SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN MARY
(Mass during the day)
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a
Psalm 45:9b, 10-11, 15
1 Corinthians 15:20-26
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme the Readings: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Holy Day of Obligation in most years but not in 2015. The number of Days of Obligation vary from year to year since the precept to attend Mass is lifted if any of the following days: January 1st (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), August 15th (Solemnity of the Assumption), or November 1st (Solemnity of All Saints) falls on a Saturday or a Monday. However, the faithful are encouraged to attend Mass on those days.
This Solemnity celebrates the event of the Blessed Virgin Mary's mortal body being taken directly into heaven, concluding the earthly events of her life. That the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into heaven before she died, or when she was very near death, has been taught since the earliest years of the Church, and was defined as a dogma (truth) of the Church in 1950 by Pope Pius XII (see CCC 966). The Second Vatican Council affirmed this dogma, stating: "the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things" (Lumen Gentium, 59).
The Assumption is the Virgin Mary's most important feast. It is a joyous event because it anticipates the bodily Resurrection of all Christians and presents Mother Mary's particular involvement in the miracle of the Resurrection of her son. On Assumption Day, we are reminded of the holiness of Creation and of the goodness of God's plan for the redemption of mankind.
The First Reading Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10 ~ The
Vision of the Ark and the Woman
11:19a God's Temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of his covenant could be seen in the Temple. 12:1 A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. 6a The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Anointed One."
This is a reading from the visions that were revealed to St. John by the glorified Jesus while he was a prisoner on the island of Patmos (Rev 1:1-2, 9). This point in the Book of Revelation, which is midway through St. John's seven visions, is something like a new beginning. Our lectionary reading presents these verses as they should be read, without a chapter division. When the Bible was written there were no chapters or verses designated. The chapter divisions were introduced in the Middle Ages, probably by the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton (d. 1228). The verse separations were introduced much later by Robert Estienne in the 16th century. But the important point here is that there is no separation between 11:19 and 12:1 in the handwritten manuscripts and that is how the passage should be read and studied: 11:19a God's Temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of his covenant could be seen in the Temple. 12:1 A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
That "heaven was opened" is a significant statement that announces this vision is taking place after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The gates of heaven were closed to man from the Fall of Adam until Jesus' baptism and the Resurrection victory of Christ over sin and death (Mt 3:16; Rev 4:1; CCC 536, 1026). Revelation 11:19 states that John saw the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred shrine of the covenant people, in the heavenly Sanctuary. This statement would certainly have riveted 1st century readers. The Ark of the Covenant had been missing since just before the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 587/6 BC when the prophet Jeremiah removed it from the Holy of Holies and hid it in a cave on Mt. Nebo (see 2 Mac 2:1-8). The Holy of Holies of the Second Temple in Jesus' time was an empty room. The important point here is that the way into the Sanctuary in heaven could not be opened until the old Temple was removed (Heb. 9:8). Now the Sanctuary is opened and the heavenly, true, Ark is revealed. The Ark of the Covenant was the people's visible proof of their covenant with God and His presence among His people (Ex 25:10, 22). It held 3 items (see Heb 9:3-4):
12:1 A great sign
appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her
feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
When the Sanctuary is opened and the thunder and lightning cease, John sees the Ark and then in Revelation 12:1 John gets our attention immediately by announcing that he sees a woman and the sign of "a woman" is "a GREAT sign"! The words a "great sign" will only appear again in Revelation chapter 15 when the 7 angels bring forth the 7 plagues. The "great sign" pointing to the woman as an important symbol is central to the understanding of the vision as a whole. St. John's message to us is that we must think carefully about the Biblical meaning of this "great sign." In the Bible, a "sign" always points beyond itself to something more significant. In this case the Greek noun for "sign" is semeion and the central sign or symbol is a "woman." It is interesting that the word "woman" or "women" is used 19 times in Revelation, making it almost as important a symbol as that of "the Lamb" (used 30 times). Jesus told John from the very beginning of the visions that this is going to be a "book of signs, of events that are to take place very soon (Rev 1:1), and in Revelation 1:3 Jesus warns John the time is near. Indeed, John will use the word "sign" a significant 7 times in chapters 12-19, revealing 3 signs in heaven (12:1, 3; 15:1), and 4 on earth (13:13, 14; 16:14; 19:20).
There are three astronomical signs used to describe the
woman: the sun, the moon, and 12 stars.
Some commentators refer to Joseph's vision in Genesis 37:9-11 when he saw his father Jacob as the sun, his mother Rachel as the moon and his brothers as 11 stars bowing down to him. But other scholars disagree that there is a connection, and they suggest these are genuine celestial images. The constellation Virgo ("the Virgin") is wreathed in 12 stars. They are: Pi, Nu, Beta, Sigma, Chi, Iota (these 6 stars form the Southern Hemisphere around the head of Virgo); then there are Theta, Star 60, Delta, Star 93, Beta, the second magnitude star, and Omicron (these last 6 form the Northern Hemisphere around the head of Virgo). All these stars are visible ones that can be seen with the naked eye now and in the 1st century AD. This may only be a coincidence of course, and the 12 stars may stand for the 12 tribes of Israel, as most commentators suggest since Mary was a "daughter of Israel," but it is also interesting that the only time the constellation Virgo is "clothed" with the sun and has the moon "under her feet" is in the month that is the sign of Virgo which corresponds with the Feast of Trumpets in September (late August-mid Sept)! Remember the 7th Trumpet has just sounded in the Book of Revelation (the connection with the Feast of Trumpets is discussed in our study on the Book of Revelation in chapters 10-11).
In the Old Testament, "a woman" is a familiar Biblical image for the Old Covenant Church, the people of God who are collectively the Bride of Yahweh (see Is 26:17-18; 40:1-2; chapter 50; 66:6-11; Jer chapter 3; Lam chapter 1; Ez chapter 16; Hos chapter 1-4; and Mic chapter 4). The Ark that is a woman that John sees in heaven that is a "great sign" is connected to the "woman" of Genesis 3:15 whose "seed" (offspring) was destined to defeat the "seed" (offspring) of the devil. The "woman" John sees is the sign of the fulfillment of the mission of her son, Jesus Christ.
Most Protestant commentaries want to dismiss Mary as the great sign and only recognize the "woman" as a sign of the Church. However, the sign of the woman that John sees is clearly more than a symbol for the Church because he specifically identifies her as the mother of Christ in verse 5 The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter... the same way Christ identifies Himself in Revelation 2:27 when He says "... I myself have been given by my Father, to rule them with an iron scepter and shatter them like so many pots." Revelation 2:27 and 12:5 in our passage are both references to the kingship of the Messiah from Psalms 2:9: With an iron scepter you will break them, shatter them like so many pots.
From the time of the writings of the early Church Fathers, the Church has always identified the woman clothed in the sun and standing on the moon as Mary the mother of Jesus after her assumption into heaven where she is revealed in all her glory as the Davidic Queen of her son's heavenly kingdom. This view has been affirmed by Pope Pius X, Pope Pius XII, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II. And this interpretation was confirmed by the vision of St. Juan Diego when the Virgin Mary appeared to him at Tepiac hill in Mexico in December, 1531. He saw a woman "clothed in the sun and standing on the moon." She identified herself to Juan Diego as the Virgin Mary and his vision of Mary was miraculously reproduced in the image that appeared on his peasant cloak. It is the same vision of the "woman" that St. John saw!
The connection to Mary is the title Jesus used to address His mother in John 2:1-4 at the wedding in Cana and in John 19:27 when He spoke His last words to Mary from the Cross. He called her "Woman," Gunai in Greek, which is better translated "little woman." Jesus uses this title to address Mary because she is the promised "woman" of Genesis 3:15. She is the new Eve who, unlike the first Eve, was obedient to God and through her obedience helped to bring about the redemption of mankind. That Mary is the Ark of the Covenant that St. John saw in heaven is revealed in the contents of the box that was the Ark of the Covenant (Heb 9:3-4) and the identity of Jesus inside the womb of the Virgin Mary:
This is why the Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant in the interpretation of Revelation 11:19-12:1.
THE VIRGIN MARY AS THE ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT
The Ark of the Covenant
|The Virgin Mary
The Ark of the New Covenant
|God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and then indwelled the Ark. The Ark became the dwelling place of the presence of God (Ex 40:34-35).||God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and the indwelled Mary in the Incarnation. At that time Mary's womb became the dwelling place of the presence of God (Lk 1:35).|
|The Ark contained: the 10 Commandments (the words of God in stone), a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that came back to life (Dt 10:3-5; Heb 9:4).||The womb of the Virgin contained Jesus: the living Word of God enfleshed, the living bread from heaven, "the Branch" (Messianic title) who would die but come back to life (Lk 1:35).|
|The Ark traveled to the hill country of Judah to stay in the house of Obed-edom (2 Sam 6:1-11).||Mary traveled to the hill country of Judah (Judea) to the home of Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).|
|Dressed in a priestly ephod, King David approached the Ark and danced and leapt for joy (2 Sam 6:14).||John the Baptist, son of a priest who would himself become a priest, leapt for joy in Elizabeth's womb at the approach of Mary (Lk 1:43).|
|David shouted for joy in the presence of God and the holy Ark (2 Sam 6:15).||Elizabeth gave a loud cry of joy in the presence God within Mary (Luke 1:42).|
|David asked, "How is it that the Ark of the Lord comes to me?" (2 Sam 6:9).||Elizabeth asked, "Why is this granted unto me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).|
|The Ark remained in the house of Obed-edom for 3 months (2 Sam 6:11).||Mary remained in the house of her cousin Elizabeth for 3 months (Lk 1:56).|
|The house of Obed-edom was blessed by the presence of the Ark [2 Samuel 6:11]||The word "blessed" is used 3 times in Luke 1:39-45 concerning Mary at Elizabeth's house.|
|The Ark returned to its Sanctuary but eventually came to Jerusalem where the presence and glory of God was revealed in the newly built Temple (2 Sam 6:12; 1 Kng 8:9-11).||Mary returned home after visiting Elizabeth but eventually came to Jerusalem where she presented the newborn God the Son in the Temple (Lk 1:56; 2:21-22).|
|God made Aaron's staff return to life and bud to prove he was the legitimate High Priest (Num 17:8). The "branch of Aaron" was kept in the Ark (Heb 9:3-4).||God resurrected His Son, who had become enfleshed in Mary's womb and born to bring salvation to all mankind, to prove He is the eternal High Priest (Heb 4:14).|
|When the Ark was being transported outside the Holy of Holies, it was to be covered with a blue veil (Num 4:4-6).||In Mary's appearances outside of heaven, visionaries testify that she wears a blue veil.|
|In Revelation 11:19, the last verse in chapter 11, St. John sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven.||In Revelation 12:1, St. John sees Mary in heaven. It is the same vision Juan Diego saw of Mary in 1531—the Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.|
|Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006, 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.|
The Virgin Mary's title is "Woman" because she is the promised "Woman" of Genesis 3:15. She is also the "new Eve"—just as the original Eve cooperated in humanity's fall from grace so too does Mary, as the "new Eve" cooperate in humanity's redemption. The first Eve's name means "mother of all living." But it is Mary who is truly the "Mother of the living." Mary, as the second Eve, is given to the Church as our mother by her son Jesus when from the cross He told John, the beloved disciple, as representative of all beloved disciples, "Behold your mother" and it is by this gift of His own mother to His Bride the Church that she becomes the mother of all who live in Christ: "Thus, 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" (St. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies" 3,22,4. P. 222, The Faith of the Early Fathers vol.1).
The Woman and the Dragon: 12:2 She was with child and wailed aloud in pain
as she labored to give birth. 3 Then
another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads
and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 Its tail swept away a third of the stars in
the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the
woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.
The Book of Revelation begins in 1:1 with ~ He sent His angel to make it known to His servant John.... With St. John now seeing Mary, the mother of God, as the Ark of the New Covenant (Revelation 11:19-12:1), he is taken back to the beginning of her story. In Revelation 12:2-10, St. John sees Mary, a daughter of Israel, as the symbol of the Old Covenant Church, laboring down through salvation history to give birth to the Messiah. What unfolds is the birth of Jesus and the birth of the Church, together with Satan's unsuccessful attempts to destroy Jesus and the Woman (and the product of her precious "seed" = the Church), which was promised from the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. This second part of the book will end with the victorious ascent of Christ into heaven and the victory of the Church over Satan and his "seed."
12:2 She was with
child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
The literal translation reads in the Greek exactly like the description of Mary in Matthew 1:18, she was found to be with child... The Matthew passage is a quote from the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 (also see Mt 1:23). And in the midst of that struggle in laboring to give birth, the woman is crying aloud. The verb krazo, used in the present tense, indicates prolonged suffering. The verb has special significance in Scripture where it is generally used for oath swearing, or the solemn proclamation of God's divine revelation, or for God's servants speaking out against opposition to God's plan (see Mt 27:50; Mk 3:11; 5:7; 9:24; 10:48; 15:13; Jn 1:15; 7:28; 12:13, 44; Acts 19:28, 32, 34; Rom 9:27; Gal 4:6; Jam 5:4; and Rev 6:10; 7:2, 10; 10:3; 14:15; 18:2, 18-19; 19:17). This time the crying aloud is prophetic. It is the essence of all prophetic revelation –to bear witness to the Christ (Jn 5:39, 45-46; Lk 24:25-27; Acts 3:24; 13:27) and the Church's official declaration of the Word of God, the prophecy she (the Old Covenant Church) cried out as she labored down through the centuries to give birth to the Messiah.
We know this is a reference to Mary is a symbol of the Old Covenant Church struggling to "give birth" to the Messiah in fulfilling Israel's destiny because, since Mary was without sin, she did not experience pain in giving birth to Jesus (it was a curse of a fallen humanity; see Gen 3:16). It has always been a tradition of the Church that when Jesus was born it was like light passing through glass, as St. Thomas Aquinas described the Virgin birth. Mary's virginity remained intact and there was no pain. John's description of the woman crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth are an echo of Isaiah 26:17 which describes the Old Covenant Church's struggle to secure salvation for believers: As a pregnant woman near her time of delivery writhes and cries out in her pangs, so have we been, Yahweh, in your eyes: we have been pregnant, we have writhed, but we have given birth only to wind: we have not given salvation to the earth... Throughout her existence, Israel, as the Old Covenant Church, was waiting for the Messiah. From the Covenant with Abraham when a holy couple was selected the be the family from which the "holy seed"/Messiah would come, to slavery in Egypt, through the Exodus experience and the establishment of the Church at Sinai, to the Kingdom of David, the exile in Babylon and the return, to the suffering under the Greeks and Romans—Israel was laboring to give birth to the Messiah—a birth that promised to yield salvation for the entire world! Mary, a daughter of the Old Covenant Church, is the perfect symbol of the Church laboring to give birth to Messiah-Jesus.
It is interesting that in the Book of Isaiah, twice Isaiah speaks of God giving a SIGN and that SIGN is the virgin birth of Christ (Is 7:12-14). The point is a woman giving birth is hardly a unique sign, but regardless of the meaning of the Hebrew "ha almah" being "the virgin" or "the young woman," the Greek translation clearly says "the virgin" (parthenos) and that was the translation used in the 1st century at the time of the birth of Christ as quoted by St Matthew in 1:23, stating that the virgin birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (for more on the subject of the Isaiah 7:14 translation controversy see the document The Septuagint Old Testament Translation Versus the Jamnian and Massoretic Old Testament Translations in the Documents Section: Is the Catholic Old Testament Accurate.
3 Then a second sign
appeared in the sky: there was a huge red dragon with 7 heads and 10 horns, and
each of the 7 heads crowned with a coronet. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled
them to the ground, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was at
the point of giving birth, so that he could eat the child as soon as it was
This is not a sequel to the preceding vision but a "prequel." John unveils this scene in order to explain the preceding passage and answer the question why the Woman/Mother-Church had to flee into the wilderness. Once he has explained Satan's rebellion in verses 7-12, John will return to the theme of the flight of the Woman.
John gives us the identity of the "dragon" in verse 9 which is not included in our reading. It is Satan. The dragon imagery links us to the primeval serpent (v.9), the same deceiver of Eve and the enemy of God's people. But he will not have victory over the Second Eve who is the Virgin Mary, the promised woman of Genesis 3:15 whose "seed"/ offspring will defeat Satan. The concept of Mary as the "New Eve" goes back to the earliest years of the Church. St. Irenaeus, martyred in AD 202 wrote: "Consequently then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying: 'Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.' Eve, however, was disobedient; and when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband, for in Paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply,--having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race...Thus, 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" (Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," 3,22,4. P. 222 The Faith of the Early Fathers vol.1).
Notice that we now have 3 symbols representing 3 entities in our reading, but in the complete passage of Revelation 12 there are four; the fourth is an angel. To help us with the symbolism and imagery in this chapter, let's lay out the major players:
|The Sign||Identity of the Sign||Identifying Verse|
|The Woman||The Virgin Mary and Mother of the Church||verses 5, 17|
|The Dragon||Satan||verse 9|
|The Son||Jesus the Messiah||verse 5|
|The Angel||Michael the Archangel||verse 7|
If all the other identities of the signs are not just symbols but individuals, then the woman must be more than a symbol; she must also be an individual who plays a role in salvation history.
Its tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and
hurled them to the ground.
John has already associated stars with angels in the Book of Revelation. It is a familiar Biblical connection (see lesson on Revelation 1:20). Now John symbolically describes the fall of the angel Dawnstar/Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15) and the angels who joined him in rebellion against God. John gives us more clarification in verse 9 that is not part of our reading: the great Dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had led all the world astray, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him. This event is also related by Peter in 2 Pet.2:4 ~ When angels sinned, God did not spare them: He sent them down into the underworld and consigned them to the dark Abyss to be held there until the Judgment. And Jude 1:5-13 which has relevance for the interpretation of the judgment of God on unbelieving Israel: I should like to remind you—though you have already learnt it once and for all—that the Lord rescued the nation from Egypt, but afterwards He still destroyed the people who refused to believe Him; and the angels who did not keep to the authority they had, but left their appointed sphere, He has kept in darkness in eternal bonds until the judgment of the great Day (Jude verses 5-6). And Jude verse 13: ... like wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness is stored up forever, throws light on the reference to "stars" in Revelation 12:4.
We do not know that a literal third of the heavenly host fell with Satan. The third is probably symbolic for a complete but partial number and recalls the third of the Trumpet judgments (see Rev 8:7-12; 9:15, 18). Then too there may be a connection to Jesus Christ as the "firstborn" or re'shiyt in Hebrew. The "firstborn", which is a title and a rank but not necessarily a birth order, is entitled to the two-thirds portion of the inheritance (see Dt 21:17). A 2/3rds portion is reserved for Jesus, "the firstborn," and His Kingdom (one-third fell so two-thirds remains of the faithful host of heaven). Another interesting point in this passage is the courtroom language John uses. The Biblical principle of the "two witnesses" may also be involved: for every false witness (angel) of Satan who stands against the covenant, God has two angels on His side to support the Covenant.
This two-thirds/ one-third imagery is also found in the Book of Zechariah, the post exile prophet, in Zechariah 13:7-9. It is significant that Jesus will quote Zechariah 13:7 at the Last Supper discourse. The one-third that is faithful but tested by fire is the "faithful remnant" of Israel that embraces the Messiah (Jn 15:6). These faithful are the also "the seed of the Woman" collectively through Mary as Mother of the Church upon whom Satan will declare war (see Rev 12:17).
Who is it that the dragon intends to destroy in Rev 12:4?
There are two answers:
Do you see the holy connection between Mary and the Church? Both are at the same time ever virgin and fruitful mother. The Church is the virgin Bride of Christ and at the same time the Church is the fruitful mother of many generations of believers.
In Revelation 12:4 "The dragon stopped in front of the woman" is perhaps better translated "took his stand before the woman." The Greek word is hesteken which means "to stand." Satan knows this is the final showdown. And continuing in verse 4 the line to eat the child is more meaningfully translated "to swallow up the child." In Hebrew the phrase "swallowing up" means to kill or to do away with and is used frequently to express Satan's seed bring suffering and destruction to God's people like Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon who tried to "swallow up" Jerusalem (Jer. 51:34 literal Hebrew translation). With the imagery in this passage, John reveals the red Dragon as the power behind the imperial thrones (he wears a royal crown) of the ancient world that have persecuted God's holy covenant people. This is the vision that was revealed to God's prophet Daniel in Daniel chapter 7. The 7 heads identify him with Daniel's vision. We will set aside the symbolism of the 10 horns and 7 crowned heads but you can read about it in the Revelation study on chapter 13.
It is the Dragon/Satan's ultimate goal to abort the work of the Messiah and to devour and kill Him so: the Dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was at the point of giving birth, so that he could eat the child as soon as it was born. This is the war between the Messiah and Satan that was announced in Genesis 3:15. It is the war between the two seeds: the seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent (literal Hebrew in Gen 3:15). From Genesis to Revelation, from the first book to the last book of the Bible, this is the war of history. Throughout history, Satan was either trying to: (1) keep Jesus from being born, (2) kill Him as soon as He was born, (3) to destroy Him as an adult.
5 She gave birth to
a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her
child was caught up to God and his throne. 6a
The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by
God. 10 Then I heard a loud voice
in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of His Anointed One."
This is the verse that clearly identifies Mary as the woman in addition to the symbolic representation of the woman as the Church. Jesus is identified by the reference to the Messianic passage from Psalms 2:9 that is alluded to in Rev 12:7 (see bold type) ~ I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, 'You are my son, today have I fathered you. Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your birthright, the whole wide world as your possession. With an iron scepter you will break them, shatter them like so many pots.
The Psalmist in Psalm 2, like John, makes the Messiah's birth all one with His enthronement. It is the Ascension that was the goal of Christ's Advent. In other words, if He is fathered by God then He reigns! In spite of everything Satan has tried to do, "the promised Seed of the Woman" is caught up to the heavenly throne and now takes His place as the ruler of all nations with an iron scepter, just as if He had gone from the Incarnation straight to the Throne. Satan has no power to stop Him.
6a The woman
herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.
Now the imagery moves from the "Woman"/ Mary and her "seed"/ Jesus to imagery of the "Woman" as the Church and her "seed" the believers. As it will become apparent, the Woman's flight into the wilderness is a picture of the flight of the Judean Christians from religious persecution by the Jews and later the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. While she is in the "wilderness," "the Woman"/ the Church, is nourished and cared for by God. So during the period of time that Satan's wrath is turned on Christians, the Church is protected. The "Woman's" flight does not signify God's abandonment of her but instead His loving provision. Christ's faithful Bride (the New Covenant Church) is safe because God had prepared a place for her to be looked after (see 2 Sam 7:10; 1Chr 17:9; Jn 14:2-3).
John also probably means us to think of two other occasions when the "Woman" as an individual and the "Woman" as the Old Covenant Church was protected by flight: Israel's flight into the wilderness from Egypt and the flight of the Virgin Mary into Egypt to escape wicked King Herod who tried to kill baby Jesus. We should also be aware that this verse images Mary not only as the symbol of the Old Covenant Church and the mother of Christ but also as our mother of the New Covenant Church who continues to labor in giving birth to New Covenant believers.
Our passage in the First Reading ends with: 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now
have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of
His Anointed One."
The announcement of victory comes, as it often has in John's experience in this heavenly vision, in a loud voice from heaven calling the heavenly assembly to praise God for His marvelous works brought through the Blood of the Lamb. This reminds us that the entire setting of St. John's vision is liturgical. The result of victory over Satan is fourfold (in the symbolic meaning of numbers in Scripture, four is the number of the earth):
Satan is no longer prince of the earth; his dominion over the earth has ended. He has not been able to prevent God's plan for man's salvation, but his influence and the power to do damage remains, and we, as the offspring of Mary, who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus (Rev 12:17) must continue the fight against evil by continuing to spread the Gospel of salvation.
Responsorial Psalm 45:9b, 10-11, 15 ~ Mary the Davidic Queen
The response is: "The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold."
9b The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear, forget your people and your father's house.
11 So shall the king desire your beauty; for he is your lord.
15 They are borne in with gladness and joy; they enter the palace of the king.
This psalm describes the king's marriage to a foreign
princess. First the psalmist praises the king and then turns his attention to
the virgin bride who has come to unite her life to the king's life.
In verses 10-11 the new virgin bride of the king is invited to be submissive and obedient to her husband. He loves her and will make her happy. In verse 15, the bride's companions accompany the queen as she enters the king's palace. This psalm was used in the Jerusalem Temple liturgy to raise the people's consciousness to the promise of the future Davidic Messiah-king and the people's role as the covenant bride.
Since verses from this psalm are found in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews (compare Ps 45:6-7 to Heb 1:8-9), Christian tradition has expanded its significance by seeing the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary in its references to the king's bride. Specifically verse 9b has been used to support the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary into heaven: "Therefore, when the Virgin of virgins was assumed into heaven by the God who was her Son, the King of kings, amid the joy and the rejoicing of the angels and archangels and the acclamation of all the blessed, the prophesy of the psalmist was fulfilled: 'At your right hand stand your queen in gold of Ophir [Ps 45:9]'" (St. Amadeus of Lausanne, Homily, 7).
In Mary's Assumption into heaven, she took her rightful place as the Queen of the Heavenly Kingdom of her Son, the Divine Davidic King. In the days of the Davidic kings, it was the king's mother who sat at the right side of her son the king; it was not his wife (he had several wives but only one mother). It was the king's mother who bore the official title of Gebirah: "Queen Mother" (see 1 Kng 1:10-28; 2 Kng 10:13, etc.). Mary is also the symbol of the Church, the Bride of Christ. She is both ever virgin and fruitful mother since all Christians are her children. The rightful Queen (Gebirah) of the Kingdom is Mary's role in heaven. See the document "Mary the Queen Mother of the New Davidic Kingdom and the chart of the Davidic kings and their mothers.
The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:20-26 ~ Christ the
Firstfruits of the Resurrection
20 Christ has been raised from the dead, the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, 23 but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; 24 then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for "he subjected everything under his feet."
St. Paul writes about the end of the age when Christ returns as the glorious King, having overcome sin and all elements of its power over the world. Although St. Paul is only referring to the resurrection of the just (verse 23), he does speak elsewhere of the resurrection of all mankind, both the righteous and the sinner (1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thes 4:13-17; etc.). Mary's assumption into heaven prefigures the resurrection of the just and we, like Mary, who have died to sin with Him in Christian baptism will also reign with Him. But the Virgin Mary is the one who has a special place among the redeemed because she is the mother of the Redeemer and the first Christian. She is also the Gebirah, the Queen Mother of the Davidic King of the new and eternal Covenant.
25 For he must reign
until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for
"he subjected everything under his feet."
In verses 25-26 Paul speaks of the destruction of death. This will take place when Christ returns and the Last Judgment takes place, a vision St. John witnessed in the Book of Revelation: I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the Book of Life. The dead were judges according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. This pool of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire (Rev 20:12-15; emphasis added). Hades is not the hell of the damned but is instead the abode of the dead, called Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek. Notice that it is a state that continues to function until the end of time. Sheol/Hades was a state where the righteous waited for the coming of the Messiah and the wicked were punished for their sins (Lk 16:19-31). After Christ liberated the righteous dead from that state (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6) and both blessings and judgments became eternal, it became known as a place of purification for the saved who died with unconfessed venial sins or for atonement for confessed and forgiven mortal sins where further atonement was still necessary. It is known by the Latin word for purification: Purgatory (CCC 1030-32). The pool of fire is the hell of the damned (see CCC 633, 1033-34).
The Gospel of Luke 1:39-56 ~ The Visitation and
the Canticle of the Virgin Mary
Luke 1:39-45 ~ The Visitation: Mary journeys from Nazareth to the house of Zechariah
39 Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
After the angel Gabriel's visit and the incarnation of God the Son, Mary immediately set out, probably joining a caravan traveling to Jerusalem, to make the 7-8 day journey from Nazareth in the Galilee to the hill country of Judea and the town of her kinswoman Elizabeth. According to a Christian tradition that predates the Crusades, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in the Judean town of Ein Kerem, about four miles west of Jerusalem (Shrines of the Holy Land, pages 125-29). After the return from the Babylonian exile, the Book of Nehemiah records that the chief priests took up residence in or near Jerusalem (Neh 11:3).
You will recall that Elizabeth was in seclusion for the first five months of her pregnancy as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value (Lk 1:24). It is now the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy as they ancients counted (Lk 1:36) when Mary traveled to visit her. Mary's desire to visit her kinswoman is probably prompted by the Holy Spirit as well as by her need to share her experience with someone who will understand.
Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth,
filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 cried
out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is
the fruit of your womb. 43 And
how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For at the moment the sound of your
greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed are you who believed that what
was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
When Mary entered her house and Elizabeth first heard Mary's voice (Lk 1:40), the fetus of St. John the Baptist, recognizing the presence of his Lord, leapt for joy within his mother's womb (Lk 1:41, 44). The unborn St. John's response to Mary and the Christ within her womb recalls God's words to Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you (Jer 1:5). Think of the horror of abortion that is taking place daily as children, personally known by God from the womb and given as His holy gift, are violently murdered before (and in some cases after) birth.
In Elizabeth's Holy Spirit inspired greeting to her kinswoman, she gives Mary three blessings in verses 42-45:
We recite Elizabeth's blessing of Mary in verse 42 in the Hail Mary Prayer that begins with the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Elizabeth's third blessing for Mary: Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled, is given in contrast to Zechariah's unbelief (1:18). Mary is the first Christian. Her belief does not waver during the years of Jesus ministry or during His Passion. She will be faithfully praying together with those who believed and waited for the coming of the Paraclete in the Upper Room after Jesus' Ascension (Acts 1:13-14).
Luke 1:43 And
how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Bible scholars both ancient and modern have seen the similarity of Elizabeth's rhetorical question in Luke 1:43 and King David's rhetorical question in 2 Samuel 6:9 when he said: How can the Ark of the Lord come to me? speaking of the Ark of the Covenant. They have seen Elizabeth's question as an intentional comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of the Lord God (see the chart on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant in the first reading). A deliberate comparison seems to be confirmed by verse 56 where Mary is said to stay in Elizabeth's house in the Judean hill country three months—just as the Ark stayed in the Judean hill country house of Obed-edom for three months in 2 Samuel 6:11.
When Elizabeth refers to "my Lord" in verse 43 and to "the Lord" in verse 45, she is referring to Jesus in verse 43 and God in verse 45. She is referring to the Divinity of Jesus and therefore to Mary as "the mother of God." It is by the strength of Elizabeth's statement, prompted by the Holy Spirit, that the Council of Ephesus declared Mary not only the "Mother of Jesus" but also the "Mother of God" in 431 AD. CCC 495: "Called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus," Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord." In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God" (Theotokos)." Also see CCC 466, 495 and 509.
From what Elizabeth says in verse 45, she not only knows what the angel Gabriel told her husband but also what Gabriel told Mary. This knowledge was imparted to her by the Holy Spirit in the moment of her joy, but other information must also have been imparted to her by her husband (see 1:60 where she knows the name of the child before Zechariah's speech has returned).
For other references to the expression "fruit of your womb" in Scripture see Deuteronomy 7:13 where God promised to bless Israel for covenant obedience: He will love and bless and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the produce of your soil.... Also see Psalms 127:3 where it is written: Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward. To reject the birth of a child is to reject a gift from God.
Luke 1:46-55 ~ The Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat)
46 And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my Savior 48 for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: 49 the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. 50 He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. 51 He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. 52 He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, 55 and the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever." 56 Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Mary's response to Elizabeth's exclamation of praise for Mary's belief and the honor God has shown her as "the mother of the Lord," is a hymn of praise that is known as the Magnificat. Some scholars have concluded that Mary's Magnificat, like the Benedictus of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79), was an early Aramaic Jewish-Christian hymn that predates Luke's Gospel. Other scholars disagree, citing the numerous references to the Greek Septuagint Old Testament passages within the two chants (Fr. Raymond Brown, The Birth of Jesus, pages 350-55 and the opposing view from Fr. Raymond Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, page 361). One test for such a theory is how easily the Greek translates into Hebrew or Aramaic. Notice that Mary's hymn that it is full of Old Testament Scripture references.
Mary's hymn of praise can be divided into three parts:
46 And Mary
said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...
Mary begins by calling God her personal savior. The word "Lord," Kyrois in Greek, is understood to be Yahweh who is the source of Mary's blessing and her salvation. The expression "rejoices in God my Savior" is an echo of Hannah's hymn of praise to God in 1 Samuel 2:1.
In verse 48, Mary says: For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me ... The NJB has "he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant" which is an echo of Habakkuk 3:18. Her humble station is the first reason for Mary's praise. She declares that because of God's Divine plan for her life and her willingness to submit to that plan, all generations will pronounce a beatitude over her; the verb makariousin, in the future tense, reflects the adjective makaria that Elizabeth uses in verse 45 (Fitzmyer, page 367).
Notice that in verse 48b that Mary utters a prophecy for future generations and her relationship to them which is prompted by the Holy Spirit. But this prophecy requires action on the part of Christians. It is our obligation to honor Mary, just as her Son honored her according to the Law (Ex 20:12; Dt 16), and because if we live in imitation of Christ we must imitate His love for her. To honor one's parents is the only one of the Ten Commandments that carries a promise (see Ex 20:12). When Jesus gave Mary into the care of the beloved disciple as his mother at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26-27), she became the mother of every disciple of Christ Jesus (also see Rev 12:17).
Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. 50 He has mercy on those who fear him in
Verse 49 is the second reason for Mary's praise. She uses the same title for God that is found in the "daughter of Zion" passage in Zephaniah 3:17 (LXX) and Psalms 89:9 (LXX). That God "has done great things" for her is an echo of Deuteronomy 10:21 in which God promises the children of Israel He will do "great things" (great saving acts) for them if they remain loyal and obedient. Mary sees this promise fulfilled personally for her in what God has done in making her the mother of the Redeemer-Messiah—a "great thing" that will not only bring about her salvation but the salvation of her people (also see Dt 11:7 and Judg 2:7).
Notice that in verses 49-50 Mary names three attributes of God: His might, holiness, and mercy.
"Holy is his name" or "His name is holy" refers to God's Divine Name YHWH and is an echo of Psalms 119:9 while "His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him" is an echo of Psalms 103:17. A name was believed to express the total essence of a person, or in this case of God as the great "I AM" and about which God told Moses "This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations" (see Ex 3:15).
When Mary speaks of "fear of the Lord" in verse 50 (something God urges repeatedly in Scripture (i.e., Ex 18:21; Lev 25:17, 36, 43; Dt 6:13, 24; 8:6; 10:12, 20) it is a repeat almost verbatim from Psalm 103:17, but she is not speaking of servile fear but reverence toward God in recognizing His sovereignty and fear of offending God. This is the positive aspect of keeping on the path to righteousness. Mary's hymn that began in praise for what God has done for her personally has now expanded to what God has done for her people as a whole.
51 He has shown
the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. 52 He has cast down the mighty from their
thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. 53 He
has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
Expressions similar to "shown the strength/might of his arm" are often found in Scripture (see for example Ex 6:6; Dt 4:34; Ps 89:11; Is 40:10; 51:5, 9; 53:1). God is spirit and this expression is not meant to suggest God has arms like human beings. It is an anthropomorphism meant to convey the exercise of God's great power and strength. Verse 52 is an echo of Job 5:11 and 12:19.
The "wealthy" who are the "arrogant of mind and heart" are the enemies of the poor and humble and therefore the enemies of God (see Is 2:12, 17; 4:15; 13:11; Wis 3:10-11; etc.). Mary is speaking of the promise of God's ultimate justice for those who have suffered and for those who have caused the suffering. She includes a quote from Psalms 107:9: For he satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things. In His Divine justice, God will judge men and women according to their works (Mt 25:31-46; Lk 6:20-25), and the rich who abused the use of their material gifts will experience a reversal of fortune in that they will be "sent away empty."
54 He has
come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of
mercy, 55 and the promise he
made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever."
Mary's concluding statement contains echoes of the promises of Isaiah 41:8-9 from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament that was the common translation used in Mary's time, as well as Psalms 98:3 and Micah 7:20:
Mary understands that her condition, in bearing the Redeemer-Messiah who is the heir of King David and of the living realization of the promises of the Davidic covenant, is a fulfillment of God's promise not to abandon His covenant people. Her Son will be a fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. One of those promises was of a blessing that is to extend world-wide (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). That blessing will be fulfilled in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:8).
Mary's great humility and faith is illuminated in her beautiful hymn of praise—this is, of course, the way God created her. In the Catechism, citation CCC 722, the Church teaches: "The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by his grace. It was fitting that the mother of him in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells, bodily, should herself be 'full of grace.' She was, by sheer grace, conceived without sin as the most humble of creatures, the most capable of welcoming the inexpressible gift of the Almighty. It was quite correct for the angel Gabriel to greet her as the 'Daughter of Zion: Rejoice.' It is the thanksgiving of the whole People of God, and thus of the Church, which Mary in her canticle lifts up to the Father in the Holy Spirit while carrying within her the eternal Son."
remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
According to Scripture, Elizabeth was six month with child when Mary arrived (Lk 1:24, 26), and Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months. Does this suggest that Mary stayed until Elizabeth's son was born? Before you answer, remember the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value, this is why Scripture records Jesus rested in the tomb three days from Friday to Sunday instead of two. See Wisdom 7:1-2. The answer is no, she did not. As the ancients counted, with the first month of pregnancy counting as month #1, a woman carried a child, according to ancient reckoning, for ten months. Therefore, according to the way we count, Elizabeth was five months pregnant when the angel visited Mary and she was eight months pregnant when Mary left. Mary left the month before St. John's birth.
Mary made the return journey to Nazareth when she was two months pregnant as we count months (three as the ancients counted). She had important issues to settle in Nazareth before her pregnancy began to show and before travel became too dangerous for her. She trusted in God to protect her and to bring His Divine Plan for man's salvation through the birth of her Son to completion.
Do you assist in fulfilling Mary's prophecy that "all generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48) in obedience to the word of prophetic knowledge given to Mary by the Holy Spirit? Do you venerate her as the Mother of God, the Queen (Gebirah) of Heaven, and the Mother of the Church who is your spiritual Mother? Show her your love and reverence by praying the rosary with her for the sake of her Son's Kingdom and Christian brothers and sisters who are in peril and suffering persecution.
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a (CCC 1138)
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (CCC 655); 15:20 (632, 991); 15:21-22 (CCC 411); 15:24 (CCC 668); 15:26 (CCC 1008)
Luke 1:41 (CCC 523, 717, 2676); 1:43 (CCC 448, 495, 2677); 1:45 (CCC 148, 2676); 1:46-55 (CCC 722, 2619, 2676); 1:46-49 (CCC 2097); 1:48 (CCC 148, 971, 2676); 1:49 (CCC 273, 2599, 2807, 2827); 1:50 (CCC 2465); 1:54-55 (CCC 706); 1:55 (CCC 422)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014