With the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (and Christmas right around the corner), I thought it appropriate to offer some observations and thoughts on Revelation chapter 12, where we find connections to both Our Lady of Guadalupe and the birth of Christ.
Here is the passage (also above in the graphic):
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God. (Rev. 12: 1-6)
We read of a Woman who is confronted by a ravenous dragon. The Woman is a mysterious figure and we are never given her name. So who is the Woman?
Although many have offered varying interpretations, the Catholic tradition holds that the Woman can represent 1.) Israel, 2.) the Church of Christ, 3.) the Blessed Virgin Mary, or all three together. I’ll go through these interpretations briefly:
The Woman as Israel/Church of Christ
“…a crown of twelve stars on her head.”
The twelve stars that we find in the passage have been connected to the book of Genesis, where we find the twelve patriarchs heading the twelve tribes of Israel. Therefore, the woman has been interpreted as being Israel. Since the Church is the “spiritual Israel,” some have seen the Woman representing the Church of Christ.
The Woman as The Blessed Virgin Mary
Popes Pius X, Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II have all interpreted the text as describing Mary. The Woman in Revelation gives birth to “A male child, destined to rule all nations with an iron rod.” This child is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. Because Mary is the Mother of Christ, it is reasonable to assume that the Woman described in the passage is the Blessed Virgin.
The dragon, who seems to represent Satan, waits to devour the child as soon as he is born. This ravenous hatred, while surely directed at Christ, is more pointedly directed at Mary, for God put “enmity between you and the Woman.(Gen. 3:15)” The dragon hates the Woman. The dragon is the devil. (I’ve also read that the dragon has been interpreted to represent Herod, who also wished to kill Christ at the time of his birth).
Pope Benedict XVI in his book “Jesus of Nazareth (Part 2)”, writes:
“When the Book of Revelation speaks of the great sign of a Woman appearing in heaven, she is understood to represent all Israel, indeed, the whole Church. . . .”
In his general audience on August 23, 2006, the Pope said:
“This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but at the same time she also represents the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church which in all ages, with great suffering, brings forth Christ ever anew.”
So, out of the three interpretations concerning the identity of the woman, they are all valid. In Catholic tradition, however, the scales seem to tip in favor of the Woman=Blessed Virgin Mary view. After the apparitions of St. Juan Diego, in which he saw a vision of the Blessed Mother and received the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the stance that Mary is indeed the Woman in Revelation 12 became more substantial. Why is this?
Our Lady of Guadalupe as the Woman
“…A Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet…”
Interestingly enough, the now famous image that appeared on the cloak of Juan Diego in 1531 shows a woman that shares many of the qualities that are used to describe the Woman in Revelation.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe shows a woman surrounded by radiant sunlight. She is “clothed in the sun.” Stars cover her cloak and a black crescent moon sits at her feet. The validity of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, approved by the Church and the cause of some 9 million Aztec conversions in the mid 1500s provides a strong basis for belief that the apparition is true. In addition, miracles and increased devotion to the Blessed Mother and Christ have resulted because of the apparition and miraculous image. If the image is truly heavenly, the connections between the details in the image and the details recorded by John in the book of Revelation are impossible to overlook.
The Woman was seen in John’s vision and described by him in scripture. Now, through the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we may be able to visually grasp something of what John saw, that heavenly Woman , “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.”