Like many cradle Catholics, my introduction to Mary came at an early age. I was given a beautiful Rosary on my first communion, learned the Hail Mary in Kindergarten and my parents have a statue of Mary on our front lawn. But also, like many Catholics, I would say my understanding of Mary and her role in both the Church and my life personally did not come until much later in life.
For many non-Catholics and Catholics alike, Mary can seem like a bit of a conundrum. Non-Catholics will often argue that the focus of our spiritual lives should be Jesus alone and that honoring anyone else distracts from Him. Many Catholics struggle with the idea of relating to the perfect woman who gave birth to the Son of God. I’ll be the first to admit, it can be difficult from her limited appearances in Scripture to understand who exactly she is.
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary
Enter Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary by Brant Pitre. It is rare to find a book where your mouth is literally hanging open in awe at the end, but I promise you that this is that book. With extensive research and a clear personal love for Our Blessed Mother, Brant masterfully guides the reader through Catholic Marian doctrine. Looking back to Scripture, ancient Jewish writings and the Catechism, Brant leads the reader on a journey throughout history to shed light on who Mary is in God’s plan and why she should matter so much to us today.
Mary in the Old Testament
Mary’s role in Salvation History can be traced back to the very beginning and our fathers in faith. First and foremost, Mary is the new Eve. Her fiat and her yes to the Father directly contrasts the disobedience of Eve in the Garden. In this yes, she, like Eve, becomes the mother of all the living—namely those who have been brought to new life by the death of her Son.
Pitre also points to the Old Testament to show us that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, the vessel that is home to the living God. Perhaps the most striking comparison Pitre makes, however, is the least well known: the idea that Mary is the new Rachel.
Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, the favorite wife of Jacob. After bearing Joseph, Rachel goes on to deliver Benjamin and dies in labor. Not to spoil the most impactful part of the novel, but when you look at the story of Joseph, contrasting him to Jesus and Rachel to Mary, there becomes an interesting connection one can make between the younger son, Benjamin, and the beloved disciple. As many Biblical scholars have pointed out, the author of John’s Gospel refers to John as the Beloved Disciple, so that the reader may imagine themselves in that role. If this is the case, seeing Mary as a new Rachel and ourselves as a type for Benjamin provides an incredible look at who she is as our own Mother.
Why it Matters
The second half of the story dives into Marian teaching, fleshing out why Catholics believe certain teachings about Mary that, at first glance, may not seem to have roots in Scripture. Pitre focuses on three main teachings: the perpetual virginity of Mary, the painless birth of the Messiah, and Mary’s role in the Kingdom of God as Queen Mother.
This section is particularly helpful for dispelling common misconceptions about Our Lady. After all, Scripture directly references Jesus’ “brothers”, so how could Mary have been a virgin all her life? To find the answer to this and other popular Marian questions, Pitre forces readers to look backwards into the Old Testament. While some might question the importance of these different pieces of doctrine, Pitre reminds his readers that the truth matters. The more we learn the truth about Our Lady, the more we know and understand about Jesus.
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“Behold your Mother”
Pitre takes us to the end of the journey, where we meet Mary at the foot of the Cross. It is here that he challenges the reader, now knowing all that they do about the Blessed Mother, to enter into a personal relationship with her. And he is able to give a very compelling reason why you should:
Why would Jesus willingly suffer the excruciating pain it would have caused Him to pull Himself up by the nails in His hands to utter these words…. ‘Behold your Mother’?
These words He speaks to the Beloved Disciple are words He speaks directly to you and me, dear sister. He gives us the most precious thing in the world to Him, His Mother, to not just to honor but take as our own loving Mother. In accepting this great gift, we not only gain a relationship with our Mother, but in doing so, draw infinitely closer to Jesus Himself.
I hope you will read this book if you are curious about Mary and I hope you will welcome the Lord’s invitation to get to know His Mother, accepting her as your own. In the words of Pitre, when it comes to learning more about Mary:
…you will discover something amazing and precious. She is already there waiting for you. You will find that Mary was loving you long before you ever learned to love her. Such as it is with mothers. When a mother gives birth, she can see her child long before the child can even open its eyes to see her.
What questions do you have about Mary, the Mother of God? Feel free to ask in the comments below!
Shelby Hennen is a Catholic young professional who hails from the Midwestern metropolis of Kansas City, MO. She loves a good book, a good chat with a friend and a good taco joint.