Each year the Church sets aside the month of May as a time to honor Mary. This pious practice began in the 13th Century, but has been especially promoted by the Popes of our age (beginning in1830 with Our Lady’s gift of the Miraculous Medal to St. Catherine Laboure). In his 1965 encyclical, Pope Paul VI said that May ought to be a time of “moving tribute of faith and love which Catholics in every part of the world [pay] to the Queen of Heaven. During this month Christians, both in church and in the privacy of the home, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance” (Month of May, 1). To many both in the Church and out, Marian devotion remains a great mystery, if not an absolute blasphemy. If we are to receive “the benefits of God’s mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance” available to us during this month, then it is necessary for us to understand the Scriptural roots of Marian devotion.
Different forms of Marian devotion have been present in the Church since the beginning. But one form in particular was found early on that serves as a foundation for all true Marian devotion that follows. It is the idea that Mary is the New Eve.
In order to enable a firmer grasp on the idea of Mary as the New Eve, it is helpful to discuss an important principle for understanding salvation history—typology. Typology is a method for interpreting divine revelation based on the principle that God providentially shapes the course of human events and fills those events with prophetic significance. In essence, God uses persons and events in salvation history (called types) to foreshadow greater persons and events that are to come (called archetypes). Reading the Salvation history using a typological lens can greatly enhance our understanding of God’s saving actions. The goal of typology is not merely to draw parallels, but also to enable us to understand the archetypes more fully by always remembering the movement is always from lesser (type) to greater (archetype). If we say something about the type is true then what we say about the archetype is always greater. As an aside, this does not mean that the archetype is like the type is every conceivable way (Moses may be a type of Christ, but Christ did not murder someone). Relevant to our discussion we can say that in calling Mary the New Eve what we really mean is that Eve is a type of Mary.
To see where this idea comes from, we can draw on a number of biblical passages. The best place to start is “in the beginning” right after man fell. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3:15). This well-known passage, known as the Protoevangelium, contains God’s promise that He will ransom mankind. But if we read it the passage carefully we see that God is not merely promising a Redeemer. Instead He is promising a new Adam (Christ) and a new Eve (Mary). Both the “woman” and “her seed” are linked together in crushing the serpent.
This is where typology becomes important. God made the First Covenant with Adam and gave him Eve as a “helper” in fulfilling this covenant. Even if Eve’s role is secondary in the First Covenant, she still plays an essential role in it. St. Paul himself uses typology to identify Christ as the New Adam (see 1 Cor 15:45, Romans 5:12-21). To refer to Christ as the New Adam without Him having a New Eve makes St. Paul’s analogy senseless. In Christ, the New Adam, God makes the new and definitive covenant and Mary is to be His “helper.” Everything that Eve was (in the good sense), Mary was and more. If it was not good for Adam to be alone in fulfilling his mission then even more so would it not be good for Christ to be alone in fulfilling His. If Eve is the “flesh of my flesh” of Adam then the New Eve too would be of the same immaculate flesh of the New Adam. And most strikingly, if Eve was the “mother of all the living” then Mary must be that and more. To see that “more” we need to look at the Gospel of John.
Although never explicitly said, St. John sought to highlight the Adam/Eve and Christ/Mary connection. If you read his gospel, there is an obvious connection with Genesis. He moves from “in the beginning” (day 1), to the next day ( Jn. 1:29—day 2), to the next day (Jn. 1:35—day 3)and finally to the third day (day 6—Jn. 2:1) where a wedding is mentioned. The parallel is obvious for anyone who is familiar with the Creation account because a wedding occurred on the sixth day there as well. In John’s account of the New Creation we see that there is a wedding in which the bride and groom are not mentioned but “the mother of Jesus” and Jesus are. When asked to provide wine, Our Lord refers to His Mother as Woman. With the parallel to Genesis we realize that in calling her Woman, Jesus is calling her the New Eve. He is reminding her that once His mission as the New Adam begins with His first public miracle, her mission as the New Eve will begin as well. She reveals the purpose of her mission—telling everyone to “do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5).
It is no literary accident that the last pre-Resurrection “whatever He tells you” is the command to “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:27). We know the divine commandment is not merely for John because Jesus once again invokes the name “Woman” to connect her to Eve, the mother of all the living. This New Eve would serve as the mother of all the living, that is those who are alive in Christ as Beloved Disciples.
John shows us what it means for the individual believer to do this—“take her into his home” (Jn. 19:27). What this means for the individual believer may be different, but it certainly starts by showing her the proper reverence. Treating her as if she is somehow in competition with your affection for Jesus or as irrelevant certainly is not included in this. The fact that Jesus entrusts Mary and the Beloved Disciple to each other means that there must be a personal relationship of some sort. Later in the month I will discuss what this relationship should look like, but for the time being we need to spend time reflecting on Mary as the New Eve. Everything that the Church believes about Mary flows from this most important doctrine.