The Blessed Mother’s decision to commit herself completely to the Lord
in virginity was the beginning and inspiration of consecrated virginity
in the Church
"Mary's virginal life inspires in the entire Christian people
esteem for the gift of virginity and the desire that it should increase
in the Church as a sign of God's primacy over all reality", the
Holy Father said at the General Audience of Wednesday, 7 August, as he
continued his reflection on Mary's choice of virginity, the fruit of the
Holy Spirit's grace. Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was
the 29th in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. The intention to remain a virgin, apparent in Mary's words at the
moment of the Annunciation, has traditionally been considered the
beginning and the inspiration of Christian virginity in the Church.
St Augustine does not see in this resolution the fulfilment of a
divine precept, but a vow freely taken. In this way it was possible to
present Mary as an example to "holy virgins" throughout the
Church's history. Mary "dedicated her virginity to God when she did
not yet know whom she would conceive, so that the imitation of heavenly
life in the earthly, mortal body would come about through a vow, not a
precept, through a choice of love and not through the need to
serve" (De Sancta Virg., IV, PL 40:398).
The Angel does not ask Mary to remain a virgin; it is Mary who freely
reveals her intention of virginity. The choice of love that leads her to
consecrate herself totally to the Lord by a life of virginity is found
in this commitment.
In stressing the spontaneity of Mary's decision, we must not forget
that God's initiative is at the root of every vocation. By choosing the
life of virginity, the young girl of Nazareth was responding to an
interior call, that is, to an inspiration of the Holy Spirit that
enlightened her about the meaning and value of the virginal gift of
herself. No one can accept this gift without feeling called or without
receiving from the Holy Spirit the necessary light and strength.
Mary made a firm decision for virginity
2. Although St Augustine uses the word "vow" to show those
he calls "holy virgins" the first example of their state of
life, the Gospel does not testify that Mary had expressly made a vow,
which is the form of consecration and offering of one's life to God
which has been in use since the early centuries of the Church. From the
Gospel we learn that Mary made a personal decision to remain a virgin,
offering her heart to the Lord. She wants to be his faithful bride,
fulfilling her vocation as the "daughter of Zion". By her
decision however she becomes the archetype of all those in the Church
who have chosen to serve the Lord with an undivided heart in virginity.
Neither the Gospels nor any other New Testament writings tell us when
Mary made the decision to remain a virgin. However it is clearly
apparent from her question to the angel at the time of the Annunciation
that she had come to a very firm decision. Mary does not hesitate to
express her desire to preserve her virginity even in view of the
proposed motherhood, showing that her intention had matured over a long
Indeed, Mary's choice of virginity was not made in the unforeseeable
prospect of becoming the Mother of God, but developed in her
consciousness before the Annunciation. We can suppose that this
inclination was always present in her heart: the grace which prepared
her for virginal motherhood certainly influenced the whole growth of her
personality, while the Holy Spirit did not fail to inspire in her, from
her earliest years, the desire for total union with God.
3. The marvels God still works today in the hearts and lives of so
many young people were first realized in Mary's soul. Even in our world,
so distracted by the attractions of a frequently superficial and
consumerist culture, many adolescents accept the invitation that comes
from Mary's example and consecrate their youth to the Lord and to the
service of their brothers and sisters.
This decision is the choice of greater values, rather than the
renunciation of human values. In this regard, in his Apostolic
Exhortation Marialis cultus my venerable predecessor Paul VI
emphasizes how anyone who looks at the witness of the Gospel with an
open mind "will appreciate that Mary's choice of the state of
virginity ... was not a rejection of any of the values of the married
state but a courageous choice which she made in order to consecrate
herself totally to the love of God" (n. 37).
In short, the choice of the virginal state is motivated by full
adherence to Christ. This is particularly obvious in Mary. Although
before the Annunciation she is not conscious of it, the Holy Spirit
inspires her virginal consecration in view of Christ: she remains a
virgin to welcome the Messiah and Saviour with her whole being. The
virginity begun in Mary thus reveals its own Christocentric dimension,
essential also for virginity lived in the Church, which finds its
sublime model in the Mother of Christ. If her personal virginity, linked
to the divine motherhood, remains an exceptional fact, it gives light
and meaning to every gift of virginity.
Consecrated virginity is source of spiritual fruitfulness
4. How many young women in the Church's history, as they contemplate
the nobility and beauty of the virginal heart of the Lord's Mother, have
felt encouraged to respond generously to God's call by embracing the
ideal of virginity! "Precisely such virginity", as I recalled
in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, "after the example of
the Virgin of Nazareth, is the source of a special spiritual
fruitfulness: it is the source of motherhood in the Holy Spirit"
Mary's virginal life inspires in the entire Christian people esteem
for the gift of virginity and the desire that it should increase in the
Church as a sign of God's primacy over all reality and as a prophetic
anticipation of the life to come. Together let us thank the Lord for
those who still today generously consecrate their lives in virginity to
the service of the kingdom of God.
At the same time, while in various regions evangelized long ago
hedonism and consumerism seem to dissuade many young people from
embracing the consecrated life, we must incessantly ask God through
Mary's intercession for a new flowering of religious vocations. Thus the
face of Christ's Mother, reflected in the many virgins who strive to
follow the divine Master, will continue to be the sign of God's mercy
and tenderness for humanity.