Virgin Mary in Scripture


The Virgin Mary holds a unique place in the Bible. Were one to judge merely by the number of times she is mentioned in the Gospels, one would assume that her role was small. However, she is intimately linked to the life of Christ, as recounted in the Gospels, and to the work of the Apostles after Christ’s Ascension, as reported in the Acts of the Apostles. Moreover, Mary is present in the entire Biblical Word under the form of figures.

***

The Role of the Virgin Mary in the Bible

It would be wrong to measure Mary’s role in the Bible by the number of times she is mentioned in the Gospels. Mary is foretold and prepared for throughout the Bible like Jesus Himself. There are numerous predictions and foreshadowings of Mary, namely as: the Mother of the Savior; the Queen Mother; the Woman who is the new Eve; the new Mother of all the living; the new Judith, blessed among all women, saving her people from destruction; the new Zion, where the Savior dwelt; the new virginal earth of Paradise from which the new Adam is shaped; the new Ark of the Covenant, containing not merely a piece of manna but the living Bread which is the true Bread from Heaven giving life to the world; furthermore this new Ark contains not merely the tablets of the Law but is the giver of the New Law, who writes this Law not on stone but on flesh, the hearts of men, not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God. One need only look in detail at all the Old Testament references in the Gospel to understand that the mere number of Gospel passages mentioning Mary is not a fitting measure of her importance. The Blessed Virgin cannot be understood in all her mystery and grandeur without reading the entire Bible – God’s entire plan for salvation – and we can only approach this great mystery in the manner of Saint Joseph, obeying the angel’s instructions: “Take the Child and His mother” (Mt 2:13).

That having been said, one may still find it surprising how hidden Mary remains in the New Testament. She is mentioned by name or under a title (like “the mother of Jesus”) in the following instances:

  • She is very present in the accounts of the birth and infancy of Jesus (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2).

  • She is there at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, at Cana (John 2), which is also the last time her words are recorded.

  • The “mother of Jesus” is briefly referenced on several occasions throughout Jesus’ public life (Matthew 12, Mark 3, Luke 8; Matthew 13:55; Luke 11:27; John 6:42).

  • She is present, silent, at the foot of the Cross (John 19).

  • She is mentioned one last time at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, praying with the disciples between the Ascension and Pentecost: “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14).

  • Finally, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John has a vision of the mother of the Messiah, who is again silent: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).

Mary’s hidden role in the Gospels accords with the divine plan. The purpose of the Gospels is to present a portrait of Jesus based on first-hand witnesses, “that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Lk 1:4). This is the primary goal of the Gospels, and achieving this end entailed omitting various other details from the narrative. Saint John himself writes, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).

However, Scripture establishes the inviolable link between the Child and His mother and provides everything necessary to plumb the depths of this mystery. The full revelation of Mary’s role and her grandeur was reserved for another time and for Sacred Tradition, whose mission is to illumine what has been handed down from the beginning.

The Occurrences of the name of Mary in the Bible

The name Mary appears a mere 19 times in the Bible, far less than the names of Abraham (over 200 times), Jacob (over 400 times), Moses (over 800 times), or David (over 900 times), less even than the names of great female figures such as Sarah (34 times), Rebecca (30 times), Esther (46 times), or Judith (43 times).

A Presence Prefigured

To understand Mary’s role in Sacred Scripture, one must comprehend that the Bible is not one-dimensional: behind the literal meaning of Biblical texts lies a hidden, figurative meaning. This allows us to discern different meanings or different levels of understanding, leading to the traditional four senses of Sacred Scripture fixed in the Middle Ages1. Thanks to these principles of interpretation, one can comprehend that the Virgin Mary is prefigured in the Old Testament and represented symbolically in the Book of Revelation. Her discreet literal or historical presence in the New Testament is thus complemented by a figurative presence in the entirety of the Bible, from the Old Testament to Revelation.

An Essential Presence

It is important to understand that Mary’s presence in Scripture is discreet but essential, for Biblical texts carry a prodigious richness of meanings.

In the Gospels

The Archangel Gabriel who visits Mary at the Annunciation greets her as “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) and announces to her that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her (Lk 1:35). Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on the “Hail Mary”, highlights this reality:

“It was not fitting that an angel bow down to pay his respects to a man until a human creature could be found who surpassed the angels … in dignity, in familiarity to God, and in fullness of grace. … This creature was the Blessed Virgin.”

Moreover, when the Virgin Mary utters the Magnificat during the Visitation, she calls herself “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42), and she herself avows that “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).

Scripture shows us in a few words that Jesus spent thirty years with Mary, not including Mary’s pregnancy and the years of Christ’s public life (Lk 2:51). Thus, she knew Him best, and shared with the Apostles her stories of Christ’s childhood.

Finally, Scripture alludes to the Virgin Mary’s maternal presence alongside the Apostles after Christ’s Ascension: ““All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). She accompanied, reassured, and guided them, because she was present at Pentecost.

In the Other Books of the Bible

The entire Old Testament speaks about Christ in a veiled and prophetic way, and it also sketches out the face of Mary in a veiled and symbolic way: Ark of the Covenant, Noah’s Ark, Burning Bush, Tabernacle of the Most High, Temple of God, Daughter of Zion, the Virgin of the Book of Isaiah, the Beloved of the Canticle of Canticles, the Paradise of God, etc.

Furthermore, the Book of Revelation teaches us in two sentences that the Virgin Mary is the true Ark which was at the heart of the Old Testament (Rev 11:19).

Hence it is important to seek to comprehend with the Church (Acts 8:31) the whole significance of the Word of God. Jesus said that we must judge a tree by its fruit and that the goodness of the fruit is a measure of the goodness of the tree (Mt 7:20, 12:33; Lk 6:43). There can be no greater fruit than Jesus Himself. Jesus is the blessed fruit (Lk 1:42) of the womb of the extraordinary tree which is Mary. Therefore, it is only in looking at Christ Himself that we can have an idea of the grandeur and goodness of the Mother of God. Hugh of St. Victor, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori after him, express it thus:

“Such the lamb, such the Mother of the Lamb; for the tree is known by its fruit.”

[1] To know more about the doctrine of the four senses of Scripture, see the article “What is Sacred Scripture?” in the Marian Encyclopedia.

***

To know more

About 'Hail Mary', in Marian Encyclopedia

***

Organisation of the section

The articles in this section develop an understanding of the way in which the figure of the Virgin Mary takes shape in the entirety of the Bible. First, they show how the Virgin Mary is predicted in the Old Testament. Then they bring to light how the image of the Virgin Mary is presented in a particular way throughout the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul, and the Book of Revelation.

This comprehensive study allows one to discern the Marian themes present in the New Testament.