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Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings


Zechariah 2:14-17 or Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a; 10ab
Judith 13:18 bcde, 19
Luke 1:26-38 or 1:39-47

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated 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 reread 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 of the Readings: The Virgin Mary, Patroness of the Americas
In the year 1531, 12 years after the beginning of the conquest of Mexico, a simple Indian peasant named Juan Diego, a Catholic convert, had a vision that changed the history of the native people of the Americas.  Passing by Tepeyac Hill on his way to worship at the Cathedral in Mexico City, he saw a beautiful woman dressed in the robe of an Aztec noblewoman with the Aztec band around the waist of her robe that was the sign of her pregnancy.  She addressed him affectionately in his native Nahuatl language, calling him her little son Juanito, and identifying herself as the Virgin Mary, "mother of the very true deity."  She then asked that a church be built on that site in her honor.  The hill had been a site of worship for the Aztec mother goddess.  Even though the Spaniards had destroyed the pagan shrine on the hill, many Indians still came to offer worship there.  However, the Virgin Mary had come to claim not only the hill but the whole of the Americas in the name of her divine Son and His Church. 

Juan Diego immediately went on to Mexico City and sought out an interview with the Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, to tell him what he had seen and the request of the beautiful lady.  The Archbishop was doubtful, but when Juan told her, Mary persisted and spoke with Juan a second time, asking him keep insisting that the Archbishop fulfill her request.  On Sunday, December the 10th, Juan Diego spoke with the Archbishop a second time.  The Archbishop instructed Juan to return to Tepeyac Hill and this time to ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity.  When Juan saw her for a third time that same day, Mary consented to provide a sign the following day (December the 11th).

Juan planned to return, but the next day his uncle Juan Bernardino was very ill and Juan stayed to take care of him.  Juan's uncle's condition became worse overnight and on December the 12th Juan set out in the early morning to find a priest to hear his uncle's confession and to give him the last rites, since his uncle was also a Christian convert.  Juan had to pass Tepeyac Hill, but he took another route around the hill intending to avoid the lady since he felt his uncle's time was limited, and he was also embarrassed that he had failed to meet with her the day before.

He was shocked when the Virgin Mary intercepted him and asked where he was going; this was his fourth apparition.  Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe miracle and words that are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe that was built in her honor, she asked: "No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre?" ("Am I not here, I who am your mother?").   Then Mary assured her "little Juanito" that his uncle had already recovered.  She told him to go to the top of the hill and to gather flowers to take as a sign to the Archbishop.  To his amazement, the top of the barren hill had beautiful red roses growing in the middle of winter.  He put the roses in his tilma (peasant's cloak), and he returned to the lady.  She carefully arranged the roses in his tilma; then she covered the roses with his cloak and told him to give the roses to the Archbishop.  When Juan Diego opened his cloak before Archbishop Zumarraga on December 12, the flowers, Castilian roses, the favorite flowers of the Archbishop that grew in his native Spain, fell to the floor, and on the fabric of Juan's cloak was the image of the Virgin Mary as she had appeared to Juan.  It was an image that was very like the image St. John saw in the Book of Revelation 12:1—a woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.

The next day, on December 13, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had promised him.  Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen the Virgin Mary at his bed-side (fifth apparition).  She had instructed him to inform Archbishop Zumarraga of his apparition and of his miraculous cure, and that she had told him she desired to be known by a title that he was to relate to the Archbishop.  When Juan's uncle was interviewed, the Archbishop understood the title to be "Guadalupe," the name of his home in Spain.  But Juan's uncle did not speak Spanish was speaking in his native language to an interpreter.  What he actually said sounds very much like what in the Nahuatl language may have been: "she who crushes the serpent."  The serpent was one of the principal gods of the Aztec.  As the "new Eve," the Virgin Mary is the promised woman of Genesis 3:15, a passage in which God curses the serpent and promises I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]. He/she will crush your head, and you will strike at his heel.  The pronoun in the second sentence is an indefinite pronoun and can read he, she, or it. St. Jerome in his Latin Vulgate translated the pronoun "she" whose seed/offspring was foretold would come to defeat the ancient serpent, Satan (Rev 12:9).  This is why in Catholic art the Virgin Mary is often seen standing on the head of a serpent.

Saint Juan Diego's tilma has become Mexico's most important religious and cultural symbol and Mary's shrine on Tepeyac Hill, the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the world.  Previously to this event, very few Indians had given up their pagan gods and converted to Christianity, but within a decade of Mary's appearance to Juan Diego it has been estimated that seven million Indians converted to Christianity.

See the document at Agape Bible Study The Image of the Virgin of Guadalupe for the symbolism of the image and the scientific research concerning the image.

The First Reading Zechariah 2:14-17 ~ Rejoice Daughter of Zion
14 Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!  See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.  15 Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day, and they shall be his people, and he will dwell among you. And you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.  17 The LORD will possess Judah as his portion in the holy land, and he will again choose Jerusalem.  17 Silence, all mankind, in the presence of the LORD!  For he stirs forth from his holy dwelling.

In some Bible translations these verses are found in 2:10-13.  According the Zechariah 1:7, the prophet Zechariah made this prophecy in the second year of the reign of King Darius, on the twenty-fourth day of Shebat, in the eleventh month (January/February) of the year 519 BC.  This call to rejoice in verse 14 is similar to that made by the angel Gabriel in his greeting to the Virgin Mary when he announced to her that she, who had been perfected in grace, is to conceive and bear the Davidic Messiah (Lk 1:28).  That event will bring about what is prophesized in this passage.  Mary is "the mother of him in whom" "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9 quoted in CCC 722), and through Mary, God was coming to dwell in the midst of His people.  She is the holy dwelling place of the Christ Incarnate.

Pope St. John Paul II saw Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, as prefigured in the title "daughter Zion" in verse 14.  He wrote, "Her presence in the midst of Israel—a presence so discreet as to pass almost unnoticed by the eyes of her contemporaries—shown very clearly before the Eternal One, who had associated this hidden 'daughter of Sion' (cf Zeph 2:14; 2:10) with the plan of salvation embracing the whole history of humanity (Redemptoris Mater, 3).

The Alternate Reading Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a; 10ab
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 under 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 its 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.  [...].  10ab Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of God and the authority of his Anointed."

The Book of Revelation was written by St. John and recounts visions he received from Jesus Christ when he was a prisoner on the island of Patmos.  When the Bible was written there were no chapters or verses designated.  Those chapter helps were introduced in the Middle Ages and we probably have the great Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton (d. 1228) to thank for our chapter separations (verse separations would not be introduced for several more centuries).  But the important point here it that there is no separation between 11:19 and 12:1 in the handwritten manuscripts!

This statement that St. John saw the Ark of the Covenant in Heaven 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 586/7 BC when the prophet Jeremiah removed it from the Holy of Holies and hid it in a cave at Mt. Nebo.  The Holy of Holies of the Second Temple was an empty room!  See 2 Maccabees 2:1-8.  The important point here is that the sanctuary in Heaven could not be opened until the old, earthly Temple was removed (Heb. 9:8) in 70 AD by the Romans.  Now the sanctuary is opened and the heavenly and true, Ark is revealed.  Remember the earthly one is only a "copy" (Ex 25:8-9, 40). 

When the sanctuary is opened and the thunder and lightning cease John saw the Ark; it is "the Woman" that John sees—the woman of Genesis 3:15 from whose seed the Redeemer would be born and the devil would be defeated.  "Woman" is the title Jesus used to address Mary, His mother, because she was the promised "Woman" of Genesis 3:15 (see Jn 2:1-4 and Jn 19:27). Jesus use of "Woman," Gunai in Greek, is better translated "little woman." 

There was an event that occurred in 1531 that confirms the identity of the "Woman" of Rev. 12:1 as Mary, the Mother of God, and that is the vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe who appeared to St. Juan Diego at Tepeyac hill in Mexico, clothed with the sun and standing on the moon like "the Woman" in Revelation 12:1!  Mary 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.

The earthly Ark held three items according to Hebrews 9:3-4: a jar of manna, the heavenly bread; the branch or staff of the high priest Aaron which miraculously came back to life and budded as a sign of his authority; and the tablets of the Covenant, the word of God. The Virgin Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant whose womb contained Jesus the "living bread come down from Heaven" (Jn 6:41, 51), "the Branch" (Messianic title in Is 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12) who was dead but came back to life, and the "living Word of God" (Jn 1:1, 14).  Mary, the Mother of God, is that sacred vessel, the Ark of the New Covenant! 

"Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of God dwells. She is 'the dwelling of God [...] with men.'"  CCC#2676

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.  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 rest 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 exclaimed with a loud cry of joy in the presence God within Mary (Lk 1:42).
David asked, "How is it that the Ark of the Lord comes to me?" (2 Sam 6:9). Elizabeth asks, "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 Sam 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 and eventually ends up in Jerusalem where the presence and glory of God is revealed in the newly built Temple (2 Sam 6:12; 1 Kng 8:9-11). Mary returned home from visiting Elizabeth and eventually comes to Jerusalem, where she presents God the Son in the Temple (Lk 1:56; 2:21-22).
God made Aaron's rod (which would be kept in the Ark) return to life and budded to prove he was the legitimate High Priest (Num 17:8). God would resurrect 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 outside the Holy of Holies [when it was being transported] 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 John sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven (this is the last verse of chapter 11) In Revelation 12:1 John sees Mary in heaven.  It is the same vision Juan Diego saw of Mary in 1531—the Woman closed with the sun and standing on the moon.
M. Hunt, copyright 2002, revised 2006

In Revelation 12:1 John gets our attention immediately by announcing that this sign of "the Woman" is a GREAT sign. The "great sign" pointing to the woman as an important symbol is central to the understanding of the prophecy as a whole.  The message to us is that we must think carefully about the Biblical meaning of this "great "sign."  In this case the Greek noun is "semeion"=sign 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).  Three astronomical signs are 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 instead these are genuine celestial images. The constellation Virgo 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 is 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 when the Book of Revelation was written.  This may only be a coincidence of course, and the 12 stars can stand for the 12 tribes of Israel, as most commentators suggest, 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 Jewish Feast of Trumpets in September (late August-mid Sept)! 

A question that might be asked is how is "a woman" as symbolic imagery most often used biblically?  In the Old Covenant "a woman" is a familiar Biblical image for the Old Covenant Church, the people of God and 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; Mic chapter 4). 

Most Protestant commentaries want to dismiss Mary as the great sign and only recognize the "Woman" as a sign of the Church. But this sign of the woman that St. John sees is clearly more than a symbol for the Church because he specifically identifies her as the mother of Christ in verse 5: She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod [scepter].  The same way Christ is described in Revelation 2:27a, He will rule them with an iron rod ...  Revelation 2:27 and 12:5 are references to the kingship of the Messiah from Psalms 2:9 With an iron scepter you shall Shepherd them, like a clay pot you will shatter them.

The Church has always identified this "woman clothed in the sun and standing on the moon" as Mary the mother of Jesus.  This interpretation was confirmed as correct by the vision of St. Juan Diego when the Virgin Mary appeared to him at Tepeyac hill in Mexico on December the 12th, 1531.  He saw her "clothed in the sun and standing on the moon" and this vision of Mary was miraculously reproduced in the image that appeared on his cloak.  St. John was given this revelation after Mary's assumption into heaven.

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, 23, she was found to be with child... The Matthew passage is a quote from the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would give birth. Twice Isaiah speaks of God giving a SIGN and that SIGN is the Virgin birth of Christ.  There is controversy over whether the Hebrew text really says "virgin" or "woman."   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 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 a "fulfillment" in Matthew 1:23

This verse images Mary not only as mother of Christ but as our mother, the Church, who labors to give birth to Covenant believers.  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.  In John's description the woman is crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth.  Those words are echoed in 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... (NJB).  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 will 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.

And in the midst of that struggle she is "crying aloud."  This verb krazo, used in the present tense, indicated prolonged suffering.  This 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 Mat 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 cried out as she labored down through the centuries 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 its heads were seven diadems. 
The dragon is Satan.  The dragon imagery links us to "the ancient serpent" (verse 9), the same deceiver of Eve and the enemy of God's people.  But he will not have victory over the Second Eve.  The Virgin Mary, the Woman of Genesis 3:15, is the New Eve.  The concept of Mary as the "New Eve" goes back to the earliest years of the Church.  St. Irenaeus, martyred in 202 AD 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; also see CCC 411).

Who is it that the dragon intends to destroy?  There are 2 answers. 1). Mary's seed = Jesus and 2). the Mother Church's seed = believers in the New Covenant in the blood of Christ.  This 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 she is the fruitful mother of all who believe in Jesus Christ.

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
John has already associated stars with angels; it is a familiar Biblical connection (see lesson on Rev 1:20).  John symbolically describes the fall of the angel Dawnstar-Lucifer (Is 14:12-15) and the angels who went into rebellion against God with him (John gives more clarification in verse 9).  This event is also related by St. 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 Judgement.  And Jude 1:5-13 which has relevance for our 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 judgement of the great Day (5-6) wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness is stored up for ever (verse 13; notice the reference to "stars").

In Revelation 12:4 "The dragon stood before 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 "devour 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). With the imagery in this passage St. 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.

a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth.
We do not know that a literal third of the rebellious heavenly host fell with Satan.  The third is probably symbolic for a complete but partial number and recalls the third of the Trumpet judgments (we have just had the last Trumpet blast; see 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 not necessarily a birth order, is entitled to the two-thirds portion (see Deuteronomy 21:17) of the inheritance.  A 2/3rds portion is reserved for Jesus the firstborn and His Kingdom (one third fell so 2 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 which he prophesizes:  7 Awake sword against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me—declares Yahweh Sabaoth!  Strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep!  And I shall turn my hand against the young!  8 So it will be, throughout the country—declares Yahweh Sabaoth—two-thirds in it will be cut off and the other third will be left.  9 I shall pass this third through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, test them as gold is tested.  He will call on my name and I shall answer him; I shall say, "He is my people," and he will say, "Yahweh is my God!" (Zec 13:7-9, NJB).  It is significant that Jesus will quote Zechariah 13:7 at His Last Supper discourse.  The one-third that is faithful but tested by fire is the "faithful remnant" of Israel that embraces the Messiah.  These are also "the seed of the Woman" collectively through Mary as Mother of the Church upon whom Satan will declare war (see Rev 12:17).

The Dragon/Satan's goal is 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 war between the Messiah and Satan 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.  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, or to (2) kill Him as soon as He was born.

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. 
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 clearly identified by the reference to the Messianic passage from Psalms 2:9 (NJB); beginning with verse 7: 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, like John in this passage, 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 Seed" is caught up to the 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 the destruction of Jerusalem.  While she is in the wilderness "the Woman" as the Church is nourished and protected by God.  So during the period of time that Satan's wrath is turned on apostate Jerusalem in 70 AD, 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.   

St. John may also mean for 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 King Herod.

[...].  10ab Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of God and the authority of his Anointed."

Once he has explained Satan's rebellion in verses 7-12, John will return to the theme of the flight of the Woman.  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 Mary (Spouse of the Holy Spirit)- The Church verse 5
The Dragon Satan verse 9
The Son/ the Anointed Jesus the Messiah verses 5 and 10
The Angel Michael verse 7

Protestant Commentators only want to identify the Woman as The Church but it doesn't make sense for the other signs to represent a specific individual or entity without the Woman also being a certain person as well.  Their refusal to recognize Mary as "the Woman" can only be explained as anti-Mary prejudice.

There will be a fourfold victory over Satan: 1) Salvation: for the human race, 2) power over Satan, 3) empire: the Kingdom is established, 4) all authority for Christ the King of the Kingdom of heaven on earth = the universal Catholic Church.  Those who share in Christ's victory over Satan are the martyrs who spent their lives in the service of the Lamb.   They did not die or suffer in vain but are partakers in the victory because they conquered the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb which recalls what Jesus said in John 12:25, "Who loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life."

Responsorial Psalm, Judith 13:18bcde, 19 ~ Blessed Daughter of Zion
The response is: "You are the highest honor of our race."
"18 bcd Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all women on earth; and blessed be the LORD God, the creator of heaven and earth ...
 19 Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God."

The heroine Judith is a biblical type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A biblical type is "A biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events.   In the Old Testament, Melchizedech and Jonah are types of Jesus Christ.  A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater.  Both are independent of each other" (Catholic Dictionary, John A. Hardon, S.J.). 

The typology of Judith and Mary:

  1. In the Book of Judith, a chaste Judith triumphed over her people's enemy by cutting off his head and then gave all the glory to God, saving her people from captivity and slavery.  The Virgin Mary through her divine Son, helped to defeat Satan, the enemy of humanity, whose goal is to enslave humanity in sin.
  2. Judith was praised as "blessed ... above all women on earth" (verse 18), and St. Elizabeth and the angel Gabriel also said of Mary, "blessed are you among women" (Lk 1:30; 32).
  3. Judith gave all glory to God as did Mary in the Magnificat.
  4. Judith was a holy woman devoted to God, and Mary is not only a vessel of singular devotion but also the Most Holy Virgin mother of God the Son.
  5. Judith was fearless and heroic; Mary was the most holy of all women and the most heroic, experiencing along with her Son great suffering, as prophesized by Simeon ( Lk 2:34-35 ).
  6. Judith was a daughter of Zion (the Old Covenant Church) and so was Mary.
  7. The people of Bethula recommended themselves to the intercession of Judith because, as a holy woman, her prayers to God were powerful (Jud 10:6-8 ).  We recommend ourselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary because she is Jesus' beloved mother and to be an intercessor is the role of the Queen Mother of the Davidic king ( 1 Kng 2:13-18 ).
  8. The Virgin Mary, like Judith, is the "highest honor of our race" and all generations will call her blessed ( Lk 1:48 ).

The Gospel of Luke 1:26-38 or 1:39-47 ~ The announcement of Jesus' birth (the Annunciation)
26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.  28 And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one [greetings/rejoice, has been graced]!  The Lord is with you."  29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  34 But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"  35 And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God."  38 Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her. 39 During those days 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." 46 And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
[..] = literal translation (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, page 345-46).

Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
It is the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy (5 months as we count), the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin named Mary.  In Hebrew her name is Miriam.  Mary lived in the insignificant village of Nazareth in the lower Galilee.  Nazareth is located just north of the fertile Jezreel Valley, 15 miles east from the Sea of Galilee, and 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

Mary's son is to be the Davidic heir to the covenant God made with David (2 Sam 7:16) and the "new Moses" promised by the prophets.  He will be the new law-giver, the new liberator, and God's supreme prophet that was promised to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-20.
Notice that St. Luke makes a clear statement of Mary's virginity, using the Greek word "virgin," twice in this passage.  It is the same Greek word (parthenos) for "virgin" that is used in the prophecy of the Old Testament Greek Septuagint (traditionally abbreviated as LXX) translation of Isaiah 7:14, a prophecy that designates "the" virgin and not "a" virgin (see the quotation from Isaiah 7:14 and St. Matthew's fulfillment statement and quote of the same passage above).

Also notice how St. Luke's Gospel links the priestly family of St. John the Baptist to the family of Mary of Nazareth.  Zechariah's wife is a kinswoman of Mary.  Both Zechariah and Elizabeth are descendants of the first High Priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses (Ex 28:1; Lk 1:5).  Therefore, as well as being a descendant of King David (Lk 1:32), Mary also has a link to the priestly bloodline (1:36).

Mary is "betrothed" to a descendant of the great King David, a man named Joseph.  A betrothal was the first stage of an arranged marriage and lasted about year (Mishnah: Ketubot, 5:2).  The second stage was when the bridegroom came to take the bride to his house.  Mary and Joseph were in the first stage of the marriage arrangements at the time of the Annunciation, and she was still a virgin.

Once again the angel Gabriel was send by God.  He was sent to the prophet Daniel and he was also sent to announce the birth of St. John the Baptist (Lk 1:5-20).  The Greek word angelos means "messenger."  It is the same word that is used in the New Testament to identify both spiritual messengers (for example see Mt 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19; Lk 1:11-38; Acts 5:19 and Rev 1:1), and human messengers (for example see Mt 11:10; Mk 1:2; Lk 7:27 and 2 Cor 12:7).  The Greek word archangelos means "chief messenger," and is usually translated as "archangel."  The Church identifies Gabriel as one of the seven Archangels who stand before the throne of God (Lk 1:19; Rev 8:2, 6; 15:1, 6, 7, 8; 16:1; 17:1 and 21:19). 

Luke 1:26  ... to a town of Galilee called Nazareth ... Some scholars believe the etymology of the place-name Nazareth is related to the Hebrew word netzer, meaning "branch" or "shoot."  Other scholars suggest the name is related to the Hebrew word for "consecrate," which is nazir (see Judg 13:5, 7).  Isaiah used the Hebrew word netzer, "branch," as a reference to the promised Messiah who will be a descendant of the line of Jesse, the father of King David (Is 11:1-2).  It is fitting that He who is "the Branch" should spend His years growing up in a town called "branch."

Luke 1:28 And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one [Hail, has been graced]!  The Lord is with you."  The angel's greeting to Mary is quite different from his greeting to Zechariah.  Notice that Gabriel does not greet Zechariah with the same degree of respect and status as he did by giving Mary a title.  The greeting is also unusual in that He does not begin with the typical Semitic greeting of shalom (peace), but with chare which can be translated "hail" or "rejoice" and by announcing Mary's special status often translated as "full of grace" but the more literal translation is "had been graced."  The angel's announcement in the literal Greek is: Chare, kecharitomene [kah-ray kay-kah-ree-toe-may-nay].  The angel addressed Mary by a title that was a past perfect participle of the Greek noun charis, meaning "grace": kecharitomene = "has been graced" (Fitzmyer, Gospel of Luke, page 345).  A past perfect participle indicates a condition that existed in the past and continues in the present.   Mary has been perfected in and continues in grace. To be "graced" in the past tense is to never having been lacking in grace—an indication of Mary's unique conception without original sin.  This phrase is found in only one other place in the New Testament in Ephesians 1:6-7 where St. Paul describes how God's grace "has been granted" to all Christians in Christ Jesus.

The most common rendering of this phrase is "full of grace."  It is a transliteration of Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation of the text.  However, while "full of grace" certainly describes Mary's condition, it is not what was being expressed in the Greek past perfect participle verb kecharitomene.  "Full of grace" in the Greek would be pleres chariots, as it is used for Christ in John 1:14 and for St. Stephen in Acts 6:8.  Mary's title, kecharitomene, indicates a state which is beyond filled.  In addressing Mary with this title, the angel is signifying that she possesses, and has always possessed, a plentitude of Divine grace (Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, page 268-69).  That Mary was deeply disturbed by the angel's greeting (Lk 1:29) is evidence that someone of her humble station had received a greeting and was addressed by a title that was highly unusual.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church have taught what Pope Pius IX expressed in the encyclical Ineffabilis Deus: "... this singular, solemn and unheard-of greeting showed that all the divine graces reposed in the Mother of God and that she was adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit."  This singular condition meant that Mary was never subject to the curse of original sin and that she was preserved from all sin.  The theologically explosive words of the Archangel Gabriel constitute one of the important text sources which reveal the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus; and Paul VI, Creed of the People of God; also see CCC 411, 490-93; 722).

The angel's greeting is also identifies Mary as the fulfillment of "the daughter of Zion" in the writings of the prophets.  God's holy prophets taught the nation of Israel that it was her destiny to give birth to the promised Redeemer-Messiah and now Mary, a daughter of Israel, was asked to fulfill that destiny.  In our first reading the prophet Zephaniah wrote: Shout for joy, daughter of Zion [chaire thygater Sion], Israel, shout aloud!  Rejoice; exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!  15 Yahweh has repealed your sentence; he has turned your enemy away.  Yahweh is king among you; Israel, you have nothing more to fear.  16 When that Day comes, the message for Jerusalem will be: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp. 17 Yahweh your God is there with you, the warrior-Savior (3:14-17 NJB). [..] = Greek translation.  Compare this passage with Luke 1:28-31.


Mary is the fulfillment of Israel's destiny to produce the Redeemer-Messiah in St. Luke's allusion to the "daughter of Zion" prophecy: Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person (CCC 2676)

Luke 1:28-31
(the angel Gabriel speaking)
Zephaniah 3:14-17 NJB & LXX Greek
(God speaking)
"Chaire (Rejoice)"  (Lk 1:28) Chaire ... thygater Sion "Rejoice daughter of Zion" Zeph 3:14
"the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28) "Yahweh is king among you" Zeph 3:15b
"Do not be afraid, Mary" (Lk 1:30) "you have nothing more to fear... Zion have no fear" Zeph 3:15-16
"you will conceive in your womb" (Lk 1:31) "Yahweh your God is there with you" Zeph 3:17)
"Jesus" [Hebrew = Yahshua/Yehoshua = "Yahweh saves"] (Lk 1:31) "the warrior-Savior" (Zeph 3:17)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms Mary's role as the "daughter of Zion and the Ark of the New Covenant: ... Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells.  She is the dwelling of God...with men" (CCC 2676).  

Luke 1:31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
The angel Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus. Both St. John and Jesus were divinely named.  The ancients believed a name reflected the true essence of a person.  In the Greek text of the New Testament, Jesus' name is rendered Iesous, but this was not the name His family and friends called Him.  Jesus' Hebrew name was (in old Hebrew) Yah'shua; in Jesus' time His Aramaic name had evolved into Yehosua.  An angel (probably Gabriel) told Joseph the significance of the child's name in a dream: She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).  It was the name of the hero-conquer of the Promised Land—Moses' successor, Joshua (see Dt 31:7-8, 23 and Mt 1:21). 

The angel's statement to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 is a word play on Jesus' Hebrew name.  His name literally means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation" or even more literally, "I AM saves" (the Divine Name is defined in Ex 3:14 as "I AM").  Jesus' Hebrew name is a theophoric name, a name compound that includes the name of a deity as part of the name.  In this case the Yah is a prefix for Yahweh: "Yah" is a short form that represents the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the name God revealed to Moses and the "I AM" of the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-15.  The name "I AM saves" or Yahweh saves" signifies the very name of God present in the person of the second person of the Most Holy Trinity made man for the redemption from sin of all of mankind: there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  Since God alone can offer the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sin, it is God the eternal Son whose mission and destiny is to save humanity, just as His name suggests: "I AM saves"/ "I AM is salvation". 

Gabriel said: "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
The angel Gabriel told Mary her son's throne will last forever.  It is a prophecy that recalls the promise of the 5th kingdom in Daniel 2:44—the kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.  There are also echoes of God's covenant promises to King David in 2 Samuel 7:9-16 that his throne will endure forever (also see 2 Sam 23:5).  St. Luke is intentionally making a link between God's promise to David of an eternal covenant and the inauguration of that covenant promise in Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus is the promised son of David's line who will rule forever.  He is the one greater than Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18:17-18, and He is God's anointed who will lead His people across the great "river" of physical death into the true Promised Land of Heaven, as prefigured by Joshua who led the children of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Canaan (Joshua 3:1-17). 

Luke 1:34 But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" 
John the Baptist's father Zechariah's question in 1:18 rendered a rebuke by the Gabriel in 1:20 whereas Mary's question in 1:34 does not receive a negative response. Zechariah's question expressed unbelief (verse 20) whereas Mary's question concerns only her state of virginity.

Luke 1:35 And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
The angel uses the verb episkiazein  (overshadow) to explain Mary's Divine conception by the power of God the Holy Spirit.  It is the same verb used in the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus 40:34 when God the Holy Spirit, in the visible form of the Glory Cloud, "overshadowed" the Tabernacle and the glory of Yahweh filled the Dwelling.  It is the same word that is used in the Transfiguration of the Christ (Mt 17:5 and Lk 9:34) when the voice of God was heard coming from a cloud which cast its shadow over those assembled on the mountain, and it is used in Acts 5:15 when St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, approached the sick and his shadow was cast over them and they were healed.  The shadow of God is the gentlest manifestation of His Divine Presence—how tenderly He overshadowed the Virgin Mary to change her destiny and all of human history.

The Holy Spirit's role in preparing Mary for the Incarnation of the Messiah:

  1. The Holy Spirit prepared Mary in advance for the Incarnation of the Son by infusing her with His grace at the moment of her conception: By the Holy Spirit's power and her faith, her virginity became uniquely fruitful (CCC # 723).
  2. In preparing Mary, the Holy Spirit was fulfilling God the Father's promise for the salvation of humanity: I shall put enmity between you and the woman .... (Gen 3:15).
  3. In Mary the Holy Spirit manifested God the Son enfleshed who then became the Son of God within the womb of a human mother who is both fruitful mother and ever virgin—Mary became the "burning bush" of a definitive Theophany.  Filled with the Holy Spirit she made the Word visible in the humility of His flesh through her DNA.

The result was twofold:

  1. Through the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit began to fulfill God's plan to bring humanity into communion with Christ.
  2. The Holy Spirit made Mary the Ark of the New Covenant—bearing the presence of God in her womb.  The "something new" promised by Jeremiah was a reversal of the old creation when the first virgin (Eve) came from the body of the first man (Adam).  In the beginning of the new creation, the second Adam (Jesus) came from the body of the second Eve (the Virgin Mary).  What made this event "new" is that this time the woman who held a man-child in her womb was a virgin, and the man-child was God enfleshed. 

Luke 1:38, Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid [servant/slave] of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her.
Mary humbly identified herself as God's female slave/servant.  The Greek word is doule, the feminine of doulos which means "male slave/servant."  In the ancient world, nearly all servants were slaves.  Then Mary completely submitted herself to the Lord and His sovereignty over her life with her words: "May it be done to me according to your word."  

At the moment of Mary's free will response, Jesus was conceived by the power of God the Holy Spirit: From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived "by the Holy Spirit without human seed."  The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own ... (CCC 496).  The Incarnation took place as God the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" (episkiazein) and enveloped the Virgin Mary.  This is the same Spirit of God who moved over the face of the water of Creation, bringing life (Gen 1:2-31).  Now He came bringing life to the Virgin's womb—the fruit her womb was the work of God the Holy Spirit (CCC# 697).  This worthy Virgin, conceived without the stain of sin, became the new Tabernacle of God—the Ark of the New Covenant (see Rev 11:19-12:1; CCC 2676).  This is the mystery Catholics reflect upon every time they pray the Angelus.

Mary's fiat—her unequivocal, free will "yes" to the will of God for her life— stands in sharp contrast to the free will response of the virgin Eve in her decision to rebel against God and His will for her life her free will decision to decide for herself what was good and what was evil in eating of the forbidden fruit.  It is for this reason that the Fathers of the Church saw the Virgin Mary as the "new Eve" and Mary's "yes" as the undoing the disobedience brought about by the virgin Eve.  And the Church affirms her role as the "new Eve" from the time of the promise of Mary's role in salvation history prophesied in Genesis 3:15 (known as the Protoevangelium, "first good-news"/gospel): ... Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the "new Eve..." (CCC 411, also see CCC 489, 726, 2618 and 2853).

After the angel's announcement of Jesus' future birth, with significant repeated elements from the announcement of St. John's future birth, St. Luke moves to the third episode in his infancy narrative: the telling of the visitation of Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth which brings together elements from the first two parts of Luke chapter 1 to link the two birth announcements more closely. 

Luke 1:39-56 ~ The Visitation: Mary journeys from Nazareth to the house of Zechariah
39 During those days 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's visit, 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).  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.

Luke 1:41-42, 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."
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 three blessings in verses 42-45:

  1. She blesses Mary
  2. She blesses Jesus
  3. She blesses the faith God has given Mary

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.  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 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).  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 housed of Obed-edom for three months in 2 Samuel 6:11 (see the chart on the Ark of the Covenant compared to the Virgin Mary in this lesson).

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.

46 And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  These are the first lines of Mary's magnificent hymn of praise fittingly called the Magnificat.  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.  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 God my Savior" is an echo of Hannah's hymn of praise to God in 1 Samuel 2:1.

From the Annunciation to the Crucifixion of her Son, Mary can be seen as God's ultimate validation of free will.  The Virgin Mary's obedience to the will of God as conveyed to her in the angel Gabriel's message was no less voluntary in its affirmation than the disobedience of the virgin Eve had been in its negation. Thus, Mary in her obedience undid the knot of Eve's disobedience, and as St. Irenaeus wrote: "...what the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith" (Against Heresies, 3.22.4, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, 2nd century AD).

And so on this feast day we celebrate our Mother Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe—she is "Mary in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of God dwells. She is 'the dwelling of God [...] with men'"
(CCC# 2676).

Catechism References:
Zechariah 2:14 (CCC 722); 2:17 (CCC 2143)
Revelation 12 (CCC 1138)
Luke 1:26-38 (CCC 497, 706, 723, 2571); 1:26-27 (CCC 488); 1:26 (CCC 332); 1:28-37 (CCC 494); 1:28 (CCC 490, 491); 1:31(CCC 430, 2812); 1:32-33 (CCC 709); 1:32 (CCC 559); 1:34 (CCC 484, 497, 505); 1:35 (CCC 437, 484, 486, 697); 1:37-38 (CCC 494); 1:37 (CCC 148, 269, 273, 276); 1:38 (CCC 64, 148, 510, 2617, 2677, 2827, 2856); 1:41 (CCC 523, 717, 2676); 1:46 (CCC 148, 2676); 1:46-49 (CCC 2097)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015