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a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet
Question from Ed Valenciano on 12/9/2003:

How is it that the woman clothed with the sun mentioned in Revelations 12:1 is claimed to be the Virgin Mary by us Catholics. What is the solid proof that this passage refers to Mary. I am a Marian devotee and I would like to be very certain about my answer when I am asked this question by my non-Catholic associates. Thank you.

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 12/10/2003:

The first level of "proof" would be the literal interpretation of the text itself, in which we see that this Woman gives birth to a Son, Whom the Dragon wishes to destroy. All commentators agree that the Son if Jesus Christ--and the Dragon is explicitly identified as Satan--therefore it is absolutely reasonable to assume that the Woman who gave birth to Jesus Christ MUST BE Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

The book of Revelation records a vision of a woman clothed with the sun:

12:1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 12:2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. 12:3 And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. 12:4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; 12:5 she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 12:6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

There is a long-standing tradition of interpretation in the Church which views this woman from two perspectives: as representative of God’s People and as the Mother of our Lord. We note that it is common to find a feminine image for the People of God, in the OT and the NT. In this case, we see that the Savior (male child) is born of the Jewish People with the pains of birth (symbolically often used to represent a new age dawning, certainly the case with the coming of the Messiah) and Satan attempts to destroy our Lord, not just as an infant but he continually attempted to thwart his saving mission. But having failed to do this and now that our Lord has ascended to heaven, Satan continues to wage war upon the Church (the Woman). She is given protection by our Lord, as the Church is protected, through a period of persecution. The reference to a period of three and a half years, in various fractions, seems to represent a period of persecution, no matter how long it may be, in fact. This three and a half period may find a past reference in the persecution of Antiochus IV of Syria upon the Jewish people in the 2nd century BC and may find an initial fulfillment in the siege of Jerusalem from 66-70 AD, more specifically, for precisely a three and a half year period.

At the primary level of symbolism, we can see this woman as representative of our Blessed Mother, who gave birth to our Lord. But in making this association, we do not apply every aspect or detail to her directly without qualification. For the suffering need not be a matter of physically giving birth, but of the sufferings the Mother of our Lord endured which reach a height as she stood beneath the cross upon which her Son died. Remember, the prophet Simeon had foretold that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart. This allusion was not a matter of a physical sword but of spiritual and emotional suffering of a Mother, which is also physical. But many non Catholics will not accept deeper levels of symbols, which is often at the spiritual level of interpretation and in light of Tradition and sometimes special revelations, such as Marian apparitions, some of which have been officially approved.

And while maintaining both the symbol of Mary and of the People of God for this Woman, I now regard the primary meaning as Mary, as the other figures of this chapter refer first of all to single referents and secondarily to other realities: the Dragon is Satan, St. Michael is the Archangel, and the Male Child is, of course, Jesus Christ. The apparent connection between the appearance of the ark of the covenant in chapter eleven and the appearance of this woman in chapter twelve further confirm the association of the Woman with Mary, for she is regarded by the Church as the new Ark of the Covenant, as the first dwelling place of the Incarnate Lord.

We should also note that the Church has chosen the text of the Woman Clothed with the Sun as the first reading for the vigil Mass of the feast of the Assumption. The implication is obvious: this text is to be associated with the Blessed Mother, now in her heavenly splendor.

Finally, we have the words of two popes who comment upon this Woman as an image of the Blessed Mother.

In his encyclical letter “Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum” Pope Pius X wrote:

“A great sign,” thus the Apostle St. John describes a vision divinely sent him, appears in the heavens: “A woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.” Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, the stainless one who brought forth our head…John therefore saw the Most Holy Mother of God already in eternal happiness, yet travailing in a mysterious childbirth. What birth was it? Surely it was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unwearying prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect.

In his encyclical letter, "The Great Sign," Pope Paul VI wrote:

The great sign which the Apostle John saw in heaven, "a woman clothed with the sun,"(1) is interpreted by the sacred Liturgy,(2) not without foundation, as referring to the most blessed Mary, the mother of all men by the grace of Christ the Redeemer.

In his encyclical letter “Redemptoris Mater” Pope John Paul II wrote:

47. Thanks to this special bond linking the Mother of Christ with the Church, there is further clarified the mystery of that "woman" who, from the first chapters of the Book of Genesis until the Book of Revelation, accompanies the revelation of God's salvific plan for humanity. For Mary, present in the Church as the Mother of the Redeemer, takes part, as a mother, in that monumental struggle; against the powers of darkness"(138) which continues throughout human history. And by her ecclesial identification as the "woman clothed with the sun" (Rev. 12:1),(139) it can be said that "in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle." Hence, as Christians raise their eyes with faith to Mary in the course of their earthly pilgrimage, they "strive to increase in holiness."(140) Mary, the exalted Daughter of Sion, helps all her children, wherever they may be and whatever their condition, to find in Christ the path to the Father's house.

Thanks, Ed

Father Echert


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