May is the month of Mary, a time of new growth and a return to life fitting for the New Eve. Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of how nature itself bears witness to the joy we find in Our Lady: “Why is May chosen as the month in which we exercise a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin? The first reason is because it is the time when the earth bursts forth into its fresh foliage and its green grass after the stern frost and snow of winter, and the raw atmosphere and the wild wind and rain of the early spring. It is because the blossoms are upon the trees and the flowers are in the gardens. It is because the days have got long, and the sun rises early and sets late. For such gladness and joyousness of external Nature is a fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold” (Meditations and Devotions, Part I).
May provides a fitting time to increase our devotion to Mary, especially by praying the rosary more often and learning more about her central role in our salvation. Dr. Edward Sri, who has written many books on Our Lady, provides an excellent account of what the Bible teaches us about her in his new book, Rethinking Mary in the New Testament (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2018). Although it may seem at first glance that there are few passages that speak of Mary, Sri leads us through the depth and importance of the verses in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation that point toward her mission as Mother of God, Ark of the New Covenant, New Eve, and Mother of all disciples.
Sri’s book serves as a model of biblical theology, allowing the words of the Bible to speak clearly and to lead us into the realities of God’s revelation. In attending to the words of Scripture, we find that the Bible has much to say about Mary. Sri organizes his book around these words, with each chapter focusing on just a few at a time. The book accomplishes a difficult feat: summarizing a depth of scholarship and remaining eminently readable and accessible at the same time. One example can be found in his analysis of Gabriel’s greeting to Mary as kecharitomene, which we translate as “full of grace.” He unpacks the meaning of the original Greek, noting it could be translated as “you who have been and continue to be graced,” answers objections seeking to downplay its significance, looks at its importance as a name given to Mary (expressing her essence), notes the word’s transformative character and relates its connection to the Immaculate Conception (23-28).
Sri explores the entire Annunciation narrative in five chapters, giving similar depth to the Visitation, Presentation, Finding in the Temple, Wedding at Cana, foot of the Cross, and appearance of the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation. There are many “aha” moments, such as how Jesus brings God’s glory back to the Temple, how this occurs 490 days after Gabriel appears to Zechariah (itself following the 490 years of Daniel’s prophecy), how Cana occurs on the seventh day of John’s Gospel to demonstrate the new creation brought by the New Adam and his mother, the New Eve, Mary’s role in Jesus’ hour of redemption, and how this role helps to explain the meaning of the imagery of the woman in labor pains in Revelation 12.
Rethinking Mary in the New Testament is a powerful and moving book with much to teach us in reading the Bible attentively and coming to know our spiritual Mother more deeply. Once again, May is the perfect moment to take it up, when the beauty that surrounds us points to our Mother, who, as the poet Hopkins writes, exceeds its beauty still:
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.