The scriptural foundations of Marian devotion
MARY: VIRGIN, MOTHER AND QUEEN
A Bible Study Guide for Catholics
by Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ
160pp, PB, ISBN 978-1-61278-715-2. Our Sunday Visitor 2013. Rec. price: $19.90
Very well known as an author and presenter on EWTN, Fr Mitch Pacwa is a respected biblical scholar who brings together a rigorous intellect with a pastoral concern to make the truths of faith accessible to all.
This book was planned as a group study guide, but can be read by anyone wanting to tap into his insights into the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation.
Fr Pacwa’s introduction discusses the decline in devotion to Mary in the Catholic church since the 1960s. He attributes this to an attempt to refocus Catholicism towards Jesus and concerns that Catholic devotional practices were offensive to Protestants.
As a young priest, Fr Pacwa noticed that Catholic academic circles were generally hostile to Marian devotion, and this affected the attitude of both teachers and pastors.
It was the continued attachment to Marian devotion in one of the new liturgical movements and anti-Catholic propaganda from some American evangelicals which prompted him to re-examine the foundations of Catholic belief.
He discovered a rich intellectual and spiritual tradition which had been almost lost, encouraged by the very public devotion to Mary by Pope St John Paul II.
This book is a result of this reflection. He begins with the Old Testament, and looks at how the prophets and patriarchs looked forward not only to the Messiah, but also foretold the role of His Mother.
This begins with the role of Eve in the fall of Man, and God’s promise to Adam that a woman would exactly reverse the negative role of Eve in the Garden of Eden.
A quote from Fr Pacwa’s discussion of the fall, and its foretelling the role of Mary, shows how profound is his analysis.
He says, “Consider: a very odd phrase in Genesis 3:15 says that the enmity will be ‘between your seed and her seed.’ The serpent is depicted as masculine, so there is no problem with speaking of his seed.
“However, since the ‘seed’ always refers to the man’s contribution to the conception of a child, one must ask how the woman can have ‘seed’? This would have perplexed the ancients, and most modern people ignore it. However, in light of Jesus’ virginal conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this promise takes on a new importance.
“No male seed was introduced to Mary’s womb to conceive her child; only her child can be identified as a woman’s seed. Therefore he will be the seed that crushes the ancient serpent’s head in a thorough defeat.
“For this reason, this passage is frequently identified as the ‘Proto-Gospel,’ the first proclamation of what Christ, the son of God and Son of the Virgin, will accomplish for the human race that fell into sin with Adam and Eve’s sin.”
It is this which has given the church the understanding of Mary as the “new Eve”, in parallel to Jesus Christ as the “new Adam”.
Fr Pacwa then refers to other Old Testament references, including the Ark of the Covenant, and the prophet Isaiah’s extraordinary prediction that a virgin will conceive and bear a child, fulfilled in the Annunciation, as told by St Luke.
He discusses the important role of Mary throughout Jesus’ life: from his conception, to the visit to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, his birth, his flight into Egypt, his time lost in the Temple, and then his public life, beginning with the miracle at the marriage feast at Cana, up to her presence at his Crucifixion, and later at Pentecost.
This is a very useful text which will give Christians a deeper appreciation of the crucial role of Mary in the life of Jesus and in the early Church.
Fr Pacwa concludes by discussing the contemporary relevance of Mary, and the importance of our devotion to her.