- To appreciate the Old Testament symbolism that forms the deep background to the Gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana.
- To understand how Mary is depicted as a “New Eve” in this account.
- To appreciate the importance of the Old Testament marriage symbolism for John’s recounting of the “sign” at Cana.
I. Mary in the Gospel of John
A. A First Reading
In our first lesson we acknowledged the relative scarcity of direct references to Mary in the New Testament.
In this lesson and the next we will look at two of the three Gospel scenes in which Mary can be said to play a prominent role.
Many if not most of the stories in the Gospel have "parallels" - accounts of the same story or episode in another or in all of the other Gospels. For example, Matthew, Luke and John each report the story of Jesus’ Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ Baptism.
The few stories involving Mary are much different. Each is unique to the Gospel that records it - with no parallels. Only Luke, for instance, tells the story we studied closely last week - the Annunciation. Matthew alludes to it, but gives no details. Mark and John pass over the scene entirely.
Likewise, the scene we study in this lesson - the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee - is only found in John’s Gospel (see John 2:1-12).
At first glance, it is a straightforward account of a miracle that Jesus performs - changing water into wine. Mary’s role in the story is apparently limited to calling Jesus’ attention to the fact that the wine has run short.
But again, as we saw in our last lesson, we will see that when it comes to Mary, there is more to Scripture than what first meets the eye.
B. Sign of a New Creation
The first clue that we should look for a deeper meaning is found in the story’s opening words - "on the third day." This points us to what has gone before in the Gospel.
The Cana story marks the conclusion of a series of events that begin in John’s first chapter. John begins his Gospel with a kind of recapping of the creation story found in the Bible’s first book. His first words are even the same as the first words of Genesis - "In the beginning…" (compare John 1:1; Genesis 1:1).
John’s opening verses are likely adapted from an early Christian hymn (see John 1:1-5,9-18).
There are striking similarities between John’s hymn and other "Christological" hymns or hymn excerpts identified in the New Testament. Like these, John’s hymn identifies Jesus as God, the One through whom all things were created, who manifests himself in the flesh in order to be exalted or to reveal His glory (compare John 1:1-5,9-18; Philippians 2:6-11;Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:2-5).
As the first verses of Genesis describe God creating light and separating it from darkness, so in John’s first verses Jesus is described as a light shining in the darkness.
Genesis shows us, in the beginning, "the Spirit of God…moving over the face of the waters" (see Genesis 1:2. Note: the New American Bible translates this as "a mighty wind" but "Spirit of God" is a better, more literal translation). John, in turn, shows us the Spirit hovering above the waters of baptism (see John 1:32-33).
There are more parallels. Notice John’s Genesis-like repetitions of "the next day" (see 1:29;1:35; 1:43). On the first day, John the Baptist is introduced, on the second day Jesus is baptized. Days three and four describe Jesus’ calling of disciples. The point to observe is that John’s is describing a seven-day "inaugural week."
John wants us to see the coming of Jesus into the world as a new creation. In this new creation, a new people of God is to be born by faith in Jesus and the power of water and the Spirit in Baptism (see John 1:12; 29-34; 3:5).
Mary makes her appearance on the seventh day of John’s new creation - that is, on the third day after the calling of Nathaniel on the fourth day.
In Genesis, the seventh day is the pinnacle of creation - when creation is completed, sanctified and perfected. The Sabbath is instituted on the seventh day as an "everlasting token" of God’s "perpetual covenant" with creation (see Exodus 31:16-17).
The same Greek word translated "token" to describe the Sabbath is also used in John’s Cana story. What Jesus does at Cana is described as the beginning of His "signs" (see John 2:11).
- Lesson One: A Biblical Introduction to Mary
- To understand the basic outlines of the New Testament’s witness to Mary.
- To appreciate how the Old Testament forms the essential background for what the New Testament teaches about Mary.
- To understand “typology” and its importance for reading the New Testament texts concerning Mary.
- Lesson Three: The Ark of the New Covenant
- To see how Mary’s visit to Elizabeth parallels David’s bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
- To understand how the book of Revelation uses the startling image of the rediscovered Ark of the Covenant to introduce a vision of the Mother of Christ.
- To understand why the New Testament writers see Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.
- Lesson Four: Mother Crowned in Glory
- To see the importance of the Queen Mother in the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament.
- To understand the duties and privileges that came with the position of Queen Mother.
- To see how Mary fills the position of Queen Mother in the kingdom of Christ.
- Lesson Five: The All-Holy Mother of God
- To understand the relationship between Catholic teaching about Mary and the Scriptural portrayal of Mary.
- To understand the biblical foundations of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
- To appreciate how Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception flows from the New Testament portrait of Mary as the “New Eve”
- Lesson Six: The Queen Assumed into Heaven
- To understand the biblical foundations of the Dogma of the Assumption.
- To understand the deep Old Testament symbolism and imagery in Revelation 12, and its relation to Catholic beliefs about Mary.
- To appreciate how the biblical portrait of Mary is reflected and interpreted in the Church’s liturgy.