The Bible and the Virgin Mary is a extraordinarily beautiful and highly informative 12-part video series produced by The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. It is based on Dr. Scott Hahn’s book Hail, Holy Queen and compellingly presented by Matthew Leonard. The goal of the series is to teach Catholics how Marian doctrine and devotion are firmly rooted in Scripture. This review will detail a single example of the biblical exegesis used by the Church since the first century in hopes that it will place a hunger in your heart to further explore the series and see Mary as you’ve never seen her before. It’s awe-inspiring and life-transforming. No bones about it, this is simply a must-see for all Catholics.
Most Christians probably realize that what the New Testament says about Mary only fills a few verses, about twelve or so. In the majority of these cases, Mary’s presence amounts to little more than a mention. Compare that to Peter who is mentioned 155 times. And yet it is the “Virgin Mary” who is mentioned in the Apostle’s Creed and not Peter. Mary inspired some of the Church’s earliest liturgies and prayers. And while Peter is the patron saint of more than a few important churches and portrayed by many of history’s greatest artists, his numbers pale when compared to those whom “all generations shall called me blessed” (Luke 1: 48).
So how did this happen? How did a dozen or so mentions evolve into the rich interpretations of Scriptures concerning Mary and serve as the foundation for the Church’s definitive Marian dogma. Well to understand that we need to read scripture the right way, with the mind and heart of the Church. Then it will be clear that Mary is not an add-on to the Gospel but rather she is at the very center of the story of Salvation History.
How to read the Bible
Dr. Hahn is an internationally acclaimed Scripture scholar and former Protestant minister. During what he described at his “anti-Catholic” days, he found himself drawn to the study of biblical typology, an ancient method of reading the Bible. Popes, Church Fathers and Doctors used this method in the first centuries after Christ. More importantly so did the Apostles and Evangelists when they penned the actual pages of scripture. Only by understanding how the Bible’s authors intended us to read what they wrote, can we actually understand what they wrote. In that same article, Dr. Hahn continues:
Simply put, typology studies how God’s work in the Old Covenant prefigured what he accomplished through Christ in the New Covenant. So when Christians read the Bible typologically, they discern in the Old Testament “types” (persons, places, things and events) that prefigure a fulfillment in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
Isaiah spoke of a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and all Christians since the first generation have seen these verses as a foreshadowing of Our Lord’s passion and death. Similarly, the Passover Lamb is seen as a prefigurement of the sacrifice of the cross (Isaiah 53:7).
Even Jesus taught his disciples about Himself using typology. He referred to Jonah (Matthew 12:39-41), Solomon (Matthew 12:42), the Temple (John 2:19) and the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14) as “types” or “signs” that prefigured Him. After the Resurrection, He instructed the Apostles with “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)
Typology was also utilized by the Old testament authors to prepare Israel for its coming Messiah. Isaiah said first exodus foreshadowed a new exodus. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of the coming of a new Davidic shepherd king and the restoration of the kingdom.
Types of Mary
So what types or signs might we discern in Scripture regarding Mary? There certainly is no shortage. Eve, Ark of the Covenant, Queen Mother, Handmaid of the Lord, Daughter of Zion and the Woman Clothed with the Sun are among the most well-known and clearly demonstrate that Mary’s role in Salvation History is weaved right into the very fabric of Scripture.
In The Bible and the Virgin Mary, Matthew Leonard reviews these types and shows us how the Church employs this tool to interpret Scripture and build the doctrinal foundation for Marian dogma. Let’s take the type Ark of the Covenant as an example.
Putting it to Work
By comparing the Visitation account in Luke 1 and the account of David Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6, Mr. Leonard demonstrates how Luke repeatedly uses words and phrases to drive home the point that the Ark of the Covenant is a prefigurement of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.
Let’s take a look:
Then as if to seal the deal, Luke uses an interesting word choice in the following verse: “And she exclaimed with a loud cry” (Luke 1: 42). The Greek word for “loud cry” is anaphoneo. It appears nowhere else in New Testament. However it does appear five times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. And each time it’s having to do with the Ark of the Covenant and the joyful noise people made when celebrating the Lord’s presence among them.
Now let’s view Elizabeth’s cry in context. Elizabeth was a Levite, a Hebrew tribe descended from Aaron and Levi. The Levites served as priest until Jesus day. When Elizabeth lifted up her voice in praise in the presence of Mary she was echoing what her priestly ancestors did in the presence of the Ark.
All coincidences? Hardly. Again, all these parallels are to make one startling point – Mary is the new Ark of the New Covenant. Luke isn’t the only New Testament author to recognize Mary as such.
In Revelation, John recounts a vision he had of heaven. Now remember that the Jewish people had been longing for the Ark to reappear. Its reappearance would signify the time that Jeremiah prophesied – the time when God would gather his people again and show his mercy (Jeremiah 3: 12-14). When the first Christians, most of whom were Jewish, heard John’s vision, they would have sat up and paid attention. If the Ark had been seen, then the time that they and their ancestors had waited for had arrived, It had been over 500 years since the collapse of the Davidic Kingdom and the Ark’s disappearance. This was a big deal. If you were among those waiting you would have wanted more details about this rediscovered treasure. But instead John starts talking about a woman [Note that there are no chapter divisions in the original text. They were added at a much later date.] (Revelation 11:15 – Revelation 12). For John, the Ark and the woman are one in the same. “She was with child … one who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.”.
Why did John do this? The Ark was a sign of God’s real presence among his people. In Jesus Christ, born of Mary, God is really present among his people once more. This time in a more intimate and direct way. The Ark of the Covenant contained the tablets – the Word of God in stone, manna – the bread from heaven and the rod of Aaron – symbol of the high priesthood. Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant carried in her womb the Incarnate Word of God, the true bread of heaven and the true high priest.
If the Ark of the Covenant was holy, something so sacred that no one was allowed to touch it [recall Uzzah’s fate in 2 Samuel 6:7] then by the same standards Mary is even holier. It can never be forgotten that this holiness is entirely due to a singular grace and privilege she received due to her role in Salvation History. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Marialis Cultus, 25:
Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant bearing Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, the true Bread of Life and the true High Priest. She contained the very presence of God within her.
And that’s only the beginning
Well hopefully this review has whet your appetite for more. Fortunately there is much more. Mr. Leonard will walk you through the remaining Marian types and demonstrate that when they are linked together they provide not only a rich foundation for dogma but a portrait of divine grace that has been studied and prayed over by countless popes, bishops, theologians and saints.
Ways to watch
1) Free web access: The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology periodically offers free streaming access. For the entire month of May 2017 free access was available. Being the 100th anniversary of Fatima, I suspect there will be more free access periods between now and October. Subscribe to the St. Paul Center newsletter for details.
2) Formed.org: All 12 videos are available here for streaming. However English and Spanish closed captioning is not available with this edition. A growing number of parishes and even dioceses are offering free FORMED access, an outstanding online resource for Catholics. In Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput has obtained free FORMED access for all of his parishes.
3) Purchase the DVD and other supporting materials. You’ll receive discount codes in the St. Paul Center newsletter.
In closing, let us remember that we are all commanded by Christ to take Mary into our homes. Because of that she loves us, prays for us and does all she can to lead us to her Son. Her Son obviously loves her. For us to fail to do so would be to fail to love and honor Him.