“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon beneath Her feet and upon Her head, a crown of twelve stars..”
– Revelation 12:1
A beautiful woman – a queen, no less – disobeys the King, who issues a decree banishing her from his presence; he then determines that he will give her privileges to another, one more worthy than she. Later, a beautiful young Jewish woman has such a startling beauty that the King is entranced by her, for “the young woman was beautifully formed and lovely to behold” (Es.2:7). Because of this, he “loved her more than all other women” and “placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen” (Es.2:17) in place of the original queen.
Through a particular set of circumstances, the chosen people stand accused before the King – “they do not obey the laws of the King; so it is not proper for the King to tolerate them” (Es.3:8). Consequently, on the thirteenth day of the month, a decree is issued for their destruction. Learning of the decree, the new queen, Esther, was “overwhelmed with anguish” (Es.4:4). And her uncle wonders – “perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?” (Es.4:14). She then commands her people to fast and determines to plead for them before the King. Praying to God, the queen says –
“Lord, do not relinquish Your sceptre to those who are nothing.. be mindful of us, Lord. Make Yourself known in the time of our distress.. Save us by Your power.. O God, Whose power if over all, hear the voice of those in despair. Save us from the power of the wicked..” (Es.4C:26-30).
The woman then goes before the King, telling him – “You are awesome, my Lord, though your countenance is full of mercy” (Es.4D:14). And the King, listening to her pleas, determines that “Whatever you ask.. shall be granted you. Whatever request you make.. shall be honoured” (Es.7:2). In this way, the Queen saves her people by petitioning the King who has ordered their destruction and in, in the process, the true enemy of the King and the people is destroyed.
The young woman is Queen Esther, after whom the Old Testament book is named, although she is not a real historical person – the story is written to illustrate a point. But in reading the story of Esther, you may find yourself recognising some aspects of it, as though it is familiar. And indeed, it should be.
Interestingly, when She appeared at Fatima in 1917, the Mother of God wore a golden star on Her gown. ‘Esther’ translates as ‘star’. Perhaps this small detail had a certain significance.
The Church tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary is often ‘pre-figured’ in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. In other words, reading those texts after the fact and seeing them with the eyes of the Church and through the prism of history, we can see a ‘fore-shadowing’ of sorts, so that She is there even though those books were written long before She came into existence. Mary is found in so many places within the Old Testment, but She is hidden in plain sight. Now, this might seems a strange thing – until we remember that while we are living in a particular moment of human history, God is not. God is beyond time and history and all human constraints; for God, there is only the eternal ‘now’.
In the same way that the Prophets and texts of the Old Testament spoke of the Messiah who would come later, so too did these same texts often give clues about His Mother. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah, who says –
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son..” (Is.7:14).
Another example is the ‘Proto-Evangelium’, found in the Book of Genesis –
“I will put enmity between you and the Woman between your offspring and Hers” (Gn.3:15)
The Proto-Evangelium is interesting in that it specifies the coming of the Lord specifically through the Woman, making an explicit point of mentioning Her directly, as though to emphasise Her importance and Her singular place in the broader plan which will unfold later on.
It is interesting, too, that in the New Testament the Lord refers to His Mother specifically as ‘Woman’ – almost as though He is obliquely reminding us that the Woman through whom the Messiah will come, and the Woman He is presently addressing, are one and the same. This ‘Woman’ will appear again later on, in the revelation of Saint John –
“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the sun, with the Moon beneath Her feet and upon Her head, a crown of twelve stars..” (Rev:12:1)
In these texts, then, there is a sense of mystery; what they speak of is not yet seen in full light, and they will only be realised later – and on looking back on them afterwards, their meaning becomes clearer.
The Church refers to Mary as ‘the New Eve’, as the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and other attributions which directly reflect themes already present in the Old Testament, giving them a new meaning, or perhaps more accurately, renewing their meaning.
Taken together, all these various texts suggests something very clear indeed, and it is this; in the Divine plan, the Lord always intended that the Blessed Virgin would be the one through whom the Messiah would come to us, Her place is a singular one and She remains present throughout the entirety of this plan of salvation for poor errant humanity.
The Catechism tells us that “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it” (para.964). Where you find Christ, you will find Mary; and wherever you find Mary She will always point you to Her Divine Son.
Quoting ‘Lumen Gentium’, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Catechism tells us one more thing –
“In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.” (para.972)
Often, then, what is said of the Church is said of the Blessed Virgin, and the words applied to Her apply equally to the Church. In the same way that the Mother of God has already made Her pilgrimage of faith to perfect completion, so too do we hope that the Church will continue to make her own pilgrimage; that one day, the glory presently enjoyed by the Mother of God in Heaven, will be shared by the Church.
May She who is the Woman of both Genesis and Revelation, this Queen who stands pleading for Her people before the Mighty One, never fail to support us as we – together with the entire Church – make our own pilgrimage of Faith as we journey home to the New Jerusalem.