by John Pacheco
As Catholics living in a multi-religious society, we often find ourselves challenged to defend the Blessed Mother's role in Catholicism, especially from a biblical perspective. In so doing, it is easy to overlook the many parallels between the Blessed Mother and Eve. Yet these parallels exist, and many saints and theologians have appealed to them throughout the ages.
In the Old Testament, we know that God dwelt among the Israelites through the Tent of the Tabernacle which housed the Ark of the Covenant (Cf. Exodus 25-31, 35-40). In the book of Exodus, we read about God's meticulous and exacting standards in preparing a suitable dwelling place for His presence among men: "...have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you." (Exodus 25:8-9). In the Garden of Eden, too, we see God's plan of suitability revealed in the creation of Eve. In Genesis 1:18, God said "it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him." Like Adam, since Eve was also created in a state of grace, we can see how God uses this suitability and fittingness in His plan for salvation history. In the New Testament, as the new tabernacle of the Incarnate Word, the New Eve, was made suitable to give birth to the New Adam. This is why the Archangel Gabriel salutes Mary with the Greek participle 'kecharitomene' which means "one endowed with favour or grace in a permanent or perfect fashion." In older Catholic bibles, we translate the angelic salutation as "Hail full of grace!"
We should, however, take notice that God does spurn suitability in some instances and opts for poverty instead. Suitability, we learn, is required for spiritual matters, as in the case of Our Lady's sinlessness; but it is dispensable for unimportant material concerns, as in the case of the manger at Bethlehem. One of the most striking testimonies to Mary's fittingness is testified by St. Elizabeth. Despite their natural blood relations, St. Elizabeth recognizes the great privilege of the Blessed Mother's visit to her when she asks: "And how has it happened to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43).
The Genesis account also touches upon the reason for creating Woman. As the above verse from Genesis makes plain, Eve was created to be a helper for Adam. In securing the redemption of mankind, what person, other than Mary of Nazareth, could be more aptly described as "helpmate" (or, in other words, co-worker, co-mediatrix, co-redemptrix) to Our Lord? What saith the Scriptures? "Behold the handmaid of the Lord!" (Cf. Luke 1:38).
The title "woman" comes from Genesis 2:23: "She shall be called 'Woman', because she was taken out of man." In the Redemption, the order is reversed as Jesus was born of a woman (Cf. Gal. 4:4); "he was taken out of Woman."
The New Testament chronology reverses the Old Testament and so we may say that "the Lord God fashioned into a man the rib which He had taken from the woman, and brought Him through her." (Cf. Gen. 2:22) Indeed, the fact that Jesus calls his mother "Woman" at the outset of His public ministry (Cf. John 2:4) is significant because it is an allusion to who He really is: the New Adam. In identifying himself as the New Adam, Jesus reveals Mary's identity as the New Eve, the "New Woman". Again, we see the unmistakable parallel with the Old Testament and its associated role reversal with the New. As Adam described Eve as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" in the Old Testament (Gen. 2:23), Mary can then say the same about Jesus because He is also "bone of her bones, and flesh of her flesh." Many non-Catholics, unfortunately, have no real appreciation of the Incarnation. If they did, they would understand that the flesh which redeemed and gave life to the world came from Jesus through Mary - the only woman to singularly supply the flesh of a man. If a son expects others to respect his mother because she gave him natural life, how much more should he honour the woman who supplied the flesh which gave him eternal life!
The Genesis account goes on to describe a profound intimacy between Man and Woman in the paradigm of marriage: "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24-25). In the New Covenant, Jesus leaves His Mother (Cf. John 2:4) and unites Himself with his bride, the Church, sharing His flesh with her and becoming one flesh, one body with Her. In doing so, however, He unites His Mother with His body since both Mother and Son share the same flesh because she is "flesh of his flesh" (Gen. 2:23).
In Genesis, we learn that after Eve was seduced by the Serpent, she approached her husband and invoked his participation in the First Sin. The beginning of Jesus' public ministry also signals an inauguration - not of the Fall but of the Kingdom of God. Eve tries to become like God by disobeying Him, and instructs her husband to do the same. Mary, on the other hand, reverses Eve's disobedience by obeying Jesus, and instructs others to do the same. Both episodes begin with the woman approaching the man (Cf. Genesis 3:6, John 2:3), but while Eve aims to usurp God's plan by faithlessness, Mary seeks to serve Him by faithfulness. For us Catholics, then, Our Lady's faithful and humble service becomes a powerful witness against today's children of Eve who still prefer to the darkness to the light.
Finally, in Our Lord's central discourse on the Eucharist, Jesus describes His body as "bread". He tells us what this bread is for: "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world My flesh" (John 6:51). Two verses later, He commands His followers to eat of this flesh: "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 yourselves." (John 6:53) Jesus tells us that the bread He gives (i.e. His flesh we must eat in v.51) will be given for the life of the world - an unmistakable reference to the sacrifice at Calvary. In Genesis, however, Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge since the consequences of doing so would be death (Cf. Genesis 2:17). Eve consumed the fruit that ultimately brought death and damnation to the human race. But through her consent, Mary brought forth life and redemption through the fruit that she bore: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1:43)
The Catholic Legate
July 1, 2003
Originally published in the May, 2003 issue of Challenge Magazine, a Canadian monthly magazine of Catholic News and Opinion. Reprinted with permission.