As we enter into the Easter season and the month dedicated to our Blessed Mother, it is fitting that we contemplate the glorious relationship between Jesus and Mary, particularly as it pertains to our salvation.
Many Protestants are mystified (or worse) by the great devotion Catholics show to Mary. I suspect many forget Mary’s own words following the Annunciation: “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). Or the Ten Commandments, where all are commanded to “honour thy father and mother.” Of course Jesus keeps this Commandment perfectly, and we are all called to “imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
They may miss her spiritual motherhood to all Christians, spoken of in places like Revelation 12:17, where the devil goes off to make war “on the rest of her (Mary’s) offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.” That’s us.
Or similarly, where Jesus, moments from death on the cross, says to St. John, who the Church sees as representing all believers: “behold your mother,” and to his mother, “behold, your son!”
So with these thoughts in mind, let’s examine one of the most powerful verses in Scripture to see how it illuminates this great cooperation between Jesus and Mary.
Many may recall that jarring scene from The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus is praying fervently in Gethsemane. We then see a serpent slithering ominously towards Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus’ foot thunders down on the head of the serpent, crushing it. I don’t know about you, but I jumped when I saw it the first time. This scene is not as it appears in the Gospels, so where does it come from?
In Genesis 3:15, Adam and Eve have just fallen to the temptation of the serpent. Spiritually dead, with Sanctifying Grace and God’s presence in their souls gone, this seems to be the darkest moment in human history. But God immediately offers mercy, light, and hope in the very next verse. Most English translations read along these lines: “The Lord God said to the serpent … I will put enmity (total opposition) between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise (“crush” in some translations) your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3:15).
The Early Church Fathers call this the protoevangelium – the first (proto) proclamation of the good news, or gospel (evangelium in Latin). A profound moment in Scripture where God reveals his plan, now that man has turned away from him. And at the heart of this plan are “the woman” and “her seed.” The seed of the woman who will bruise/crush the head of Satan is clearly Jesus. So the woman must be Mary (cf. Gal 4:4).
But a closer look at this verse reveals some fascinating insights. In the earlier Latin Vulgate (the Catholic Church’s official Bible translation), Genesis 3:15 reads: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” In fact Scripture scholars are much divided on whether the one crushing Satan’s head is the woman or her seed. The original language can be rendered both ways and many of the great Fathers of the Church taught that it was the woman, Mary, who would crush the head of Satan.
This is exactly the point! Either way you look at it, it is BOTH the woman and her seed that are crushing Satan’s head. And fascinatingly, a very good rendering of Genesis 3:15 would read, “they shall crush his head”!
This all sets the stage for some rich symbolism that is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament, where time and again, women are depicted as crushing the head of the enemies of God’s people. Scripture scholars often speak of Biblical “types” here – Old Testament prefigurements of New Testament realities. God foreshadowing what is to come, then revealing the fullness of his message in the New Testament.
For example, in Judges 4:21, we read where ”Jael … took a tent peg and … hammer in her hand … drove the peg into his temple.”
Now hear the response of the Israelites as they praise her for rescuing them, and compare it to where Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” exclaims to Mary with a loud cry, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”: “Most blessed of women be Jael … of tent-dwelling women most blessed … she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head … So perish all thine enemies, O LORD!” (Jgs 5:24-31)
Similarly, in Judith 13:8-18 we read: “she struck his (Holofernes’) neck … and severed his head … O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God … who has guided you to strike the head … of our enemies.” Again, compare this to Elizabeth’s “blessed are you among women.”
Then there is Judges 9:53: “And a certain woman threw an upper millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and crushed his skull.” While this may all sound quite graphic, we cannot miss the role of the “woman” in the Old Testament, and the parallels to Mary – to crush the head of the enemy.
The fulfillment of this role is made clear in the New Testament: it will be the woman and her seed. Fast forward to Calvary: “they took Jesus … bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull … in Hebrew, Golgotha” (Jn 19:17). And standing by the cross of Jesus was “his mother” (Jn 19:25).
Here it is: the pinnacle of the battle. It is the woman and her seed. Jesus even uses the same word from Genesis 3:15 to address his mother: “woman.” Together, they stand on Golgotha, crushing the skull of Satan with the cross of Christ, just as Genesis 3:15 said it would be.
The victory is won. The devil is thrown down, but he still lashes out in his death throes. And to bring things into final focus for us, St. Paul addresses “all the churches of Christ” in Romans 16:16-20, and tells them that this fight will now carry on to its fulfillment through them: “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:19-20).
The “churches of Christ” St. Paul addresses above collectively form the Body of Christ (cf. Romans 12:5, 1 Cor 12:12-27). Suddenly, the importance of the woman’s offspring takes on a profound New Testament fulfillment.
The “Body of Christ,” the Church, becomes the final fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. How? Revelation 12:17 tells us that this body is made up of “the woman’s offspring.”
Who are these spiritual offspring? “Those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17).
In other words, every Christian has “the woman,” Mary, as their spiritual mother. And as the offspring or seed of the woman, every Christian has a role in crushing the head of Satan!
Our salvation is won through the woman and her seed. This is why Catholics call Mary blessed.
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