The first proclamation of the Gospel in Holy Scripture, the so -called “Proto-Evangelium”, is found in the Third Chapter of the Book of Genesis, verse 15, where God foretells the future defeat of Satan in the immediate aftermath of Satan’s having seduced Adam and Eve into sin: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”
The interpretation of this verse is that the Woman foretold is the Blessed Virgin Mary and her seed is Jesus Christ Our Lord. Here inside our parish church we see Genesis 3:15 represented artistically in the statue of Mary on our Lady Altar where she is crushing a serpent who is screaming out in rage. The rebellious pride of Satan is brought low by the humility of Mary.
Another depiction of Genesis 3:15 may be found in the church in the painting which hangs over the Oak Street side door to the church. Many people mistake it for the Beheading of John the Baptist. The painting is a copy of Allori Cristofano’s “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” (A.D. 1613). In the Old Testament Book of Judith, Judith the virtuous widow puts her life at risk to go over to the enemy camp with her maid, pretending to be a defector. Holofernes, the enemy general who intends the destruction of Israel, is charmed by her beauty and lets down his guard. When she has the opportunity, Judith strikes off his head with his own sword and sneaks back into the besieged city. When the enemy discovers its general slain the next morning they flee in panic. Thus, Israel is spared and the people proclaim the praise of Judith: “Thou art the glory of Israel! Thou art the honor of our people!"
Paintings such as this one of Cristofano’s are called Judithas. They are meant to be representations of Our Lady, Mary Immaculate, as the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Genesis 3:15. As with the statue of Mary crushing the serpent, so too Judith with the head of Holofernes (a type of the Satan) shows the Woman crushing the Serpent’s head. Both statue and portrait depict Genesis 3:15, the Proto-Evangelium.
It is important for us to grasp in our Catholic faith-life what immense power God has granted to Mary now that she has been assumed into Heaven. As a result of the accomplishment of Christ’s Redemption, God has willed to give Mary, a fully human creature, a role in the continued subduing of evil. By the power of Christ’s Cross the Serpent is compelled to submit to her.
We see a dramatic instance of this during the Apparitions to Bernadette at Lourdes. On one occasion strange and terrifying sounds came up out of the River Gave:
There were many sounds seeming to echo and reply to each other. There were voices, questioning, contradicting, shouting to each other, like the voices of a crowd in tumult. Amidst all these confusing voices, one more distinct than the rest could be heard uttering the furious, menacing cry: ‘Flee! Flee!’... The Vision of Light [Mary] had only to turn her eyes for a moment towards the point whence the voices appeared to come, and her one look was so effective, so endowed with sovereign authority, that the voices immediately fell silent (Leon Cristiani, “Satan at Lourdes”, Satan in the Modern World, A.D. 1959).