THE HOLY VIRGIN
One of the most ancient and revered titles of Our Lady is the Virgin. Christians since the Apostles have lovingly called Mary: the Virgin Mary, the Holy Virgin, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or simply the Virgin, because Mary is, after her Divine Son, the archetypal virgin.
In honoring the virginity of Mary Christians are also giving praise to God for the magnificent gift with which He adorned Our Lady. Every sincere, authentic devotion and tribute paid to the Blessed Mother redounds to the glory of Christ. And so the glorious virginity of Mary Immaculate is intimately associated with the mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That Mary is truly the Mother of Jesus Christ reinforces the teaching of the Church that Christ is true man. That Mary is ever virgin, even in giving birth to the Christ Child, points to the stupendous reality that her Son, Jesus Christ, is true God. Mary's virginity (and what is called the virginal conception of Christ) guards the doctrine that her Son, Jesus Christ, had no human biological father. He is truly the Son of the Eternal Father.
Our Lady's perpetual virginity more over affirms her total consecration to God and signifies that she was specially elected by God to be "full of grace." The Virgin Mary is the "enclosed garden" in which the Lord takes delight. She was the first to consecrate herself to Christ in virginity. Along with her Divine Son, the Virgin Mary is the model <par excellence> of religious, priests, and those living a dedicated single life.
Mary's perpetual virginity is a <de fide> doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the constant teaching and tradition of the Church from the Apostolic age. Mary was (and intended to remain) a virgin when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her. This is the only reasonable explanation of her response to the angel's announcement that she was to become the Mother of the Savior: "How can this be, since I know not man?" If Mary had not vowed perpetual virginity (since she did not suspect the extraordinary miracle of the virginal conception that was to take place), why would she have asked how she could become the Messiah's mother, especially since she was espoused to Joseph at the time?
In recent years the impious have made scurrilous attacks on the doctrine of Our Lady's perpetual virginity. Usually, the arguments employed misconstrue some passage in the Bible in an attempt to disprove the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us briefly consider some of these passages.
Mary gave birth to her <first-born> son (Lk 2:7). To refer to a first born son among the Jews did not necessarily imply that there were other sons. Joseph knew Mary not <till> she gave birth to her son (Mt 1:25). Again, the Semitic idiom (translated <till>) does not imply that Mary and Joseph had relations <after> the birth of the Savior. And the Gospels in several different places speak of the "brothers" of Jesus. Among the Jews at the time of Christ the word brother referred not only to siblings but also to cousins.
This is what is meant by the perpetual virginity of Our Lady: she remained a virgin while conceiving her Son, Jesus Christ; her physical virginity was not disturbed by her giving birth to the Divine Infant; and she maintained her virginity during her marriage to St. Joseph and afterwards.
The Church teaches that Mary was <virgo ante partum>-virgin before birth; <virgo in partu>-virgin during birth; <virgo post partum>-virgin after birth.
Many of the titles under which the faithful invoke Mary Immaculate in the popular Litany of Loreto refer to her virginity:
<Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us...
Virgin most prudent, pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, pray for us.>
John O'Connell is the Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.
This article was taken from the March/April 1996 issue of "The Catholic Faith". Published bi-monthly for 24.95 a year by Ignatius Press. To subscribe, call: 1-800-651-1531 or write: The Catholic Faith, P.O. Box 160, Snohomish, WA 98291-0160.