Mary in the Old Testament
She appears as a prototype of the second Eve in the creation narrative. After human-kind sins in the Garden of Eden, God says to the serpent (Satan), “I will put enmity you and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel,” (Gen. 3:15).
In Israel the ark of the covenant sheltered by the meeting tent represented the presence of God. “Put the ark of the commandments in it…then a cloud covered the meeting tent and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling,” (Ex. 40:3,34). In the Lukan birth account the angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will over-shadow you,” (Lk. 1:35). Mary is the ark of the new covenant.
Mary in the New Testament
St. Paul clearly is disinterested in the biographical details and merely refers to Mary indirectly. “God sent forth his son born of a woman, born under the law,” (Gal. 4:4). This passage is primarily interested in pointing to the true humanity of Jesus. There is no text in Paul implying anything unusual in the birth of the Lord.
The growth of the devotion to Mary can be seen in the gospels. In fact the author of Mark presents what appears to be a negative view Jesus’ family and Mary. “His family came to take charge of him saying he was out of his mind, while the scribes who arrived from Jerusalem said he is possessed by Beelzebub,” (Mk. 3:21-22).
Jesus rejects his family with these words: “Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me,” (3:35).
At a later point Jesus revisits Nazareth and is teaching in the synagogue. His listeners are amazed, but at the same time demeaning. Jesus said in response, “No prophet is without honor except in his native place, among his own kindred, and in his own house…so much did their lack of faith distress him,” (Mk. 6:4,6).
However, Mark makes it clear that Jesus has the same problem with the twelve disciples. He despairs of their lack of understanding six different times. They and apparently his own family failed to get it! Mark is not interested in Mary; he has his own agenda which is the doctrine of the cross and the meaning of true discipleship.
Both Luke and Matthew’s parallels to Mark’s texts above have edited the harshness out by modifying the Marcan text by eliminating the question “who are my mother and brothers” and moving the Beelzebub passage to another place (Lk. 11:14-23).
Matthew’s infancy narrative says little about Mary apart from the virginal conception.
However the Lukan infancy narrative corrects Mark by showing Mary as part of Jesus’ family because she is the “servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say,” (1:38). The angel Gabriel salutes her as one favored by God. “Rejoice O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women;Do not fear Mary, you have found favor with God,” (1:28, 30). Elizabeth calls her “the mother of my Lord,” (1:43) and declares Mary blessed because of what God has done for her (1:42).
In her Magnificat, Mary acknowledges that “All ages shall call me blessed…God who is mighty has done great things for me,” (1:48-49). Luke portrays her as a witness for the poor of Israel, the Anawim.
Only Luke has the passage in which a woman blesses his mother (11:27-28). Jesus responds, they are blessed who hear and keep the word of the Lord. This would include Mary because she clearly is presented in the infancy narrative as a servant of the Lord. She also must undergo her test of full discipleship because “a sword will pierce her soul,” (Lk. 2:35).
John’s gospel appears to use Genesis as its pattern. It opens with “In the beginning.” We then have a total of seven days (1:29 ‘ 2:1). Because of this setting many of the Church fathers saw a second Eve theme in the Cana wedding narrative especially with Jesus using “woman” in addressing his mother. Irenaeus (AD 189) writes, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”
At the foot of the cross the care of this woman is given to the Beloved Disciple, a symbol of all true believers (Jn 19:26-27). She is our mother.
She is portrayed with the disciples in prayer prior to the first Pentecost (Acts 1:13-14). Vatican II called her the symbol of the Church.
The Reformers and Mary
Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all accepted the doctrinal definition of Mary as the mother of God and her perpetual virginity.
Her role os the new Eve was supported by Zwingli and Luther. They both accepted her immaculate conception and assumption.
In many churches Mary became the heresy of the papacy. As a result she was demoted from her Scripture role as the “blessed of all generations” to a once a year appearance at Christmas. Then she was put in storage for another year.
The Catechism states, “the Church’s devotion to the blessed Mary is intrinsic to Christian worship. This very special devotion differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and Holy Spirit and greatly fosters this adoration,” (paragraph 971).