’t have conceived other children in sin and borne them in guilt by having conjugal relations with her legal husband Joseph. The only child she was predestined to conceive and bear would be of her seed alone (Gen 3:15). Mary’s womb was meant to provide humankind with the “blessed fruit” which was Jesus (Lk 1:42). In moral union with the Holy Spirit, Mary was chosen to exercise her maternal role of nourishing the human race with the divine Word and the regenerating graces only He could have merited for us in his humanity. All who are baptized in Christ are of the seed of the Woman in hostility with the seed of the serpent or dragon (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 11:12; Rev 12:17).

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Finally, the early Church Father St. Cyril of Jerusalem believed that Mary’s chastity and purity of heart reached the culminating point of her virginity when the Holy Spirit had overshadowed her and she carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. And so, these nine months redounded to her glory and made her the perfect model of virginity. All her children who are reborn in Christ through the cleansing and regenerating water of baptism must emulate that immaculate heart of their mother in their lives. For by doing so, they emulate the purity and righteousness of her firstborn Son and their brethren Jesus. St. Cyril writes: “It became Him who is most pure … to have come forth from a pure bridal chamber” (Catechetical Lecture 12).

The Church Father implicitly taught that all those who are born of the Spirit are Mary’s offspring as well, having come forth from a pure bridal chamber together with Jesus. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn 3:6). Mary would have defiled the bridal chamber if she had had marital relations with her husband Joseph. His seed, tainted by original sin, would have desecrated the holy sanctuary of her womb – the sacred dwelling place of God incarnate (Isa 7:14).

All Jesus’ brethren, who proceed from the same pure womb untouched by the seed of Adam and are born of the Spirit, shall not perish as new creations in Christ. It is the Spirit who gives birth to spirit and new life to all who are re-created in the Spirit through Mary’s pure womb. All Mary’s offspring must weave for themselves the holy flesh of their Virgin Mother by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and His divine grace. This is all part of the creative aspect of the conjugal union between the Holy Spirit and our Blessed Mother. St. Epiphanius reminds us that “the whole human race proceeds from Eve; but it is from Mary that Life was truly born to the world, so that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary might also become the Mother of all the living” (Against Eighty Heresies 78, 9).

                                                                                  .

“And I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
and in love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness;
and you shall know the Lord.”
Hosea 2,19-20

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http://www.blessedaboveallwomen.org

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Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord

“I, your servant, have never eaten at the table of Haman, nor have I graced the banquet of the king or drunk the wine of libations. From the day I was brought here till now, your servant has had no joy except in you, Lord, God of Abraham. O God, whose power is over all, hear the voice of those in despair. Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.”
Esther 4, (C) 28-30 (NAB)

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Luke 1, 38

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The Catholic doctrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary being the new Eve – the spiritual “mother of all the living” – appears to have been universally accepted among the faithful by the second century as part of the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. This teaching certainly wasn’t just a theological opinion held by a few early religious thinkers, seeing that the Church Fathers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, in their bearing witness to the faith, referred to Mary as Eve’s anti-type in their apologetic works against the claims of non-believers, Jews and Gnostics respectively. The Patristic Fathers of the first millennium consistently taught and elaborated on what was handed down to them from the apostles as part of the deposit of faith concerning our Blessed Mother’s essential role in the divine order of redemption.

The idea of Mary being the new Eve, the free woman who God promised from the beginning would by her faith undo what Eve had unfaithfully wrought by heeding the words of the serpent, most likely arose from reflecting on Paul’s teaching of Jesus being the second Adam (1 Cor 15:20-23, 25). The early Church Fathers apparently placed the apostle’s words in the context of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, the promise of redemption, and the final victory over Satan, which included his humiliating defeat by the faith and charity of an immaculate woman. They believed that the Incarnation could only have resulted from Mary’s free consent to be the mother of the Lord and Saviour.  With her moral participation hanging in the balance, the Devil’s dominion over souls on earth might now finally be destroyed with the coming of the divine Messiah through his chosen mother’s obedient act of faith (Gen 3:15).

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“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied, ‘Be it done unto me according to your word.”
St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 100
(155 AD)

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The infant Church mostly consisted of Hebrew converts to the Christian faith who were well versed in the Pentateuch, and so, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they must have perceived a connection between the forbidden fruit which Eve presented to Adam (Gen 1:6-8) and the fruit which Mary had brought to mankind from her blessed womb (Lk 1:42). The difference was that Eve’s offering resulted in mankind’s alienation from God and subjection to death, both physical and spiritual; whereas Mary’s offering reconciled the world to God and gave hope of eternal life with Him.

We know from sacred Scripture that Eve was meant to be Adam’s “helpmate” (Gen 2:18) but, unfortunately, she failed him miserably. What she proposed to her husband led to his fall from grace and consequently the fall of humanity (Gen 3:6, 8-13). Mary, on the other hand, collaborated with God as his helpmate in the redemption of mankind (Lk. 1:42). The Lord’s handmaid received the word of the angel Gabriel with “faith and joy”, unlike Eve who fell prey to the deception of the fallen angel. Mary had no joy except in God, while Eve sought joy in the vain allurements of this world, a weakness of hers which the devil exploited. The serpent saw how appealing the forbidden fruit was to Eve’s eye.

Thus, by her “faith working through love” (Gal 5:5-6), Mary did have an active, causative role to play in mankind’s redemption. Being in the state of grace and always willing to please God, she could mediate the coming of the Redeemer into the world. Only the fruit of her womb could obtain the grace of justification and forgiveness for mankind and regenerate human souls unto life with God in the Spirit by his just merits, but not without Mary’s free consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour which God willed with necessity.

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Mary’s role in the divine order of redemption wasn’t merely a physical one; nor was it completely passive by any means. Our Blessed Lady wasn’t chosen by God simply to serve as a physiological means to an end with absolutely no regard to her human dignity and having been created in the divine likeness (Gen 1:27). Surely, God’s sovereign omnipotence couldn’t negate His goodness and righteousness. The eternal Divine Word could just as easily have become man and be as human as we are by being formed out of the clay of the earth as Adam had been (Gen 2:7), but instead He chose to be “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

The truth is that God had something more important in mind for Mary other than being a natural mother when He fashioned her soul and sanctified it upon her conception, preserving her free from all stain of sin (Lk 1:28). Our heavenly Father willed with necessity that Mary’s motherhood should be moral in nature; she was predestined to be intimately associated with the Son in His redemptive work. Her collaboration with God in His grace was necessary, since Eve had freely disobeyed God to fall from His grace. Eve’s transgression had to be blotted out in the most perfect way: by means of reciprocation. The incarnation wouldn’t have occurred by default without the Virgin Mary’s salutary free consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour.

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“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as humanity fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:19:11, 38
(180-189 AD)

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The coming hope of the world’s salvation rested on our Blessed Lady’s obedient act of faith in charity and grace. This was only fitting, in keeping with God’s goodness and righteousness, since Eve contributed morally to the fall of Adam (mankind) by succumbing to the serpent’s temptation. It may have been because of her egoism that Eve sinned against God. Not unlike the fallen angel Lucifer who appeared to her in the form of a serpent, Eve refused to obey God because of an inordinate love of self which comes with pride and is concomitant with an inordinate desire for created things which she valued more than God the Creator. She did lose her faith in what Adam told her about God’s command of abstaining from the forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge. In fact, by receiving the words of the Serpent, she wished to be equally like God in her selfish pursuit of happiness by making herself out to be the measure of her own existence; to be like God before God, but apart from God in accordance with her own will (“radical self-deification”).

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Mary, on the other hand, morally contributed to mankind’s reconciliation with God by humbly accepting the proposition of the angel Gabriel in humility and in perfect love of God. What she willed for herself was what God willed for her, since she had no joy and peace except in the God of Abraham. Mary aligned her will with God’s will because she esteemed His will over her own in steadfast love and unfaltering trust in Him: the essence of faith in Judaic thought. God was the measure of her life. She acknowledged Him as her Creator on whom she ultimately depended and in whom she placed all her confidence. There could be no true life for Mary apart from God. The vain pleasures of this world couldn’t appeal to her.

Considering Eve’s transgression, Mary’s act of faith in charity and grace temporally appeased the Divine justice and pleased God to become incarnate. God could now turn His gaze away from Eve’s infidelity and turn it towards Mary’s faithfulness and love, albeit the unworthiness of sinful humanity. Moreover, the Son of God could now in turn undo the sin of Adam by emptying himself and humbly taking the form of a slave in our humanity, even by accepting his debasing death on a cross, because of the absolute love He had for the Father and His perfect obedience to His will (Phil 2:5-8). Mary had to have the same “mind-set” as that of her divine Son, if he were to come into the world and reconcile mankind to God. She had to have liberty of will and a moral responsibility to God if He were to become incarnate.

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“But we must consider another marvelous aspect of the comparison between Eve and Mary. Eve became for men the cause of death, because through her death entered the world. Mary, however, was the cause of life, because life has come to us through her. For this reason, the Son of God came into the world, and, ‘where sin abounded grace super-abounded’ (Rom. 5:20). Whence death had its origin, thence came forth life, so that life would succeed death. If death came from woman, then death was shut out by him who, by means of the woman, became our life.”
St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Against Heresies, 87
(ante A.D. 403)

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Hence, God wouldn’t have come into the world any other way, but by the faith and charity of a woman who should reciprocally undo Eve’s indifference and disobedience which eventually alienated mankind from God. Mary’s acceptance of God cancelled out Eve’s rejection of Him.  Mary’s Fiat at the Annunciation invited God back into the world so that He could undo what Adam had wrought by Eve’s suggestion. Eve’s participation paved the way for mankind’s spiritual and physical death, while our Blessed Lady’s participation provided the hope of salvation to all who must emulate her faith and charity in God’s grace if they hope to be saved.

By having vindicated Eve, Mary became the maternal advocate of the entire human race. In this sense, she truly is our spiritual mother, whose womb has provided regeneration unto life with God because of her faith and love. The blessed fruit which she has provided to all mankind can now be partaken of from the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24) by her congruous merits in and through the condign merits of her divine Son, the living Font of all grace. The promise of eternal life has rested on the blessed fruit in the palms of Mary’s extended hands ever since she joyfully consented to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour.

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Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night!
Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!
Lamentations 2, 18

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The Virgin Mary had rejoiced in the good news that was brought to her by the angel Gabriel, when she declared: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” She responded in a spirit of gladness, despite whatever trials she might have to endure by being the mother of the expected Messiah. As our Blessed Lady joyfully contemplated on the divine favour that was granted to her by God in His infinite mercy, she knew that she would eventually have to sacrifice her maternal rights to fulfill whatever purpose lay in her Divine motherhood. Being the mother of Jesus (in Hebrew, Yeshua: “God is salvation”) certainly entailed much more than the natural state of being a mother. Mary was chosen to nurse and raise a son who was destined to be much more than a carpenter (Lk 1:31-33). He was in fact God who became incarnate to save mankind from sin and death: a king-priest like his royal ancestor David. Indeed, Mary’s maternity was a supernatural divine calling and a spiritual vocation that God preordained for the benefit of all human souls. God’s handmaid was chosen to render humanity a spiritual service because she had found favour with God (Lk 1:30).

Mary was aware that the patriarch’s, judges, and prophets were called to serve God life-long, so she understood that her saving office shouldn’t come to an end once she had completed raising Jesus upon his reaching manhood; nor would it preclude any hardships for her. Still, in the obscurity of faith, which demanded her full trust in God, our Blessed Lady could only imagine what might lay in store for her. She must have thought that her Son’s birth entailed a life-long mission, too, along with hers and that the two of them would somehow be associated together in a work of great personal sacrifice until God’s plan should be fulfilled.

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The Lord’s faithful handmaid would finally come to see the fullness of this divine mystery of the Incarnation on Calvary beneath the Cross while enduring her terrible sorrow because of the world’s sins. The Annunciation marked the beginning of her journey in faith under the shadow of the Cross which loomed before her, a journey she was valiantly prepared to take like the Hebrew heroes and heroines who went before her because of her love of God and humanity. Conversant with Judaic tradition, Mary understood that the time of the new exodus had arrived with the coming of the long-awaited Messiah who, as foretold by the prophets, would redeem not only Israel, but all humanity of sin, and by doing so, liberate man from bondage and re-create the world.  Mary’s faith and trust in God gave her the moral courage she would need to endure the many trials that should come her way for the salvation of the whole world and entry into the new promised land of God’s eternal kingdom.

By pronouncing her Fiat, Mary had dedicated herself to the spiritual service of mankind all because of humanity’s fall from grace and its need to be restored to God’s favour. Working together with God in the salvation of souls required that Mary should suffer for the sins of the world together with her Divine Son (Col 1:24). In true faith, our Blessed Lady was willing to accept all the trials she might have to face as the mother of God’s anointed One. Her flight into Egypt with the infant Jesus was the first of several tremendous sorrows she would have to endure as the Lord’s handmaid (Matt 2:13-23). And so, she was prepared by the power of divine grace to renounce her maternal rights and make satisfaction to God for the sins of the world by offering His gift to her back to Him ultimately on Calvary in the faithful spirit of Abraham (Gen 22:9-10).

It was beneath the Cross where our sorrowful Lady understood all too well how the child she had joyfully conceived and borne was in His Divine Person the ultimate and final propitiation for sin; that he alone could accomplish once and for all what any of the paschal lambs of the Old Covenant could never do: achieve an eternal atonement for the people’s sins through only one, single sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:11-14, 23-26). Our Lord’s handmaid acted believing with all her heart that all the suffering she might have to endure because of her love of God and Son, who was God in the flesh, would be for the greater good (Gen 22:15-18). Thus, on behalf of Israel and the entire world, Elizabeth praised her kinswoman for her faith, when she declared: “Blessed are you who believed, that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45).

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The Lord’s Handmaid begot us in Christ Jesus by having received the Gospel message in the depths of her heart (1 Cor 4:15). Mary became our mother once she accepted the word of the angel in good faith, despite all that it might entail for her, but remained obscure. And so, she could have asked herself as she stood at the foot of the Cross: “Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers?” (Num. 11:12). Mary became the spiritual mother of all the living – the new Eve – and the mother of all nations because she believed and acted on the word of God as Abraham had, to become the father of many nations.

Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac foreshadowed Mary’s sacrificial offering of her only beloved Son Jesus when, in the shadow of the Cross, she presented her infant Son in the Temple as an act of consecration to his heavenly Father in commemoration of Abraham’s great act of faith (Lk 2:22-36). On this occasion, Simeon alluded to the greater soteriological importance of Mary’s maternal role in the economy of salvation, when he prophesied to her: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts shall be revealed” (Lk 2:35).

Although Mary couldn’t have envisioned the scene on Golgotha that would take place about thirty-three years later, the time would arrive when the Mother should stand at the foot of the Cross to witness the horrible suffering and death of her precious Son at the hands of ungrateful sinners and there recall not only the prophetic words of Simeon, but also those piercing words of the prophet Isaiah, which the Jews never associated with the expected Messiah (53:3-5). Besides Simeon, Mary was the first to know who the Suffering Servant was, and this she must learn through her pierced soul as the maternal participant in the drama of salvation Isaiah envisioned. Perhaps our sorrowful Lady drew the connection at some point afterwards, as she pondered in her heart what Simeon had said to her. Isaiah, too, must have included her standing beneath the Cross when he declared:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Yet, in steadfast faith and trust in God, Mary would receive consolation atop Golgotha in the prophet’s extended vision, which forms the highest expression of the bond between the Woman and her Offspring in their opposition to the Serpent with respect to her predestination to glory.

“For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”

Mary came to fully realize through her sorrowful experience that her motherhood was essentially more entwined with her Son’s suffering and death than it was with his birthing and nurturing (Lk 11:27-28). The relationship that existed between Mary and Jesus, from the time of his nativity to the inauguration of his public ministry at the wedding feast in Cana, where he performed his first miracle at the wedding feast upon his mother’s request, mattered little in comparison in the Divine plan for her. The Lord’s handmaid was predestined to be much more than the natural mother of Jesus. She was chosen to be the spiritual mother of redeemed humanity. By pronouncing her Fiat, Mary acquired a dual maternity which was eschatological in scope and continues to this present day, and shall continue with the end of time.

Our joy and gladness in this wilderness and wasteland of a fallen world originally has its raison d’ etre in our Blessed Mother’s faith working through love. Mary became our spiritual mother at the Annunciation, for she first conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving him in her womb, so St. Augustine has said. Without Mary, the Incarnation would not have taken place, and thereby there would be no hope of salvation. This was all part of God’s perfect plan when He sent the angel Gabriel to an innocent thirteen year old girl in Nazareth who, not unlike Eve in her innocence, was expected to place all her faith in Him over and against any wilfulness of hers.

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Mary’s motherhood was meant to be redefined at the first instant she said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Of course, Mary may not have imagined this at the time she gave her consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour, but Mary was predestined to become the mother of all the living. Being the spouse of the Holy Spirit, by His overshadowing her (Lk 1:35), God’s faithful handmaid and chaste virgin bride was predestined, in the order of grace, to become a mother of a spiritual kind.  It was for this reason that God sent His Son to be “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4) and her Son called her “Woman.”

Mary was called to suffer as the mother of our Lord to “make up for what was lacking” in her Son’s suffering for the redemption of mankind. Unless she did suffer in her maternal agony because of her love of God who was offended by sin and her love of the Son who was nailed to the cross because of sin, her Divine motherhood couldn’t have been redefined at all. Our Blessed Lady’s spiritual motherhood received its  raison d’être in her association with Jesus in mankind’s redemption, which could be achieved only through reparatory  suffering and dying to self. Jesus ratified Mary’s universal motherhood of mankind from the Cross, by which it must be validated.

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Hence, only through sorrow because of sin, could Mary give birth to descendants of hers regenerated in the life of grace. Her womb, in which she bore the Head and Body of all her Son’s members is the proto-type of his Mystical Body, which is the Church (Eph 4:4-13). Mary is our heavenly Mother by the fact she conceived and gave birth to Jesus, who is both head and body of the Church, whose members we are. By her Divine Maternity, we are conceived in the Church and reborn in the Spirit when baptized. Spiritually and mystically, all baptized Christians (visible or invisible) are conceived in Mary’s womb and brought forth from it through the sacrament of Baptism.

Our Lord implies this when he calls his Blessed Mother “Woman” in allusion to Eve before her fall from grace and banishment from Eden to become the mother of all Adam’s fallen descendants. All Christ’s faithful disciples are made of Mary and are as much her sons and daughters as Jesus is her offspring, though not biologically or physically. Jesus is our “brother”, so this must be true. ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters’ (Rom 8:29).

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Now, why art thou drawn together with grief?
Hast thou no king in thee, or is thy counsellor perished,
because sorrow hath taken thee as a woman in labour?
Micah 4, 9

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As Mary sorrowfully stood beneath the Cross because of the world’s sins, her heart and soul were pierced with immeasurable sorrow. What motherly agony she felt made temporal reparation for all the sinful pleasures man obstinately indulges in with no thought given to an offended God. Mary emptied herself and took the form of a slave together with her divine Son in his humanity to help restore the equity of justice between God and mankind. Suffice it to say, our Blessed Lady’s great personal sacrifice counter-acted Eve’s selfish act. Her interior suffering, therefore, made temporal satisfaction to God, for she willingly suffered by her love of God whom she wished to appease for the sins that offended Him and by her love for the Son who suffered because of sin.

Mary’s maternal sacrifice was for the sake of mankind, also, which was ravaged by sin. In harmony with the Divine will, she desired that humanity be liberated from slavery to sin and the oppression of death wrought by Adam and Eve’s transgression. Her temporal satisfaction to God was made together with her Son’s eternal satisfaction. Both the sorrowful Mother and the bruised Son aligned their human wills with the will of the Father so that He would be both temporally and eternally propitiated for the sins of the world.

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For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor, anguish as of one
bringing forth her first child, the cry of daughter Zion gasping
for breath, stretching out her hands, “Woe is me! I am fainting
before killers!”
Jeremiah 4, 31

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I believe it is St. Paul who tells us: “For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10). The apostle’s words reflect what he implicitly tells us in Colossians 1:24, that what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions” refers to  the  debt of  temporal  punishment. He means to say that we can “complete” the eternal expiation for sin Christ has made for humanity by offering up our suffering in union with his suffering for the temporal remission of our debt of sin.

God requires this redemptive form of suffering because it restores sinners to the equality of justice in their relationship with Him through sanctification or justification, as to be worthy to enter heaven. God demands that such temporal satisfaction be made on our part in union with Christ’s eternal satisfaction, “for the Lord is a God of justice” (Isa 30:18), and “he judges the people with equity” (Ps 9:8). The Blessed Virgin Mary endured temporal punishment as a satisfaction for the past and future sins of the world in union with her divine Son’s eternal satisfaction. Having been preserved free from the stain of original sin, she helped restore the friendship and equality of justice between God and mankind, thereby completing what was lacking in her Son’s afflictions in his redemptive work.

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What Christ accomplished in his passion and death was more than sufficient and super-abundant, but his most Blessed Mother’s collaboration perfected and completed his heavenly Father’s plan of undoing the Fall entirely by reciprocation. Satan should have no cause to boast of his triumph over Eve or a human creature over and against the new Adam’s triumph over him. God decreed the Serpent’s humiliation soon after it deceived the woman, as to indirectly seduce her husband to rebel against God. The Devil’s disgrace could only be achieved by the Lord’s humble and faithful handmaid. And only then could her Offspring undo the sin of Adam and the fall of mankind completely.

The maiden from Nazareth undid the transgression of the woman in Eden by being radically unlike her. In charity and grace, Mary chose a painful loss to counter-balance Eve’s selfish pursuit of personal gain. Mary loved God to the extent of dying to her maternal self, whereas Eve loved herself more than God to the point of being totally indifferent towards Him. Thus, it took the Blessed Virgin’s pleasing sacrifice to temporally appease God for the virgin’s sin. Mary’s sacrifice was acceptable, for it was informed by love and mercy (Hosea 6:6). Meanwhile, Jesus sacrificed himself more for his mother’s sake than for ours because of her willingness to unite her suffering with his in charity and grace. The formal redemption of mankind (objective redemption) would be incomplete unless it were instrumentally applied – initially through the sorrow of a loving mother (subjective redemption) who has shown us what we must do to reap the fruit she has provided and be saved: take up our cross in union with her Son and follow him.

There can be no greater sacrifice than that of a loving mother who offers the life of her beloved offspring to God, and no greater sorrow to appease the Divine wrath than the sorrow of a mother who sacrifices her beloved child because of the offenses against God. Being the Lord’s handmaid was a divine call for Mary to help reconcile the world to God in union with her divine Son by personal sacrifice, not in co-ordination with his merits, but in co-operation with them. Her divine motherhood was intended to be something that should extend to the whole world and embrace all God’s fallen created children. Having vindicated fallen Eve by persevering in grace and denying herself in faith and love, Mary rightfully became the mother of redeemed humanity: the mother of all who have been restored to new life with God in and through the merits of her beloved Son.

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Enlarge the place of thy tent,
and stretch out the skins of thy tabernacles,
spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.
For thou shalt pass on to the right hand, and to the left:
and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and shall inhabit
the desolate cities.
Isaiah 54, 2-3

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Only in union with the sorrow of the Mother in obedience to the will of God would the Son justify fallen man by the outpouring of his blood and merit the grace of forgiveness that leads to his spiritual regeneration. Our valiant Blessed Lady was prepared by the grace of God to make personal sacrifices for the redemption of Israel and the whole world before the Incarnation would occur pending her consent. True, Jesus offered to lay down his life freely to eternally atone for mankind’s sins, that he might rescue all from the evils of sin and death (Jn 10:18; Gal 1:4), but only on condition that his Mother should decide to deny her maternal rights and carry her cross after him (Lk 9: 23-24). Mary precisely did this when she pronounced her Fiat by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Hence, as the spiritual mother of the world, our Blessed Lady stood morally courageous in the culmination of her sorrow by having to face the terrible agony of gazing upon her beloved Son from beneath the Cross and losing him, all because of her great love for humanity which had been ravaged by sin, and insofar that she wished to align her will with God’s (antecedent) will that “everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1-4). As the mother of all people, and in the figure of Mother Zion, Mary acted as any mother normally would by interceding for her children in solicitation of their needs. And because she acted in charity and grace in observance of the Divine will, God honoured His handmaid’s sacrifice and blessed it as he had Abraham’s offering of Isaac.

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Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.”
Isaiah 60, 20-21

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Mary became the mother of our Lord and Saviour by her free consent in collaboration with the Holy Spirit and cooperation with divine grace. It was the grace of the Holy Spirit which conferred true merit on her. By His prompting, Mary acted in the only way acceptable and pleasing to God. She could not conceive Jesus physically unless she had first conceived him in her heart. Nor could she be the worthy mother of the Son unless she were willing to unite herself to him in his redemptive work in perfect oneness of love for God and human souls and hatred for sin and its ravaging. ‘In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, I have come to do your will, O God’ (Heb 10:6-9). Mary’s consent was as important as her Son’s should be in accord with the Father’s wisdom and righteousness. Her consent to bring the Messiah into the world could be honoured by God only because it conformed to His will, just as the Son’s consent to come into the world was honoured by his Father because it conformed to His will.

Mary’s faithful assent to the will of God had to follow through her entire life, just as the Son of man’s assent to the will of the Father had to in his life on earth. Jesus became the source of our salvation through his perfect obedience to the will of the Father. His heavenly Father did designate him to be our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek because he was perfected by learning obedience through suffering for the sake of His love and goodness (Heb 5:8-10). Mary had to be perfected in the same way as her Son was in his humanity for God to redefine her motherhood and designate her Mother of the Church. (Lk 11:27-28; Jn 19:26-27).

Mary conceived and bore the Divine Messiah because she was willing to do any good work that God may have prepared in advance for her to do (Eph 2:10). Only by her good works of mercy in charity and grace could Mary become the spiritual mother of us all. We, her children, must follow in her footsteps, if we hope to conceive Christ in the womb of our souls and be saved. Mary willed in a way that God had wanted her to freely will with the help of His grace in conformity to His will which conferred merit on her act of faith informed by charity in grace. Her consent to the will of God eradicated Eve’s consent to the will of the serpent. “[Mary’s] Yes to God undid the No of sinful Eve” (Text: Alma Redemptoris). By her Fiat, Mary crushed the serpent’s head with her heel, and by her virtuous act of faith, not only did she humiliate the devil after what he had done to Eve, but God’s saving light shone forth into the world. All this because God’s light shone forth from our Blessed Lady’s soul, which magnified His glory (Lk 1:46).

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Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God hath shined forth.
Psalm 50, 2

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