Mary as Eschatological Icon

As Pope John Paul II stated in his papal encyclical Redemptor Hominis, “Man cannot live without love, he remains a being who is incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”1 Ultimately, it is Jesus who reveals man to Himself and it is His resurrection that is the hope of all Christians.2 But if a child wished to know more about himself, it follows that they would not neglect their mother. Mary as the “New Eve” and mother of humanity is an eschatological sign for all people.3 By examining John Paul II’s teaching on the human person in conjunction with the Marian dogmas and notable Marian apparitions, it will be shown that the Virgin Mary is an eschatological icon for man.

John Paul II’s collection of Wednesday General Audiences from 1979 to 1984 are collectively known as the Theology of the Body and serve as a catechesis on the nature of the human person.4 In regard to the totality of the human person, John Paul II states that the body “is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”5 John Paul II makes it clear that the body is truly a sign, one which reveals man’s identity.

As Father Donald Calloway points out, Mary has been historically absent from Theology of the Body commentary to which he questions, “How can this be since Mary is the apex of what it means to be a complete and fully redeemed human person?”6 By examining the Marian dogmas promulgated by the Church one would assert with Fr. Calloway that, “…the Theology of the Body remains incomplete without the full incorporation of the Marian dimension; Mary makes the Theology of the Body concrete and real, taking it away from the realm of theory and abstract principles.”7 It is only by incorporating the Marian teachings of the Church with the Theology of the Body, that one can gain a clearer understanding of man’s end.

Eschatology is the field of study which pertains to the last things, such as the future resurrection.8 Because the Church holds as dogma Mary’s bodily assumption in Heaven, it follows that Mary is intimately bound up with the subject of Eschatology, a key element of the Theology of the Body.9 The eschatological nature of Mary is found within the Old Testament, namely the protoevangelium or “first gospel,” the name given to Genesis 3:15.10 In this passage, Mary’s role is clearly delineated: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head.” We see here a reversal of Eve’s role in the fall of mankind, and thus Mary become a “New Eve.”

Mary as the New Eve “. . . is already what the entire Church desires and hopes to be. She is the eschatological icon of the Church.11 The protoevangelium is key to understanding the Marian dogmas (Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, Theotokos, Assumption) as they relate to man’s end, because as Dr. Mark Miravalle points out, “ . . . the root of these truths is already found, in seed form, in the passage of Gen 3:15, as it has thus been read and is still read, by the Magisterium of the Church, for our guidance and enlightenment along the saving path to be followed by all mankind.”12 It is clear that Mary as the “New Eve” represents an eschatological sign for man, thus, one must evaluate the core Marian Dogmas as they relate to the Theology of the Body in order to further understand what man is to attain to.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX promulgated his papal bull, Ineffabilis Deus, in which the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”13 Mary, having been immaculately conceived, plays a central role in the study of the Theology of the Body because she was preserved from sin in both body and soul.14 Mary is a creature like all men, and as such, she is the model for all embodied creatures by virtue of her immaculate conception; she is truly the prototype for man.15 In examining the Theology of the Body, man can look toward Mary to understand that he too is called to be immaculate. To be immaculate is to be holy, and to be holy is to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within oneself. The Holy Spirit is the very gift of God. Mary as an embodied creature and spouse of the Holy Spirit, shows man that he too is called to be a gift to others.16 The body as gift leads directly into John Paul II’s next principle which is the nuptial meaning of the body.

Mary’s perpetual virginity was defined at the Lateran Council in 649 A.D. by Pope St. Martin I.17 As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.”18 Virginity is not a reserved isolation, rather its very essence is nuptiality because it is the servant of love.19 Nuptiality, as defined by John Paul II, essentially means that the body is a sacrament of the person whose end is an expression of communion with others.20 With regard to Mary, Donald Calloway states, “Her body is a sacrament through which she expresses her nuptial person to those whom she loves.”21 Nuptiality, in producing communion, is by its essence fruitful and this divine fecundity is proper to the Holy Spirit.22 One should remember that when evaluating the Church’s teaching on Mary, because she is an eschatological sign for all men, this includes her virginity.

If one is to understand Mary’s perpetual virginity and the destiny of man, it is important to remember Jesus’s own words as found in Matthew 22:30; “In the resurrection they take neither wife nor husband, but are like angels in Heaven.” From Jesus’s words, it is further elucidated that Mary’s perpetual virginity is the future state of all the elect, in the conjugal sense. In Heaven man will be married to God through what John Paul II describes as a divination.23 This divination will be a “ . . . penetration and permeation of what is essentially human by what is essentially divine.”24 Thus, the virginal state of man finds its fulfillment in the beatifying experience that is union with God, and to which John Paul II states, “ . . . the virginal state of the body will manifest itself completely as the eschatological fulfillment of the “spousal” meaning of the body, as the specific sign and authentic expression of personal subjectivity as a whole.”25 From what has already been stated in regard to Mary as an eschatological sign for man, one can see that the Theology of the Body teachings implicitly describe Mary because she is already in the glorified state that John Paul II speaks of, and from this, her role as Theotokos can be understood.

The dogma of Mary as Theotokos was declared at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.26 In regard to the divine maternity of Mary, the Catechism states: “the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos).”27 Mary is the “New Eve,” so she is not only the mother of God incarnate, but her maternity extends to all men by way of her cooperation in the redemptive work of her son.28

As has been stated, all divine fecundity is proper to the Holy Spirit. Mary’s spiritual motherhood, by union with the Holy Spirit, is essentially fruitful. Mary, by making of her body a virginal gift, allows God to fructify her; thus, her divine motherhood is made manifest.29 The spiritual motherhood of Mary is another critical aspect in understanding man’s essential function, of which Frederick Jelly states, “ . . . the unique gift of her calling to be the immaculate and virginal Theotokos would become the archetype for the Trinitarian transformation of all redeemed body-persons who are called to receive Christ into their lives and to become ‘spiritual mothers’ in helping bring Him forth in the lives of others.”30 Man’s essential role as a creature cannot be separated from fruitfulness by union with God, which has been realized in Mary.

Mary’s spiritual fecundity as eschatological sign, further elucidates John Paul II’s teaching on the future resurrection and divinization of man: “This new spiritualization will be a fruit of grace, that is, God’s self-communication in His very divinity, not only to the soul, but to the whole man’s psychosomatic subjectivity.”31 Within this spiritualization, man will not only discover himself but others, and is beatified “ . . . through realizing reciprocal communion commensurate with created persons.”32 The total concentration of knowledge and love on God will not draw one away from another, but rather, it will be, “ . . . the perfect realization of the “Trinitarian order” in the created world of persons.”33 Man’s virginal state as the fulfilment of the spousal and nuptial meaning of the body will bear fruit by the total communion of persons with God. In all of this we have Mary, glorified in her bodily assumption, as our model.

The dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption was proclaimed in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.34 As the Catechism states, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”35 Finally, Mary’s assumption is the ultimate hope because it is definite eschatological sign for man and his destiny.36 John Paul II further draws on this hope that is to be found in the assumption; “Looking at the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s assumption, we can understand the plan of divine providence for humanity. After Christ, the incarnate Word, Mary is the first human being to achieve the eschatological ideal, anticipating the fullness of happiness promised to the elect through the resurrection of the body.”37 Mary’s assumption shows us that the body is necessary, and in fact essential to the expression of the human person whom God wishes to be with Him in Heaven; all of which combats the dualistic tendencies that have been prevalent throughout history.38

The assumption and the Theology of the Body are intimately intertwined because the Theology of the Body is essentially directed toward the original purpose and fulfillment of the human person as body/soul composite. That which the Theology of the Body has as its end goal, is realized in Mary through her bodily assumption and glorified humanity.39 John Paul II refers to the glorification of the body as the eschatological fruit because it “ . . . will reveal the definitive meaning of what was from the beginning to be a distinctive sign of the created person in the visible world, as well as a means for reciprocal self-communication between persons and an authentic expression of truth and love by which the communion personarum is built up.”40 Because Mary has been assumed into Heaven, body and soul, one can examine the apparitions throughout history to gain further insight into the Marian teachings of the Church relating to the Theology of the Body. This examination will make concrete the reality of Mary as an eschatological icon.

The Immaculate Conception appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the French village of Lourdes on February 11th, 1858.41 Bernadette describes the encounter: “. . . a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen . . . ”42 Bernadette continues, “She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear had left me but I seemed to know no longer where I was.”43 From Bernadette’s own words one can conclude that the experience was characterized by the recognition of a supreme beauty, intimacy, removal of fear, and an ecstatic state of being. Given the fruits of the apparition, one can clearly see that Mary makes of herself a gift to Bernadette.

During the 17th apparition, while in a state of ecstasy, Bernadette held her right hand over the flame of a candle for several minutes without any response to pain, nor was her hand burned in any way.44 Mary’s very presence seems to transmit to Bernadette a supernatural ability to overcome physical barriers. This miraculous occurrence is essentially the fruit of Mary’s self-communication with Bernadette; thus, Mary as “gift” in her body and soul is further made manifest.

On May 13th, 1917, Mary-Ever-Virgin, appeared to three children in the village of Fatima, Portugal. The eldest visionary, Lucia Dos Santos describes Mary’s appearance as “. . . more brilliant than the sun, and radiated light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it.”45 Lucia’s description of Mary is absolutely critical in understanding Mary as the eschatological sign because her description is that of Mary in her glorified body. Although no creature will ever attain to the height of Mary’s sanctity, it should be understood that all creatures have the destiny to glorify God, body and soul, thus Lucia’s description of Mary is a preview of a glorified humanity.

Mary’s apparition at Fatima gives further credence to the nuptiality of the body, and for further proof of this, it is worthy to quote Lucia in full as to what transpired during the first apparition.

Our Lady opened her hands for the first time, communicating to us a light so intense that, as it streamed from her hands, its rays penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors. The, moved by an interior impulse that was also communicated to us, we fell on our knees, repeating in our hearts:

“O most Holy Trinity, I adore you! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!”46

It is important to call to mind here what has been stated regarding Mary and the nuptiality of her body: “Her body is a sacrament through which she expresses her nuptial person to those whom she loves.”47 This self-communication that Lucia vividly describes is the communication of Mary’s life, which is the light of Christ. Furthermore, one should call to mind what has already been stated regarding John Paul II’s understanding of divinization which is characterized by a “. . . penetration and permeation of the soul by God.”48 Lucia’s description of Mary illustrates this divinization which is union with God. When Mary places the “light” within the children’s hearts, she’s fulfilling the nuptial aspect of her body, which beatifies “. . . through realizing reciprocal communion commensurate with created persons.”49 Once again, Mary shows man what his destiny is, and the children of Fatima become an exemplary manifestation of that destiny by proof of the events that happened at the Cova da Iria.

Theotokos appeared to Juan Diego on December 9th, 1531 in Mexico. Mary’s divine motherhood is on full display in this apparition by the very words she uses in referring to Juan, who at the time was fifty-five years old, when she calls him Juanito.50 Mary makes her maternity explicit when she tells Juan “I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me.”51 The first apparition makes manifest Mary’s universal role as mother and as such her desire to lead all men closer to Jesus.52 As what can be seen as a sign of the fruitfulness of this apparition, Mary instructs Juan Diego to climb a hill, to which he “ . . . was amazed to find – in the arid winter environment, and in a rocky place where usually only thistles, mesquites, cacti, and thorns grew – a garden brimming with dew-covered flowers of the sweetest scent.”53

As stated, motherhood is inseparable from fruitfulness and, to present day, Mary’s apparitions in Mexico have produced tremendous fruit by way of the incredible amount of conversions to Catholicism. Speaking on this effect of evangelization, John Paul II states: “The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent . . . ”54 Mary’s fruitfulness as mother is proper to all her children. Carl Anderson, in his book Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love, states that Mary, “. . . by placing her image on Juan Diego’s Tilma, gives a new and elevated dignity to the common person . . . ”55 If one carefully reads this excerpt, there’s a deep truth found: Mary places her image on Juan Diego, thus he truly is a son in the order of likeness. As a son of Mary, Juan Diego has been called to carry out her mission which will see him as an active agent in fruitfulness. At this point, the eschatological reality of Mary as creature and icon for all men, is clear.

In conclusion, it has been shown that the Theology of the Body teachings of John Paul II are a discourse on the human person and, as a whole, have an eschatological significance. The Marian teachings of the Church are further exemplified by the principles of the theology of the body because Mary is humanity perfected. Thus, she makes the Theology of the Body teachings not something merely abstract, but concrete in her very glorified person. The apparitions of Mary have further shown the concrete and very human dimension of the Theology of the Body, and the account of her appearances provide a testimony to the Marian teachings of the Church which are intimately wound up with the teaching on the human person as John Paul II presents it.

1. John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979), 10.
2. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 23.
3. John Paul II, Holy Mass on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 2004), 5.
4. Michael Waldstein, “Introduction,” in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 4.
5. Id.
6. Id, at 19:5.
7. Donald Calloway, MIC., The Virgin Mary and the Theology of the Body (West Chester, PA, Ascension Press, 2005), 6.
8. Id., at 6
9. Id., at 694
10. Mark Miravalle, ed., Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (Queenship Publishing, 2007), 5.
11. John Paul II, Holy Mass on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
12. Miravalle, supra note 10, at 8.
13. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 124.
14. Calloway, supra note 7, at 17.
15. Id.
16. Id.
17. Id., at 18.
18. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 126.
19. Calloway, supra note 7, at 18.
20. Id.
21. Id., at 20.
22. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 422.
23. Id., at 392.
24. Id.
25. Id., at 395.
26. Gerald O’Collins and Edward G. Farrugia, A Concise Dictionary of Theology (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013), 263.
27. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 125.
28. Miravalle, supra note 10, at 11.
29. Calloway, supra note 7, at 21.
30. Frederick M. Jelly, O.P., Towards a Theology of the Body Through Mariology (Marian Studies 1983), 81.
31. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 392.
32. Id., at 396.
33. Id.
34. Calloway, supra note 7, at 22.
35. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 252.
36. Catholic Church, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium, in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).
37. John Paul II, Theotokos, Boston, MA, Daughters of Saint Paul, 2000, 208.
38. Calloway, supra note 7, at 23.
39. Id.
40. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 396.
41. Joan Carroll Cruz, She How She Loves Us, (Charlotte, NC., TAN Books, 2012), 113.
42. Id., at 114.
43. Id.
44. Id., at 117.
45. Lucia dos Santos, Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, ed. Fr. Louis Kondor, trans. Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary (Fatima: Postulation Centre, 1976), 57.
46. Id., at 158.
47. Calloway, supra note 7, at 11.
48. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, 392.
49. Id., at 396.
50. Cruz, supra note 41, at 27.
51. Id.
52. Carl A. Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chavez, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love (New York, Doubleday, 2009).
53. Id.
54. Id.
55. Id.

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