God seems to think that we are in an urgent need of Mary. “Vital need”, “only refuge”, “only way”. Mary is shining with a greater light now and is offered under a new light to us as a definitive help. How? Why?
From at least 160 years whe have been witnessing many Marian apparitions, messages (from her and about her), Marian activity and a lot of teaching on Mary. We feel as if God is pushing toward a greater knowledge of Mary. It is a fact, we can’t deny it! Two dogmas have been declared (Immaculate Conception, Assumption), the world has been consecrated to Mary various times, Messages – sometimes short, sometimes long – have been given to the world through various visionaries. We then all wonder: “why Mary is more revealed in our time?” She is not only “more revealed”, but we can notice that she is often presented as the only refuge in troubled times! This is a strong statement!
Since she is that essential for our Faith – as this Marian activity seems to convey – we wonder as well: “how come she is not that clearly and explicitly central in the Gospels! If all this Marian activity is right, then she must be essential and structural in the Gospels, from day one!” “But this doesn’t seem so” we think hastily. Then we ask ourselves: “why God is hiding her to our eyes? Why did He hide her for so many centuries if she is that essential?”
It seems as well that today God is opening our eyes to see Mary well present in the Gospels, giving a deeper teaching all together on our faith and on Mary. In this teaching she appears being essential, non-negotiable, non-optional, structurally part of our Faith. God is giving a very special grace to see Mary in the Gospels, opening our eyes through “plain exegesis”, “typological exegesis”, “spiritual exegesis”, “camouflage exegesis” and “negative-effect exegesis”. Then the same question comes back again: why doing so so late (after 1850 to 2000 years) and not right from the beginning? How come we didn’t see that in previous times?
On one hand we can’t say that Mary was absent from the beginning in the Gospel. From the first generation, from the Gospels we find her explicitly present in various places (Luke 1-2, John 2 and 19). These are powerful passages. Nobody can deny the fact of “taking Mary as his/her own mother” (see John 19) is essential and vital. Nobody can deny the deep dimension of Luke’s entrance diptych depicting two Annunciations, and the meaning of Mary’s one (see Luke 1). So the Truth about Mary’s essentiality is explicitly present.
On the other hand, it is true as well that today’s emphasis on Mary’s essentiality is much stronger that what centuries of exegesis could gather from these explicit passages. [Only in the French School of Spirituality and in some Sermons of St Bernard we could find strong statement on the essentiality of Mary to our faith.] So we are still left with the question: why in the Bible, in the Gospels her essentiality remained rather softly hidden.
Some statements can come to our attention and make us reflect and ponder:
I- We find this statement in the book “True devotion to Mary” by St Louis de Montfort:
“When Mary has taken root in a soul she produces in it wonders of grace which only she can produce; for she alone is the fruitful virgin who never had and never will have her equal in purity and fruitfulness. Together with the Holy Spirit Mary produced the greatest thing that ever was or ever will be: a God-man. She will consequently produce the marvels, which will be seen in the latter times. The formation and the education of the great saints who will come at the end of the world are reserved to her, for only this singular and wondrous virgin can produce in union with the Holy Spirit singular and wondrous things.” (True devotion to Mary, 35)
II- In Mary’s messages to Don Gobbi, of the “Marian movement of the Priests”, she says that her Immaculate Heart will be the last and sole recourse and refuge in these times, the only safe place:
“The time has come when my Immaculate Heart must be glorified by the Church and by all humanity because, in these times of the apostasy, of the purification and of the great tribulation, my Immaculate Heart is the only refuge and the way which leads you to the God of salvation and of peace. Above all, my Immaculate Heart becomes today the sign of my sure victory, in the great struggle which is being fought out between the followers of the huge Red Dragon and the followers of the Woman Clothed with the Sun.” (3 June 1989)
III- We find as well this statement as well in the writings of Maria Valtorta:
“Out of pity (and mercy) for these poor men swept away by the storm (end of time) of blood, fire, persecution, death, infinite mercy will shine on the sea of blood and horror: the Pure Morning Star, Mary who will herald the final coming of Christ. It follows that the new preachers will teach the Gospel of Mary, indeed too left in the shade by the evangelists, apostles and the disciples, while a broader knowledge of her would have served as teaching to many people, thus avoiding many falls. She is Co-redemptrix and acts as a master-teacher: of pure life, faithful, wise, compassionate and pious at her place and amongst the men of her time. She never ceased teaching throughout the centuries and is worth even to be better known as the world sinks into the mud and darkness, to be more imitated and to bring the world toward what emanates from her.” (You may read this Master-Piece: “The Virgin Mary in the Writings of Maria Valtorta” by Gabriele Roschini.)
Without entering in the details of the “darkness” and the “mud”, from these statements we see that they consider that the surrounding world (social and political life) changed and became darker. Therefore God is offering greater, more powerful and more secure Help. This help is embodied in Mary. The answer to our question is: there is a direct proportion between the increase in the darkness (and therefore in the need for help) and the increase of the Help offered by God. It is an increase in quantity and quality.
The “quality” should attract our attention because it brings theological meaning and therefore added value to our Faith.
Development of Christian Doctrine
The Blessed John Henry Newman deepened a very important aspect in Theology: the development of Christian Doctrine. In simple words, it means: Peter’s faith (Peter the Apostle) and our faith today is exactly the same in its core. But in our perception and understanding of this living Faith there are explicit elements and implicit elements – We need to add that in the implicit has various layers. The understanding (“explicitation” / explication) of certain aspects of our faith today, or throughout the Centuries, received a great deal of improvement/growth. What is needed for salvation is 1- the implicit faith and 2- a minimum of explicit parts (think of the very basic little Creeds we find in the New Testament, like small affirmations: Jesus is God, he is our Saviour;…). Because of external and internal needs in the Church and in the Faithful in some area of the Globe, throughout the centuries some aspects of our faith received, by the Grace of God, a deepening, a clarification: a passage from an implicit state to an explicit state.
Newman calls this passage: development.
True development doesn’t bring anything new; it is not a new revelation of any sort. It is just an improvement of something we had from day one*. Like a seed that becomes a big tree. We can say that all the tree is included in the seed, the very same DNA is “dormant” implicitly in the seed. We may see development as the continual biological growth, not as a mutation, not as a change of specie.
*day one: Remember that our “day one” is the death of the last apostle. This is when, for us Catholics, the Revelation brought to us by Jesus is accomplished (reaches its fullness).
Now, Newman and many others after him noticed that – amongst other aspects of course – in the last 160 years, the marian doctrine in the Catholic Church received a great deal of development.
In his research, reflections and deepening of the Action of God in time (the Divine Economy), Newman saw that in order to have a development, God proceeded by an Envelopment of the Doctrine, of His thoughts. When Newman thinks of the Old Testament, he sees that God didn’t immediately offer everything in Christ, but, on the contrary, he adopted a pedagogical procedure of envelopment as we would do with a little Child. The parents know many things, but they still adapt their words and notions to their little child. The more the child grows, the more the language, concepts, contents will develop accordingly.
From the parents point of view, they operate by envelopment, by putting layers upon layers on the core they hope to transmit education to their children.
Can we blame the parents for enveloping/hiding the Core (the end result) from their children? Can we say that they lied to their children? Certainly not.
For the very case of the Old Testament, while reading it and seeing how God acts, today’s mentality in many “developed” countries, has a great deal of difficulty to admit that such behaviour from God is possible.
These two notions (development and envelopment) shed a very interesting light on the recent (last 160 years) “growth” in the understanding of Mary and her place in our Faith.
With these two notions – that are linked to each other – we are better equipped to face the recent facts and pushed as well in the field of theology to give more theological credit to these recent developments and try to take them more seriously theologically. Mary is not only a devotional aspect in our Christian Theology, to be left to some “popular Pastoral Theology” for simple minded pious people. Mary is essential and structural to our faith. And all the signs we receive from more than 160 years, are to be taken very seriously by theologians and by theology. This of course this is a huge challenge for people who think that Christocentrism might be threatened, or who think that they understood everything and nothing is left to be developed.
The Bible, the Word of God, is the core/soul of Theology. So one of the first tools used by Theology is Exegesis. And one of the first areas in Theology to be challenged by the recent marian developments is Exegesis.
The notion of “development” as we stated it above, implies that in what you find/see there is a great deal of implicit. Introducing this notion in Exegesis is very challenging, because Exegesis has to find new (or old) “tools” in order to become able to “see” what she is not seeing yet by herself. Since the recent developments in Marian Theology are stating “new” explicitations, and since the actual tools of exegesis are not capable of reaching to these discoveries, this means that the tools as well should develop.
New exegetical tools
We perfectly know that the Fathers of the Church and the Spiritual Masters did use different tools in Exegesis in order to “read the Bible” and listen to God’s Voice. Many of these tools today are either criticized or simply dismissed. On the contrary, a more welcoming eye might, would find in them some better tools that can help us “see” better Mary in the Bible, both New and Old.
Today we dismiss the allegorical, typological, “spiritual” ways of finding Mary in the Old Testament (i.e. she is – as well as Jesus – the “Wisdom” of whom it is spoken in the Wisdom Books, she is the Burning Bush, Jacob’s Ladder, Elijah’s little Cloud, and so on). Of course this is a deep lack of theological insight and methodology.
Today we rely only on the explicit affirmations in the New Testament on Mary. Firstly we think they are very few, and secondly we think that they are not structural (part of the core of our Faith). So in our understanding of Mary and her Theological place we rely on the crust and we even reduce it! While, the recent events (160 years) are pushing us to reconsider the New Testament itself, and feel invited to explore it again, with new eyes, new thirst, and mostly: new exegetical tools, in order to “see” better and “hear” better God’s Voice in Jesus.
Concluding this part we can say:
* In the recent years (160 years) Mary appears more and more to be essential in our Faith.
* “Development of Christian doctrine” should be applied as well to the Theology of Mary.
* Exegesis should, accordingly, seek better tools in order to be able to follow that development, and find it (see it) in the New Testament.
Right before his First Sign (“Miracle”), Jesus gave us an important promise, on which all the Gospel of saint John is built:
“Truly, truly, I say to [all of] you,
you will see Heaven opened,
and the angels of God
ascending and descending
on the Son of Man.”
Jesus here seems to allude to Jacobs dream, in Genesis: 28:10-22:
“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this Place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the Gate of Heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.””
After having read the text Jesus is alluding to, we need now to understand Jesus’ mysterious sentence: “you will see Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”. In order to do so, let us first see the meaning of certain words used in this sentence.
What is “Heaven opened” for John? John himself replies to us: “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”” (John 19:33-37)
Jesus’ side is the door to “heaven”. Jesus’ side is opened with a spear. From that “heaven” flow “blood and water”, i.e. our nourishment.
“Angels of God”
“Angel” in saint John’s vocabulary has two meanings: the first one is literal and obvious: one of God’s invisible creatures. The second meaning is “mysterious”, symbolical: it means the head of a church, an Apostle, or a Bishop. We have this meaning for instance in the book of Revelation:
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20) In fact the first part of the book of Revelation is a set of 7 letters to the seven heads of seven churches. “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands […]” (Revelation 2:1). One wouldn’t write a letter to an angel, but rather to the head of a church.
As we saw in a previous article about the structure of St John’s Gospel, his goal is to offer us 6 signs + the Big Sign, the sign par excellence, the Cross, in order for us to believe. “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” “Believe” for St John means reach the depths of Jesus, it means “seeing the Crucified Lord”, seeing his side open and entering through it in “heaven”, and drawing from it “Blood and Water” i.e. Life.
The Mysterious ladder Jesus’ promise is alluding to is Mary’s action in Cana. The New Eve that came from Jesus’ side, is the only one knowing the way to His Heart, it is through her “faith” (her capacity to reach His opened Side) that we can believe.
At Cana, Mary says to Jesus: “They don’t have wine”. She has the Wine. Mary knows that Jesus is the Redeemer, and how He will redeem us. Mary knows what Jesus will realise on the Cross, when His Hour will come: He will offer the True New Wine (His Blood) for the True and Only Wedding (Him and each one of us). This is why she says to the Servants: “Do whatever He will tell you to do”. She shows them the Way (Hodigitria).
This is how St John concludes the First Sign: “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed His Glory; and His disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples.” (John 2:11-12) They believed in Him, and “saw His Glory” because of Mary, who “sees His Glory” and leads to Him. She transmitted her Faith in Him to them. She is the ladder on which the “Angels” go up and down.
Through Mary’s faith we are enabled to climb and reach Jesus’ side, drink from His Blood and Water, and draw from them to give the others. Like the servants of Cana: they draw from the “new wine” and give to the ones who are invited to the wedding of the Lamb. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
When we hear this Promise: “Truly, truly, I say to [all of] you, you will see Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) we understand that its first fulfilment is Jesus’ first Sign (Cana’s Wedding) and the real and only fulfilment is the Unique Sign: the Cross, where Jesus’ side, heaven, is finally opened and with Mary our Mother, through her Faith (the divine Ladder) we can climb to Jesus’ side, drink from it, and draw from it and come down, and serve our brothers.
“Mary’s faith […] continues to become the faith of the pilgrim People of God” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 28)
The Six steps of the Ladder
The ladder has 6 rungs or steps: the six signs Johns give us in his first 12 chapters. We need to climb them in order to be purified (the water in Cana was meant for the purification of the Jews (John 2:6)), and be admitted in the Wedding Chamber, with the Groom: His Side.
1st step: Cana’s sign (John 2:1-11).
2nd step: Healing the son of the Official (John 4:46-54).
3rd step: Healing of the paralytic (John 5:1-18),
4th step: Feeding the Five Thousand and crossing the sea (John 6),
5th step: Healing the blind man (John 9).
6th step: The Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11).
Remember that in Cana there are six jars! Do you see how Cana holds all the architecture of St John’s Gospel?
ascending and descending
The six steps of the Ladder, the six signs that John chose to offer us, as a way of purification, allow us to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to reach Jesus’ opened side.
Is that all our vocation? just to reach Jesus’ depths? No, Jesus himself set us Himself as an example: He not only washed our feet, but invited as to take part in this sacred mission of doing the same to our brothers and sisters: washing their feet. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)
We draw the capacity to wash from Jesus Himself, being transformed into Him. We draw water and blood from His opened side, and come down, serving our brothers, being, by the Charity of Jesus in our heart, enabled to purify. Not with our capacity, but with Jesus’ capacity.
And as well: “A new Commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 14:34) As it has been done to us, in order to allow us to ascend and reach His Side, we should to the same to our brothers and sisters.
This is how the Servants (the Angels) ascend and descend on the Son of Man.
“Truly, truly, I say to [all of] you,
you will see Heaven opened,
and the Angels of God
ascending and descending
on the Son of Man.”