Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Following on yesterday’s post:

The Catholic Church, with its divinely-given teaching authority, professes that Mary was perpetually a virgin: before, during, and after the birth of Christ. St. Augustine said that Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast: always a virgin”.

It might seem, at first, like this teaching has no relevance in our lives. But the Spanish missionaries who came to evangelize the New World obviously didn’t think so, for they taught the people to say prayers that proclaimed these truths. For example, at the end of the Rosary said in Spanish – especially in Mexico – it is not uncommon to hear the people recite a series of Hail Marys that have been “expanded”. Namely:

  1. Hail, O most holy Mary, daughter of God the Father, most pure Virgin before childbirth: in your hands we place our faith so that you might illuminate it; full of grace, the Lord is with thee… (then it continues as usual)
  2. Hail, O most holy Mary, mother of God the Son, most pure Virgin during childbirth: in your hands we place our hope so that you might enliven it; full of grace… (then it continues as usual)
  3. Hail, O most holy Mary, spouse of God the Holy Spirit, most pure Virgin after childbirth: in your hands we place our charity so that you might inflame it; full of grace… (then it continues as usual)
  4. Hail, O most holy Mary, temple and sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity, Virgin conceived without original sin: Hail, holy Queen, mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope… (then it continues as usual)

What beautiful prayers the missionaries taught – which prayers, in turn, have taught the faith to many generations since! The missionaries thought it was important that people knew the teaching about the perpetual virginity of Mary, and I have noted that Hispanics, for their part, say these prayers with great devotion, even centuries later.

The handy Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it thus:

98. What does the virginal conception of Jesus mean?

The virginal conception of Jesus means that Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin solely by the power of the Holy Spirit without the intervention of a man. He is the Son of the heavenly Father according to his divine nature and the Son of Mary according to his human nature. He is, however, truly the Son of God in both natures since there is in him only one Person who is divine.

99. In what sense is Mary “ever Virgin”?

Mary is ever virgin in the sense that she “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” (Saint Augustine). Therefore, when the Gospels speak of the “brothers and sisters of Jesus”, they are talking about the close relations of Jesus, according to the way of speaking used in Sacred Scripture.

100. In what way is the spiritual motherhood of Mary universal?

Mary had only one Son, Jesus, but in him her spiritual motherhood extends to all whom he came to save. Obediently standing at the side of the new Adam, Jesus Christ, the Virgin is the new Eve, the true mother of all the living, who with a mother’s love cooperates in their birth and their formation in the order of grace. Virgin and Mother, Mary is the figure of the Church, its most perfect realization.

Mary’s perpetual virginity is important because, in Christ, it extends to our birth into the family of God as well. She is our mother also who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us rebirth into the life of grace – the divine life. As those prayers above say, she helps us to grow in faith, hope, and charity, the virtues that help us to imitate God and do his will here on earth. Death came to us through Adam and Eve, but life comes to us through Christ, the New Adam, and Mary, the New Eve.

These are things upon which we should meditate in our prayer. Faith seeks to understand. May we understand more fully the great role that the Blessed Virgin Mary holds in our spiritual lives, and grow in devotion to her, who always leads us to her Son.

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