Bookmark and Share

Announcement of the messianic motherhood

Pope John Paul II's Catechesis
General Audience, Wednesday, 31 January 1996 - in Italian & Spanish

"1. In discussing the figure of Mary in the Old Testament, the Council (Lumen gentium, n. 55) refers to the well known text of Isaiah, which caught the particular attention of the early Christians: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

During the annunciation of the angel, who invites Joseph to take to himself Mary, his wife, "for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit", Matthew gives a Christological and Marian significance to the prophecy. In fact, he adds: "All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel' (which means God-with-us)" (Mt 1:22-23).

2. In the Hebrew text this prophecy does not explicitly foretell the virginal birth of Emmanuel: the word used (almah), in fact, simply means "a young woman", not necessarily a virgin. Moreover, we know that Jewish tradition did not hold up the idea of perpetual virginity, nor did it ever express the idea of virginal motherhood.

In the Greek tradition, however, the Hebrew word was translated "parthenos", "virgin". In this fact, which could seem merely a peculiarity of translation, we must recognize a mysterious orientation given by the Holy Spirit to Isaiah's words in order to prepare for the understanding of the Messiah's extraordinary birth. The translation of the word as "virgin" is explained by the fact that Isaiah's text very solemnly prepares for the announcement of the conception and presents it as a divine sign (Is 7:10-14), arousing the expectation of an extraordinary conception. Now, it is not something extraordinary for a young woman to conceive a son after being joined to her husband. However, the prophecy makes no reference to the husband. Such a formulation, then, suggested the interpretation given later in the Greek version.

3. In the original context, the prophecy of Is 7:14 was the divine reply to a lack of faith on the part of King Ahaz, who, threatened with an invasion from the armies of the neighbouring kings, sought his own salvation and that of his kingdom in Assyria's protection. In advising him to put his trust solely in God and to reject the dreadful Assyrian intervention, the prophet Isaiah invites him on the Lord's behalf to make an act of faith in God's power: "Ask a sign of the Lord your God". At the king's refusal, for he preferred to seek salvation in human aid, the prophet made the famous prediction: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel" (Is 7:13-14).

The announcement of the sign of Emmanuel, "God-with-us", implies the promise of God's presence in history, which will find its full meaning in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.

4. In the announcement of the wondrous birth of Emmanuel, the indication of the woman who conceives and gives birth shows a certain intention to associate the mother with the destiny of the son—a prince destined to establish an ideal kingdom, the "messianic" kingdom—and offers a glimpse of a special divine plan, which highlights the woman's role.

The sign, in fact, is not only the child, but the extraordinary conception revealed later in the birth itself, a hope-filled event, which stresses the central role of the mother.

The prophecy of Emmanuel must also be understood in the horizon opened by the promise made to David, a promise we read about in the Second Book of Samuel. Here the prophet Nathan promises the king God's favour towards his descendent: "He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son" (2 Sam 7:13-14).

God wants to exercise a paternal role towards David's offspring, a role that will reveal its full, authentic meaning in the New Testament with the Incarnation of the Son of God in the family of David (cf. Rom 1:3).

5. The same prophet Isaiah, in another very familiar text, confirms the unusual nature of Emmanuel's birth. Here are his words: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and he will be called 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’" (9:5). Thus the prophet expresses, in the series of names given the child, the qualities of his royal office: wisdom, might, fatherly kindness, peacemaking.

The mother is no longer mentioned here, but the exaltation of the son, who brings the people all they can hope for in the messianic kingdom, is also reflected in the woman who conceived him and gave him birth.

6. A famous prophecy of Micah also alludes to the birth of Emmanuel. The prophet says: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore the Lord shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth..." (5:2-3). These words re-echo the expectation of a birth full of messianic hope, in which once again the mother's role is stressed, the mother explicitly remembered and ennobled by the wondrous event that brings joy and salvation.

7. Mary's virginal motherhood was prepared for in a more general way by God's favour to the humble and the poor (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 55).

By their attitude of placing all their trust in the Lord, they anticipated the profound meaning of Mary's virginity. By renouncing the richness of human motherhood, she awaited from God all the fruitfulness of her own life.

The Old Testament then does not contain a formal announcement of the virginal motherhood, which was fully revealed only by the New Testament. Nevertheless, Isaiah's prophecy (Is 7:14) prepares for the revelation of this mystery and was construed so in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. By quoting the prophecy thus translated, Matthew's Gospel proclaims its perfect fulfilment through the conception of Jesus in Mary's virginal womb."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Chers frères et soeurs, je salue cordialement les Frères du Sacré Coeur et toutes les personnes de langue française présentes ce matin. Je les confie à la médiation maternelle de Marie et je leur accorde volontiers la Bénédiction Apostolique.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I wish to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially the pilgrims from the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ad alcuni studenti danesi

Јeg hilser dere hjertelig velkomne til Roma, Petrus och Paulus by. Mă i blive gode apostler for vår tro og for sand kristen enhed. Gud velsigne der og hele Danmark.

A un gruppo proveniente dalla Svezia

Јag hälsar er alla hjärtligt välkomna till Rom. Ní sitter här tillsammans med pilgrimer och turister från alla kontinenter. Det bor få oss att längta efter större gemenskap Med alla människor i Guds fred. Han välsigne er och hela Sverige!

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt den Schülerinnen und Schülern der Deutschen Schule in Athen mit ihren Lehrkräften. Euch allen, Euren Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Queridos hermanos y hermanas, con todo afecto saludo a los peregrinos españoles y latinoamericanos. En particular, a los alumnos del Colegio San Estanislao de Kostka, de Madrid; a los fieles de las diócesis argentinas de Catamarca y Rosario; al Coro « Pablo Casals »; así como a los peregrinos de Chile y Paraguay. Imploro sobre todos vosotros y sobre vuestros seres queridos la maternal protección de la Virgen María, a la que encomiendo mi ya próxima Visita Pastoral a América Central y Venezuela. Con estos sentimientos os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs, ao grupo de sacerdotes de Portugal e a todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa: a minha saudação amiga e agradecida pela vossa presença, com uma lembrança junto de Deus da vossa vida e de quantos vos estão confiados. Nos desafios da vida, permanecei sentinelas e testemunhas fiéis dos sinais de Deus na história: aproximai o Céu dos homens! Sede para vossos irmãos a Bênção de Deus!

Ai fedeli cechi

Nyní se obracím na milé mladé poutníky z výběrového zájezdu žáků a žákyň rodinné školy v Praze. Chvála Kristu! Sradostí v srdci vás vítám zde v Římě, pří stolci Petrově! Kéž tato pout ve vás rozmnoží víru, věrnost a lásku k církví a kéž sí tyto dary odnesete také do svých domovů a do svých společenství! Necht vás stále provází mé Apoštolské požehnání!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam pielgrzymówki: z Przemyśla - Księdza Arcybiskupa Metropolitę oraz ks. bpa Martyniaka, z Zamościa - ks. bpa Jana Śrutwę, z Torunia - bpa Jana Chrapka i z Ełku - bpa Wojciecha Ziembę. A prócz tego następujące grupy pielgrzymów z Polski: nauczyciele z parafii Matki Bożej Dobrej Rady — Kraków-Prokocim, z Zebrzydowic — parafia św. Michała, z Wieliczki duszpasterstwo kościoła Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej, ze Skoczowa — parafia Świętych Piotra i Pawła, z archidiecezji katowickiej pielgrzymka do Ziemi Świętej, z Częstochowy parafia św. Jacka, z Jarosławia — parafia Świętej Trójcy, z diecezji Warszawa-Praga parafia św. Anny z Jakubowa, z Torunia — Chór Katedralny, z Rawy Mazowieckiej parafia Wniebowzięcia Matki Bożej, z Karpacza parafia Nawiedzenia Matki Bożej, z Lubrańca parafia Matki Bożej Szkaplerznej, z Tymbarku nauczyciele i młodzież szkolna, z Długiej Gośliny parafia Mani Magdaleny, kolejarze z Żywca i całej Polski, z Łodzi grupa turystyczna, z Opola grupa turystyczna « Itaka », ze Stalowej Woli grupa turystyczna « Rotrans », prócz tego inni pielgrzymi nie objęci powyższymi grupami. Dzisiejsza katecheza była poświęcona macierzyństwu dziewiczemu Maryi. Kościół czci od początku Maryję, Matkę Chrystusa jako dziewicę, to znacy Matkę, która w sposób dziewiczy poczęła i wydała na świat Bożego Syna. To się uwydatnia w całej liturgii. Uwydatnia się chociażby w Litanii Loretańskiej, gdzie czcimy Maryję naprzód jako Matkę, a z kolei jako dziewicę. Ta prawda o macierzyństwie dziewiczym Maryi ma swoją podstawę w objawieniu. W Starym Testamencie jest zapowiedziana zwłaszcza w proroctwie Izajasza, które znamy, bo zawsze słyszymy je na roratach. A w Nowym Testamencie jest już wyraźnie objawiona, w szczególności przez św. Łukasza, w jego opisie poczęcia i narodzenia. A prócz tego jest wielkie bogactwo wyrazu dla tej prawdy w naszych polskich kolędach. Kolędy są jak gdyby szczególną teologia, a zwłaszcza szczególną chrystologią i mariologią. Jeżeli się je uważnie śpiewa, jeżeli się zwraca uwagę na to, co się śpiewa, to tę całą prawdę o dziewiczym macierzyństwie Maryi, odczytujemy w sposób szczególnie bogaty. Kolędy się kończą. Według naszej polskiej tradycji kończą się pojutrze, w piątek 2 lutego. Trzeba, ażebyśmy tym bogactwem w dalszym ciągu żyli i coraz bardziej je pogłębiali w naszej świadomości. Serdecznie pozdrawiam raz jeszcze wszystkich rodaków i życzę Błogosławieństwa Bożego w nowym roku.

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare al gruppo di sacerdoti, religiose e laici, provenienti da vari Paesi dell'Europa, dell'Africa e dell'America Latina, per partecipare ad un corso organizzato dalla Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi. Carissimi, vi auguro di lavorare con frutto al servizio del patrimonio della santità, il più grande che la Chiesa possieda, e di arricchirlo con la vostra personale testimonianza.

Saluto, poi, il gruppo di fedeli della Diocesi di Senigallia, venuti a Roma in occasione dell'anniversario della morte del Papa Pio IX. Auguro che 1'annuale ricordo del vostro illustre e caro Conterraneo valga a rafforzare in voi l'impegno di generosa e fedele adesione a Cristo ed alla Chiesa.

Un affettuoso pensiero dirigo, inoltre, ai bambini bielorussi, ospiti della Parrocchia di Gesù Maestro a Tor Lupara in Roma. Il Signore vi protegga, cari bambini, e ricompensi ampiamente quanti vi hanno accolto in questi due mesi.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Desidero ora rivolgere il mio saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli. La figura di san Giovanni Bosco, che oggi la Chiesa ricorda, ci porta naturalmente a considerare quanto sia importante educare specialmente le nuove generazioni agli autentici valori umani e spirituali della vita. Cari giovani, invoco su di voi la particolare protezione del Santo della Gioventù e vi auguro di trovare sempre educatori saggi e guide sicure. Cari ammalati, la vostra sofferenza, offerta con generosità al Signore, possa rendere fecondo l'impegno che la Chiesa dedica al mondo giovanile. E voi, sposi novelli, preparatevi ad essere i primi ed insostituibili educatori dei figli che il Signore vi donerà. Su tutti invoco volentieri la benedizione del Signore.


© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana