The Hidden World: Mary's Place in the Scriptures

Chapter 2 of Mother of God by Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali O.C.D.

Read the other chapters here.

“I will put enmities between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” (Gen 3:15)

           The Scriptures open with a prophetic picture of Mary and a revelation of her place in the scheme of Redemption. That was the first beam of light to penetrate the utter gloom that engulfed our fallen race. At that dark hour of total shipwreck mankind had only that solitary star to set its course by. And this star has guided it ever since in its long, long pilgrimage.

            Mary does not shine forth with equal clarity on all the pages of the Holy Writ. But to them that understand she is there, elusive and ever present, like the undefinable rhythm prefacing an elaborate symphony or a delicate golden thread subtly woven through a fabric of intricate design. It might appear at first sight that hardly anything is said about her in the Scriptures. And yet, when one comes to think of it, hardly anything is there that is not about her! St. Bonaventure assures us that “wonderful things are said in the Scriptures concerning Mary the Mother of God, because in all the Scriptures she is alluded to in relation to her Son. It is foolish to ask, as some do, why so little is said about the Blessed Virgin. For she is spoken of everywhere in the Scriptures, and much more is said about her than if a whole treatise were devoted to her”.[1] St. Ildephonse meets Mary everywhere in the Scriptures, for in them “the Holy Ghost has foretold her through the prophets, proclaimed her through the oracles, prefigured her by the types, promised her by the earlier things, manifested her by the later things”.[2] The great St. Vincent Ferrer goes a step further. To him “the Blessed Virgin Mary is contained mystically, directly or indirectly, in all the Sacred Books, and in all the canticles, even in every verse”.[3] St. Bernard compresses all these into a few dynamic words. “To speak summarily”, he says, “the whole Scripture is written of her, through her and for her”.[4]

            And well may he say so. For in a very real sense she is the summary of all the Scriptures. Is she not that most miraculous book which contained, substantially and corporally, not the written or spoken word, but the uncreated Eternal Word of God, and revealed it to the world in tangible, readable form? It is plain from the Gospels that the Evangelists have drawn freely on this inexhaustible treasure The language of St. Luke in particular, in whose Gospel the details of the birth and early life of Christ are more fully recorded than in any other, clearly betrays this fact. He hints at his source in the very opening sentence: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a narration of the things that have been accomplished among us, according as they have delivered unto us who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”.[5] Mark that significant phrase “from the beginning”. Who could have been such an eyewitness from the beginning but Mary? Indeed St. Joseph, St. Elizabeth and a few other chosen souls had been eyewitnesses too of some phases of Christ’s early life. But there is every reason to believe that they had all been gathered to their rest long before any of the Evangelists took to writing. Mary alone remained, the perfect depositary of all those secrets that must now be revealed to the Church, that living Gospel out of which the Evangelists might transcribe a few pages. She alone can throw a flood of light on the whole life of Christ. It is significant that St. Luke repeats several times that “Mary kept all these things in her heart,” as if owning his indebtedness to that forethought of hers. “Take away her contribution to the Gospel testimony,” wrote Cardinal Wiseman in one of his essays, “and you find not simply a link broken, but the very fastening of the whole chain gone; not merely a gap or a break in the structure, but the foundation gone”.

            Mary is the subject of countless prophecies. She is the Woman promised in the beginning who shall crush the serpent’s head, she is the Virgin foretold by Isaias, who shall conceive and bring forth Emmanuel; she is the Woman that shall encompass a Man; the gate that shall remain closed through which only the Lord God shall pass; the rod shooting up from the root of Jesse that shall bear the divine flower. The Church loves to contemplate her in the manifold types of the Bible: in Paradise and the Tree of Life, in the ark of Noah and the Rainbow of Peace, in the dove with the olive branch, the ladder of Jacob, the burning bush of Moses, the flowering rod of Aaron, the ark of the Covenant, the Tower of David, the Temple of Solomon, the fleece of Gedeon, the cloud of Elias and a host of others. At every turning point in the history of the chosen people some virtuous, wise or valiant woman comes to the fore guiding the destinies of the nation; and every one of them is a shadow of Mary cast before, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, Judith, Esther and many more are pre-eminently types of Mary prefiguring different sides of her all-embracing office.

            To mention the portions of the Scriptures that are outstandingly Marian, we have the Sapiential Books and the Canticles of Canticles. Of the former Pope Pius IX wrote: “The self-same words in which the Holy Scriptures describe the Divine Wisdom and His eternal origins, have been traditionally applied by the Church in her Divine Office and Sacred Liturgy to the beginnings of the Blessed Virgin, who was predestined, along with the Divine Wisdom, in one and the same decree of God”.[6] And the learned Scheeben remarks: “The application of these texts to Mary is a formal testimony that the Church considers Mary as an image of Wisdom personified. Manifesting an entirely unique likeness to her prototype, Mary so closely resembles the latter that all the qualities of the prototype, described here, are also proportionately hers. Thus the picture of Mary’s qualities, as flowing forth from the application of the texts, may be considered justified, at least on the strength of the authority of the Church”.[7] The Canticle is another pre-eminently Marian book. We quote again from Scheeben’s Mariology: “The Canticle of Canticles represents in allegorical and literal sense the marriage of Christ with mankind, or with the Church in its entirety and in each individual soul. Without doubt, Mary in particular is to be understood by ‘bride’. What is still more, in all expressions describing the glory of the bride and the closeness of her union with the royal bridegroom, Mary is to be understood before the Church. For the marriage of mankind, or the Church, with Christ is first and chiefly solemnised in Mary in the most real and ideal manner; the name of the bride, ‘Sulamitess’, i.e., queen of peace and peace-bearer (derived from the name of the Bridegroom, Solomon), is realised in her in the fullest meaning. Thence the description of the bride (Cant. i: 8-16; 2: 2-10; 3: 6; chap. 4; 6: 3-9) is with every reason applied to Mary. The first two references and 6: 9 can easily be traced to her alone”.[8]

            In the New Testament Mary’s part is more evident. The story of the conception, birth and infancy of Jesus is in fact the story of His Mother. He is almost lost in her shadow for full thirty years. He was subject to her, – that is His biography for thirty out of His thirty-three years! And when at last He did manifest Himself to the world, it was her maternal authority that brought about His first miracle even though “His time had not yet come”. Then Mary recedes into the background. He is now no longer the helpless infant or dependent boy, but the great wonder-worker of Israel. Her part in His life is, in a very special sense, to give, while all others must receive. So she is nowhere there during the glorious procession of Palm Sunday; but she is with Him on His sorrowful way of the Cross. Her place is not on Thabor, but on Calvary. There she makes for the first time her public appearance before the world as the great high Priestess and Co-Victim offering with Christ the Supreme Sacrifice. She is seen again a short while after in the Cenacle which was the cradle of the Church. There of the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Virgin the Mystical Body of Christ was fully formed, as Christ the Head of the Church was born thirty-three years before.

            This, then, is Mary’s place in the Scriptures: she is not so much in the Scriptures as the Scriptures are in her. She pervades the Bible like some sweet aroma. Her features are discernible in every beautiful thing in it. And this revelation of Mary, beginning on the first page of the scriptures, grows continually richer and richer till, on the last pages of the Holy Writ, wherein the Seer of Patmos foreshortens past the future ages into one timeless picture, her unmistakable form stands out clear and luminous, rapt in the encircling glory of God, raised high above all creatures: “And a great Sign appeared in heaven: A Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”[9]



[1] In Hexam.

[2] De Virginit. Mariae, Cap. Iii.

[3] De Concept. Virginis.

[4] Serm.iii in Salve.

[5] Luke i. 1, 2.

[6] Bulla Ineff. Deus.

[7] Mariology, Vol. I, ch. ii.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Apocal. xii. 1.