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Mary in the Protoevangelium

Pope John Paul II's Catechesis
General Audience, Wednesday, 24 January 1996 - in Italian & Spanish

"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 words of the Protoevangelium 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.

This mysterious alliance of God 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."

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

Chers frères et soeurs, je souhaite la bienvenue aux pèlerins de langue française et je demande au Seigneur de faire grandir en eux la foi, l'espérance et l'amour. Sur chacun d'entre eux, j'invoque l'abondance des Bénédictions divines.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, it is a great joy to welcome the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims. I extend a special greeting to the ecumenical delegation from Finland, and to the students of Saint Olaf College in the United States. Your presence during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Queric recalls the Catholic Church's irrevocable commitment to ecumenism: "That we all may be one!" (Cfr. Io 17, 21). I also warmly greet the groups of pilgrims from Denmark, Ireland, Japan and the United States. May the peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder! Indem ich die Anliegen der Einheit der Christen der Fürbitte der Mutter Gottes empfehle, grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Euch sowie allen lieben Angehörigen und Freunden zu Hause erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Queridos hermanos y hermanas, saludo ahora con afecto a los peregrinos de España y América Latina, en particular, a los alumnos del Colegio Mexicano; a los estudiantes de la Universidad Católica de Chile y de la Escuela Italiana de Santiago; y a los visitantes argentinos. Invocando el amparo de la Madre del Redentor, os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Carissimos Irmãos e Irmãs, saúdo cordialmente os presentes e ouvintes de lingua portuguesa com votos de todo o bem, de graça e de paz. Sede promotores de unidade! Confirmai vossos irmãos na fé com a Palavra da Verdade, que liberta em união com Cristo nosso Senhor, e que Deus vos abençoe!


Porgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai folti gruppi parrocchiali di San Filippo Neri in Collefiorito di Guidonia, accompagnato dal Vescovo Monsignor Pietro Garlato, e del Santissimo Nome di Maria in Caserta. Con gioia benedico oggi la prima pietra ed il plastico dei vostri rispettivi complessi pastorali, e prego per le vostre Comunità, perché siano forti nella fede e ferventi nella testimonianza evangelica. Carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle, siate sempre pietre vive della Chiesa di Dio!

Saluto, inoltre, gli Amici di Raoul Follereau, sempre molto attivi nella lotta contro la lebbra. La vostra presenza, carissimi, mi offre l'occasione di ricordare a tutti che domenica prossima si terrà la Giornata Mondiale dei Malati di Lebbra. Come opportunamente viene sottolineato dal tema della celebrazione, occorre « cambiare noi per cambiare il mondo ». Questo è il messaggio che voi lanciate all'opinione pubblica, ed io vi ringrazio a nome di quanti traggono sollievo dal vostro impegno.

Rivolgo poi un pensiero ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Nel clima della Settimana di preghiera per l'unità dei Cristiani, celebriamo oggi la memoria liturgica di san Francesco di Sales, patrono della stampa cattolica. Vescovo di Ginevra in un periodo di gravi conflitti, egli fu uomo di pace e di comunione. Lo ricordiamo come maestro di vita spirituale: egli ha insegnato che la perfezione cristiana è accessibile ad ogni persona, qualunque sia il suo stato di vita e la sua condizione sociale.

Cari giovani, malati e sposi novelli, per intercessione di san Francesco di Sales possiate anche voi vivere la vostra vocazione e le concrete condizioni in cui vi trovate come autentiche vie di santità, da percorrere con fiducia nell'amore di Dio che sempre ci accompagna.

A tutti e a ciascuno la mia Benedizione.


© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana