Biblical History of The Virgin Mary

While the Bible contains references to several ‘Marys’, no other is important or more revered than the Virgin Mary, mother to our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the ages she has been lovingly adorned with many titles including The Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Mother of God and Madonna, to mention just a few.

The New Testament tells us of Mary’s astonishing grace, humility and piety, and as a result she has been recognised by all forms of Christianity and in particular, deeply venerated by the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. From the Apostolic period she has been the focus of magnificent works of art, literature and even music. Whilst theology has developed for us, and all generations, a profile of Mary that shows her to be truly worthy of our love and devotion, we need no other affirmation than the fact she was chosen by Our Holy Father to be the Mother of His only Son. There can be no doubt that Mary elegantly fulfills the Magnificat (Luke 1:48): “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”

Biblical References to Mary

The coming of Mary as the Virgin Mother to the future Messiah is foretold in the Old Testament, with the major events of her actual life documented in the New Testament.

Of specific importance are the references to Mary that form the five Joyful Mysteries. These Mysteries are foundational to the Prayers of the Holy Rosary and begin in (Luke 1:26) which narrates The Annunciation.

Mary is Visited by an Angel

The Annunciation by Carl Bloch courtesy

Saint Luke’s passage tells us that God sent the Archangel Gabriel down from Heaven to a small town in Galilee called Nazareth to meet with Mary. At this time Mary is a young woman engaged to be married to Joseph who is a descendant in the family line of King David. On appearing to Mary the Angel informs her that she has found great favor with the Lord who is with her.

Luke (1:26-35) proclaims: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

Mary was understandably shocked by this appearance and confused by what Gabriel was telling her. The Angel Gabriel reassures and consoles her. Gabriel further explained that her relative Elizabeth, was also going to have a son even though she was considered much too old to carry a child. He told Mary that all this could happen because “nothing was impossible for God.” She has trust in God’s will and agrees to His almighty plan and responds most humbly to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Saint Luke’s Gospel then tells us that Gabriel left Mary.

Mary and Elizabeth

Mary and Elizabeth by Carl Bloch courtesy

The next mention of Mary, referred to as The Visitation is also the theme of the Second Joyful Mystery. It is found in the Gospel of Luke (1:39) and we read that after the Annunciation, and what Mary has learned from her encounter with the Angel Gabriel, she hurriedly undertakes a visit to her cousin Elizabeth who, as we read previously, is also with child. The fact that Elizabeth should be with child is very surprising to those around her, as she was considered to be much too old. This child, having been conceived of Divine providence, is to be John The Baptist who we learn is to ‘prepare the way’ for Jesus.

Saint Luke’s Gospel beautifully describes how, on hearing Mary’s greeting, the infant within her “leaped” and being influenced by the power of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth loudly proclaims “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
After being blessed by Saint Elizabeth, Mary, because of her humility, glorified God with the famous prayer we call the Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary stayed with Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah for three months before returning to her home.
In time Elizabeth gave birth to her son. Her relatives and friends where overjoyed and celebrated knowing that the birth was of Heavenly decree. As was the custom, the baby was circumcised and named on the eighth day. All assumed he would be named Zachariah after his father and were very surprised when Elizabeth intervened and proclaimed that he was to be called John.

The Birth of Jesus

The Manger Scene by Carl Bloch courtesy

We now reach one of the most significant events of all, as we follow the Biblical history of Mary. It is the theme of the third Joyful Mystery and is known as The Nativity, or the birth of our Lord Jesus. The Gospel of Saint Luke (2:1) again beautifully narrates the passage of events surrounding the His birth. We read that a decree issued by Caesar Augustus (requiring the taking of a census for the purpose of taxation), compelled Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem.

Due to overcrowding in Bethlehem, they where forced to seek shelter in a stable and it was here, in the most humble of surroundings, and on this most famous of all nights, that Mary brought forth her son, the Savior of humanity.

Through this passage we are also informed how an Angel, accompanied by a multitude of the heavenly hosts, brought the news of the birth to some shepherds. When the Divine messengers had returned to heaven, these shepherds decided to go and see for themselves this beautiful event that had been made known to them by the Lord. After a hurried trip to Bethlehem they found Mary and Joseph with the Baby Jesus in a manger. On witnessing this miracle child for themselves they repeated all that had been told to them concerning this Divine child, and all who listened where amazed, especially Mary who treasured these words and kept them in her heart. The shepherds returned to their flocks giving great praise and glory to God for all they had witnessed and all they had heard.

Jesus is Presented in the Temple

As was the custom in these times, the first born male child was to be taken to the temple to be presented to God as a Holy offering. Marys’ infant, being such a child, was to be no different. This event is the theme of the fourth Joyful Mystery and is simply referred to as The Presentation. Saint Luke in (2:21-40) tells us that prior to the presentation of Baby Jesus in the temple, He had been circumcised and then named ‘Jesus’ on the eighth day, just as His infant cousin, John had been. Mary had named her son ‘Jesus’ as the Angel Gabriel had instructed in the Annunciation.

Mary and Joseph then brought Baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem before a good and deeply pious man named Simeon. Simeon had been praying a long time for the deliverance of Israel and being blessed of the Holy Spirit, had been shown that he would see the Messiah before his death.

After blessing God, Simeon surprised Mary and Joseph when he stated: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

Simeon went on to bless a stunned Mary and Joseph and then turning to Mary told her, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Once the ceremony had been completed Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus back to Nazareth where he began to grow in strength and wisdom, guided by the grace of the Heavenly Father.

Finding of Jesus in the Temple

The gospel now brings us forward to when Jesus is twelve years of age. Saint Luke in (2:41-52) recites how each year Mary, Joseph and Jesus would attend the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. On returning home this particular year, young Jesus stayed behind, unbeknown to His parents, who each assumed was elsewhere in the caravan. When they realised He was missing they spent a whole day searching for Him among friends and relations. Not having been able to locate Him, they were frantic with worry so spent the next day traveling back to Jerusalem.

The eventually found him on the third day sitting in the temple, listening to the discourses of the teachers and asking them lots of questions. This event forms the Fifth Joyful Mystery and is called Finding Jesus in the Temple. Those in the temple where amazed by the level of maturity and intellect displayed in young Jesus’ questions and interactions. Not everybody was impressed however, filled with so many mixed emotions, Mary and Joseph confronted Him and asked “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Both Mary and Joseph where bewildered when Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Greatly relieved, though still confused over the incident, the family returned to Nazareth where Jesus continued to develop in body, mind and spirit and was obedient to them.

Other Gospel References to Mary

The main focus of this page has been those Biblical references to Our Lady that are also used as the basis for the Joyful Mysteries.
Other sections of the Gospel that mention Mary either by name or inference include:

The arrival of the Magi – Mathew (2:1-12)

Escape into Egypt and the return to Israel – Mathew (2:13-23)

The wedding at Cana – John (2:1-12)

Mary’s attempt to see Jesus while he was teaching – Mark (3:31-33)

At the foot of the cross – John (19:25-27)