VICTORY OVER SIN COMES THROUGH A WOMAN
Pope John Paul II
Through her co-operation with Christ in the work of salvation, the Blessed Virgin contributes in a unique way to the triumph over Satan
"Mary's unique vocation is inseparable from humanity's vocation and, in particular, from that of every woman, on which light has been shed by the mission of Mary, proclaimed God's first ally against Satan and evil", the Holy Father said at the General Audience on Wednesday 24 January, as he returned to his catechesis on the Blessed Virgin. Here is a translation of his address, which was the 12th in the series and was given in Italian.
1. "The books of the Old Testament describe the history of salvation, by which the coming of Christ into the world was slowly prepared. The earliest documents, as they are read in the Church and are understood in the light of a further and full revelation, bring the figure of a woman, Mother of the Redeemer, into a gradually clearer light" (Lumen gentium,n. 55).
With these statements the Second Vatican Council reminds us how the figure of Mary gradually took shape from the very beginning of salvation history. She is already glimpsed in the Old Testament texts but is fully understood only when these "are read in the Church" and understood in the light of the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit, by inspiring the various human authors, oriented Old Testament Revelation to Christ, who was to come into the world from the Virgin Mary's womb.
2. Among the biblical accounts which foretold the Mother of the Redeemer, the Council particularly cites those in which God revealed his plan of salvation after the fall of Adam and Eve. The Lord says to the serpent, the personification of the spirit of evil: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gn 3:15).
These statements, called the Protogospel,i.e., the first Good News, by Christian tradition since the 16th century, enable us to see God's saving will from the very origins of humanity. Indeed according to the sacred author's narrative, the Lord's first reaction to sin was not to punish the guilty but to offer them the hope of salvation and to involve them actively in the work of redemption, showing his great generosity even to those who had offended him.
The Protogospel's words also reveal the unique destiny of the woman who, although yielding to the serpent's temptation before the man did, in virtue of the divine plan later becomes God's first ally. Eve was the serpent's accomplice in enticing man to sin. Overturning this situation, God declares that he will make the woman the serpent's enemy.
3. Exegetes now agree in recognizing that the text of Genesis, according to the original Hebrew, does not attribute action against the serpent directly to the woman, but to her offspring. Nevertheless, the text gives great prominence to the role she will play in the struggle against the tempter: in fact the one who defeats the serpent will be her offspring.
Who is this woman? The biblical text does not mention her personal name but allows us to glimpse a new woman, desired by God to atone for Eve's fall; in fact, she is called to restore woman's role and dignity, and to contribute to changing humanity's destiny, co-operating through her maternal mission in God's victory over Satan.
4. In the light of the New Testament and the Church's tradition, we know that the new woman announced by the Protogospel is Mary, and in "her seed" we recognize her Son, Jesus, who triumphed over Satan's power in the paschal mystery.
We also observe that in Mary the enmity God put between the serpent and the woman is fulfilled in two ways. God's perfect ally and the devil's enemy, she was completely removed from Satan's domination in the Immaculate Conception, when she was fashioned in grace by the Holy Spirit and preserved from every stain of sin. In addition, associated with her Son's saving work, Mary was fully involved in the fight against the spirit of evil.
Thus the titles "Immaculate Conception" and "Co-operator of the Redeemer", attributed by the Church's faith to Mary, in order to proclaim her spiritual beauty and her intimate participation in the wonderful work of Redemption, show the lasting antagonism between the serpent and the New Eve.
5. Exegetes and theologians claim that the light of the New Eve, Mary, shines from the pages of Genesis onto the whole economy of salvation. In that text they already see the bond between Mary and the Church. Here we point out with joy that the term "woman", used in its generic form in the Genesis text, spurs women especially to join the Virgin of Nazareth and her task in the work of salvation, for they are called to take part in the fight against the spirit of evil.
Women who, like Eve, could succumb to Satan's seduction, through solidarity with Mary receive superior strength to combat the enemy, becoming God's first allies on the way of salvation.
God's mysterious alliance with woman can also be seen in a variety of ways in our day: in women's assiduous personal prayer and liturgical devotion, in their catechetical service and in their witness to charity, in the many feminine vocations to the consecrated life, in religious education in the family, etc.
All these signs are a very concrete fulfilment of the Protogospel's prediction. Indeed, by suggesting a universal extension of the word "woman" within and beyond the visible confines of the Church, the Protogospel shows that Mary's unique vocation is inseparable from humanity's vocation and, in particular, from that of every woman, on which light has been shed by the mission of Mary, proclaimed God's first ally against Satan and evil.
Weekly Edition in English
31 January 1996, page 11
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