Blessed Are You Who Believed


Already you knew my soul;
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw all my actions;
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.
Psalm 139, 14-16

“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
Luke 1, 45

Since apostolic time, Christians have believed that, as an essential part of His plan of redemption, God preordained from all eternity to create the Blessed Virgin Mary and work with her for the salvation of mankind. The Judeo-Christians of the nascent Church in Palestine were aware of the vital significance of Mary’s role in the economy of salvation, and so the faithful felt devoted to the mother of their Lord in a lively spirit of gratitude and praise reminiscent of the dedication lavished upon Judith by Uzziah and God’s chosen people for having faithfully helped deliver the Israelites in the besieged city of Bethulia from oppression and the prospect of enslavement at the hands of their Assyrian enemy.

Elizabeth’s praise of her kinswoman Mary echoes the admiration the Israelite’s had for their heroine who slew the Assyrian general Holofernes: “Blessed (eulogomene) are you daughter, by the Highest God, above all women of earth; and blessed (eulogemenos) be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies. Your deeds of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God” (Jdt. 13, 18-19; Lk 1:42). All Hebrew generations have called Judith blessed together with the Lord (eulogeo) for her heroic exploits, just as all Christian generations have called the Virgin Mary blessed for her valiant deed of faith in God’s grace in the economy of salvation (Lk 1:48).

Thus, St. Luke acknowledges a Marian tradition that naturally sprouted as an offshoot of the Judaic heritage in the infant Christian Ecclesia. In the voice of Elizabeth, Mary is praised for having believed in the words of the angel and consenting to be the mother of the divine Messiah. Now all the nations on earth have found blessing because of Mary’s meritorious act of faith working through love in a spirit worthy of Abraham, the father of faith (Gen 22:16-18).


God predestined Mary to be the mother of the Redeemer, knowing that she would freely observe His will and please Him by joyfully consenting to conceive and bear His Only-begotten Son (Lk 1:38). Only by the faith of a humble and charitable young maiden should the divine Word become incarnate in mutual consent and loving communion to free the world from the slavery of sin and impending death through his sacrifice on the Cross. Having pronounced her Fiat, Mary crushed the head of the serpent with her heel as fatally as Judith had valiantly cut off the head of Holofernes with her sword in collaboration with God for the salvation of the world (Gen 3:15).

Indeed, God saw all that Mary would do in life even before He fashioned her soul and sanctified it with His grace. Foreseeing all her actions, every one of them written in the Book of Life, culminating on Calvary at the foot of the Cross, God decreed that Mary should come into being to collaborate with Him in redeeming fallen man. It was by His grace that God worked through Mary “both to will and to work” together with Him “for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13), for “God desires that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).


Since Mary’s body held no secret from God while she was being molded in the depths of her mother’s womb, God could appear to Abraham and tell him to sacrifice his only son upon the altar in the land of Moriah. God saw His handmaid offering up her own body – the fruit of her womb – as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him (this being her true spiritual worship) in the Temple and on Golgotha, while He was even speaking to Abraham (Rom 12:1-2). Abraham’s offering up of Isaac in faithful obedience to the will of God prefigures Christ’s offering of himself on Calvary, but not without his mother’s maternal sacrifice as an essential component. Our Lord’s Cross stood atop the same mountain on which Abraham had built his altar. Yet God would send no angel to Our Lady of Sorrows to deliver her only beloved Son from the altar of holocaust.

Unless Mary freely declared, “Be it done to me according to your word” in faith and charity, she would have had no fruit to provide from her maternal womb as a burnt sin offering for mankind most pleasing and acceptable to God. But every one of Mary’s days was decreed before even one of them came into being. God saw how valiant a woman she would be just by having created her. If Abraham were willing to consecrate his only beloved Son to God and offer him back as a pleasing sacrificial offering in faith, it was only because Mary would give her assent to the will of God in faith, despite all the obscurity. Jesus would take the place of Isaac and offer himself to atone for the sins of the world, since his mother was first willing to die to her maternal self and offer the fruit of her womb back to God for mankind’s redemption.


Everything that began in salvation history with Abraham and Isaac and reached its completion with Mary and Jesus rested on that climatic moment when the angel Gabriel appeared to the young maiden in the month of Nisan (March). How all creation must have held its breath in anxious suspense at that pivotal moment. Since Mary believed what was spoken to her by the Lord through His messenger and obeyed God, the promise made to Abraham could be fulfilled: that he become the father of many nations which should include the Gentiles. This blessing Abraham received from God for having believed and obeyed Him was validated by the Divine oath God swore in view of Mary’s obedient act of faith in charity and grace.

Because of her salutary consent to be the mother of the Messiah, even Isaiah could infallibly prophesy the virgin birth (7:14), since every one of Mary’s days was decreed by God, meaning all that He infallibly knew of Mary, His handiwork, shall be. What God infallibly knows will be cannot be otherwise. Indeed, even the creation of Adam and Eve rested on Mary’s Fiat in view of their fall from grace to the detriment of humanity. An even greater good than the original paradise that was lost was the purpose of the creation of mankind. This could only come about by the incarnation of Christ and his death and resurrection. But there could be no incarnation without Mary, the promised free woman, whom God put at enmity with the serpent as His collaborator.


Hence, God knew that Mary would freely and meritoriously give her consent in a spirit of joy before she would even declare her Fiat. That is why He sent the angel Gabriel to her, having first prepared His faithful handmaid with a fullness of grace (Lk 1:28). Mary’s Son was to be the Father’s ‘suffering servant’ who would restore the lost house of Israel (Jacob) and bring back the faithful remnant to Himself (Isa. 53). And her Son was to be made “a light for the Gentiles” that God’s “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6), but by being conceived and born of the faithful and humble Virgin.

If Elizabeth had understood all this by the sanctifying light of faith, it’s no wonder that she joyfully praised Mary for having believed what was spoken to her by the Lord. Not even her husband Zechariah could have celebrated God’s oath to Abraham or echoed the Messianic prophet’s words unless Mary had first become the mother of their Lord by her free salutary consent in the purity of her “faith working through love” (Lk 1:68-79; Gal: 5-5-6). How deeply reverential and grateful Elizabeth was towards her kinswoman when she asked: “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43).

“Hail, Mary, you are the most precious creature in the whole world; hail, Mary, uncorrupted dove; hail, “Mary, inextinguishable lamp;
for from you was born the Sun of justice…
through you, every faithful soul achieves salvation.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Homily 11, Council of Ephesus
(A.D. 431)

Enlarge the place of thy tent,
and stretch out the skins of thy tabernacles,
spare not: lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes,
for thou shalt pass on to the right land, and to the left:
and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and shall inhabit
the desolate cities.
Isaiah 54, 2-3

The primary signification of Isaiah’s prophecy concerns Israel in the metaphor of Mother Zion. The secondary fulfilment is reached in Mary, the mother of our Lord and Saviour and the anti-type of Mother Zion (the virgin bride of YHWH) whose children are liberated from captivity and regenerated unto God. It is from the Cross that Jesus redefines Mary’s motherhood in the biblical sense as she stands beneath it in great sorrow because of man’s slavery to sin: ‘Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.’ (Jn 19, 26-27). Jesus’ words to his mother Mary and the Disciple entrust her with a new and larger family which should include the Gentiles. Because of Mary’s faith in charity and grace beneath the cross, her sorrow shall be replaced with boundless joy; she must now make room “in her tent” after her ‘cords have been lengthened’ and her ‘stakes strengthened’ for the entire body of believers, who the beloved Disciple corporately represents as the Church.

The Divine Maternity is the result of the Incarnation, but this gift God has granted Mary carries with it further blessings for her because of her faith. The Divine Maternity itself is not the highest expression of her being blessed (makaria/ μακαρία) or “happy,” in the words of Elizabeth. When Jesus says, “Blessed (makaria) are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8), the highest expression of their being blessed isn’t being pure of heart, but rather seeing God which results from being pure of heart. They are not simply blessed for being pure of heart. So, to see how it is that Mary is blessed, rather than by only being the mother of Jesus, because of her faith, we must look to the prophet Isaiah.


In the figure of Daughter Zion, Mary is further blessed for becoming the mother of all nations rather than for simply being the natural mother of Jesus, and all because of her persevering faith in the face of darkness that brought her to the foot of the Cross. Just as Abraham becomes the father of many nations because of his persevering faith, so too Mary becomes the mother of all nations because of her faith. Abraham isn’t blessed simply because God has given him a son by Sarah as promised. Being the father of Isaac isn’t the fullest expression of Abraham’s blessed state; nor is Mary’s divine motherhood. It is on Mount Moriah where God redefines Abraham’s fatherhood, and it is on that same mount also known as Golgotha where God incarnate redefines Mary’s motherhood from the Cross.

We read in the Gospel of Luke (11:27-28) that a woman in the crowd which was following Jesus raised her voice and said to him: “Blessed (makaria) is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” This woman obviously thought Mary was blessed for being the mother of such a great prophet and teacher. She had no idea that Jesus was God incarnate. Because of her ignorance, she failed to see how Mary was truly blessed and the higher expression of her blessedness. Thus, Jesus corrected her in allusion to his mother by saying: “Blessed (makaria) rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” The Greek word for “rather” is menoun (mενοῦν) which means “more” or “further”.


What our Lord implicitly told the woman, then, was that his mother wasn’t simply blessed for having borne and nursed him, but more so for having borne him because of her faith; she was more blessed for her faith in the word of God than she was for being his biological mother, since he came into the world to redeem it by her obedient act of faith in charity and grace. And for being a woman of faith, Mary was not only the natural mother of Jesus, but more importantly, the spiritual mother of all the living. It was in allusion to Mary’s redefined motherhood that Jesus called her “Woman” from the wood of the Cross, just as Adam had called his wife before they both fell from grace (Gen 3:12-13). If only the woman in the crowd knew what kind of fruit Mary had brought to mankind from her blessed womb, she whom the serpent couldn’t beguile.

Thus, Jesus must have alluded to the Annunciation when he spoke his words. The woman in the crowd couldn’t have imagined that Mary’s motherhood involved the appearance of an angel and her salutary consent to be the mother of someone greater than a prophet or any rabbi, one who was in fact the Son of God foretold by the prophets and who came into the world to save mankind from sin and death by suffering and dying on the cross. This woman should know that our Lord’s mother was not simply blessed for being the mother of Jesus, but more importantly because she had crushed the head of the serpent with her heel by her act of faith in collaboration with God to undo Eve’s transgression and become her advocate or vindicator. And this meant that she, too, would have to suffer much sorrow and die to her maternal self in union with her Son for the redemption of humanity.

“But the Lord Christ, the fruit of the Virgin, did not pronounce the breasts of women blessed, nor selected them to give nourishment; but when the kind and loving Father had rained down the Word, Himself became spiritual nourishment to the good. O mystic marvel! The universal Father is one, and one the universal Word; and the Holy Spirit is one and the same everywhere, and one is the only virgin mother. I love to call her the Church. This mother, when alone, had not milk, because alone she was not a woman. But she is once virgin and mother–pure as a virgin, loving as a mother. And calling her children to her, she nurses them with holy milk, viz., with the Word for childhood.”
St. Clement of Alexandria
Paedagogos, I:6

The early Church Father, St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 216 A.D.) perceived the glorious splendour of the Church reflected in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. We see in the Paedagogos (Instructor), he writes that “it is his joy to call her by her name of the Church.” Mary’s spiritual motherhood of all the members of Christ’s body is the proto-type of the motherhood of the Church. The Church is a mother in that she nourishes all the reborn with God’s grace through the sacraments and the word of God belonging to the deposit of faith. As Mother of the Church, our Blessed Lady is the caretaker of her children’s souls; she nourishes her offspring with her Son’s grace that efficaciously sanctifies or justifies them before God, having carried the One living Word in her womb and bringing him forth into the world to “to preach to the meek, to heal the contrite of heart, and to preach a release to the captives, and deliverance to them that are shut up” (Isa 61:1; Lk 4:18). The sacraments of the Church are physical instruments of divine grace, whereas the Virgin Mary is the moral channel of her divine Son’s grace by her prayerful intercession, which initially includes her Fiat. All saving grace, including the grace that is conferred through the sacraments, proceeds first and foremost from the Son through our Blessed Mother and unblemished spouse of the Holy Spirit in and through Christ.

This prerogative has been bestowed on her by God in honour of her Divine Maternity and perseverance in faith for the redemption of humanity. She who merited to bring the Font of all grace into the world should rightly be the divinely constituted chief-steward of her Son’s grace. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4:10; cf. Jn 2:2-11). The Divine Maternity is the greatest gift any person may ever receive from God in the order of grace. Being the greatest gift, any woman or person could ever possibly receive from God in this life, the divine motherhood carries with it the greatest prerogatives for any servant of the Lord. She who is God’s handmaid and spouse of the Holy Spirit is more than a servant by being the Queen Mother and Advocatrix of our Lord and King in his Davidic heavenly kingdom and mystical body. Blessed indeed is the Virgin Mary for having believed!


Further, the Bishop of Alexandria says that “this mother, when alone, had not milk, because alone she was not woman.” In other words, Mary could not provide us with spiritual nourishment unless she were the mother of our Lord and brother (Rom 8:29). The woman in St. Luke’s gospel who pronounced the breasts of Mary to be blessed was mildly rebuked by Jesus for having said that. Jesus did not merely regard his mother to be blessed for having nursed him when he was an infant. Rather, she was more blessed for being called to provide milk that ordinary mothers do not have for their children: “the word for childhood” who in the flesh is the Son of the Virgin Mary, “pure as a virgin and loving as a mother” because of the purity of her faith working through love (Gal 5:5-6).

Our Blessed Lady tangibly represents in her person the “unblemished bride of Christ,” which is the Church, sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit who ensures the purity of her faith as the guarantor of the divine truth (Eph 5:25-27; 1 Tim 3:15). The woman in the crowd pronounced Mary’s breasts to be blessed, but Jesus implicitly went further by presenting his holy mother to himself as “glorious” because there was no “stain or wrinkle” in her soul. The Holy Spirit was ever-present in Mary’s life preserving her from being tainted by any personal sin and ensuring her perfect sanctity.

Hence, because of her meritorious act of faith at the Annunciation, Mary was further blessed by being more of a mother in her likeness to the Church whose holy milk would be something of a nourishing spiritual substance: “the Word for childhood.” From Mary’s womb comes the Divine Word incarnate, from the Church’s womb comes forth the written and unwritten word of God: sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. Our Blessed Lady is no ordinary mother who by physical nature has milk to give to her offspring, for she is a mother of a spiritual kind. In and through Mary, the Church has been conceived and begotten by her participation in the hypostatic order of Christ’s incarnation and his redemptive work. In turn, Christ is conceived in the womb of the Church and brought forth into the world by the faithful preaching of the Gospel in the sacred liturgy and administration of the sacraments (Mt 28:19).

And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
Revelation 12, 2-5

Mary “is once virgin and mother” who nourishes her offspring with spiritual milk in the form of God’s Word and His grace, so that they can grow in conformity to the image of her divine Son. The Church is a virgin in the purity of her faith no less than she is, and so the Bride of Christ can nourish humanity with the truth of God’s word and His redeeming grace. Only Mary can provide what Eve had lost for her children: communion with God and the life of grace. And because of Mary, the Church can, too. In this sense, then, our Blessed Mother is a living symbol of the Church and the ideal model for all her members who serve Christ and bear witness to him in their lives, so that others may enter into communion with God through the womb of the Church as his adopted children, regenerated unto Him in the Holy Spirit through the merits of our Blessed Lady’s divine Son.

God has ordained that Jesus should redeem the world and regenerate mankind in association with his mother and our spiritual mother. Alone Mary is not “woman” who has milk to provide for our spiritual sustenance. Her universal maternal role depends on her divine Son being the new Adam and Head of humanity – “our life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). The Virgin Mary isn’t only the mother of Christ’s mystical Body, but also Mother of the redeemed world, being the new Eve and helpmate of her Son, the new Adam. Jesus declared: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me” (Jn 12:32). Our Lord kept his promise by rising from the dead after his crucifixion and death, which his sorrowful mother was drawn into to help restore mankind to God’s grace. Thus, he draws all people to himself through the maternal patronage of his Blessed Mother whom he has given to the world from the Cross as her reborn offspring in the life of grace by her sorrowful anguish beneath the Cross (Jn 19:26-27; Rev 12: 2-5).


The early Church Father, St. Irenaeus (180-190 A.D.) bears witness to this divine truth which the Church has grasped by the sanctifying light of faith: “The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man—the Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God” (Against Heresies, 4, 33, 12). St. Ambrose of Milan concurs two centuries later, only in different terms, while preserving the substance of the content passed on by way of Apostolic Tradition: “It was through a man and a woman that flesh was cast from Paradise; it was through a virgin that flesh was linked to God…. Eve is called mother of humanity, but Mary Mother of salvation” (Epistle. 63, 33). St. Augustine elaborates more by identifying the mystery of the Church with the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Mary’s Son, spouse of the Church! He has made his Church like to His mother, He has given her to us as a mother, He has kept her to Himself as a virgin (pure in faith). The Church, like Mary, is a virgin ever spotless and a mother ever fruitful (bearing sons and daughters of God). What He bestowed on Mary in the flesh, He has bestowed on the Church in the spirit: Mary gave birth to the One, and the Church gives birth to the many, who through the One become one” (Sermo 195, 2).

Mary’s Fiat is evocative of Judith’s prayer to God (Ch.9), that He should intervene and save the Israelite’s from impending death and enslavement at the hands of the Assyrian forces which are besieging the city of Bethulia. YHWH hears and answers her prayer, because she has placed her faith in His providence. God’s response, however, requires that Judith collaborates with Him to save the Israelites from imminent destruction and captivity in a foreign land. The name Judith means “Jewish lady” or “woman”, which is fitting given our theme, since she is one of the several matriarchs of the Hebrew people who prefigures Mary in anticipation of the coming Messiah and her intimate association with him in the work of deliverance from evil and eternal death.

Jesus calls his mother Mary “Woman” at the wedding feast in Cana, where he begins his public ministry in the shadow of the Cross (Jn 2:1-11), and on Calvary from the Cross, beneath which her dual maternity is forever established (Jn 19:26-27). On both pivotal occasions, his blessed mother acts as his collaborator in the redemption (co-Redemptrix), just as Judith acted centuries before to save the Israelites from imminent destruction and death. Judith culminates in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is more importantly the maternal guardian of our souls in our spiritual battle against Satan and the dark principalities and powers that rule in this world (Rev 12:17). St. Paul warns us that our battle isn’t against “flesh and blood” or our fellow man (Eph 6:12).


Our very own Judith or “Great Lady” and Queen Mother (Gebirah) appeals on behalf of all exiled and enslaved humanity “born in guilt and conceived in sin” (Ps 51:7). By having first consented to be the mother of the Divine’ Messiah, who shall “preach the good news to the poor and set captives free” (Isa 61:1; Lk 4:18), Mary has become our spiritual mother in the order of grace in our spiritual battle against Satan and his dark legions which besiege our souls. She is our Lady of Perpetual Help who mediates her Son’s graces to us with which we can armor ourselves against the enemy.

Since Mary was a woman of faith, and thus had found favour with God (Lk 1:30), He validated her consent by overshadowing her through the creative power of the Holy Spirit. Our Blessed Lady’s prayer, which was expressed by her simple Fiat, in that it contained all that she had prayerfully desired up to the Annunciation on our behalf, was answered. And so, blessed are we, who are besieged by the dragon and its offspring, because she believed and has come to us as our patroness. We, too, can leap for joy in the womb of holy Mother Church because of the sweet sound of our heavenly Mother’s prayers which never escapes from the ears of her divine Son.

The Blessed Virgin Mary – Daughter of Zion – has been raised as a spiritual fortress and a place of refuge for sinners in their spiritual combat with Satan and his legions of fallen angels. She especially protects those who implore her help and prayerful intercession, so that they may abide with her Son in his love and goodness by his saving grace. Our Blessed Mother is a spiritual and moral haven for all who wander in the spiritual wilderness of this world and wish to stay on the right path while having to face the ferocious onslaught of the dark “principalities and powers” that rule in this desolate world, seeking to “devour” human souls like a “prowling lion” (1 Pet 5:8-9). Let us hope and pray that our Blessed Mother Mary will come to our aid, as we implore her maternal intercession, so that we won’t wander off the straight path that leads us back to Eden or promised land during our exodus from captivity, worked in and through the liberating merits of Christ her Son and our Lord.

And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained
to be assumed of the lump of Adam,
what need was there of the Holy Virgin?”
St. Basil
To the Sozopolitans, Epistle 261
(A.D. 377)

Shall not Zion say:
This man and that man is born in her,
and the Highest himself hath founded her?
Psalm 87, 5

Salve Regina!

Behold Thy Mother


And thou shalt say in thy heart:
Who hath begotten these?
I was barren and brought not forth,
led away, and captive:
and who hath brought up these?
I was destitute and alone:
and these, where were they?
Isaiah 49, 21

GIVE praise, O thou barren, that bearest not:
sing forth praise, and make a joyful noise,
thou that didst not travail with child:
for many are the children of the desolate,
more than of her that hath a husband,
saith the Lord.
Isaiah 54, 1

When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.  After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.
John 19, 26-27

Of all the enigmatic statements contained in sacred Scripture, the one made by Jesus to his beloved disciple from the Cross is no less mysterious and challenging to interpret or understand. Our Lord says to the Disciple: “Behold your mother.” By the word mother, Jesus has more its biblical sense in mind. His act of entrusting his mother to the disciple rests on the status and importance of motherhood in Israelite society. For the Jews, motherhood was more a social edifice than a biological expedient. Biblically, we can see it was redefined as something that embraced all of God’s chosen people, given the historical circumstances surrounding their covenant with God and his promise to Abraham.

For instance, Ruth was enjoined by her mother-in- law Naomi to lay at the foot of the bed of her lord Boaz who happened to be a relative of her deceased husband. Under the law of Moses, a close relation was expected to marry a widow for the sake of perpetuating the family name and keeping all the assets, such as land, within the family (Deut 25:5-10). It was important that when a man died without having a son, a relative should marry a widow so that a son should be born within the family and its name carried on (Lk 20:27-40). Now Ruth was childless when her husband died. But after she had married Boaz, the couple had a firstborn son whom they named Obed. The family name could now be carried on and all the property kept within the family.


Thus, Ruth’s motherhood was not merely centred on giving birth to and nurturing children within the immediate family but was redefined in terms of a broader social scope that concerned the interests of the extended family and its preservation. Still, in Judaic thought, her motherhood extended even further by embracing all the children of Israel. Having given birth to Obed, Ruth did in a sense give birth to David. Her grandson Jesse begot the King of Israel. Providentially Ruth’s motherhood extended to King David from whose royal line the Messiah would come by being born of the Virgin Mary (2 Sam 7:12-13), whose dual maternity is prefigured in this Hebrew matriarch among others.

Leila Leah Bronner (Stories of Biblical Mothers) has introduced the biblical concept which she coins “Metaphorical Mother.” This term refers to a woman who figuratively gives birth to and nurtures an entire population of children who are hers symbolically, though biological ties are not precluded. Ruth metaphorically gives birth to the people of Israel who would be ruled by the Messiah by her biological ties with him through Obed, Jesse, and King David. Socially, she contributes to the birth and growth of a blossoming nation and the advancement of its people. Similarly, Sarah gives birth to Isaac, who in turn begets Jacob who represents Israel. By giving birth to Isaac, she does in a sense give birth to the nation of Israel, and by doing so her motherhood is redefined (Gen. 12:2; 46:3). Yet Sarah’s maternity isn’t intended to be confined within national boundaries – not according to the Divine plan.


We see that all three of God’s promises to Abraham are fulfilled in their primary context in the Old Testament. In their secondary signification, they are fulfilled in the New Testament. All the families (nations) of the earth that shall be blessed together with the saved remnant of Israel as children (seed) of Abraham comprise the Gentiles who have been called to turn from their pagan iniquities, now that Christ has risen from the dead having reconciled mankind to God (Acts 3:24-26). Only those who are of faith (a steadfast love of God for His essential goodness and righteousness) are the true offspring of Abraham – both Jew and Gentile alike (Gal. 3:7-9). There is “neither Jew nor Greek” among those who have been baptized in Christ and have “put on Christ” by conducting their lives in faithfulness to God’s commandments. All who are faithful to God, by walking in the light as our Lord is in the light, are children of Abraham, not only the Jews who have been circumcised (Gal 3: 26-29).

Thus, the primary fulfillment of God’s three promises to Abraham, which includes Sarah’s important maternal role, finds its secondary fulfillment in Jesus together with his mother Mary. Just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob prefigure Jesus and his Church, so too Sarah prefigures Mary, the Matriarch of the new and everlasting Covenant established ​through the precious blood of her divine Son.


That the first Jewish converts to the Christian faith perceived this link between the two women is evident by the parallel St. Luke draws between the birth of Isaac and the birth of Jesus. In Genesis 11, we have Sarah, the free wife of Abraham and mother of the promised son, whom she gives birth to miraculously, seeing she was barren and past the age of having children (Gen 17:17-18;18:10). It is by God’s command that he is to be called Isaac (Gen. 17:19). As the free wife of Abraham, Sarah stands in opposition to her slave woman Hagar, one of Abraham’s concubines. Because Sarah is barren, she advises that Abraham and her servant Hagar have a son together whom they name Ishmael, but Sarah later demands that he must never have a share in her son Isaac’s inheritance and should be sent away with his mother because of his foul behaviour (Gen 21:8-10). Isaac is destined to become the father ​of a great nation, Israel in the person of his son Jacob.

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In the Gospel of Luke, we have Mary, the mother of the promised Son who is the rightful heir as Head of the kingdom of heaven. She is the free spouse of the Holy Spirit, through whom she has been endowed with the fullness of grace (Lk 1:28). The purity of her soul and freedom from all stain of sin magnify the Lord (Lk.1:46). Together with the free Son of promise, she is at enmity with Satan and stands against all his offspring: sinful humanity (Gen 3:15). Mary is a virgin but, nevertheless, miraculously conceives and bears her only son Jesus (Lk. 1:35). And not unlike Sarah, she questions how she could possibly conceive him, seeing that she does not have sexual relations with man: “I know not man” (Lk 1:34). Yet, she is to conceive and bear a son who shall be called Jesus by God’s command (Lk 1:31). He shall rule all nations from the throne he inherits from his ancestor David, and his kingdom shall never end. Jesus shall beget the Church, as Isaac has begotten Israel, and reign over Jacob’s descendant’s, his co-heirs, forever (Lk 1:32-33).


The Biblical theme of the free Woman of promise occasionally appears in sacred Scripture from Genesis 3 to Revelation 12. Sarah is first chosen by God to be a matriarch of the Israelites (the Matriarch of the Covenant) and not merely the biological mother of Isaac and maternal head of the extended family. She is called to serve as an active participant in collaboration with God for the birth of a nation from which the Messiah will come to reconcile humanity to God. Other matriarchs of the Hebrews include the heroines who faithfully contribute to the salvation of God’s chosen people by collaborating with Him to liberate them from bondage and impending death at the hands of their enemy invaders or captors.​

Three highly acclaimed of these women in Judaic tradition are Esther, Jael, and Judith. Along with Sarah, they prefigure the Virgin Mary in her redefined maternal role in the economy of salvation, whose valiant deeds find their ultimate fulfillment in Mary’s association with her divine Son in his redemptive work. Both Jael and Judith strike victorious blows for Israel by severing the heads of the chieftains of their enemies, Sisera and Holofernes respectively, under God’s providential direction at appointed times, when God wills to restore His alienated people in his grace by the oath he had sworn to Abraham (Gen 22:15-18). And because of their saving acts in union with God, these valiant women are praised and proclaimed blessed (eulogeo) above all women together with Him, as all generations of the Jews shall follow suit (Jdgs. 5:24-27; Jdt. 13:18-20; 15:9-10).


Mary crushes the head of the serpent, which is Satan, in collaboration with God when she humbly and faithfully consents to be the mother of the divine Messiah and suffers at the foot of the Cross in union with the afflictions of her Son to make temporal satisfaction to God for the sins of alienated humanity and help liberate it from slavery of sin and the power of the hostile enemy (Lk 1:38; 2:35). By her Fiat, she brings the living Font of redemptive grace into the world, by whose merits all people shall be reconciled to God and restored to friendship with Him. Through Mary’s womb, God fulfills His third promise to Abraham of regenerating mankind in Christ and delivering all souls from eternal spiritual death and separation from the Beatific Vision of God. In commendation of Mary’s faith in charity and grace, Elizabeth pronounces her kinswoman blessed (eulogeo) above all women together with the fruit of her womb (Lk.1:42), and all generations of the Christian faithful shall as well because of the great things God has done for her in their collaboration together (Lk 1:48-49).


Esther is captured and enslaved with her people by King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), but because of her exceptional beauty, he chooses her from among all the Jewish maidens to be his wife and to reign with him as Queen of Persia (Esther 2:1-18). She abhors the thought of being his wife, not only because he is an evil Gentile who has enslaved the Israelites, but also because she is a righteous woman who observes the Torah and is married to Mordechai, according to the Talmud. But the king forces her to be his wife and to lay with him whenever he summons her to his bedchamber. Meanwhile, all the Hebrew captives have been condemned to death through the schemes of an enemy, the king’s highest official Haman the Agagite, except for Esther because of her marriage to the king. After her heartfelt prayer to God (Esther C:12-30, NAB), and taking advantage of her singular privilege, Queen Esther manages to foil Haman’s plot, despite risking her own life, and saves her people from certain death. In his wrath, the king orders his highest official to be hanged by the neck on the gallows (Esther 7:6-10).


Being Esther’s anti-type, Mary, alone of her race, isn’t subjected to the corruption of physical death and the dark prospect of eternal spiritual death because of original sin, brought about by the machinations of the Devil (Gen. 3:14). God has exempted her from being born under the law of sin and death by preserving her free from the stain of original sin, so that she shall be the worthiest of mothers for the Son and assist Him in defeating the world’s chief enemy Satan as to deliver mankind from its slavery to sin and impending death. Through the Fiat of the faithful and valiant daughter of God the Father, the King of kings claims the final victory over the chief enemy of God’s people and his works (Rom 8:37; 1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 2:14, etc.). Now in Heaven, Mary dons her crown and reigns enthroned as Queen together with our Lord and King, as the faithful continue to make war with the Dragon in their spiritual battle against him together with her (Rev 12:17). Our Lady has been chosen by our Lord and King because she is the fairest woman of our race (Lk 1:28, 42).

Behold thy Son – Behold thy Mother

When Jesus addresses his sorrowful mother from the Cross, he calls her “Woman.” Jewish men of his time honourably called their mothers “Emah” (“Mother”), especially in public in observance of Mosaic law. However, Jesus refers to his mother Mary as being a mother to someone, when he says to the Disciple: “Behold your mother.” So, Jesus isn’t thinking of Mary as being his natural mother when he speaks to her and then to the Disciple, but rather as a mother to others in a spiritual sense. Our Lord is addressing his most blessed mother in a Biblical sense. The truth is when Jesus calls his mother “Woman”, he is alluding to her as being the free Woman of Promise foretold to the serpent by God Himself in the Garden of Eden, she who shall crush its head by her faith working through love for the spiritual benefit of humanity (Gen 3:15; Lk 11:27-28).

Indeed, our Lord is affirming his mother to be in her person the culmination of all the Hebrew Matriarchs who have gone before her, beginning with Sarah and the promises God made to Abraham, of which his wife had a vital role to play in the economy of salvation in anticipation of the Incarnation. It is from the Cross, while his precious blood is being poured out for the remission of sin, that Jesus declares his mother to be the Matriarch of the New and everlasting Covenant and the spiritual mother or second Eve of redeemed mankind.


It is from the Cross, of all places, where our Lord redefines Mary’s motherhood, for through the Cross she acts as the Mother of all Nations should by nourishing fallen man with the redemptive fruit of her womb – the body and blood of her divine Son, by which all souls may be reborn to new life in the Spirit. As the caregiver of all human souls, Mary feeds and nourishes her spiritual offspring the “true manna come down from heaven” and “the bread of life” (Jn 6:35, 51, 58) with the Cross standing ever-present before her. Mary’s saving office isn’t only affirmed but is also ratified by Jesus as he speaks to his mother and the disciple from the Cross.

The Church is born on Calvary, so Mary’s saving office is established there until the end of this age (Lk 2:35; Jn 19:34). As Mother of the Church, Mary exercises her new maternal role by nourishing and strengthening all Christ’s disciples with the “Word for childhood” and the graces her Son has merited for them. The filial bond Jesus forms between his mother and the disciple relates to his Messianic reign and all he has accomplished for humanity. His words to his mother Mary and the Disciple point towards his resurrection and ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).


The couplet “Behold your son – Behold your mother” bears prophetic and eschatological significance. Every prophetic utterance in the Scriptures must do with the Divine promise of salvation. Moreover, the ancient beliefs surrounding the spoken word (dabar) lends this couplet a special power. In ancient literature, the recorded words of a dying man have bearing on some future occurrence or condition that must not be ignored or dismissed. It is something that all readers should take to heart. The words of a dying man, because he is dying, turns him somewhat into a prophet. He isn’t to be taken lightly, considering he is drawing his last breath and approaching the gates of the nether world.

So, when Jesus says to the Disciple, “Behold your mother,” he isn’t merely asking a friend to do him one last favour before he departs. Jesus does not primarily or exclusively mean that the Disciple should look after his mother once he is gone, though he does have her well-being in mind. The underlying force and structure of this couplet dismiss the idea of such an ordinary or practical last will and testament. We mustn’t forget that every word spoken by our Lord in the Gospels carries salvific weight either explicitly or implicitly.


In any event, being aware of how people in his time were affected by the portentous words of a dying man, John constructs this couplet in such a forceful and imperative way which does not smack of a simple request for a favour from a dear friend, but rather a Divine ordinance. He is drawing his readers’ attention to something of great prophetic and eschatological import which has bearing on the Divine plan of salvation. Jesus certainly has the welfare of his mother at the back of his mind because of his perfect love for her and in honour of her, but he has chosen to place her in his disciple’s care from the Cross, since it is from the Cross he wills to redefine her motherhood, in view of his mother’s final perseverance in faith and her vital role in the redemption because of it.

It is on Mount Moriah where God redefines Abraham’s fatherhood at the altar of holocaust because of his obedient act of faith (Gen 22:16-18), and it is on this same mount, also called Golgotha, where God incarnate redefines Mary’s motherhood from the Cross because of her faith in charity and grace. Jesus has her moral participation in his redemptive work in mind. Mary’s spiritual motherhood of the redeemed has its raison d’etre in her co-redemptive role which began at the Annunciation.


The couplet “Woman, behold your son – Behold your mother” has a flavour of absoluteness to it. It is pronounced in a very direct way that borders on the imperative, analogous to a Divine ordinance or command. The first word (dabar) that Jesus utters while in agony for our sins is “Woman” which immediately draws our attention to Mary the mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross. The word not only redefines her motherhood, but also defines who she is in the Divine economy of salvation. The temporal circumstance Mary finds herself in as the mother of Jesus is the least of the Evangelist’s concern. That she is the woman promised by God who will crush the head of the serpent by her faith in collaboration with God is what the author first draws our attention to. Only then is our attention drawn to the Disciple to clarify what it is that Jesus means by calling his mother “Woman” instead of “Mother” (Emah), and how she relates to all the faithful in the order of grace. In modern Biblical exegesis, this device is known as constructive or synthetic parallelism.

Therefore, what is more significant than Mary being the mother of Jesus and having to be looked after once he is gone is her title which denotes her new maternal and spiritual filial relationship with the Disciple. Now that Jesus has accomplished his mission and has cast the Accuser from heaven, Mary’s motherhood to Jesus recedes into the background. Mary does not assume the new role of being the mother of the Disciple after he takes her to his home (not that John needs a mother in the ordinary sense), but she does at the foot of the Cross together with him there, since it is because of the Cross that she becomes his mother, having had a painful intercessory role to play for the temporal remission of sin in her Son’s redemptive work.

Of all Christ’s disciples who have abandoned Jesus when he is betrayed and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, only John overcomes his fear of being arrested, too, and musters the moral courage to stand beneath the Cross with Mary, the mother of his Lord. The Disciple, therefore, becomes a spiritual offspring of the mother of Jesus, as she becomes his mother because of his faith. From the Cross, the Son designates his mother Mary to be the Mother of the faithful – her Son’s true disciples (Rev 12:17). Of the Eleven, only John accompanied the Mother of their Lord to the Cross, while the rest had given their Master up for dead, despite what he had already prophesied to them on their way to Jerusalem before his arrest (Mt 20:18; Mk 10:33; Lk 24:7).  So, John’s presence beneath the Cross close to Mary is symbolic rather than purely incidental.


In his Gospel narrative The Wedding Feast at Cana (2:2-11), John presents the servants at the wedding feast as types of disciples. We read: His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Instead of using the Greek word duolois for “servants” in the ordinary sense, the Evangelist uses diakonois, the Greek word used for Jesus’ true disciples in the New Testament. For instance, “If anyone serves (diakonei) me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant (diakonoi) be also” (Jn 12:26). Hence, John is presenting Mary as the mother of all her Son’s disciples who faithfully follow and serve him. And the first thing she must say to all her children as Mother of the Church is “Do whatever he tells you”​ (Jn 2:5).

As a loving mother and caretaker of their souls, our Blessed Lady is encouraging them to live their lives in perfect obedience to her divine Son. It is on this occasion, when Jesus begins his public ministry in the shadow of the Cross at the behest of his mother Mary, that he also publicly calls her “Woman” for the instructive benefit of his disciples who were present with him and his mother at the wedding feast. Here and on Golgotha, John uses the same Greek word for ‘woman’ (gynai) that we find in Genesis 3:15 in the Septuagint. Evidently, he is identifying Mary with the free promised woman or second Eve, the “spiritual mother of all the living.” 


While the image of Eve provides a powerful background for the redefinition of Mary’s motherhood, John also employs the Old Testament imagery of Mother Zion. And in doing so, he captures our attention not only to Mary, but also the Disciple with no name. The fact that he is present together with Mary at the Cross indicates that he, too, has a role to assume which God wills to reveal. And this role is immeasurably more significant than one of caretaker. Certainly, Jesus wishes to place his mother in no better hands, but he chooses to do so on this occasion to disclose something that is vitally essential to God’s plan of salvation. Thus, on the contrary, Mary is to be the caretaker of the Disciple’s soul as the pre-eminent moral channel of her Son’s grace.

The more reasonable explanation of the Disciple’s presence must be that he represents the entire Christian community of believers or the Mystical Body of Christ. Such an idea rests on a biblical mind-set that scholars call “corporate personality” which originated from Biblical scholar Wheeler Robinson in 1907. The beloved disciple is a corporate representation of the Church which shall include even the Gentiles, just as Jacob is a corporate representation of all the faithful people of Israel who prefigure the faithful citizens of the New Jerusalem come down from heaven (Rev 12:1; 21:2).

In the Biblical sense of motherhood, the Disciple is as much a son of Mary as Jacob is a son of Sarah, the mother of Isaac who prefigures Christ, and the Israelites the sons and daughters of Mother Zion – the second Eve in classical Jewish theology. Yet, for the early Hebrew Christians, the mother of their Lord wasn’t their spiritual mother in merely a metaphorical sense. She was someone whom they could personally relate to as much as they could her divine Son. Mary was much more to them than a symbol or representation (Lk 1:43).

For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor,
anguish as of one bringing forth her first child,
the cry of daughter Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands,
“Woe is me! I am fainting before killers!”
Jeremiah 4, 31

The sorrowful scene at the Cross is Old Testament imagery and symbolism related to prophecy and the Judaic traditions. Isaiah 49:21, 54:1-3. and 66:7-11 carry the theme of Mother Zion amid sorrow over the loss of her children, when suddenly she is given a new and large family restored in God’s grace which is cause for rejoicing (Lk 1:46-49; Zeph. 3:14-17). In the words of Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John): “The sorrowful scene at the foot of the Cross represents the birth pangs by which the Spirit of salvation is brought forth (Isaiah 26:17-18) and handed over (John 29:30). In becoming the mother of the beloved disciple (The Christian), Mary is symbolically evocative of Lady Zion who, after birth pangs (interior sorrow) brings forth a new people in joy.”​

Paul D. Hanson (Isaiah 40-66) adds: “Zion is not destined to grieve because of the loss she has endured, viz., the death of her Son. Instead, she will be able to compare her former desolation with the bustling activity of returnees (from exile) filling her towns and cities.” According to the author, the three-fold references to the children represent repopulated Zion. The returnees from exile foreshadow all believers in Christ who have been freed from the bondage of sin and impending eternal death, having been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, but at the reparative cost of his blessed mother’s sorrow and anguish beneath the Cross (Rev 12:4).

Now, why art thou drawn together with grief?
Hast thou no king in thee,
or is thy counsellor perished,
because sorrow hath taken thee
as a woman in labour?
Micah 4, 9

The imperative “Behold” (Heb. hinneh) is sometimes used as a “predicator of existence”, something that looks to a new state of being (the redefinition of Mary’s motherhood). The hinneh clauses emphasize the immediacy of the situation (the crucifixion), and they may be used to point things out for the sake of clarification. For instance, “Behold (here is) Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that I too can have a family by her” (Gen 30:3). Significantly, most hinneh clauses occur in direct speech. They introduce a fact or something actual on which a subsequent statement or command is based and must be closely observed. What Jesus said to the Disciple was “Here is your mother,” meaning she was as much of a mother to him with necessity as Bilhah was a servant of Rachel – and Mary the handmaid of the Lord: “Behold, I am (here is) the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38).

Mary did not become a mother of John in any sort of figurative sense, as in being like a mother of his by living under the same roof with him. She became his own genuine mother along with all Christ’s other disciples, but in a spiritual and mystical sense. Mary became as much the mother of John and all her Son’s disciples as she did God’s handmaid and spouse of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35) with necessity by the will of God.


Since Mary could not have become the Disciple’s mother in a naturally physiological way, but nonetheless his actual mother, she obviously became his mother spiritually; someone he could personally relate to, and not just a metaphor like Mother Zion. The Disciple accepted Mary in his heart as his very own mother – “TOOK HER TO HIS OWN” – and did not merely regard her as the widowed mother of a dear friend who needed to be looked after in his home. Mary’s troubled temporal state, of course, has no bearing on the good news of salvation, so why mention it at all? Nothing contained in the Gospels is purely incidental but is of soteriological import, and that includes Mary’s presence at the wedding feast in Cana where our Lord performs his most significant miracle of eschatological proportion which inaugurates his public ministry, while having called his blessed mother “Woman” from the outset.

Further, the word “Behold” was often used in ancient time as an introduction to a prophetic announcement of judgement pointing to God’s intervention and stood in the immediate context of the messenger formula (Jer. 6:21; 9:6; 10:18). By using this term, Jesus was in fact making a prophetic announcement of eschatological importance that related to his heavenly Father’s intervention back in the Garden of Eden. Jesus wished that it be made known and observed that his mother – the free Woman of promise – was to be the Mother of his one Apostolic Church and of all nations from that point on. It was the Disciple who was placed in his spiritual mother’s care. The redefinition of Mary’s motherhood in the Biblical sense points to a universal state of being that embraces all human souls who exist in the life of grace under the mantle of her maternal patronage and protection from the dark forces of evil (Rev 12:17).

Your sun will never set again,
and your moon will wane no more;
the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your days of sorrow will end.
Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendor.
Isaiah 60, 20-21

Finally, we have the statement “Behold your mother” occurring in Matthew 12:47 and Mark 3:32. The theological theme in these two verses resembles that which we have in John 19:25-27. Both deal with what it means to be a “brethren of Jesus”. The crux of these passages is that the ties of obedience to the will of God take precedence over those of blood kinship. Although Jesus does not deny or intend to belittle his kinship with his mother, he nonetheless subordinates it to a higher bond of kinship that transcends all biological ties. Jesus regards Mary as his genuine mother more for her faith in God than for their physiological ties, since it is a greater blessing to her (Lk 11:27-28).​ Our Lord tacitly has the Annunciation and Crucifixion in mind when he answers the crowd after his attention is drawn to the presence of his mother and kin outside. They represent the extension of boundaries and point to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the New Dispensation of grace. Our heavenly Father’s family was never intended to be confined in Israel and consist of only the Jews.

The Kingdom of Heaven imposes demands on the personal commitment of the disciple, which must often supersede natural family ties and even ethnic bonds. Our Lord’s reply indicates that he regards his mother to be more of a mother to him by being a woman of faith, without which she could never have become his natural mother in the hypostatic order of his incarnation, nor thereby the mother of all his disciples in the spiritual family of God. Mary herself is as much a disciple of her Son as John and the other apostles are, and by being a fellow disciple (the first and foremost), she can be their spiritual mother to lead them in corroboration with her mystical spouse the Holy Spirit in their great commission after her Son’s ascension.


Hence, these two verses, therefore, introduce the image of a new family which takes on an eschatological aspect and rises above the national bond that connects the group of listeners encircling Jesus. These passages are a prelude to our Lord’s intentions when he addresses his mother and the disciple from the Cross. There he uses the same hinneh clause to underscore how it is that his mother Mary is truly a mother in the economy of salvation, so that there should be no misunderstanding. It is not that she shall be like a mother to the Disciple, but rather she will be his actual mother from then on in the Kingdom of Heaven, as he shall be her son as much as Jesus is physically, though in a spiritual way. The Church is our mother by being like Mary is a mother to us, but only in an allegorical sense. Our Blessed Lady is our personal mother, having conceived and given birth to Jesus, our Lord and brother (Rom 8:29).

In establishing this family of faith during his active ministry, Jesus begins to redefine Israel in the figure of Mother Zion with his mother Mary kept in mind. The nation shall no longer be defined by national boundaries or birth right, but by faith, as the New Zion or Church shall extend beyond its borders and receive the Gentiles into God’s family kingdom. This vision of Zion goes beyond the metaphorical and reaches its personal secondary fulfillment in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows and Mother of the Church, in which all the faithful may relate to their mother on a personal level, as much as they do relate with their Lord and brother, her resurrected divine Son, in filial prayer and devotion, as members of his Mystical Body.

For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His mother, Woman, behold thy son,’ and not Behold you have this son also,’ then He virtually said to her, Lo, this is Jesus, whom thou didst bear.’ Is it not the case that everyone who is perfect lives himself no longer, but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, Behold thy son Christ.’”
Origen, Commentary on John, I:6
(A.D. 232)

So, the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 51,11

Salve Regina!

The Disciple Took Her to His Own


The child’s mother said,
“As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives,
I will not leave you.”
So he arose and followed her.
2 Kings 4, 3-4

When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour,
the disciple took her to his own.
John 19, 26-27 (DRB)

All true disciples of Christ, those who faithfully keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus in their lives, take their Blessed Mother Mary to their own, or accept her as their own mother in the depths of their hearts, as she leads the way in the order of grace, taking them by the hand to their heavenly home. Mary must have assured John that she would never leave his side while his soul lived. She likely took him by the hand and led the way to his home never to separate herself from him during his apostolic ministry until her dormition. The Gospel of John bears testimony to the traditional belief of the infant Church that our Lord entrusted his mother to his faithful bride, which is the Church.

In the Roman catacombs of St. Agnes, there is an extant fresco depicting Mary enthroned with the child Jesus while situated between the apostles Peter and Paul. The image of these two chief apostles being together has always symbolized the Church from earliest time. Thus, it is evident that the early Christians invoked Mary as Mother of the Church by the third century during the time of the great persecutions. The early tradition of Mary being the spiritual mother of all her Son’s faithful disciples was just as vibrant in the early church as it has been until now in the same Catholic Church as part of the Apostolic Tradition. 


Jesus redefines Mary’s motherhood from the Cross. He does not renounce his own filial bond with her but adds a new dimension to her maternal role in the economy of salvation. This should explain why he has chosen not to place his mother in the care of the Disciple until this pivotal moment in salvation history. Mary’s motherhood must be redefined at the Cross, because it draws its raison d’etre from her intimate association with her divine Son in his work of redemption (Lk. 2:34-35). By her suffering, in union with the suffering of her Son, our Blessed Mother helps give new life in grace to all fallen Eve’s offspring like a woman in labour.

It appears no names are mentioned, save the appellations “Woman” and “Disciple” to underscore how it is that Mary is a mother to John and him her son. The beloved Disciple represents all of Christ’s disciples who belong to his Church, and Mary is their spiritual mother in the order of grace. Not unlike Mother Zion, she must now “enlarge [her] tent” and “strengthen [her] stakes” because of the sudden influx of returnees from exile or slavery to sin (Isa. 54:2-3). Jesus has made his blessed mother Mary the mother of all people, who live their lives in the state of grace, by saying to his mother, “Woman, behold your son,” and to the Disciple, “Behold your mother.” Jesus means much more than that his beloved disciple should look after his mother in his home after he has gone to the Father. He certainly isn’t making a practical request in literary fashion, not that it has any significant bearing from a soteriological perspective.


We mustn’t overlook the symbolic importance of the expression “the disciple” used by the Evangelist when referring to himself. He intends to identify himself with all true followers of our Lord. Not unlike Jacob who represents Israel, the Disciple is a “corporate personality.” Mary is the spiritual mother of all Christ’s disciples. She has adopted us no less than the Father has by our partaking of the divine life in faith (Eph. 1:5; 2 Pet.1:3-4). In his divinity, our Lord is the Son of the Father, and in his sacred humanity he is the Son of Mary his mother. We cannot be adopted sons and daughters of the Father while excluding our spiritual mother Mary who was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, since all the faithful are true brothers and sisters of Christ (Lk. 1:35; Rom. 8:29).

Through Mary’s womb, the baptized are “a new creation in Christ; the old is gone, and the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17). They are no longer the seed of fallen Adam, but of the promised “Woman” and advocate of Eve who, in her original innocence, helped forfeit the life of grace for her offspring (Gen. 3:13, 15). That this was how the early Church understood the Gospel narrative is evident in the teaching of St. Augustine: “Therefore, this woman alone, not only in spirit, but also in body, is both Mother and Virgin. She is Mother in the Spirit, but not of our Head, the Saviour himself, for it is she who is spiritually born from him, since all who believe in him, among whom she too is to be counted, are rightly called children of the Bridegroom. Rather, she is clearly the Mother of his members … because she cooperated by her charity, so that faithful Christian members might be born in the Church” (De sancta virginitate 6).

“Being perfect at the side of the Father and incarnate among us, not in appearance but in truth, he [the Son] reshaped man to perfection in himself from Mary the Mother of God through the Holy Spirit.”
St. Epiphanius of Salamis
The Man Well-Anchored 75
(A.D. 374)


In different words, the Bishop of Hippo means what St. Irenaeus professes in the late 2nd century: “The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man—the Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God. (Against Heresies, 4, 33, 12). The designation of Mary being the New Eve or spiritual “mother of all the living”, and thereby the Mother of the Church, was part of a Marian tradition for centuries leading up to the time of Augustine. St. Epiphanius wrote in the 4th century in his defence of the Catholic and Apostolic faith: “True it is . . . the whole race of man upon earth was born of Eve; but it is from Mary that Life was truly born to the world, so that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary might also become the Mother of all the living” (Against Eighty Heresies, 78, 9). The new birth of the Christian faithful receives its origin from the hypostatic order of Christ’s incarnation which could not have occurred without the Virgin Mary’s moral participation in the common activity of the Holy Trinity.

​In this sense, all the faithful disciples and brethren of our Lord proceed from the same sanctified womb he did as reborn offspring of Eve. Mary stands with all those who are born again at the baptismal font. Father Hugo Rahner (Our Lady and the Church: Zaccheus Press) tells us that the sacrament of Baptism is “forever a continuation of the birth of God made man, born of the Virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit.” He adds that “the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is ever born again in the sacrament of Baptism” (1 Cor. 12:13). The faithful are thus one mystical body in Christ who is the Head of this body. They have been born children of God and of the Virgin Mary by being conceived mystically in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit together with God incarnate who was conceived physically by supernatural means. The mystery of Mary in the economy of salvation intertwines with the mystery of the Church, and so, the sacrament of Baptism has a Marian character.


In the prayer for the Blessing of the Font at the Easter Vigil, the faithful acknowledge the Church’s power of rebirth through the Holy Spirit and her custodial endowment with grace. It is the Holy Spirit, through His hidden presence, that bestows sanctifying power to the water of baptism. A holy child is conceived in the womb of the baptismal font and reborn in the Spirit just as Christ is conceived in the womb of Mary and made the God-man by the power of the Holy Spirit. The divine womb of the baptismal font is as immaculate as the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. New heavenly offspring are conceived in holiness and reborn new creatures in the likeness of their Lord and brother Jesus. The Church is called Mother because, not unlike Mary, she nourishes her offspring with grace and gives them new life, so that they all grow as one family in God in one spiritual childhood.

Mary is the Mother of the Church which is comprised of all members of her divine Son’s mystical body, for she is the proto-type of the Church. The Church receives her character from the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a corporate entity, the Church finds her fulfillment in the person of Mary. The Church is first realized in Mary when she declares: “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38). For mankind to be conceived in the womb of the Church, Christ must first be conceived in the womb of his mother. All catechumens must first receive Jesus in their hearts before they can be conceived in the womb of the baptismal water, but only if Mary physically conceives Jesus after she has first conceived him in her heart. In this sense, then, Mary is Mother of the Church through the Incarnation. By having conceived and given birth to Jesus, who is both Head and Body, our Blessed Lady has conceived and given birth to its members in a spiritual sense – her Son’s brothers and sisters (Rom. 8:29).

“It would be wrong to proclaim the Incarnation of the Son of God from the holy Virgin, without admitting also His Incarnation in the Church. Every one of us must therefore recognize His coming in the flesh, by the pure Virgin, but at the same time recognize His coming in the spirit in each one of us.”
St. Methodius of Philippi
De sanguisusa 8, 2
(ante A.D. 311)

λαβεν μαθητς ατν ες τ δια.

Returning to the Gospel of John, in which we read ‘the Disciple took her to his own’, the Greek word for “took” is lambanō (λαμβάνω). This term connotes “take in the hand,” “take hold of, grasp.” It also encompasses the meaning to take away, take up, receive, or remove, without the use of force. Moreover, the term has mental or spiritual aspects when it is translated “make one’s own,” “apprehend,” or “comprehend” as Jerome has translated it in the Latin Vulgate. Roman Catholic Biblical scholar John McHugh builds upon the spiritual connotation of the word. He argues that the Disciple accepts Mary as his very own mother, and as part of the “spiritual legacy bequeathed to him by his Lord.” The use of the verb lambanō indicates something important that moves beyond the death scene being played out on Golgotha and is connected to it. Thus, the verb indicates something which has soteriological significance.

In other words, this spiritual or cognitive connotation implies that there is a tacit understanding that occurs between Jesus, Mary, and the Disciple which must do with something more significant than the fact Jesus is about to die as anyone else might by being crucified and consequently must leave his widowed mother behind who is in dire need of being looked after. What is significant isn’t merely the temporal death of Jesus and any temporal circumstances that might ensue because of it, but rather what shall entail eschatologically from it as one of many consummations and higher expressions of his death, having soteriological benefits for human souls with respect to our Lord’s mother in the hypostatic order of Christ’s incarnation.

The Mother and the beloved Disciple thus understand that this event marks a beginning – the start of something new that shall continue in this life and eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven. The original Greek text literally reads “to the own” (εἰς τὰ ἴδια), though modern Protestant and Catholic Bible English translations have “to his own home.” This Greek phrase means much more than the Disciple taking Mary to his home to look after her. Rather, it means the Disciple took her into his heart as a loving son of hers in their newly established spiritual filial bond. He received her in the deepest core of his being as her spiritual offspring. Certainly, Mary did not have to become an adopted mother for John to look after her as a caregiver. Jesus wasn’t speaking figuratively of her. She actually became the Disciple’s very own mother in the family of God in a spiritual and mystical way, as much as Mary was morally the spouse of the Holy Spirit, having been overshadowed by Him and begetting Jesus together.


John is somewhat more mystical and symbolic in his literary style than are the authors of the Synoptic Gospels. His narratives contain deeper meanings and lend more theological insight into the Divine mysteries than what appears at first glance in the written word of God, and so they should often be read in a spiritual sense (1 Cor. 2:4-5). What the Evangelist presents to his readers in the Crucifixion scene is a reciprocal re-enactment of what has transpired in the Garden of Eden. We have the two principal protagonists: Jesus (the new Adam) and his mother Mary (the new Eve).

In the background, the Disciple represents all people who have cast off the old self and put on the new. Jesus and his mother are in the act of finally crushing the head of the serpent by their obedience to the will of God and undoing what it has worked since the beginning (Gen. 3:13-15). Unlike Adam and Eve, neither of them succumbs to the temptation of the serpent. Jesus does not come down from the cross and save himself in opposition to the will of his heavenly Father (Mt. 27:40). Mary is valiantly standing at the foot of the Cross enduring terrible sorrow at the cost of her joy in being the mother of our Lord, which fulfills the portentous words of Simeon that point to her crucial trial of faith on which rests her motherhood of mankind (Lk. 2:35).

On Golgotha, she perseveres in that same faith she possessed at the Annunciation, a total surrender to God out of pure love and in humility which helped make the Incarnation happen. Mary joyfully became the mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the shadow of the Cross; she became our mother and merited her dual maternity by standing beneath the Cross, at this crucial point sorrowfully giving birth to us like a woman in labour (Rev. 12:2).


The imagery of the Gospel narrative dismisses any temporal and morally practical explanation of Jesus’ words to his mother and the Disciple. What Jesus has in mind when he addresses his mother and the Disciple is something of great soteriological and eschatological importance. John the Evangelist has the Mother figuratively stand at the foot of the Cross – the Tree of victory over the serpent – as the moral channel of her divine Son’s grace which Adam forfeited by listening to Eve, who thus morally contributed to the fall of ‘mankind’, the loss of the original state of holiness and justice; whereas Mary morally contributes to mankind’s spiritual regeneration and justification by her perfect obedience to the will of God and willingness to suffer in union with her Son for man’s transgressions against Him.

His Gospel message is that the Son (the new Adam) wills to dispense his saving grace first and foremost through the mediation of his mother and helpmate (Gen. 2:18). Our Lord does not wish to act alone in his work of redemption, but rather desires that his mother be with him by her moral cooperation. And so, in this capacity, Mary has become the mother of all his disciples in the Spirit and, of course, redeemed humanity. It is she who has nourished the faithful with the blessings they have received through God’s grace by a mother’s dying to self in sorrow because of her love for her Son on the Cross, the only means of salvation. Mary is our spiritual mother because she helped restore fallen mankind to the life of grace with God through suffering, which Eve helped lose for her biological offspring in her selfish pursuit of personal gain and disobedience.

Hence, by using the epithet ‘Woman,’ Jesus is alluding to his mother Mary as being the new Eve – the “spiritual mother of all the living” as opposed to Eve who is the primordial mother of all who are conceived deprived of sanctifying or justifying grace and thus born spiritually dead. (Gen. 3:20). It is before the Fall that Adam refers to his wife as the ‘woman’ (Gen.2:23). So, what Jesus means by transferring this title to his mother is that she is to be a mother to the Disciple as Eve was intended to be before she fell from grace and the preternatural state of innocence.


If Adam and Eve had not sinned against God, they would have passed on spiritual life to their descendants along with immortal physiological life. Since God has decreed that human life should emerge from the conjugal union between a man and a woman, but our primordial parents had forfeited the spiritual gifts He bestowed upon them, God has ordained from all eternity, in view of the Fall, that spiritual life should be restored through the intimate union between a man (the new Adam) and a woman (the new Eve).

On Golgotha stands the Tree of Life in the form of the Cross as opposed to the tree in the middle of the garden which bears the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:15-17). On the Cross hangs the fruit of Mary’s womb (Lk. 1:42) who radically opposes all things that are forbidden by God and offensive to Him (Gen. 3:16-20). Eve manages to entice her husband to partake of the forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Mary, on the other hand, co-operates with her Son and offers mankind the fruit of her womb, in whom the Father is well pleased (Mt. 3:17). By partaking of this fruit and being nourished and fortified by its grace, mankind is free of the snares of worldly wisdom and vain pleasures of life that lead to the death of the soul and the loss of true happiness in life with God.

We see in Luke 1:44 that the infant John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb upon the sound of Mary’s greeting having reached his mother Elizabeth. The child leaps because it has received the cleansing and healing balm of God’s sanctifying grace in anticipation of his divine calling. What Eve has helped forfeit by seducing her husband into partaking of the forbidden fruit, viz., the life of grace, Mary helps restore by offering the fruit of her blessed womb – the font (life giving water) of restorative grace. As the saying goes: “To Jesus through Mary.”


On God’s initiative, the tree of life is no longer guarded off-limits by the cherubim with the flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). From now on, the way to the tree of life is the Church, the custodian of all saving grace which has been merited for everyone by the Son of Mary, whose gates are open to all who desire to gain peace and reconciliation with God through the blood of the Cross (Isa. 35:8; 62:10-12; Acts 2:22; Col.1:20; Rev. 22:17). All baptized Christians have cause to leap for joy for the graces they have received from the Son through the Mother’s mediation.

Jesus has ransomed us from death through the blood of the Cross, having reconciled the world to God his heavenly Father (Col. 1:20; 2 Cor. 5:18-19). Yet, with his mother having had a vital share in his victory over the serpent on Golgotha, the Divine validation of her motherhood of all humanity is completed at the foot of the Cross where her soul is pierced because of sinful humanity. The graces Christ has merited for mankind, therefore, are divinely ordained to be dispensed first and foremost through his most Blessed Mother Mary – Our Lady of Sorrows, whose interior suffering made finite temporal satisfaction to God for the sins of the world in union with her divine Son’s infinite temporal and thereby eternal satisfaction.

It is our Blessed Mother who “acts as mediatrix between the loftiness of God and the lowliness of the flesh” as mankind’s maternal advocate in vindication of fallen Eve (cf. St. Andrew of Crete, (Homily 1, Mary’s Nativity); she who is the free promised woman “full of grace” and whose “soul magnifies the glory of the Lord” (Lk. 1:28, 46). In the words of Martin Luther, who took the Church to his own: “She is my love, the noble Maid, forget her can I never, Whatever honour men have paid, My heart she has forever!” (Sie ist mir lieb). John the Evangelist expresses this same heartfelt devotion and love in honour of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord and proto-type of the Church, which the infant Church possessed and paid to her, the spiritual mother of all Christ’s disciples.


The mystery of Mary as the proto-type of the Church and Mediatrix of Grace is like all divine mysteries: shrouded in much obscurity. But it is only in darkness that the sanctifying light of faith may take effect and enlighten the minds and hearts of the faithful over time. For centuries, the Church has been gradually putting the Marian mosaic work together tile by tile. God’s great masterpiece is a mosaic work which can be seen in its fullness only by observing one tile at a time, for “who can know the mind of God or be His counsellor?” (Rom. 11:34). The Church can understand only what God chooses to reveal to her through the Holy Spirit in the course of time (Jn. 16:12-13). There can be no faith – “the evidence for things unseen and hoped for” – if there is gnosis (Heb. 11:1). Thus, “for now [she] sees in a mirror dimly, and then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

The Church must have asked herself countless times with profound reverence, like Elizabeth had asked her kinswoman, while pondering on the divine mystery of Mary in the economy of salvation: “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:43). What the Church asks of the Lord, she does receive and what she seeks to understand, she does find through the sanctifying light of faith by the working of the Holy Spirit who is with her “forever” (Mt. 7:7; Jn. 14:16). The Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), the “unblemished and spotless” bride of Christ in the purity of the womb of her faith and conception of God’s word (Eph. 2:7). She reflects the Virgin Mary’s pure and unblemished womb and her conception of the Divine Word made man because of the purity of her faith and charity as the chaste bride of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35).

Let us conclude with the words of St. Ambrose: “The Lord appeared in our flesh and in Himself fulfilled the spotless marriage of Godhead and humanity, and since then the eternal virginity of the life of heaven has found its place among men. Christ’s mother is a virgin, and likewise is His bride, the Church” (De Virginibus), and the words of his pupil, St. Augustine: “He has made His Church like to His mother, He has given her to us as a mother, He has kept her for Himself as a virgin. The holy Catholic Church, like Mary, is a virgin ever spotless and a mother ever fruitful” (Sermo 195, 2).

“The Church is a virgin. Perhaps you will say: If she is a virgin, how can she beget children? Or, if she does not bear children, how can we claim to be born from her womb? My answer is: She is both virgin and mother; she is like Mary who gave birth to the Lord. Was not Mary a virgin when she gave birth, and did she not ever remain a virgin? But the Church also gives birth and yet remains a virgin… she gives birth to Christ Himself, for all who receive baptism are His members. Does not the Apostle say: ‘You are the body of Christ, member for member’? If then she gives birth to Christ’s members, she is in every way like Mary.”
St. Augustine, Tract 1, 8
(ante A.D. 430)

Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
Yet as soon as Zion was in labor
she delivered her children.
Isaiah 66, 8

Salve Regina!