The most common question students got wrong in my catechism class was related to the teaching of the Immaculate Conception. Nearly all the students thought the Church is referring to Jesus. Instead, the Immaculate Conception is referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary!
According to Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
The angel Gabriel testifies to the holiness of Mary in Luke 1:28 by greeting her, “Hail, favored one full of grace.” Mary’s perfect obedience to God’s will of selecting her to bear the Son of God is another instance of her holiness.
How was Mary Saved
I once heard a priest describe Mary’s salvation this way. Imagine that humanity fell into a muddy pit. This caused our first parents (Adam and Eve) to get dirty with the stain of sin. In order for mankind to be purified or washed from this imperfection God instituted the sacrament of Baptism. Mary did not need Baptism (and the other sacraments) for salvation because God saved her from falling into the pit (of sin) in the first place!
Mary is not a deity to be worshiped. Her role as in salvation history is that of Jesus Christ’s Mother. The Son of God is still the focal point of our hearts, mind, and soul.
We can look to Our Blessed Mother as a guide, a signpost, and a beacon that orients us toward God. Throughout Church Tradition, the Old Testament signs of Noah’s ark and Jacob’s ladder are interpreted as symbols of Mary. The Blessed Virgin acts as a bridge or intercessor between us and Christ. She is NOT a replacement for Christ.
The beauty and grandeur of Mary exists because she is the perfect mirror. Immaculately conceived and without sin. That was the mysterious plan of God. She reflects God’s love outward toward all of humanity. May we continue to grow closer to God and learn from the humble example of Mary to obey God in all things!
The Bible relates the definitive and most crucial aspects of the story of salvation. It’s essentially the greatest story ever told, taken down by human authors in their own unique voices, who were moved by the Holy Spirit every step of the way. This written Word of God is one of the masterpieces of the spiritual life, meant to be reflected upon on a regular basis. Just as Christ, the Word of God incarnate, feeds our souls with his Body and Blood, so the written Word of God also nourishes the soul.
One of the many beautiful elements to Sacred Scripture is typology, the presence of paralleled persons, things, or events found in the Old Testament and their fulfilling counterparts in the New Testament. In such a relationship, the element found in the Old Testament is called a type, and its New Testament counterpart is referred to as the anti-type.
Marian and Christological Foreshadowing in the Old Testament
For instance, one of the most commonly known relations of typology is that which is seen between Adam and Eve and their fulfilling counterparts Jesus and Mary. We will often hear of Jesus being referred to as “the new Adam” and Mary as “the new Eve.” As Adam was our first parent, father of all of humanity’s descendants, so Christ becomes Son of Man, the God-Man, whose function is to reverse the Original Sin of Adam and restore an opportunity for life with God in heaven.
Furthermore, as Eve was “mother of all the living,” so Mary mothers the God-Man, Christ who takes us as his adopted siblings, bringing us into his family and into his divine life. The Immaculate Mother, similar to how Jesus reverses the sin of Adam, reverses the sin of Eve. The shared sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was rooted in pride. As the serpent said, the forbidden fruit would make them like God himself. The man and his wife were desirous of more power, though they had already been given dominion over God’s creation.
Both Mary and Jesus renounce this manifestation of pride, submitting themselves to lives of humility. Born into poverty, Christ permitted himself to be put to death in the most humiliating, degrading way imaginable. Mary, for her part, submitted her will to God’s at the Annunciation delivered by the Archangel Gabriel and throughout her whole life. And, as the prayer “Ave Maris Stella” illustrates in one of its stanzas, the Virgin Mother’s very glory comes in doing the opposite of what Eve did in Original Sin:
O! by Gabriel’s Ave,
Uttered long ago,
Eva’s name reversing,
Established peace below.
A Trove of Typology in the Fall
If you know where to look, there is a plethora of other types to be found in the early developments in Genesis. Consider the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its fruit. It is through outright disobedience to God, through consuming the fruit of this tree, that Adam and Eve fall into sin. However, it is through another tree, millennia later, that redemption is brought about.
Jesus— the New Man
Christ, the new Adam, is obedient to God the Father, even unto death. Sin came into the world through a tree, and Christ brings salvation into the world through a tree, namely the Cross. Adam and Eve bring about the Fall, allowing physical and spiritual death to enter the human condition. Christ is raised high on the Cross, dies, and resurrects himself. Adam fell, and Christ rose. In the Old Testament, the fruit on the tree in Eden brought on death. In the New Testament, Christ gave himself, the “fruit” hanging on the tree, as the food of life.
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’” (John 6: 53, 54).
Adam, Eve, the tree, and the forbidden fruit are the types, and Jesus, Mary, the Cross, and the Eucharist are their anti-types, respectively. Later on in Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who is sold by his brothers into slavery. Joseph of the Old Testament is actually a type to St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, in the New.
Typology in Joseph of Egypt
Jacob’s son Joseph receives messages in dreams from the Lord. Likewise, God’s angelic messenger instructs Joseph of Nazareth in his dreams. Jacob’s beloved son ends up going to Egypt, eventually drawing his whole clan there; Joseph of Nazareth leads his family into Egypt. In both timelines, Egypt serves as a refuge from danger, at least initially.
Joseph of Egypt is given dominion over the land; he is second only to Pharaoh. And Joseph of Nazareth serves as head of the Holy Family. He is the foster-father of the Christ Child, given dominion over Jesus by the highest paternal authority: God.
Offering of Isaac—Foreshadowing of the Crucifixion
Another key incident filled with types is the sacrificial offering of Isaac on the part of Abraham. Abraham is the protagonist of this part of the story. But when it comes to typological symbolism, we are going to want to pay attention to Isaac.
Isaac and his father Abraham ascend Mount Moriah. Isaac is carrying the wood for the burnt offering. Once they reach the place where Abraham intends to carry out the sacrifice, he binds his beloved and only-begotten son, offering him up to God. Inevitably, an angel of the Lord comes and tells Abraham to refrain from harming Isaac in any way. It was a test, and Abraham had passed with flying colors. The substitute sacrifice is a ram found trapped by its horns tangled among a thicket.
Isaac is a Type of Christ
If we analyze this, it easy to see Isaac as one of the types to the (then) futuristic Jesus. Jesus, as Isaac’s anti-type, also carries the wood of his own sacrifice; he too ascends a mount. He himself is meant as the sacrifice. Moreover, just as Isaac was to Abraham, so Jesus is to his Heavenly Father: a beloved son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16).
The ram, of course, also bears some significance. And we can speculate that the ram is another type to Christ. Instead of man being sacrificed for his own sins, Christ is substituted. God provides the sacrifice; he himself is the offering. He is the Lamb of God.
Before we leave the Isaac sacrifice narrative, let’s not forget about Mount Moriah. Apart from the sheer symbolism around the ascent of two mounts, it is worthwhile noting that it is here where the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed. Even more astounding, is the fact that both sacrifices share great proximity with one another. It is believed that both incidents occurred on the same mountain.
The Significance of Typology
As we have only briefly seen, there are numerous types in the Old Testament which prefigure Christ and his redemptive work of guiding us to eternal life. It is important to remember that typology isn’t some element added by Old Testament writers to add literary merit. They were influenced and prompted to include what they did via God’s subtle direction.
If anything, typology should lead to a deeper appreciation for God’s awesome co-creative work with humanity. In seeing that many of the writings of the Old Testament predate those of the New by a span of centuries, that there was no way for the human authors to be aware of the significance of various key elements they included in their works, we ought to be humbled in the face of the God who dwells outside of time. It should increase our faith.
In all areas of Catholicism, we see an abundance of rich symbolism. Typology, like everything in our religion, has the purpose of drawing our attention to the center of it all: Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End!
John Tuttle is a Catholic man who loves discovering and preserving truth and beauty. His work has been featured by Those Catholic Men, Love Thy Nerd, Movie Babble, Publishous, Tea with Tolkien, Catholic Journal: Reflections on Faith & Culture, and elsewhere. He is the founder of the web publication Of Intellect and Interest. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!
Insight from Fulton Sheen
According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).
We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!
Insight from St. Louis de Montfort
Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,
Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).
When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God? The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.
Insight from Genesis
Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull. Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!
Insight from Judith
Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.
The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.
Insight from Judges
Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville,
“The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”
Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:
Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.
According to 20th century Scottish author William Barclay, “There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.” Everyone had a birthday. Birthdays are universal. Celebrations of life. Reminders of impending death. Or a view somewhere in between. Why do you celebrate your birthday?
Each new year of our life allows us to learn from our past shortcomings and hope future successes. Celebrating our birthday helps us to live in the present moment. On September 8th, the Catholic Church observes the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The topic of the Mother of God is a point of contention for Protestants. There are a lot of misconceptions that Catholics worship Mary. I even had a conversation with a co-worker last week who asked me, “Why is it that some Catholics worship Mary?” My reply was concise and the same as the official stance of the Catholic Church, “Catholics don’t worship Mary. She is not God. We never, ever worship her. Instead, we honor her.”
Some of you might still be skeptical. You might be thinking, “Well, if you don’t worship Mary why does the Church has a specific feast to celebrate her birthday [along with the countless other feasts!] It all seems too much.” That certainly is a valid concern. I can understand how non-Catholics perceive Catholics’ devotion to Mary as being excessive or over the top. This article will discuss three reasons why Catholic do celebrate the birthday of Mary— and how authentic honor should always end in the worship of Jesus Christ!
An Anchor to the Incarnation
Birthdays celebrate a real and historical event. Your parents received a birth certificate a few weeks after you were born. In the modern era, people use their date of birth on loan applications, online activity, account openings, as passwords, and other situations where you have to prove your identity.
When the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of Mary, her existence as a real figure, in history, is recognized. Why it is important that Mary was actually born, a real person like you or I? Her existence is absolutely necessary for the doctrine of the Incarnation—the teachings that Jesus is fully God AND fully human. During the Nicene Creed, the priest and the laity bow at the following line: “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
Before I studied theology it always seemed peculiar that we would bow during those words. For my master’s course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I had to write a paper discussing the internal consistency and unity of the doctrines. The doctrine I choose to study was the Incarnation. I discovered that Mariology [the theological study of Mary] was closely related to the Incarnation.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. formally rejected the heresy of Nestorianism— a belief that rejected Mary was the Mother of God and thus also rejecting the humanity of Jesus. Mary as the Mother of God secures the reality that Jesus was fully human along with being fully God.
Obeying the 4th Commandment
Another reason Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary is out of honor. According to the Second Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, ” [Mary] she is our mother in the order of grace” (no. 61). This truth is in keeping with Scripture when Jesus gives her mother to the Apostle John (see John 19:26-27) and Sacred Tradition.
The vast number of Marian feast days throughout the year point to her holiness and complete obedience to God. Just like our earthly mother, we should honor our spiritual mother as well!
True Devotion of the Mother Ends with Worship of the Son
Each year it seems like retail stores put out Christmas displays and products earlier and earlier. Already I have heard people at work lament that the radio is not yet playing Christmas music. The birth of Christ is definitely something to get excited about. Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary as a type of early preparation for Christmas!
The Catholic Church is quite clear that Jesus is the sole Mediator. According to St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human,d who gave himself as ransom for all.” We only honor Mary as a means to get closer to Her Son. St. Louis de Montfort said it best, “We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son” (True Devotion to Mary ).
While we are members of the Body of Christ, Mary is the “neck of the Body of Christ” connecting us to the Head—Jesus. Celebrate the birth of Mary because it was through her decision to fully obey God that the Savior of the World was born. Happy Birthday Mary and happy early birthday Jesus!
O God, who, looking on the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
raised her to this grace,
that your Only Begotten Son was born of her according to the flesh
and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory,
grant through her prayers,
that, saved by the mystery of your redemption,
we may merit to be exalted by you on high.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
These words come from the Collect prayer for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Catholics, Mary is the most honored saint—she is the holy Mother of God. She is a perfect example of what love and obedience to God looks like. There exist over 15 official liturgical feasts celebrating Mary! Each focus on different facets of her life and various roles she performs on behalf of Jesus. I like to think of these Marian feasts as theological checkpoint—spiritual stops along our faith journey during the year.
Ultimately, we celebrate and honor Mary because she is the closest human to Christ. She is a holy role model for sinners. Why does the assumption of Mary matter? Let’s first define this event in Mary’s life. Then we will examine three reasons why this feast matters.
What is the Assumption?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 966,
Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”508 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.509
Logically flowing from the fact that Mary’s was created without original sin, it makes sense that Her body and soul are assumed into Heaven. The faithful who pass from this life will be resurrected at the end of time. Our Blessed Mary is granted the gift of experiencing the fullness of Heaven before time and space pass away.
St. Pius XII infallibly defined this doctrine in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. The pope clearly states, “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” While this teaching ultimately remains a Mystery we at least have a basic understanding of what the Church teaches about the end of Mary’s earthly life.
Essential to Catholic Faith
Belief in the Assumption of Mary is not an option for Catholics. It is one of the hallmarks and chief doctrines of truth. Pope Pius XII explicitly declares in Munificentissimus Deus, “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith” (no 45). To jettison the teaching of the Assumption would eventually lead to a decreased faith in our Marian doctrines: the Immaculate Conception, Maternal Mediation, seeing Mary as Mother of God.
Soul and Body Integrity
Another reason Mary’s Assumption plays an important role for us is that it prohibits a purely spiritual view of the afterlife. The body and soul do not remain separated for the faithful that attain the glory of Heavenly.
The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium Et Spes points out that created things of this world, including our bodies are inherently good. “For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured,” the council bishops’ declared (Gaudium Et Spes no 39). Because there exists some type of temporal and physical reality to Heaven it makes sense that Mary–the holiest of all saints–participates with Her body and soul unified.
Evidence of Her Holiness
Lastly, the Assumption of Mary is evidence that she is a holy and exemplar model of virtue. Mary is the handmaiden of the Lord and most humble servant of God. According to the great French priest, St. Louis de Montfort in his work True Devotion to the Mary, “[The] Blessed Mother… is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus”. The doctrine of the Assumption is assurance for Catholics that Mary is united with God.
Mary is not a deity to be worshiped. Catholics are not called to a false and unhealthy devotion to Mary because that would be equated to idolatry. I look to Our Blessed Mother as a guide, a signpost, and a beacon that orients us toward God. The beauty and grandeur of Mary exists because she is the perfect mirror. She reflects God’s love outward toward all of humanity. May we continue to grow closer to God and learn from the humble example of Mary to obey God in all things!