Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why do Catholics say Mary was a perpetual virgin?

Catholic Tradition tells us that Mary was a virgin all her life; or a “perpetual” virgin. Pretty much all Christians that I know of agree that Jesus was conceived by a virgin, but most disagree with Catholics that Mary remained virgin after Jesus’ birth. They say the Bible shows that Jesus has brothers (Mark 3:31) so her perpetual virginity cannot be correct. Let’s look at why the Church professes Mary’s perpetual virginity in light of that.

First, let’s go to the Catechism and see what it has to say:

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess
Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son
of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's
virginal integrity but sanctified it." And so the liturgy of the Church
celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin."

Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus," are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary." They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression. (499, 500 CCC)

The Hebrew used in Mark 3:31 doesn’t have the words differentiating “brother” and “cousin”. The same word would be used to describe “the closet relative”, not specifically brother or cousin.

Now, look at this:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his
mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold,
your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (Jn
19:26-27 NAB
If Jesus had blood siblings from Mary (as argued above) then what Jesus does in John 19 would have been a breach of the law; something no faithful Jew (including Jesus) would do. When the oldest child dies, care of the parents goes to the next oldest. The Jews in Jesus’ time took their elderly parents into their homes to care for them. Jesus could never have given Mary away like this if he had siblings; it would have never been allowed.

So Mary didn’t have other children but we all know that it’s possible not to have children and not be a virgin, so why does the Church teach this about Mary?

It shouldn't come as a shock that the Catholic Church has a bit of a counter-culture view on sex. In fact, that may be the biggest understatement of all time. The Catholic view is that sex is a foreshadowing or a mirroring of the life we're given by God. A seed is given, it is received, and life begins. The Eucharist follows the same pattern, but more on that another day.

Actually, I think I'll use the Eucharist to illustrate where I'm going here. The Eucharist is a participation in both our Lord's suffering and death and in his glory in heaven. However, it's an earthly sacrament and isn't a full participation in the heavenly feast. When a person dies and goes to heaven, they won't still receive the Eucharist; there would be no point! Why receive the earthly sacrament when you can have the real deal in heaven?

Mary's virginity is the same way. If sex is a foreshadowing of God's love for us, why would she receive something less after receiving the perfect fulfillment of that love? Why participate in an imitation of the reality already experienced? For her, that relationship already exists, she carried God himself in her womb. What married couples immitate, she fulfilled.

Finally, Catholics believe Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant prefigured in the Old Testament. As such, she is the holiest of holies. She must be unblemished and pure. The Ark is where only God lives. No, we don't think Mary said "Sorry, Joseph, I'm the prefigured Ark so let's just watch TV." But we do believe that God afforded Mary and Joseph grace to keep her as she was prefigured to be; the Ark of the new Covenant.


Shiloh said...

Okay, then explain to me Matthew 1:25. It says Joseph had no union with her "until" she gave birth to a son. It clearly states that the marriage wasn't consumated "until" after she'd given birth to Jesus.

And as to Jewish tradition regarding family, a wife was expected to be submissive to her husband- if God had intended she stay a perpetual virgin, wouldn't He have told Joseph to NOT marry Mary? A husband is entitled to marital rights. That is God's plan and intention. Don't you think that would've been particularly cruel of the Lord to tell Joseph to marry a woman who would not have sexual relations with him EVER. Ensuring that his family line (so very important to the Jews) would be cut off?

And as to the reference of His brothers just being friends- come on, really? Jesus' point in that passage (Matt. 12:46) was that yes, His biological family was there, but he was pointing out that ALL are His family. That would be a moot point to make if they were just other friends standing outside.

Anonymous said...

I know my mother is usually found with "cousins"----NOT.And they were not Joseph's children from a previous marriage for the Catholic church teaches of his perpetual virginity also, like Mary. Did you not know sex is a sin, well at least some early church fathers thought marriage was (around 3-4 the century--Augustine or Ambrose ?),just around the time this virginity stuff was being flouted.