The history of the Church is full of symbolism and she herself is referred to as many things: body, bride, temple, triumphant, militant, suffering; however, my personal favorite image of the Church is the pregnant woman, because she encompasses all these things.
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.” Rev 12:1-2
Of course, from a Catholic perspective this is also Mary as ark of the covenant (and there is solid biblical evidence to back this up that isn’t necessary for this conversation) but from the early Church this was also understood as an image of the Church. Most typological images have a number of meanings, that inform each other and widen our understanding of each aspect, which is also why the Church and Mary can seem often to be two sides of the same coin. This image works really well for connecting with Protestants, because they join us in seeing this image as representative of the Church.
But in addition to connecting in an interfaith dialogue, this image sums up Catholic tradition and biblical teaching on the Church. She is pregnant, so of course she must be a bride as she appears in the heavens and there would be no way that a woman in the heavens would be pregnant if she was not also a bride. She is crowned with the 12 tribes/apostles so she must be a (mystical) body. But her man child who takes his throne, is “a Lamb standing as though it were slain” (Rev 5:6) or the Paschal sacrifice, so she must also be a temple.
Ok, so cool! She sums up biblical images, but she also sums up the Church in her various stages as understood in Catholic teaching. She is pregnant and in pregnancy we can get ultra-sounds of the baby, but the real image of the baby is hidden. We know that there is a Church Triumphant, but we can’t see it. We can see the evidence of life in the Church Militant: however, we don’t even see the entirety of the Church Militant! We know it is there, but we can’t see truly the mystery of the Church in its actuality. The woman is in travail, the Church Suffering, to give birth to the full mystery of the Church that already is but has yet to be shown… a suffering we all take part in as members of the Body, who are baptized in death. In one image all aspects of the Church are revealed. Amazing!!!
I love this image of the hidden Church, in pregnancy. This really manifests the mystery of God’s love. Every person has a path. All paths lead to the Church, because the Church is the bride/body/temple of Christ. “For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) But we never know where someone is on his path, only God knows each person’s journey. I don’t even know where I am!! What a beautiful mystery to know that every single person that we pass on the street is a child of God, that he is calling and our precise role at that moment is to be the light of Christ to that person. God calls us to be fruitful, which we can not be if we take time to decide first if this person or that is a “Christian.” We are all called to the baptism of Christ, so as the bride of Christ we are called to imitate him and pour out our lives as gifts for our universal family. No matter who they are. Ah, one of the many beautiful facets of redemptive suffering and the glory of the cross.
A tidbit from Fulton Sheen:
Since he was known for his generosity, people would often come up to ask him for money, telling him how they were down on their luck. He’d hand them $20. I’d ask him, “How do you know that they’re not putting you on; that they really need help?”
He’d answer, “I can’t take the chance.”