There are no grounds for thinking that the will to remain a virgin which
Mary expressed at the moment of the annunciation was subsequently
Mary's perpetual virginity was the subject of the Holy Father's
catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 28 August. The most
ancient texts and the early Christians, the Pope said, confirm that the
Church has always professed the belief that Mary never ceased to be a
virgin. Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was the 31st in
the series on the Blessed Virgin Mary and which was given in Italian.
1. The Church has always professed her belief in the perpetual
virginity of Mary. The most ancient texts, when referring to the
conception of Jesus, call Mary simply "virgin", inferring that
they considered this quality a permanent fact with regard to her whole
The early Christians expressed this conviction of faith in the Greek
term aeiparthenos— "ever virgin"—created
to describe Mary's person in a unique and effective manner, and to
express in a single word the Church's belief in her perpetual virginity.
We find it used in the second symbol of faith composed by St Epiphanius
in the year 374, in relation to the Incarnation: the Son of God
"was incarnate, that is, he was generated in a perfect way by Mary,
the ever blessed virgin, through the Holy Spirit" (Ancoratus,
119,5; DS 44).
The expression "ever virgin" was taken up by the Second
Council of Constantinople (553), which affirms: the Word of God,
"incarnate of the holy and glorious Mother of God and ever
virgin Mary, was born of her" (DS 422). This doctrine is
confirmed by two other Ecumenical Councils, the Fourth Lateran Council
(1215) (DS 801) and the Second Council of Lyons (1274) (DS 852), and by
the text of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption (1950) (DS
3903) in which Mary's perpetual virginity is adopted as one of the
reasons why she was taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory.
Mary is virgin before, during and after giving birth
2. In a brief formula, the Church traditionally presents Mary as
"virgin before, during and after giving
birth", affirming, by indicating these three moments, that she
never ceased to be a virgin.
Of the three, the affirmation of her virginity "before giving
birth" is, undoubtedly, the most important, because it refers to
Jesus' conception and directly touches the very mystery of the
Incarnation. From the beginning it has been constantly present in the
Her virginity "during and after giving birth", although
implicit in the title virgin already attributed to Mary from the
Church's earliest days, became the object of deep doctrinal study since
some began explicitly to cast doubts on it. Pope St Hormisdas explains
that "the Son of God became Son of man, born in time in the manner
of a man, opening his mother's womb to birth [cf. Lk 2:23] and, through
God's power, not dissolving his mother's virginity" (DS 368). This
doctrine was confirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which states that
the firstborn Son of Mary "did not diminish his Mother's virginal
integrity but sanctified it" (Lumen gentium, n. 57).
As regards her virginity after the birth, it must first of all be
pointed out that there are no reasons for thinking that the will to
remain a virgin, which Mary expressed at the moment of the Annunciation
(cf. Lk 1:34) was then changed. Moreover, the immediate meaning of the
words: "Woman, behold, your son!", "Behold, your
mother" (Jn 19:26), which Jesus addressed to Mary and to his
favourite disciple from the Cross, imply that Mary had no other
Those who deny her virginity after the birth thought they had found a
convincing argument in the term "firstborn", attributed to
Jesus in the Gospel (Lk 2:7), almost as though this word implied that
Mary had borne other children after Jesus. But the word
"firstborn" literally means "a child not preceded by
another" and, in itself, makes no reference to the existence of
other children. Moreover, the Evangelist stresses this characteristic of
the Child, since certain obligations proper to Jewish law were linked to
the birth of the firstborn son, independently of whether the mother
might have given birth to other children. Thus every only son was
subject to these prescriptions because he was "begotten first"
(cf. Lk 2:23).
Several degrees of relationship are implied by the term 'brother'
3. According to some, Mary's virginity after the birth is denied by
the Gospel texts which record the existence of four "brothers of
Jesus": James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Mt 13:55-56; Mk 6:3), and
of several sisters.
It should be recalled that no specific term exists in Hebrew and
Aramaic to express the word "cousin", and that the terms
"brother" and "sister", therefore had a far broader
meaning which included several degrees of relationship. In fact, the
phrase "brothers of Jesus" indicates "the children"
of a Mary who was a disciple of Christ (cf. Mt 27:56) and who is
significantly described as "the other Mary" (Mt 28:1).
"They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament
expression" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.
Mary Most Holy is thus the "ever virgin". Her prerogative
is the consequence of her divine motherhood which totally consecrated
her to Christ's mission of redemption.