Who Is the Woman Clothed with the Sun?

Last week, we began our investigation of the image of “the woman clothed with the sun” as described in the Book of Revelation (11:19-12:6). Since the time of the early Church Fathers, this image of the woman has had a three-fold symbolism: the ancient people of Israel, the Church and the Blessed Mother.

However, as we learned last week, the fullness of the image is the Blessed Mother, for she fulfills the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah, and she is the Mother of the Church.

There are other important reasons for identifying “the woman clothed with the sun” as our Blessed Mother. The passage in question began with a revelation of heaven, the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant. Remember in the Old Testament the ark housed the Ten Commandments, the Law of God and God’s Word. The ark also contained the priestly staff of Aaron and a golden jar containing an omerful of manna (Ex 16:32, Nm 17:25, Heb 9:14). As the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land, a cloud, signifying the presence of God, would descend upon or “overshadow” the tent where the ark was kept. Later in the Temple of Jerusalem, the ark was kept in the Holy of Holies, the inner core of the Temple where the Jewish people believed God dwelt.

After the description of heaven, the temple and the ark, the next verse describes “the woman clothed with the sun.” Mary is the mother of Jesus, whom she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Archangel Gabriel announced, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God” (Lk 1:35). The connection between Mary and the Temple, the Holy of Holies and the ark is clear.

Keep in mind also that when St. John saw this vision, the ark had been lost for over 500 years. The prophet Jeremiah had hidden the ark to prevent its capture and desecration by the Babylonians, and declared, “The place is to remain unknown until God gathers His people together again and shows them His mercy” (2 Mc 2:7). In this vision, St. John saw the ark and then he saw Mary. Mary carried in her womb our Lord, who is the Word of God, the true High Priest and the Bread of Life. Truly, Mary is the new Ark of the New Covenant, which our Lord as priest will make with His Blood spilled in the sacrifice of the Cross.

If this “woman clothed with the sun” refers to our Blessed Mother, how then do the birth pangs mentioned in Revelation fit? Since she was free of Original Sin through her Immaculate Conception, Mary was free of child-bearing pains. The pain, therefore, must refer to the pain she shared when she stood at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25), a pain prophesied by the priest Simeon at the circumcision: “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed — and you yourself shall by pierced with a sword — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Lk 2:34-35). Interestingly, St. Paul also speaks of “labor pains” in handing the faith on to his people: “You are my children, and you put me back in labor pains until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). So the pain takes on a spiritual significance, that pain in sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and that pain in being the Mother of the Church and bringing others to her Son.

Mary’s description as “the woman clothed with the sun” also depicts her glory fulfilled in her Assumption. Pope Pius XII in Munifentissimus Deus, the declaration of the dogma of the Assumption, recognized that the early Church fathers looked to “the woman clothed with the sun” when providing the New Testament foundation for the belief (No. 27). Note that that is why the passage in question is read at the Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) taught, “Finally, the Immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of Original Sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rv 19:16) and conqueror of sin and death” (No. 59). Note that in making this statement, the Second Vatican Council referenced the passage from Revelation in question.

One last point to consider: Pondering our entire exposition of this topic, we can step back and see how our Blessed Mother — her role and her imagery in this passage of Revelation — fulfills the Old Testament. For this reason, the early Church fathers identified Mary as “the New Eve.” In the third chapter of Genesis, the first Eve succumbed to the temptation of wanting to be like a god, disobeyed God’s command and sinned. In contrast, Mary is full of grace, free of all sin. At the Annunciation, she said to Archangel Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done according to thy word,” submitting fully to the will of God (Lk 2:38).

Through the first Eve came death and the closing of the gates of heaven; through Mary came everlasting life won by the saving work of Jesus. While the first Eve is called “the mother of all of the living,” Mary is truly the Mother of all of those living spiritually in the life of grace.

Finally, after the Fall, God said to the serpent, Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers…” (Gn 3:15). In Revelation, we find Satan represented by a dragon. The Hebrew word nahash used in Genesis means both serpent and dragon. Also, the enmity between Mary and Satan, between her offspring and Satan’s is found in Revelation. The New Eve typology was presented early in the Church by St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. John Damascene, just to name a few, and was also highlighted in Vatican Council II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter VIII, entitled, “Our Lady.”

Therefore, “the woman clothed with the sun,” as depicted in the Book of Revelation, is clearly a beautiful reference to the role of our Blessed Mother in the plan of salvation.

Editor’s note: This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

 

Fr. William Saunders

By

Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders's work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).

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  • Peatbogjeff

    I agree with this.

    And while discerning private messages is hard, if we judge a modern seer by the integrity of their spiritual advisor, we might all profit from paying attention to alleged messages being received by the soul under the care of Monsignor John Esseff at Locutions.org

    Repeatedly, this woman is being told by Our Lady that she is indeed the woman, as identified in Genesis, as the Mother of Jesus, and in the book of Revelation.

  • Catherine

    Thank you Fr. Saunders for your article! I was born and raised Catholic, but drifted from my faith in Blessed Mother Mary because of my Christian friends’ questions about our faith in Mother Mary. Your article have cleared up my doubts. Thank you so much.

  • PA Observer

    Beautiful article. Think of it this way. The Bible uses events and people that actually exist as its symbols or types. All biblical stories are forward looking, that is to say, prophetic as well. The fact that St John used this vision or picture of our Lady in heaven as the image for the Church herself tells us a few things. First, this was written after her death. Second, since he is using something that already exists or happened to foretell future events, this is an actual occurrence of our Lady’s Assumption being cited in scripture itself. He is using Our Lady, an historic personage, to predict something about the Church in the time of anti-Christ.

    According to Fr Bernard Kramer in his Book of Destiny exegesis of the Book of Revelation, The Church will labor to give birth to something that is pivotal in her history and mission. This will be the election of a future Pope destined by God to lead the transition into a perfection of the Kingdom of God on earth. Labor, because the intent of God and His church is resisted by both the world, the evil one, and some within the Church herself. But God’s Plan will not be thwarted, just made more difficult and painful by the cold heartedness of the people who follow the anti-Christ.

    Remember, God wants to transform the world into a Garden and Temple of Grace and God’s Presence, but the power to accomplish that runs through the center of the heart of the human race. As the Angels had to sanctify their space, heaven, by resisting and opposing the devils they faced in their own community of grace, so the people of God will have to oppose the world and the disbelievers in order to sanctify the world. We will need to cooperate with the grace and leadership of the Son of Man in order for God to accomplish this.

  • Tom

    I too have read these, and they are something to ponder on indeed. So far in her messages it does not seem to contradict Church teaching.

  • Erick Ybarra

    Fr Saunders,

    1) How is the connection between the “ark” in Revelation chapter 11, and the “sign in heaven” of Revelation 12 who is the “woman” clear? It seems to me, when I read the text, that the “sign” indicates something different than the last image.

    2) If the woman crowned with 12 stars is the assumed and glorified Mary, then why is the birth of Jesus in sequence from her stance in heaven? If it is the glorified Mary, she would have already given birth to the Messiah. The sequence is out of order, it seems to me.

    3) The Ark of God perpetually held the Word of God, whereas Mary gives birth to the Word, and the Word comes out of her. So how can she be still the Ark?

  • Dhaniele

    It is worth noting that Pope Benedict XVI also says that the Woman Clothed with the Sun stands primarily for Mary though also for the Church. (Blessed Isaac of Stella also remarks that very often what we say about the Church, we can also say about Mary.) In any event, I believe it was on the feast of the Assumption that Pope Benedict made this statement, and it should be quite easy to find on the net.

  • Riki

    Fatima, Hope of the world
    Apocalyptic Vision

    O Woman, clothed with the sun
    the moon under Your feet
    You, in Whom Salvation begun
    O Mary, Mary name so sweet

    O heart so full of smarts
    come defeat our self-conceits
    renew our ungrateful hearts
    O Gateway that to Jesus leads

    O dearest Mother, Virgin pure
    upon your children blessings shower
    against the devil most effective cure
    O come to annihilate satan’s power

    O sing with us a whole new song
    of Unity and Godly Peace
    Awaiting your Triumph all along
    O help us fulfill the Heavenly pleas.

    Rita Biesemans, at Fatima May 13 1987

  • Riki

    TO MARY, ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT

    O Mary, Daughter of Zion
    Mother of Judah’s Lion
    bring us, children of Your Tribe,
    to Your Son, God’s Divine Scribe

    Though being the chosen people
    we act as dumbed down sheeple
    if we keep rejecting Him
    our future looks extremely grim

    Some of us accepted the Messiah
    after prompts by Jeremiah
    but most descendants of Judea
    live as in the times of Hosea

    O Virgin of Israel
    bring the ones seduced by Samael
    to Jeshuah Savior and Son of God
    even “ceaselessly” us do prod.

    Rita Biesemans, July 16 2013
    Our Lady of the Mount Carmel lead us up the Mountain

  • Riki

    MARY, SWEETEST OF ALL MOTHERS

    Oh Thou,
    most beautiful a woman
    most tender of all mothers
    most brilliant STAR of DAVID
    Masterpiece of God’s creation
    to the Holy Trinity
    most precious Pearl
    towards your Son the Golden Bridge
    Golden Gate
    to the Holy City
    thru which our Savior
    came and comes
    Most sacred Vessel
    ever
    containing the most Holy
    My soul,
    is drowning
    in the beauty of your eyes
    in the sweetness of your smile
    in the burning oven of your heart
    in the greatness of your littleness
    in the eloquence of your silence
    in the mystery of your simplicity
    Oh Thou,
    safest of my earthly havens
    dearest hiding-place of mine
    truly my refuge
    my sweetest, sweetest mother
    keep me with your Son Divine
    save me from the wordly evils
    strengthen my so fragile faith
    cover me
    with your motherly mantle
    Oh Mary, you most gentle
    Your child I am FOREVER !!!

    Rita Biesemans
    August 10 1999 Feast of Saint Lawrence

  • Riki

    MARY, THE MYSTICAL CITY

    Mary, Mystical City
    where Jesus, our Savior, resides
    look down on us with pity
    who are carried with the tides

    Will we ever fathom
    the greatness of Your being
    satan spitting his venom
    to prevent our souls from healing

    But You, God’s living Tabernacle
    are constantly pointing to Your Son
    to prevent us from sudden debacle
    to bring us the Victory already won

    We cry out to You, Oh Mystical City
    to pull us out of the dangerous sinkholes
    we are willing to be gritty
    to save our eternal souls

    Mary, our Mother spread Your Mantle over us to keep us safe in Your City.

    Rita Biesemans written 11-29-2013

  • Riki

    WHY HEAVEN IS CRYING

    Our Lord and His Holy Mother
    are weeping bloody tears
    as their children don’t bother
    to live in perdition gears

    the tears splatter on rocky hearts
    on a demeanor of “who cares”
    as long as we don’t feel the smarts
    we’ll take care of our own affairs

    walking farther and farther away
    spitting and mocking God in His Face
    denying He made us out of the clay
    worshipping gods of the human race

    we think ourselves so enlightened
    we don’t need no Heavenly God
    no more need to be so frightened
    we join gladly the evil one’s squad

    while Heaven is crying
    the devils laugh
    the unrepentant dying
    join the devils’ staff

    The day will come
    that HE will say :
    “enough, enough
    no more rebuff ”

    Then the earthlings
    will cry to no avail
    Joe 6 packs nor Kings
    will escape eternal wail.

    Rita Biesemans April 26 2013 Feast Day of Our lady of Good Counsel

  • Riki

    AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

    O Mary, your bitter tears
    my heart do pierce
    Our Mother is crying
    Her Son is dying
    to save us humanity
    from complete insanity.
    At the foot of the Cross
    for words I feel at a loss
    our sins are causing You distress
    I’m begging You for forgiveness
    I offer You my fears and mishap
    crawling on Your Mother’s lap
    O my Jesus, I need You, I need You
    satan plans coup after coup
    to destroy me, hoping I’d revolt
    he scares me like a thunderbolt
    but while walking in Your footstep
    on satan’s knuckles I will rap
    enough, enough, I do tell him
    the cup is stored unto the brim.
    Kneeling at His cross’s foot
    Jesus tells me to stay put
    “Let My Graces thee overflow
    My Cross gave satan the final blow”
    I love you so much My child
    and while dying He even smiled.
    Thank You, Mary for this gift,
    and by this my soul did lift.

    Rita Biesemans, Good Friday 3/29/2013

  • Riki

    THE CHURCH IN GETHSEMANE
    ——————————-
    The Ship of Peter is torn apart
    Martyred in its Holy Teaching
    It sinks and sinks, no work of art
    The bottom though never reaching

    Dissidents are screaming loud
    Leaving behind an awful niff
    Pretending to be proudly stout
    Gearing the Ship into a cliff

    Jesus shows His wounded Heart
    Smitten with a deadly dart
    Peter the Rock in desolation
    Deploring severe desecration

    Wake up, you Christian Brother
    Show now your truthful face
    With Mary our Heavenly Mother
    We’ll reach that Peaceful Place

    In allegiance to the Holy Father
    United in prayer and fasting
    No victory will claim, but rather
    Satan’s defeat be everlasting.

    Rita Biesemans, 01-02-2011

  • Riki

    MEDJUGORJE September 8 1984

    Medjugorje precious place
    chosen as fountain of Grace
    herald of the Word Divine
    strong and healing Warning Sign

    You gather us, God’s littlest kids
    satan’s temptations Heaven forbids
    the toilsome voyage so worth the price
    you show us the way back to Paradise

    Dearest Mother, Fountain of Peace
    prayer and fasting need to increase
    as a Mother Your Son thee sent
    to prompt us our life to amend

    Sweet Mother, I love you so much
    I beg You, just let me go Dutch
    I’ll defend Your Honor with zeal
    You crushing satan with Your heel

    I dread the day that You will leave
    us poor wailing children of Eve
    I beg of You to keep us close
    O You Threefold Mystical Rose

    The world hates who belongs to God
    and treats them as a lightning rod
    but the Victory is ours, already won
    upon achieving a judgment of ippon

    Medjugorje “between two mountains”
    you teach us there are no “bargains”
    in this life it’s either God or the devil
    either God’s Silence or satan’s revel.

    Rita Biesemans September 8 1984

  • Dave Hahn

    Why do yo say Mary was free from the pain of child bearing? If that is true wouoldn’t she be free from all physical pain?

  • Dhaniele

    I think that as the New Eve, Mary was free of something that was a specific consequence of the first sin, i.e. the pains of childbirth. At Cana and again at the cross, Jesus himself calls Mary “Woman” (which is the same name that the first Adam gave to his partner who later became Eve — after the sin.) Mary, as the New Eve (but without sin) was therefore called Woman by Jesus. This implies that she, like the first Woman, was created immaculate and free from the corruption of the tomb which is also a fruit of sin (which indicates the assumption). As was pointed out in the article, the travail of the woman clothed with the sun is parallel with St. Paul’s remarks about his travail for the Christian community.

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