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Mary's "yes" is the start of the new covenant

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 4 December 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Old Testament already spoke of a type of spousal relationship between God and his people Israel. We read in the third part of Isaiah's prophecy: "For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth" (Is 54:5). Our catechesis on the Church as "sacrament of communion with God" (mysterium ecclesiae, cf. LG 1), takes us back to the ancient reality of God's covenant with Israel, the Chosen People, which was the preparation for the basic mystery of the Church, a prolongation of the very mystery of the Incarnation. We saw this in the preceding catecheses. Today we wish to highlight the fact that God's covenant with Israel was presented by the prophets as a marital bond. This particular aspect of God's relationship with his people also has value as a symbol and a preparation for the nuptial bond between Christ and the Church, the new people of God, the new Israel established by Christ through the sacrifice of the cross.

2. In the Old Testament, in addition to the text of Isaiah quoted above, we find other texts, especially in the books of Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in which God's covenant with Israel is interpreted by analogy with the matrimonial pact between spouses. On the strength of this comparison, these prophets accuse the Chosen People of being like an unfaithful and adulterous wife. Hosea says: "Protest against your mother, protest! For she is not my wife, and I am not her husband" (Hos 2:4). Jeremiah says the same: "But like a woman faithless to her lover, even so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel" (Jer 3:20). Again, looking at Israel's infidelity to the law of the covenant, especially her repeated sins of idolatry, Jeremiah adds the rebuke: "But you have sinned with many lovers, and yet you would return to me, says the Lord" (Jer 3:1). Ezekiel says: "But you were captivated by your own beauty; you used your renown to make yourself a harlot, and you lavished your harlotry on every passerby" (Ez 16:15; cf. 16:29, 32).

However, it must be said that the words of the prophets do not contain an absolute and definitive rejection of the adulterous wife, but rather an invitation to conversion and a promise to take back the repentant spouse. Hosea says: "I will espouse you to me forever; I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord" (Hos 2:21-22). In analogous terms Isaiah says: "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you, but with enduring love I take pity on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer" (Is 54:7-8).

3. These prophetic proclamations go beyond the historical boundaries of Israel and beyond the ethnic and religious dimension of a people who did not maintain the covenant. They should be seen in the perspective of a new covenant, pointed out as something which will come in the future. This can be seen especially in Jeremiah: "This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days.... I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:33). Ezekiel announces something similar, after promising the exiles that they would return to their homeland: "I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart, so that they will live according to my statutes, and observe and carry out my ordinances; thus they shall be my people and I will be their God" (Ez 11:19-20).

4. The realization of this promise of a new covenant began with Mary. The annunciation is the first revelation of this beginning. Indeed, at that moment we hear the Virgin of Nazareth respond with the obedience of faith to God's eternal plan for human salvation through the Incarnation of the Word. The Incarnation of God's Son means the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, as well as the dawning of the Church as the people of the new covenant. Mary is aware of the messianic dimension of the message she receives and of the yes she gives in response. The evangelist Luke appears to highlight this dimension with a detailed description of the dialogue between the angel and the Virgin, and then with the formulation of the Magnificat.

5. Mary's humility appears in the dialogue and in the canticle, but so does the intensity with which she spiritually lived in expectation of the fulfillment of the messianic promise made to Israel. The prophets' words about God's spousal covenant with the Chosen People, which she kept and meditated on in her heart, resound in the same heart during the decisive moments reported by Luke. She herself wanted to be the personal image of that absolutely faithful bride, totally devoted to the divine bridegroom, and therefore she became the beginning of the new Israel (that new people willed by the God of the covenant) in her spousal heart. Both in the dialogue and the canticle, Mary does not use terminology characterized by analogy with a marital relationship, but goes much further. She confirms and strengthens a consecration already in effect, which becomes the abiding condition of her life. She replies to the angel of the annunciation: "I have no relations with a man" (Lk 1:34), as if to say: I am a virgin devoted to God, and I do not intend to leave my spouse, because I do not think that God wills it--he who is so jealous of Israel, so severe with anyone who betrays him, so persistent in his merciful call to reconciliation!

6. Mary is well aware of her people's infidelity and she wants personally to be a bride who is faithful to her most beloved divine spouse. The angel announces to her the fulfillment in her of God's new covenant with humanity in an unexpected dimension, as a virginal motherhood through the work of the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). By the work of the Holy Spirit the Virgin of Nazareth becomes the mother of God's Son in a virginal way. The mystery of the Incarnation encompasses this motherhood of Mary, divinely accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. This, then, is the beginning of the new covenant, in which Christ, as the divine bridegroom, joins humanity to himself and calls it to be his Church, as the universal people of the new covenant.

7. At the moment of the Incarnation, Mary as Virgin-Mother becomes a figure of the Church in both her virginal and maternal character. Vatican II explains: "For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother" (LG 63). With good reason the messenger sent by God greets Mary from the start with the word chaïré ("rejoice"). This greeting echoes so many prophetic words of the Old Testament: "Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion; shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he" (Zech 9:9). "Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!... The Lord is in your midst.... Fear not, O Zion...a mighty savior...will renew you in his love; he will sing joyfully because of you" (Zep 3:14-17). "Fear not, O land! Exult and rejoice! For the Lord has done great things.... O children of Zion, exult and rejoice in the Lord your God!" (Joel 2:21, 23).

Mary and the Church are thus the fulfillment of these prophecies, on the threshold of the New Testament. One can even say that on this threshold the Church is found in Mary, and Mary is in the Church and like the Church. It is one of those wondrous works of God which are the object of our faith."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue très cordialement tous les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Je souhaite notamment un bon travail aux étudiants venus d’Afrique et j’espère qu’ils retourneront dans leurs pays avec le désir de faire partager ce qu’ils auront reçu. Sur chacun d’entre vous, j’invoque la Bénédiction du Seigneur.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet the group of Senators, Congressmen and government officials from the United States of America who are participating in an International Conference in Rome this week. May your efforts to promote cooperation among peoples contribute to the growth of lasting peace in the world. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Nach dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgruß an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Verbunden mit dem Wunsch, daß Ihr Eure Berufung zu Gliedern des Gottesvolkes stets in Treue lebt und im Alltag glaubwürdg verwirklicht, erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen Verbundenen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai visitatori di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, al grupo de Religiosos Capuchinos que hacen en Frascati un curso de formación permanente. Que el carisma de San Francisco de Asís sea para vosotros estímulo y exigencia constante para testimoniar siempre el mensaje de amor a los hermanos y a todas las criaturas de Dios.

Con gran afecto imparto la Bendición Apostólica a todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Saúdo afectuosamente todos os peregrinos e ouvintes de língua portuguesa, rogando ao Altíssimo que envie a Sua luz, para que todos saibam reconhecer em Maria um sinal privilegiado do amor de Deus, sinal de esperança e de paz. Com estes votos abençoo todos vós, bem como as vossas famílias e as vossas comunidades locais.

Ad un gruppo di cittadini giapponesi

Saluto i membri di “Tenrikyo” e gli altri cittadini giapponesi qui presenti: vi ringrazio sentitamente per la visita che avete voluto farmi qui in Vaticano.

Si sta avvicinando il Natale, una grande solennità per i cristiani, ma che è sentita come un’occasione di festa anche in ambienti non cristiani. Il Natale è un richiamo ad aprirsi agli altri e a far crescere la solidarietà.

Questo io auspico per ognuno di voi, affinché cresca la gioia e la serenità in tutti i cuori.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pozdrawiam wszystkich obecnych, pielgrzymów z kraju i z emigracji, a szczególnie grupy: z Orawy oraz kuratorów oświaty, nauczycieli i katechetów z diecezji włocławskiej; pielgrzymkę polonijną ze Stanów Zjednoczonych; siostry opieki społecznej ze zgromadzenia pod wezwaniem św. Antoniego (antonianki) wraz z matką generalną.

Ai gruppi italiani

Rivolgo ora un cordiale pensiero ai pellegrini di lingua italiana.

In particolare, saluto il gruppo di alunni, ex alunni e famiglie del Collegio Nazareno di Roma, gli allievi della Scuola Media Statale “Caggiano” di Taurasi, in diocesi di Avellino, e la ragazza Luana Santosuosso, eletta alunna più buona d’Italia per l’anno scolastico 1990-91. Rivolgo un pensiero agli ufficiali dell’Accademia di Sanità Militare Interforze nucleo Aeronautica in Firenze, qui accompagnati da alcuni ufficiali e sottufficiali preposti alla loro formazione militare.

Ad un gruppo di Neocatecumenali

Sono, inoltre, lieto di accogliere i numerosi aderenti al Cammino neocatecumenale. Fra essi ci sono parroci provenienti da diverse Diocesi europee, responsabili di comunità e catechisti itineranti in molte Nazioni d’Europa e non poche famiglie inviate in missione durante questi ultimi anni.

Carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle, con la vostra presenza a Roma, durante lo svolgimento del Sinodo speciale per l’Europa, voi intendete accompagnarne i lavori sinodali mediante la riflessione e la preghiera. Nel corso della vostra convivenza, che oggi si conclude, avete avuto modo di riaffermare la necessità di accogliere senza indugi il comando di Gesù di recare dappertutto il suo Vangelo. Si tratta di un mandato reso singolarmente urgente dalle attuali circostanze sociali e culturali. Vi aiuti la Vergine Maria a ben proseguire nel cammino intrapreso, sempre fedeli a Cristo e alla sua Chiesa. Sarete così apostoli infaticabili e gioiosi della nuova evangelizzazione.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Mi è, infine, gradito rivolgere un saluto particolare ai giovani, agli ammalati e alle coppie di sposi novelli.

Carissimi, in questo tempo liturgico dell’attesa del Signore che viene, la Chiesa ci invita a confrontarci con Maria, la Vergine Immacolata, di cui celebriamo la novena.

Come Maria, voi, giovani, abbiate il coraggio delle scelte forti, anche se difficili, al fine di sentirvi protagonisti nell’impegno di testimonianza cristiana, come veri operatori di pace in un mondo tuttora afflitto da guerre e da divisioni.

Voi, ammalati, riponete la vostra fiducia in Maria, salute degli infermi. A voi particolarmente affido il compito di una speciale preghiera affinché il Sinodo in atto contribuisca efficacemente alla costruzione di una nuova Europa.

E voi, cari sposi novelli, ponete al centro della vostra nuova famiglia la Vergine Santissima, imitando sempre la sua prudenza e il suo spirito di dedizione all’interno della Casa di Nazaret.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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