Mary, The New Eve – Immaculately Conceived
The seven day structure thus points to a covenant – the swearing of oaths to forge family bonds. It shows us that God created us to be His family.
By Ashwith Jerome Rego
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – that Mary was conceived without original sin. How could this be possible if the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23)? We’ll get back to this question later. First let us understand the scriptural basis for the dogma.
As Catholics we require Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium to understand Divine Revelation. We primarily know the truth of the dogma through tradition, even before Pope Pius IX declared it in 1854. Back in 244 AD, Origen said: “This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.”
But can we find any evidence of the dogma in the Bible? The answer lies in Biblical typology where the New (Testament) is hidden in the Old (Testament) and the Old is fulfilled in the New.
We begin with the story of creation in the book of Genesis. The sacred author describes creation as a seven day event culminating in the creation of Adam and Eve. The number seven is significant. The Hebrew word for seven - “sheva” also means oaths (Gen 21:31). The seven day structure thus points to a covenant – the swearing of oaths to forge family bonds. It shows us that God created us to be His family. The creation narrative also ends with a wedding – the wedding of Adam and Eve. A traditional Jewish wedding is a seven day event. Thus the Bible begins with a wedding. The Bible also ends with a wedding – the wedding feast of the Lamb in the book of Revelation. In the wedding at creation, we see three persons – God, Adam and the woman.
We next jump to the new creation narrative as described in the Gospel of John. The Gospel begins very similar to the book of Genesis: “In the beginning”. Next, in verses 29, 35 and 43 we see the phrases “the next day”.
Thus at the end of chapter 1, we’re on the fourth day. Chapter 2 begins with the phrase “On the third day”. Looking back at chapter 1, we see that chapter 2 begins on the seventh day - both the Old and New Creation have a seven day structure that end with a wedding. Additionally, just like the Genesis creation narrative, God, i.e. Jesus is present, Jesus, is named and Mary is called “woman”.
The bride and bridegroom of the wedding at Cana aren’t even mentioned here. St. John is showing us that Jesus is the New Adam (1 Cor 15:45). He’s also showing us that Mary is the new Eve. In fact, both in the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, also written by St. John, Mary is referred to as “woman” (Jn: 19:26, Rev 12:1). Just like Eve was created without sin, Mary, the new Eve was created without any stain of sin.
In the first reading for today’s Mass, God declares that there will be a battle between the devil and the woman, between his offspring and hers (Gen 3:15). We see this battle unfold in Rev 12. Eve lost the battle through disobedience. Mary, through the grace of God, won the battle through her obedience “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). St. Irenaeus says:“And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.”
This connects to today’s Gospel which is the story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel greets Mary saying “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”. “Full of grace” is “kecharitomene” in the original Greek. The verb is in the perfect passive participle tense which implies that Mary was already in a state of grace when the angel visited her. Additionally, Gabriel doesn’t call Mary by her name. His greeting seems to imply that “full of grace” is a title or name for Mary. Throughout the Bible, when God changes someone’s name, there is a change in the person. Perhaps this is why Mary said “I am the Immaculate Conception” when she appeared to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. It is this grace from God which guarded Mary from sin, even original sin. Mary is immaculate, not because of her own merit. Just like us, Mary needed a savior. However, while we are saved through forgiveness of sins, Mary was saved by being prevented from falling into sin.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception specifies this very concisely: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”
We conclude by revisiting the apparent contradiction in Rom 3:23. To resolve this, we read this verse in context. St. Paul is trying to argue here that Jews and Gentiles are the same when it comes to sin – we’re all sinners. In context, we see that Paul is showing that simply being a Jew doesn’t make one righteous. When he says “all have sinned” he’s talking about groups of people – Jews and Gentiles, not individuals.
Here’s what St. Augustine has to say: “We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.”
In the second reading as Mary’s children we are chosen by God to be holy and blameless before Him, before the foundation of the world - just like her. Mary’s immaculate conception is indeed God’s marvelous work. As today’s Psalm says, together with our Blessed Mother, let us “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.”
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