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SIDIC Periodical XX - 1987/2
Mary the Jewess (Pages 04 - 08)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

The Mother of Jesus: Reflections of a Christian Living in Israel
Marcel Dubois



The Marian reading of the Old Testament: A Traditional Christian Exegesis

It has long been a tradition for Christian faith and devotion to turn to the Old Testament for enlightenment and understanding on Mary's person and vocation. This model is proposed by the New Testament itself, and in a special way, by the Gospel according to Luke.

Mary is a daughter of the Jewish people according to the flesh.

Mary is announced and prefigured by the vocation and destiny of her people.

This double aspect of vocation and destiny is found in the Church's liturgy and iconography as well as in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, The Church sings her praises as a daughter of the Jewish people according to the flesh when it calls her Stirpes Davidicae regia proles' (the royal offspring of David's root). Most European cathedrals have representations in one form or another of the Tree of Jesse. On the tympanum of many churches, Mary is portrayed together with the kings of Israel, David and Solomon especially. to whose kingshop her son is destined to succeed. In spite of its brevity, Paul's allusion to her in the Epistle to the Galatians: natum ex muliere, factum sum lege (born of a woman, born under the law — Gal 4:4), carries with it the conviction that Jesus truly belongs to the people of the Law.

She is announced and prefigured by the vocation and the destiny 'of her people, beginning with all the holy women of the Old Testament. Both Christian art and liturgy represent Mary among the mothers and women in Israel: Rachel, Sarah, Rebekah. Ruth, Judith, Esther, demonstrating through this means the long preparation which climaxed in her.

Christian tradition goes further, however, Over and above these women. it has read the decisive events of her life, her vocation, her fidelity, the coming and abiding of God within her, in the light of the great experiences of the life of her people, the theophanies, the calls of God to Israel, the presence of the glory of God in the ark of the covenant and in the temple of Jerusalem. Many traces of this are found in the liturgy of the feasts of the Virgin.

There is no need here to list these experiences. They have been alluded to briefly in order to underline the fact that Christian tradition presents a Marian reading of the Old Testament which has the double advantage of stressing, on the one hand, Mary's Jewishness and, on the other, of discerning in the theological experience of this people what are those characteristics which announce and prepare Mary's vocation.

Such are the two affirmations which are — or should be — the foundations of all biblical theology on the mystery of Mary. The first of these stresses the continuity of salvation history and of its roots in the history of Israel; the second points out what is new, the radical originality of a Christian reading of the bible whose key is Christ and according to which, the New Testament is the completion of the Old. These two affirmations complement one another, strengthen and influence one another. It is important to keep them together, but it must be recognized that the maintaining of this balance is difficult and has not always been done.

A Renewed Approach to the Mystery of Mary

The Notes for Preachers and Catechists published in June, 1985 by the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, has underlined this difficulty:

The singular character and the difficulty of Christian teaching about Jews and Judaism lies in this, that it needs to balance a number of pairs of ideas which express the relation between the two economies of the Old and New Testament:
Promise and Fulfilment
Continuity and Newness
Singularity and Universality
Uniqueness and Exemplary Nature.2

The above comments are very important for our present reflection. They set out the propositions of this theology of the mystery of Mary, of her who is both a daughter of Israel and the Mother of Jesus, Son of God. It would seem, in fact, that Marian theology is a special application of the theology of the mystery of Israel. From this point of view it seems clear that recent Church documents on this mystery and on Christian-Jewish relations help in renewing the manner in which the mystery of Mary is contemplated from a biblical point of view. This is the spirit in which I desire to share with you the discoveries which enable us to make a renewed approach to the reality of the Jewish people, its identity and vocation, especially if this approach is lived in the permanent presence of this people and of its daily fidelity.

At this point the author examines the dangers of Christian typology: if it is "a remarkable key for understanding the continuity and the progress of salvation history", it risks obscuring, denying "the positive value of the realia of the people of the bible". Two examples are given from Thomas Aquinas, calling on us to "turn from the reality to the figure, from the fulfilment to the promise, in order to be able to discover the realism and dynamism of the latter.

It is easy to feel what the consequences can be of such a view of things concerning the mystery of Mary, above all, if the figure is not only one of the realities, one of the realia of the people of Israel, but when the reality is the people of Israel itself. If Mary is in very fact a daughter of the Jewish people according to the flesh, if her vocation and her destiny are announced and prefigured by the vocation and the destiny of the people, this typology is rooted in the reality of the people from which she has sprung and whose fidelity she accomplishes. There is then between the personality of Mary and the personality of her people as it is in the eyes of God who chose it, a permanent and mysterious relation between the reality and the figure, between the completion and the promise. While Mary is she who has fulfilled the vocation of the destiny of Israel, the reality which is the figure of Israel helps us at the same time to understand this mystery which Mary fulfils and completes.

Seen from this point of view, the relationship between Mary and Israel sheds light on both vocations. It serves as a model that, at the risk of being obscure or pedantic, I would willingly call an existential and permanent typology. The mysterious existence of Israel, including that of the Jewish people today, is the privileged type of the Virgin of Zion and of her who called herself the handmaid of the Lord.

In the second part the author developed two of mary's titles: Daughter of Zion and Handmaid of the Lord which are, in his opinion, "the characteristics by means of which the person of Mary is linked most intimately to her people". We continue with the third section.


It seems to us that Mary, Daughter of Zion and Handmaid of the Lord is at the meeting-point of the two covenants. If we could see Mary as God sees her and, above all, see what he saw when he worked in her the unprecedented privilege of her Immaculate Conception, we would hold the key to the mystery of the relations between Israel and the Church. He chose, in fact, a young girl in whom was the fidelity, the expectancy, the hope of the people of the promise, in order to prepare her, in virtue of the merits of him who would be her son, to be the first among those saved, the mother and the model of all who would receive salvation. She was fully a Jewess and fully new: Mirabiliter create mirabilius reformata (wonderfully created, more wonderfully re-created).

She was the most perfect of all the daughters of Israel and the eschatological icon of the whole Church and of all Christian holiness. She unites in one same fidelity her people's vocation and her vocation as Mother of God.

Mary and the Jewish Reality

This helps us catch a glimpse of how we can consider the mystery of Mary and the mystery of Israel so that they enlighten one another. Mary's unique position at the meeting-point of the two covenants leads us, in fact, to make a midrashic reading of Jewish destiny using Mary's destiny as our starting point. We are led also to a better and more concrete understanding of the mystery of Mary by means of a midrashic reading of Jewish destiny. This is what was meant above when reference was made to an existential and permanent typology. This is the discovery which those who have the privilege and the responsibility of living among the Jewish people can bring to their Christian sisters and brothers.

One of the most noteworthy advances in the Church's reflection, especially since the Second Vatican Council, has been to rediscover the identity of Israel in the light in which God sees it. Among other documents, I wish to quote from Pastoral Orientations on the Attitude of Christians to Judaism issued by the French Episcopal Committee for Relations with Judaism 1973,3 because it shows the development of the principles defined by the Council. It states in particular that the existence of the Jewish people not only asks questions of the Christian conscience, but- that it "constitute(s) increasingly for the Christian the basis of a better understanding of his own faith and a greater enlightenment for his own life".

A more positive attitude to the Jewish reality could not be imagined. It is especially important to understand what is meant by the existence of the Jewish people. It refers to "the existence today of the Jewish people", but in addition, the French document states:

"its condition, often so precarious during the course of its history, its hope, its tragic sufferings in the past and above all in modern times. and its partial ingathering in the land of the Bible...".

The text clarifies this a little further on when it says that the Christian should

"regard Judaism as a reality not only social and historical, but above all religious; not only as a relic of a venerable and closed past, but as a reality living on through time°.

A Parallel Destiny

Common Characteristics

What are the signs which show Christians this vitality of the Jewish people and the special marks of its existence?

The Bishops' document replies:

"The chief signs of the vitality of the Jewish people are the witness of their corporate fidelity to the one God, their zeal in studying Scripture to find, in the light of revelation, the meaning of human life, their quest for identity in the midst of other men. their constant efforts to come together as a reunited community."

I believe that a Jew would be able to recognize in these few signs the characteristics of his identity and of his history, the consciousness that is his of his special destiny. The text we are quoting sums them up, moreover, in order to call upon Christians to reflect upon the reality of Judaism at the very level of their own faith:

"These signs are for us Christians questions which touch the heart of our faith: what is the specific mission of the Jewish people in God's plan?"

Never has this question been asked solemnly in terms as clear and as directly linked to the very content of faith.

The mystery of Mary can help us discover the theological meaning of this destiny and election, pf this vocation and the promises linked to it. These latter can help us understand the expectancy and the fidelity that the mystery of Mary can fulfil.

In this connection I must admit that the mysteries of the Rosary." through their fundamental rhythm which goes from the annunciation to glory, from promise to completion, has helped me in my own understanding of the mystery of Israel. I have dreamt often of creating in Jerusalem a special way of reciting the rosary that could be called perhaps "The Rosary in Israel". This would be so. not only because it is possible to contemplate the different mysteries on the very places where they have been lived by Mary and Jesus, but because there is a very close parallel between Mary's destiny and the destiny of her people that makes it possible for us to see how one sheds light on the other.

For Mary as for Israel, everything begins by a free choice, an election, which comes for both from God's initiative. Mary and Israel depend on the gift of God who has chosen them. The gift of the Torah and the fulness of grace bestowed on Mary at her annunciation spring from the same love whose secret is in God.

One Same Availability

If we now consider Israel's attitude and that of Mary in what concerns God's initiative, we see how both have been called to the same willingness to listen to his voice and to carry out what he asks.

In reading Luke's gospel we feel that Mary is waiting. Her heart has been filled with hope. hers and her people's, the hope of all those who are "looking for the consolation of Israel" (Lk 2:25). This waiting is a concentrating because it leads to listening, to being available and open to him who is coming. Mary listened, recognizing him who spoke to her and understanding what he says. "He who is of God hears the words of God" (Jn 8:47). She replied and accepted his call: Ecce. Fiat. Hineni. Here I am. The word which she heard was an invitation which called for an answer. It came from God and returned to him. Luke tells us twice that "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:20, 51). Waiting, listening, receiving, keeping the word, being faithful to it: these are the attitudes of our mother such as they are presented to us by Luke in his infancy narrative.

The same sentiments and attitudes were those of Israel all through the ages, in the bible and in its history. Israel is waiting. It testifies to an expectation, that of the need which humankind has for God, that of the certainty of the coming of the Messiah.

This is why Israel has been called upon to listen. Shema Israel. "Hear, 0 Israel" (Deut 6:4). Like Abraham. the first one to be tailed, Israel answers: !linen/. Here am I (Gen 22:1), or, in response to the covenant on Mt. Sinai:

"Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, 'all the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.'
Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient'"
(Ex 24:3, 7).

All through history, Israel has answered by its teshuvah (return, turning towards) in fidelity to the word which is the Torah. God knows the secret of this answer and of its depth of meaning. Israel has replied to this word which it has heard by keeping it, by meditating on it, searching for its meaning, commenting on it night and day, in study and prayer.

Thus, in what we might call the joyful mysteries, there is the same election by God, the same annunciation by him for Israel and for Mary; both of these have responded by the same willing acceptance, the same fidelity, the same answer, based on the memory of the Word they have heard.

Where the glorious mysteries are concerned, we know through revelation and through the Church's long meditation how Mary kept the word within her, how she developed it all through her long life of fidelity, from the annunciation to the assumption, from her first call to her entering into the kingdom.

In what concerns Israel, we know through faith, through what Paul has said, that "the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" and that "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26, 29). Mary's destiny strengthens this hope.

Trial and Suffering

Between the joyful and the glorious, between election and the assumption, Mary met the sorrowful, the cross and underwent the mystery of her compassion, her "suffering with" her son. This mystery will endure while time lasts. Slat crux dum volitur orbis. Stabat Mater (The cross stands while the world turns. The Mother was standing/. Mary was present at the moment of salvation; she continues to be present during the long passion of the Church all through the ages.

The parallel that we have found permits us to shed light, through the mystery of the compassion, on the mysterious meaning of the long passion, the long trial of the suffering and of the wandering of the Jewish people throughout history. They passed through the uncertainty of exile, the darkness of the ghetto, the distress of the worst of solitude, that of hatred and persecution, the incomprehensible and tragic scandal of the Holocaust.

I trust that my Jewish friends will forgive me if I seem here to join to the passion of Christ an ocean of pain whose abyss they alone have known. Yet, speaking to my Christian brothers and sisters, I cannot fail to express my conviction. Just as the transcendent understanding of the Holocaust can be glimpsed for us Christians only in the light which comes from on high and which passes, according to our faith, through the Mystery of the cross, so also the painful experience of the Jewish peopleall through its history can be perceived only through the light of Mary's compassion.

Between the destiny of Israel and the destiny of Mary there is a harmonious parallel and relationship which calls for our attention and which opens up for us discoveries to be made about both of them.

Christian prayer and reflection is helping us recognize in Mary an eschatological icon of the Church. Cardinal :Ratzinger has written: "The Church needs the Marian mystery and is herself a Marian mystery."' The progress of Christian reflection on the relationship between the Church and Israel invites us in the same way to look at Mary with new eyes and to see in her the image of Israel whose vocation she sums up and completes. To quote Cardinal Ratzinger again: "At the moment of saying her eyes', Mary is Israel in person, the Church in person and as a person." 6

I have tried to show you how this question has been perceived by a Christian living in Israel among the Jewish people. The contemplation of the mystery of Mary has helped me to advance a little in my understanding of the Jewish people. But the mystery of Israel seems to me more and more clearly to be a living parable of the mystery of Mary.

A Note on the Mysteries of the Rosary In Roman Catholic Tradition

The Mysteries of the Rosary — joyful, sorrowful, glorious — are meditations on the mysteries of Jesus and Mary as portrayed in the bible and in tradition.
Joyful: the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity, the presentation and the finding in the temple (cf. Lk 1, 2).
Sorrowful: the agony in the garden, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, the crucifixion (cf. Lk 22, 23),
Glorious: the resurrection, the ascension, the sending of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 24, Acts 1, 2), the assumption of Mary into heaven, her crowning as queen of heaven (tradition, cf. Rev. 12).

• Pere Marcel Dubois, O.P. is a Dominican who has been living in Israel for close on thirty years. He is lecturer in Philosophy of the Middle Ages at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has had a long experience in the dialogue between Jews and Christians both nationally and internationally.
We reproduce here, with the author's gracious permission, only a part of the paper he delivered last year at the sixth International Marian Symposium In Rome. The complete text may be found in French In the Acts of the Symposium as indicated on p. 23.
It should be noted that the expression Christian as used by Fr. Dubois reflects French usage and is not intended to imply that all Christians agree in every detail in Marian theology as expounded in the Roman Catholic tradition.

1. Cf. the Canticle O quam gloritica lute coruscas.
2. SIDIC Review vol. XIX no. 2, 1986, p. 13.
3. SIDIC Review vol. VI no. 2, 1973, pp. 30-33.
4. Cf. outline at end of article.
5. J. Ratzinger, H. Balthasar: Marie. Premiere Eglise, Paul, Paris-Montreal 1981, p. 14.
6. Ibid., p. 31.


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