Updated: Feb 26
Note: This article was originally written as a letter of explanation to my Presbyterian grandmother. As such, it is a little more disjointed and a little less formal than the other articles on the site. That being said, I think it can be a helpful resource and have shared it as such.
Far from being alien to the scriptures, the doctrines about Mary believed by the Catholic Church are baked into the pages of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. As such, the creation story will be our starting point.
In the beginning, God overshadowed the waters of creation and called out, “Let there be light!”
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Jesus marks the beginning of a new creation, and the Gospels are telling this story.
The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
The Gospel of John starts off with this famous prologue.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Just like in the first creation story, the new creation (Jesus’ life) begins with God hovering over, or overshadowing, and then light enters the world. In the first, physical light enters the world from God having overshadowed creation. In the second, the Light of Salvation enters the world from God having overshadowed creation.
God chose to start the new creation with Mary from all eternity. Some Catholic theologians have compared her to a beach head that the kingdom of God lands on to take back or redeem the universe from the power of the Serpent.
But Mary is far more than just a place where God enters the world. She is a person, and not just any person, but a mother. A mother gives of her own body in bringing life to her children. This is why the Nicene Creed, which Christians of all kinds have professed for thousands of years, says,
"For us men and for our salvation he [Jesus] came down from heaven, and, by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
“Incarnate of” means that the material from which Christ's body was made was taken from the Virgin Mary. This should remind us of another man and woman, at the beginning of creation in Genesis. While Eve was pulled from the body of Adam in Genesis, the Gospels show the new Adam pulled from Mary. Paul and many others refer to Jesus as the new Adam, but is Mary really in the position of the new Eve? Let’s look at what Eve did and see what Mary does in contrast:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
With envy, rebellion, and pride, Eve, the mother of all the living, begins the fall of Mankind. She doesn’t cause the fall, but she paves the way for the fall of Adam with her sin.
Like Eve, Mary is visited by an angel; however this time the visitation is by a holy one instead of a fallen one:
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[b] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[c] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Many early Christian writers say that, at this very point, all of heaven held its breath. Mary was free to say no. The fate of the universe rested on this young lady saying Yes to God. Just like Adam and Eve’s choice in the garden that led to universal doom, this choice began the process of redemption so that Christ’s work could begin- and ultimately save us.
In Latin “Mary” and “Eve” are the same letters spelled backwards. The Church used this as an illustration of how Mary undoes the sin of Eve and reverses the tide of sin. Eve says No to God and yes to her own desires. Mary says, ““Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
After the Fall, God speaks to the serpent and announces that his rule will come to an end. This is the first glimpse of the gospel message:
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall [d]bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
All of God’s people prior to Christ’s arrival took hope in this passage. But who was this prophesied woman? Further what does “her seed” mean? Jewish rabbis debated that last question with a variety of opinions, but the riddle is finally answered in the incarnation. Mary gives her flesh to be formed into Jesus, as the creed states, “incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
When Jesus talks to his mother the most common term he uses is “woman”. Is this a sign of disrespect? Far from it, Jesus abides by the whole law including the commandment to “Honor your father and mother”. Jesus honors Mary. The term, “woman” is a direct reference to Genesis, when God tells the first people about their coming salvation and the eventual defeat of the serpent. God starts this story by talking about Mary.
Jesus is the new Adam, but because the new Covenant is greater than the Old, Jesus is far superior to the old Adam in every way. So, why would the new Eve (Mary) be inferior to the first Eve? The first Eve is called “The mother of all the living” because of her physical relationship with all mankind. Does Mary have such a relationship spiritually? Eve was made sinless out of the un-cursed earth. Was Mary born sinless? Did God make her out of un-cursed earth as well?
We will look at all of those questions in detail, but let’s stick with the mystery of the incarnation for a bit and talk about the implications of Jesus being made from the material drawn out of Mary. Paul says in Romans 11:
If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
This is straight out of the first-fruits offering laws in Leviticus. In sacrificial law, if part of a lump of dough or part of an animal is sacrificed, the whole thing becomes Holy. Christ is the Sacrifice that completes the sacrificial system. Further, Scripture calls him, “The first-fruits” (1 Cor. 15:20). It was His body that hung on the cross, atoning for our sin. That same body was drawn from the body of Mary. Jesus violates none of the laws of the Old Covenant, and He doesn’t violate this one, either. Scripture shows here that because Jesus’ body, our sacrifice, was drawn out of the Virgin Mary, that means she was made holy because of Jesus. So, not only is it fitting that she was created sinless like Eve was, but it is required by sacrificial law.
Now let’s talk about the un-cursed vs the cursed earth. God says, “Let us make man” and then He takes the dust of the earth and breathes into it the breath of life. Who is “Us”? Simply interpreted, it is God and the earth. Why? Because the earth that God created supplies the dust and God supplies the breath. The two together made man. But later the ground itself is cursed by God as a result of the Fall of mankind. Adam was made out of dust prior to the curse. Eve was made of the same dust by being drawn from the flesh of Adam.
The New Adam must be made of un-cursed earth just like the old Adam. Jesus was not made of earth that was cursed by his Father. No, his body, blood, soul, and divinity was, is, and will always be completely holy. So, where did Jesus get the “dust” that made up his body? His body was drawn out of the body of Mary. So, what does that imply about Mary’s body? It means that Mary’s body was un-cursed earth. When God hovers over the waters in Genesis, He hovers over an un-cursed creation, a holy one. When God hovers over the temple of Israel and over the Ark of the Covenant, it is holy, sinless, and certainty not cursed by God. When God overshadows Mary to bring about the new creation of the world in Christ, God overshadows a sinless vessel once again.
Does this mean that Jesus isn’t her savior because she didn’t have sin? No, of course she was saved by Jesus. If Jesus had not chosen her to be “incarnate of” then she would have been subject to sin. But Jesus saves her from sin from the beginning, in the same way He saves us all, by becoming the sacrifice for our sins.
But wait, doesn’t Paul write that, “There is no one righteous, no, not one”? (Rom. 3:10) Doesn’t this disprove Mary being sinless? Well, if it truly meant that no one is righteous that would mean Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, can’t be righteous either, but that is definitely not true. So what is it saying? First, I would say it is talking about a type. If I say all dogs have four legs, that is true. That is a fact about things called dogs because it relates to the nature of what it means to be a dog. If someone shows me a three legged dog, this does nothing to disprove the former statement because I am not talking about all individual cases, but instead describing the type.
Humans are all sinful because we as a kind have original sin, but like the proverbial three legged dog, Jesus is exempt from this classification because He was born without original sin. Mary was also such that she could be a holy place for God’s presence to dwell. If God made a wooden box called the Ark of the Covenant holy (more on that later), He can certainly do the same with the creation He calls “very good”. All that aside, Paul is quoting Psalms 14 here:
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
but[b] the Lord is his refuge.
Just two verses later the generation of the righteous is mentioned. Far from two people being exempted from the statement, the Psalmist exempts a whole generation. Why does he do this? Because he is writing in the way I described above. He is commenting on the state of this fallen world where everyone is turned against God and doing evil. He, like Paul, is not trying to make a comment on the sum of all individual people but instead is naming a kind.
Adam and Eve were not just anyone in God’s creation. They were the King and Queen of all creation.
God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."