by Lawrence Feingold
Lawrence Feingold, who lives with his wife, Marsha, in St. Louis, is assistant professor of theology for the Institute for Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University. The Feingolds converted to Catholicism in 1989; and he studied at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, earning a doctorate in dogmatic theology in 1999. He also studied Biblical Hebrew and Greek in Jerusalem at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in 1995-96. After completing his studies in Rome, Dr. Feingold moved to Argentina with his family, where he taught philosophy and theology until 2004, when they returned to the US.
Following is Chapter 12 from his book The Mystery of Israel and the Church, Vol. 1, a collection of Dr. Feingold’s lectures presented in St. Louis, sponsored by the Association of Hebrew Catholics. (More information: hebrewcatholic.org/ahcstore. html?item=290).
The mystery of Israel and the Church is summed up in a marvelous way in Mary, who is at once the exemplary daughter of Zion, the culmination of the faith of Israel, the most perfect disciple of Christ, and the Mother of the Church and of every human being, insofar as all are called to be members of the Church. She is the most perfect link between the Old and the New Covenants. Mary is at one and the same time the perfect summary, exemplar, and recapitulation of the faith of Israel, and the Mother of the new Israel, the Church. The fact that Mary is the Mother of the Church should be familiar to all Catholics. What is less familiar is Mary’s role as the exemplary and perfect “daughter of Zion”. Let us look first at Mary from the perspective of Israel and then as the Mother of the Church.
Election of Israel and Mary
We have seen that God’s eternal plan was to redeem mankind from original sin and from all personal sins throughout history, through the Incarnation of God the Son in the fullness of time. The Incarnation was to be the center of history, the superabundant culmination of every just aspiration of mankind, announced at the very dawn of mankind’s existence, as we see in Genesis 3:15-16. The devil and his cohorts will continually tempt the human race, but there shall be a woman whose seed will crush the head of Satan and of sin, and He shall be bruised that is, suffer in the process.1
We have also seen that God prepared for the Incarnation by calling Abraham and promising him that all nations would be blessed in his seed. God formed a people in whose bosom His Son would become incarnate, electing them gratuitously and separating them from all the peoples of the earth. He prepared them by revealing Himself through the Patriarchs, through the events of the Exodus, and through the Law given through Moses. This included the moral law summarized in the double commandment of love and the Ten Commandments; a divinely inspired ceremonial law regulating liturgy and worship; and a judicial law that governed civil affairs. Their preparation was continued in the Wisdom literature and the writings of the prophets. In this way, when the Messiah was born, He came not unexpected, but as the object of the noblest yearning of the sons and daughters of Israel for two millennia.
If this preparation was given to the people in whom He became incarnate, would it not have to be given in a still more special way to the daughter of Zion elected to be the Mother of God? If this people chosen to receive the Incarnate Word was the object of a special divine election, would not His Mother need to be the object of a still more special election?
Here we can see the most intimate connection between the election of Israel and the election of Mary as Mother of God, between the mystery of Israel and the mystery of the Mother of God. Both were elected for the same end: to receive the eternal Son of God into human society. As Israel was eternally elected to be the people in whom God would take flesh, so Mary was eternally elected to bring Him to birth as His Mother. A further tie between the people of Israel and Mary is their relationship to the Church, for both Israel and Mary had the privilege of bringing forth the Messiah, who is the Head of the Mystical Body of the Church. Thus Israel, Mary, and the Church are closely bound to each other. When Saint Paul speaks of the Incarnation in Galatians 4:4-5, he touches on this relationship of Mary, Israel, and the Church: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”2
Saint Paul condenses into a few words the great mystery of God’s plan in salvation history. In the fullness of time, the Father sends the Son of God into the web of human history, such that He is born of a woman and born under the Law. In other words, He is born into a people prepared through the magnificent gift of the Mosaic Law and through 2,000 years of salvation history; and born of a woman in the bosom of that people the daughter of Zion par excellence who would be the Mother of messianic Israel the Mystical Body of her Son. Her preparation, although supremely hidden, must recapitulate that of Israel.
Contact with the Lord begets and requires holiness. The greater the contact and association with the Lord, the greater the holiness that is required for it. We can see a figure of this necessary holiness in various episodes of the Old Testament. When the Lord was to speak with Moses on Mount Sinai, the people were commanded to purify themselves for three days, but not to touch the holy mountain, for any man or beast that touched it would be stoned.3 Similarly, the Ark of the Covenant was kept holy by being separated from any profane contact, such that only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur, prostrating himself with the blood of the sacrifices. Or again, an impressive example was given when the Ark of the Covenant was recovered from the enemies of Israel and was being carried in procession on a cart driven by oxen led by two Israelites, Uzzah and Ahio. At a certain point the oxen stumbled and Uzzah touched the Ark to steady it, and was struck dead by the Lord.4
The fact that the Ark of the Covenant could not be touched by unconsecrated human hands is a figure of the holiness belonging to the Ark of the New and everlasting Covenant: the Mother of the Redeemer. For Mary’s womb was the Ark containing not tablets of the Law written on stone, but the Torah of God made flesh: the Son of God.
Because the people of Israel were to receive the Lord into their midst in the Incarnation, they were prepared for their mission of receiving Him worthily by means of a special holiness imparted through the gift of the Old Covenant. Far more was expected of them than of any other people because of the holiness required of them by the Incarnation. If that is true of Israel as a whole, how much more true it would have to be of Mary, in whose womb the Son of God became incarnate and through whose maternal care He grew up, was nurtured, loved, and educated. How would God prepare for the maternity of her who would give birth to His Son made flesh?
Catholic doctrine speaks of the great privileges received by Mary in her role as Mother of God. It is a general principle of theology that whenever God gives a special mission to a creature, He prepares the creature to accomplish the mission by a special gift of grace. We can apply this principle to all the saints and to each one of ourselves. Of course, the greater the mission, the greater the gifts of grace.
The greatest mission of all was that given to the Messiah, whose humanity was enriched with every possible grace, which He would then transmit to His Mystical Body, the Church. After Christ, the greatest mission of all time was that given to His Mother, Mary most holy, for she was to be the living tabernacle of God made man in her womb.
All the other privileges and graces received by Mary were ordered to this most sublime privilege. From all eternity, Mary was chosen by God to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate. This was the greatest of all graces, utterly gratuitous and absolutely unmerited, for there is no way any creature could ever merit to give flesh to the Creator, give Him birth after bearing Him in her womb for nine months, and have the responsibility of raising Him.
The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity chose to become incarnate of a human mother, and chose His mother. Whereas no mere creature can choose his mother and enrich her with every dignity that could be desired for her role, Christ both could and did. Because Mary was chosen to become the Mother of God, it was fitting that she be adorned with every spiritual gift that would make her more perfectly disposed for the mission that was given to her of bringing Christ into the world.
The first of these privileges was that of being conceived without any stain of sin whatsoever. This is the grace of the Immaculate Conception. Another privilege was the grace to persevere without the slightest sin, even venial sin, and even without any imperfection, throughout her life, so that she was constantly growing in fullness of grace. Through this fullness of grace, Our Lady was able to correspond perfectly to God’s will in every moment of her life, thus meriting an increase of grace and charity. She is thus the perfect model of all sanctity, the perfect daughter of Zion, the perfect model of the Church, and the perfect realization of holiness, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish of any kind. For this sanctity, she is spoken of as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Through grace she “merited”5 to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so as to participate in the greatest miracle of all creation: the Incarnation of the Son of God.
A third privilege of Mary is her perpetual virginity, which is intimately ordered to her divine maternity. Catholic theology teaches that Mary’s virginity was maintained perfect and inviolate before, during, and after her delivery of Jesus.6 It was fitting that the womb that was to conceive the Word Incarnate, and thus become the Tabernacle of God, be absolutely separated from normal human relations. In this greatest of mysteries it was fitting that God alone be the agent in the miracle of the virginal conception that occurred at the moment of Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation.
It was also fitting that Christ Himself not injure that bodily integrity of His Mother during His birth. Thus He came forth through closed doors, much as on the day of His Resurrection He passed through the locked doors of the Cenacle. This explains why Mary did not suffer the pains of childbirth as do other mothers who are subject to the penalties of original sin.
After her womb was consecrated by the presence of Christ for nine months in the greatest of all mysteries that can be conceived, is it credible that Mary would have allowed that womb to bear other normal children? A vessel consecrated to God cannot afterwards be used for ordinary human purposes, such as normal eating and drinking. Although the Gospel mentions “brothers” of Jesus, the Catholic tradition has always understood this to refer to cousins of Jesus, for Hebrew frequently uses the word “brother” in this broader sense.
Figures of Mary in the Old Testament
It is often objected by Protestants that the Marian doctrine of the Church is unbiblical and unfounded in Scripture. In Joseph Ratzinger’s beautiful little book on Mary called Daughter Zion, he speaks of the figures of Mary in the Old Testament, showing that she is present throughout the Bible, if one has eyes to see. The New Testament’s portrait of Mary is modeled on figures in the Old Testament, which she fulfills in a far higher way.
First, the portrait of Mary includes the likeness of the great mothers of the Old Testament: Sarah and especially Hannah, the mother of Samuel Second, into that portrait is woven the whole theology of daughter Zion, in which, above all, the prophets announced the mystery of election and covenant, the mystery of God’s love for Israel. A third strand can perhaps be identified in the Gospel of John: the figure of Eve, the “woman” par excellence, is borrowed to interpret Mary.7
Just as Eve was created to be a helper similar to Adam, so it was fitting that the new Adam Christ the Redeemer be joined with a [New Eve] associated in a most intimate way with His mission of redemption.
Daughter of Zion
Not infrequently we hear the complaint that Judaism and Catholicism are patriarchal religions with no significant place for a feminine role in worship. This, however, is quite false. It is true that God is portrayed in the Revelation to Israel in male terms as Father, King, and Lord, and there is no place for the female earth deities of the pagan religions.8 However, Israel, the people of God, is spoken of generally as female. Man’s relation to God is analogous to that of a bride to her bridegroom.
There is a great feminine strand through the Old Testament, culminating in and leading to the Mother of the Messiah. The Old Testament frequently speaks of Israel as a bride. It is God Himself who espouses Israel as His bride, taking her from her abandonment and humble origin, her fornication and prostitution, and purifying her to be His. For example, in Hosea 2:19-23, God says to Israel:
I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.... And I will have pity on Not-pitied, and I will say to Not-my-people, “You-are-my-people”; and he shall say “Thou art my God.”
Many other texts of the Old Testament manifest the feminine strand by personifying Israel as the “daughter of Zion”. Zechariah, for example, tells the “daughter of Zion” to sing and rejoice, for the Lord shall come to dwell in her midst, and when that happens, “many other nations shall join themselves to the Lord” (Zech 2:10-11).
Israel is spoken of as the daughter of Zion also in the context of sorrow. Lamentations 2:13 speaks literally of the sorrow of exile, but typologically of the sorrow of Mary: “What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can restore you?”
In these and other similar texts,9 the “daughter of Zion” refers to faithful Israel as a whole, awaiting her Lord and King. However, Mary is the daughter of Zion par excellence because she sums up the expectation of Israel for the Messiah. She is the perfect Virgin awaiting her Lord to come in her midst.
Great Women of the Old Testament: Esther and Judith
Two interesting figures of Mary are Judith and Esther. The story of Judith relates an event in which Israel has been defeated, humiliated, and lies prostrate in the dust, but arises through the aid of a woman of valor, Judith, a widow, who beheaded Holofernes, the general of the Assyrians.
The liturgy of the Church applies the text of Judith 15:9-11 to Mary:
“You are the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation! You have done all this single-handed; you have done great good to Israel, and God is well pleased with it. May the Almighty Lord bless you forever!” And all the people said, “So be it!”
Whereas Judith beheading Holofernes is a figure of Mary crushing the head of the serpent, Esther is a figure of Mary’s mediation by way of intercession. Judith and Esther, therefore, are complementary figures, highlighting different aspects of Mary’s role in salvation history. Esther is able to intercede to save her people from destruction because her beauty captivates the king who styles himself the king of kings. Mary is she whose interior beauty and total purity captivates the true King of Kings, attracting Him to enter her very womb in the Incarnation. Esther’s beauty, like that of Judith, is thus a key part of the typology.
Secondly, the theme of humility is also crucial. Esther is an orphan, daughter of a persecuted people facing extermination. She thus represents mankind after the Fall, orphaned and in misery. She also represents Israel in particular, who, after the Exile, has fallen from her privileges and lost her sovereignty. Like the Beatitudes and the Magnificat, Esther exemplifies the great evangelical theme that “the first shall be last, and the last first.” The hanging of Haman on the gallows he erected and the vindication of Mordecai and Esther and their persecuted people is a marvelous example of the fact that God “has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree.... He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy” (Lk 1:52-54).
Ratzinger explains this theme of the personification of humbled Israel in Esther and Judith:
Both embody the defeated Israel: Israel who has become a widow and wastes away in sorrow, Israel who has been abducted and dishonored among the nations, enslaved within their arbitrary desires. Yet both personify at the same time Israel’s unconquered spiritual strength, which cannot boast as do the worldly powers and for that very reason knows how to scorn and overcome the mighty. The woman as savior, the embodiment of Israel’s hope, thereby takes her place alongside the unblessed-blessed mothers. It is significant that the woman always figures in Israel’s thought and belief, not as a priestess, but as prophetess and judge-savior.... The infertile one, the powerless one becomes the savior because it is there that the locus for the revelation of God’s power is found. After every fall into sin, the woman remains “mother of life”.10
Ronald Knox gives a beautiful explanation of the typology of Esther:
We value, then, this story of Mardochaeus and Esther because we find in it a type of our Lady’s position in the economy of grace. How often a face or a scene arrests us, only because it bears some resemblance to a face or a scene we love! So it is with these Old Testament figures; they borrow their interest from the future. Like the people of the Jews, the Church of God has its enemies and its detractors: its peace is continually threatened by the world’s hatred for its strictness of principle. And when times of trouble come upon us, we, too, would win a royal audience; we would ask redress for our grievances from the King of Kings. As the Jews could plead on their own behalf the loyal act of Mardochaeus, so we would plead before God, our one hope of pardon, the all sufficient sacrifice of His Son. But who will plead it for us? It is not that we distrust His goodness; but, conscious of our need and of our own unworthiness, we would find some advocate who has a better claim on His attention than ourselves. Who has a better right to stand in God’s royal Presence than our Blessed Lady? The law which included us all under the curse of original sin was a law made for all others, but not for her. Who else dare touch the sceptre that sways a universe?... We say to her, as Mardochaeus said to Esther, “Remember the days of thy low estate; and do thou speak to the king for us, and deliver us from death.”11
Mary as the Created Wisdom
In the liturgy of the Church, Old Testament texts that speak of Wisdom, which is a word in the feminine gender in Hebrew, are often applied to Mary. These texts refer both to the uncreated Wisdom in God, and to the created wisdom that is received in the souls of the faithful.
A beautiful example of a wisdom text applied to Mary is Sirach 24. Wisdom will reside in Zion, and will be known for her beauty and grace. She will also be a mother given to all God’s children to bring forth virtue in them, and to lead them in the path of God to truth and life:
Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and He that made me, rested in my tabernacle. And He said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.... And I took root in an honorable people, and in the portion of my God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints. I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion.... I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.... They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.... They that work by me shall not sin.12
Mary as the Mother of the Church
Let us now consider Mary as the Mother of the Church, a title solemnly given to her by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council. Although Mary remained forever virgin and had no other children of her flesh after Jesus, her maternity was not limited to one child. Christ came into the world not for Himself, but for us, to be the Savior and new Head of a redeemed humanity which would be His Mystical Body. He came into our world of sin and suffering, this valley of tears, to take upon Himself the weight and guilt of our humanity, so as to give us a share in His divinity through sanctifying grace. All men are called to become living members of that Mystical Body, although not all, unfortunately, choose to do so.
Just as Christ was brought into this world through the principal action of God the Father, but with the participation and cooperation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so too it is fitting that the members of Christ’s Mystical Body also be conceived spiritually through the principal action of God, but with the cooperation of that same Mother.
Although we all have our own mothers according to the flesh, God willed us to have only one Mother in the order of grace, the Mother of Jesus. Why is this? Because our spiritual rebirth involves the birth of Christ in our hearts. We become living members of Christ’s Mystical Body by becoming like Him, its head. This is effected by sanctifying grace and the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Saint Pius X in his encyclical on Mary, Ad diem ilium (1904), commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, wrote: “For is not Mary the Mother of Christ? Then she is our Mother also.”
This is the great spiritual theme of Advent and Christmas. We pray during Advent for the coming of Christ here and now in our souls. The liturgy has us pray repeatedly: “Come, Lord Jesus, and redeem us”: “Veni Domine, et salva nos”. Jesus already came two thousand years ago and will come again at the end of the world, but nevertheless, the mystery enacted in the liturgy also must have a present realization. We pray that Christ be born in us ever more fully, through the outpouring of God’s grace.
But just as Christ was born in Bethlehem through Mary, He will not be born in us again without Mary’s maternity. Of all the doctrines of the Catholic faith, this is surely one of the most consoling and moving. While Christ was shedding His blood for us, He made Mary our mother in the spiritual life by giving her to His “beloved disciple” who represents all mankind who are called to be disciples and the disciple to her (see Jn 19:26-27).
Just as we need a mother in our physical and natural life, so too we need a mother in our spiritual life, for the spiritual life is not less important than our natural life. On the contrary, it is infinitely more important, for all of eternity depends on whether we develop a true spiritual life.
In the natural order of human life, maternity is an exquisite jewel, which can never be appreciated enough. We can never love our mothers enough. What would human life be without the beauty of maternal love? Without all the sacrifices and solicitude of that love? It would be a barren place.
If this is true on the natural level, then it must be even more true on the supernatural level. God has willed that our spiritual life be continually nurtured through the action of a Mother as well as through His divine paternity. And who is that Mother? Who else but the Mother of the Word Incarnate, the sinless daughter of Zion?
Mary is thus the perfect link between the Old and the New Testaments. She brought the Messiah into Israel and into the world. She summed up, recapitulated, and totally fulfilled the mission of Israel, and by doing so, inaugurated the new Israel the Church founded by her Son. Thus she was made Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ and Mother of all the faithful and of all peoples.
As Mother of all peoples, she has also been made the Mother of her own people. Let us pray that Mary intercede with her Son for all Israel, so that, at the time appointed by God, all Jewish people will be led to her Son!
1 We can assume that Adam and Eve would have taught this prophecy throughout their long lifetimes to their descendants, who in turn would have passed on this knowledge as a legacy to future generations and cultures.
5 “Merit” is used here in the broad sense of possessing a fitting disposition (which is the result of extraordinary grace) for a gratuitous divine election. In the strict sense, of course, no creature could ever merit being the Mother of God.
6 See CCC 499-500, DS 291, 442, 1880 (D 993). The Lateran Council of 649, DS 503 (D 256) defined: “If anyone does not properly and truly confess in accord with the Holy Fathers, that the holy Mother of God and ever Virgin and Immaculate Mary ... conceived of the Holy Spirit without seed God the Word ... and that she incorruptibly bore Him, her virginity remaining indestructible even after His birth, let him be condemned.”
9 See Zech 9:9-10, a prophecy of Christ’s entry on Palm Sunday: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you”; Zeph 3:14-18; and Is 62:11-12: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes.’”
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