Patrick Reardon contemplates Mary as “the fixed goal of the eternal plan”: the hinge of the two Testaments
SINCE SHE APPEARS only in the New Testament, it seems strange to think of the Virgin Mary as pertaining to the Old Testament. Yet, such a perspective is consonant with the thought of St. Paul, who described the Lord Jesus as “born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). This is why Amadeus of Lausanne, m the 12th century, spoke of Mary as containing the mysteries of all the Old Testament saints.
A FINAL ACT OF FAITH
There is a sense in which all of Old Testament history finds its fulfillment in the “Be it done unto me” of the young maiden of Nazareth. When Dante called the Virgin Mary the termine fisso d’etterno consiglio – “the fixed goal of the eternal plan” (Paradiso 33.3 ), he meant that her “yes” to God’s summons was the Old Testament’s final and culminating act of faith, through which God himself assumed a human role in history. She thus represents the culmination of God’s long providential and prophetic cultivation of a people proper unto Himself, intent solely on the doing of His will.
Since all of God’s historical preparation found its fulfilment in the assent of that soul who gave herself over completely to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is through the virgin mother of Christ that the whole of the Old Testament is filtered into the Incarnation.
A DOUBLE DESCENT
It is Luke who describes Gabriel’s visit to Mary and their important conversation, seeking Mary’s assent to God’s mystery. And just as Luke’s gospel begins with the Holy Spirit’s de-
scent to the Virgin Mary, so Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts, commences with the Holy Spirit’s descent to the Church. At this latter event, too, the mother of Jesus stands at the very centre (cf Acts 1:14), the very first among the disciples of her Son.
All of this sense of Mary’s particular role in the drama of salvation is conveyed when her cousin Elizabeth addressed her as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). When Elizabeth called her “blessed,” Luke tells us, it was because “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:41 f). Likewise filled with the Holy Spirit, surely, are all those subsequent generations that have called her “blessed” (Luke 1:48).
‘THE MOTHER OF JESUS’
In the Gospel of John, the treatment of the Virgin Mary is extremely subtle and delicate. First, John never calls her by her own name; each time she appears, she is simply referenced as “the mother of Jesus.” And she appears in that gospel only twice, once near the beginning (2:1-11) and once near the end (19:25-27). It is also noteworthy that in both of these she is addressed by Jesus as “Woman,” a title of respect not adequately represented in our English idiom.
In the earlier of these two cases, the story of the marriage at Cana, Mary’s intervention on behalf of the embarrassed wedding party leads to the initial manifestation of his glory, the “sign” of the transformation of the water into wine. Not put off by an initial refusal that the Lord used to test her faith, she told the wedding servants: “Do whatever he tells you.’ Her faith in the power of Jesus’ word thus led to the faith of the other disciples as Jesus “manifested his glory. ”
Even though Jesus’ hour had not yet arrived (2:4), his mother’s perfect faith brought about a foreshadowing of the abundant grace effected in his atoning redemption. At that event, which formed a new family, she thus became the first and a model among those who “believed” (See also Luke 1:45).
THE HOUR HAS COME
When the mother of Jesus appears in the Gospel of John for the second time, the Lord’s “hour” has certainly arrived (12:23;13:1;17:1), and Mary now stands beneath the cross of redemption with “the beloved disciple” (who remains similarly anonymous in John’s gospel). I Indeed, in this place the mother of Jesus is the first mentioned among those four disciples who form the nucleus of the new community of faith (in contrast to the four soldiers also present at the cross and representative of the forces of this world). Once again, a new family is formed: “Woman, behold your son. . . Behold your mother!” And “from that hour the disciple took her to his own” (1927). The mother of Jesus now becomes the mother of all Christian believers, of whom the anonymous “beloved disciple” is the representative, and who now takes her to his own home.
Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. Touchstone is published in the United States, email: www.touchstonemag.com