The Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary's story is found in the New Testament and various Apocryphal accounts, but many details of her life remain vague. A devout Jewish girl who was the daughter of Ann and Joachim, Mary (or the Judeo-Aramaic, Maryaām) spent her childhood in the Temple (cloistered most likely, since the Temple was a male bastion in those patriarchal times just prior to the beginning of the Christian era).

Matthew's and Luke's gospels assert that Mary was an immaculate virgin who was God's choice to give birth to Jesus. Matthew's account ties the virgin birth into the Hebrew prophet Isaiah's prediction: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call him Emanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” (Matthew 1:24–25).

Immanuel means “God is with us.” Early church father Irenaeus, who lived from A.D. 120 to A.D. 202, wrote that the Lord himself gave a sign which humankind had not requested; that is, a virgin would give birth to a son who would be “God with us” and that she would remain a virgin. Some scholars, however, dispute that the Hebrew word almah means virgin, and instead assert that the word means a young girl of marriageable age.

Matthew's gospel reveals that after Joseph was espoused to Mary but had not yet known her, he learned that she was with child. “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily” (Matthew 1:19). While Joseph mulled over these thoughts, he was visited by an angel who told him the truth about Mary's pregnancy.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20–21)

Joseph and Mary weren't married yet, and the marriage went forward as planned. Joseph, however, did not consummate the marriage with Mary, according to the Gospel of Matthew, “…till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (Matthew 1:25).

Matthew Provides Linkage to King David

According to 2 Samuel 7: 12–13, Jesus' coming would be through the lineage of King David. Matthew's Gospel 1: 1'17 lists forty-two generations in the lineage of Jesus, extending from Abraham through David to Christ and includes women. Luke's Gospel 3:23–38 offers the genealogy of Jesus in reverse order, extending all the way back to Adam. The prophet Isaiah linked the house of David to the future birth by a virgin of the child who would be called Immanuel. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the future messiah would be linked to the house of David. The Old Testament book of Isaiah states, “Here ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13–14). Immanuel in Hebrew means “God is with us.”

What are some of Mary's titles?

Various names for Mary have evolved from the way she is portrayed, whether as a Blessed Virgin, compassionate intercessor, a grieving mother, the saint of all saints, or the Madonna. Some of her titles include: Mother of Sorrows, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadelupe, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The Angel Gabriel Appears to Mary

The Gospel of Luke states that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was favored by the Lord. Mary was afraid, and wondered why she had been singled out for such a visitation. The angel told her not to be afraid, but that the Holy Ghost would come upon her, overshadow her, and conceive in her a child that “…shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:26–35). Mary replied, “…be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary Visits Elisabeth

The angel Gabriel also informed Mary that her cousin Elisabeth, who had remained barren for so long, had conceived in her old age. Then the angel made a powerful declaration: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). Mary left Nazareth to visit her cousin in the hill country of Judah. The Gospel of Luke states that upon Mary's arrival, when Elisabeth heard Mary's words of salutation, “…the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:40–42).

“Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” — those exact words have been recited for centuries in the Hail Mary prayer (in Latin called, Ave Maria). The prayer is a merging of the angel Gabriel's salutation found in Luke 1:28 and Elisabeth's greeting of Mary in Luke 1:42. The prayer has enjoyed popularity since the eleventh century, and is one of the prayers required in the praying of the rosary.

Mary Accompanies Joseph to Bethlehem

Mary stayed at Elisabeth's house for three months before returning to her own home. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, required that everyone be taxed, and that everyone had to pay the tax in his own city (Luke 2:1–3). Joseph went from the Galilean city of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judea (here again, Luke 2:4 repeats that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary. This is truly remarkable, because Mary was nine months pregnant, the inns were full, and there was no place for her to have privacy and comfort.

Mary Gives Birth

The Gospel of Matthew doesn't mention a tax or census, but states that three wise men were asking how to find the King of the Jews in order to make offerings to him. That brought the birth of Jesus to the attention of King Herod. The wise men followed a star in the East and arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn and his mother. Herod asked the wise men to find the baby and advise him of exactly where the baby was located so he, too, could go there to worship. Matthew 2:11 reveals that they found Mary and the child, and fell down and worshipped him. After the visit, the wise men had a dream telling them not to return to Herod, so they left town, using a different route back to their country. Joseph was warned to take Mary and the baby to Egypt. Later, when Herod died, the angel told Joseph to return to Israel.

The Blessed Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus

Mary's Baby Is Dedicated

Anna, whom the Gospel of Luke called “…a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser,” was at the Temple when Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to present him, according to the Hebrew custom. Anna had been a widow for many years (Luke 2:36–37). She didn't live in the Temple, but spent all The Blessed Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus of her time there serving God through fasting and prayer, and waiting for the arrival of the long-hoped-for Messiah. On the day that Jesus was dedicated, Anna spoke of the Lord to all who hoped for redemption (Luke 2:38).

Mary Expresses Love and Concern for Jesus

When Jesus was twelve, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem. Jesus went missing, and when his parents finally located him in the Temple, Mary was understandably concerned. She confronted Jesus, asking, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). Jesus answered by asking her how she could not know that he was about his Father's business. When Jesus grew up and embarked upon his ministry, Mary, with other women (some were likely her female relatives), followed her son in his travels around Palestine.

Mary Asks Jesus' Help at Cana

At the wedding at Cana, where Mary and Jesus were guests, the host family ran out of wine during the celebration. The Gospel of John stated what happened next: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine” (John 2:1–3). Mary didn't ask for a miracle, but that's what Jesus performed when he turned the water into wine, his first miracle. And the wine was of exceptional quality (John 2:10).

His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone…Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim….When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom… (John 2:5–7, 2:9)

Mary Suffers and Stands Vigil at the Cross

After Jesus' three-year ministry ended with his passion and crucifixion, Mary stood vigil at the foot of his cross near the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, and others. Jesus addressed Mary from the cross, saying, “Woman, behold thy son!” referring not to himself, but to John the Beloved. He told John, “Behold thy mother” (John 19:26–27).

The Via Dolorosa (or “Way of Sorrows”) is also known as the Stations of the Cross. These fourteen stations each symbolize and commemorate specific events during the suffering of Jesus in the final hours before he was put on the cross. Mary is often depicted in art as the despondent mother, cradling the body of her dead son.

Mary Joins Others in the Upper Room

Mary was mentioned by name in the Book of Acts of the Apostles as being present in the upper room, where roughly 120 of Jesus' followers had gathered to choose the disciple to replace Judas (Acts 1:14). After that, she isn't mentioned again in the Bible. Legend asserts that she spent time in Ephesus with John, and perhaps Mary Magdalene, but some archeologists assert there is no proof. Other traditions say that she remained in Jerusalem.

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