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,
that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days.
Who is the Woman clothed with the sun? John begins Revelation 12 calling the woman a great sign. St. John in his Gospel was the first to implicitly refer to Mary as the new Eve, the woman of Genesis 3:15. The Gospel of St. John refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as woman at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-5), at the Cross (John 19:25-26), and here in Revelation 12:1. The word woman suggests deep symbolism, as "woman" was not the customary or polite way in Semitic cultures to refer to a mother. Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah who will rule with an iron rod (Psalm 2:9), and who is caught up to God and his throne (Revelation 12:5). Reaffirming the Tradition of the Church, Pope Pius X in 1904, Pope Pius XII in 1950, and Pope John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life, stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the "woman clothed with the sun" in Revelation 12:1.
The woman also serves as a collective symbol for both Israel and the Church. The description of the woman reflects her heavenly glory, and the twelve stars of her glorious crown symbolize the people of God, the twelve Patriarchs of Israel (Genesis 37) and the twelve Apostles of the New Covenant of the Church of Christ. She is Israel, Daughter Zion (Isaiah 62:11), the woman in travail (Micah 4:10), the nation from whom the Messiah comes, the community of faith and obedience that awaits the birth of the Messiah. In Hebrew a country is expressed in the feminine tense, as mother of her inhabitants (Isaiah 66:7-9). She is a collective image of the people of God who suffer as a new birth is about to take place - suffering that will turn to joy at the birth of Jesus. The symbol clearly refers to the Church, for Jesus at the Cross gives his Mother Mary to his disciple (John 19:26-27). The Church is the community of disciples of Christ (Acts 6:2).
As we enter the third millennium, this is a time for repentance, prayer, reading Scripture, fasting, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. It is time for us to be examples of love, mercy, and peace, as our modern world continues to fall away from the Ten Commandments of God (Exodus 20:1-17), the Eight Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:3-10), and the Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).