Read ~ Chapter 15: Mary Virgin
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and the Cappadocian Fathers)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
The Concepts virginity and celibacy
The difference between virginity and celibacy: A person is considered a virgin if they never had intercourse in their life. Celibacy implies that a person is living right now without any sexual relationships but does not necessarily mean that they are virgin. There is always a second chance virginity for those who lost it physically but intend to start living it again from now on.
Physical virginity and spiritual virginity: Physical virginity indicates that a person has not had a physical sexual relationship yet. Spiritual virginity implies that a person determines to exercise their sexuality according to God’s plan. If they are married, spiritual virginity implies a relationship with their spouse only according to the Gospel’s values. If they are not married, spiritual virginity implies the determination of abstaining from sex until they enter in a lawful marriage.
Physical virginity does not necessarily imply spiritual virginity because one could be virgin only because they can’t get someone to be with them sexually. Intentional physical virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19) automatically implies spiritual virginity. Spiritual virginity does not automatically imply a physical virginity because a faithful love between married couples eliminates physical virginity.
Virginity in the Bible
Virginity in the Old Testament: Before the Old Testament the concept of virginity did not exist. With the calling of Abraham, God started to implement concepts of dedication and virginity in the mindset of the Hebrews. Virginity became an important condition in the woman who is about to marry her husband. Yet, virginity was not something that the Old Testament looked at as a total dedication to God like the New Testament does. Yet, People did adopt virginity as a dedication to God like the Essene community, and many characters in the Old Testament who vowed to serve God in the Temple. John the Baptist is an evident example of virginity leading to a much higher and elaborate concept in the New Testament.
Virginity in the New Testament: In the New Testament, virginity is considered a very positive quality that produces lifelong effects and consequences. We don’t look at the cup to be half empty (sex is not allowed); we look at it as half full (virginity as a consecration and commitment to a value). Because the human person is a unity of body and spiritual soul, virginity becomes a total consecration to Christ, body and soul. It is not a negative concept of abstaining from sexual relationships. It started with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, continued through the New Testament, especially in the life of St. Paul and the early Church. It continues to exist in our times as a sign of the Gospel’s everlasting values. The Catechism teaches: “Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.” (CCC, 1619)
Virginity in the New Testament established by the Church and an invitation by Christ: There are things of divine order established by Christ himself in the Church that cannot be changed (i.e., the sacraments and the truths of faith). On the other hands, there are things of ecclesiastical order that can be changed to adapt the Church’s mission to cultures and the changing of customs and times. Virginity and celibacy are established by ecclesiastical order. As long as the affairs of the Kingdom of God are at the center of every person’s life, marriage, celibacy, and virginity are all good vacations. St. Paul summarizes this theology in these terms: “About remaining celibate, I have no directions from the Lord but give my own opinion as one who, by the Lord’s mercy, has stayed faithful. Well then, I believe that in these present times of stress this is right: that it is good for a man to stay as he is. If you are tied to a wife, do not look for freedom; if you are free of a wife, then do not look for one. But if you marry, it is no sin, and it is not a sin for a young girl to get married. They will have their troubles, though, in their married life, and I should like to spare you that. Brothers, this is what I mean: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.” (1 Corinthians, 7:25-31)
Importance of Mary’s Virginity
Mary Virgin Physically and spiritually: The Catholic Church has always believed and taught that Mary remained virgin her entire life, physically and spiritually. The prophet Isaiah (7:14) said “behold the Virgin will conceive a child and bear a son and His name will be Emanuel”. Those people or theologians who translated the “virgin” into “maid” or “girl” are mistaken, because the word used in Hebrew ha’alma as well as its Greek translation parthenos, indicates a ‘virgin’ who never had a physical sexual relationship.
Theologically important for Mary to be physically Virgin: It is theologically important that Mary is physically Virgin not because sex is bad. In fact, sexual relationships between married people is a sacrament and a blessing since it is established by Christ himself. However, it is important for Mary to be physically Virgin because her total consecration to the event of the Incarnation. Mary decided not only in her mind, but also in her body to remain a virgin. Mary conceived Jesus in her mind before conceiving him in her body. Mary’s bodily virginity is a consequence of her soul’s union with her only spouse, Jesus Christ her Son and her God.
Mary’s virginity is necessary by God’s plan: The Catholic Church has always rejected the teaching that advocates “as long as Mary gives us Jesus, it is not important that she is a Virgin or not.” There is a reason behind the Church’s belief in Mary’s virginity: it is God’s plan. Why?
Unity of body and soul implies a necessary total virginity: The human person is a unity of body and spiritual soul and as such they are in the image and likeness of God. Not only the spiritual soul but, because of its union with the body, the body is also made in the image of God. There is nowadays a dangerous hidden rationalism that radically separates the human body from the spiritual soul.
When the Virgin Mary chose to consecrate herself totally to the mystery of Christ, her dedication involved her whole being. Because of the inseparable unity of her body and soul, virginity was the natural result of her choice: she was so united to Christ in her soul that she also conceived him in her body. The effects of her spiritual union with her Son was expressed into a physical virginity. The Catechism, quoting St. Augustine, says: “Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith ‘unadulterated by any doubt’, and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will. It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior: ‘Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ’.” (CCC, 506 and St. Augustine, De. Virg., 3)
This explains why the Fathers of the Church, when describing Mary’s faith, often stated that she conceived Jesus in her mind before she conceived him in her womb (see my book: The Faith of Mary). They also put her in antithesis with Eve who lost such a dedication through sin. The ultimate result of Mary’s virginal consecration is, as St. Ireneus relates, our salvation: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.” (Adv. Haeres. 3:22)
Mary’s Virginity in conceiving Christ (ante partum)
Virginal conception of Christ: How is it possible that Mary conceived Jesus while still remaining virgin? When the angel came to announce God’s plan to Mary to conceive Jesus, she said, “Yes.” At that moment and in an unprecedented way ever in the history of humanity, Mary, through the action of the Holy Spirit, conceived Jesus without losing her physical virginity. Why? Because it was done by the action of the Holy Spirit. The laws of nature were serving the unique event of the Son’s Incarnation.
Mary’s Virginity during childbirth (in partum)
While Mary was physically delivering Jesus, she remained Virgin. How is that possible? How can Mary deliver an authentic true human body and remain physically Virgin during that delivery? It was possible because in the unique event of Christ’s Incarnation, nature was serving the purpose of God’s plan. The way Jesus got out of the womb of Mary without her losing her virginity was the same way he got in: through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
It is amazing what St. Ignatius of Antioch says about the salvific dimension of Mary’s virginity. It is such a mysterious event behind which God intended for Mary’s virginity to be an instrument to defeat sin and death: “Mary’s virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord’s death escaped the notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God’s silence.” (Ad Eph. 19, 1)
Mary’s perpetual Virginity (post partum)
Joseph did not have a sexual relationship with Mary: The Gospel of St. Matthew relates that “Joseph didn’t have any relations with her until she delivered her first son”. St. Matthew was not implying that she did have a relationship with Joseph after delivering her Son. That was not the focus of St. Matthew. His main message was to deny the involvement of St. Joseph until the moment of the birth of Jesus and not to confirm her losing her virginity after she delivered Jesus.
The word until in Greek is eos. It is a preposition that denies the past without confirming the future. If I say, “I fasted until (eos) four o’clock today,” it does not mean that I ate after four o’clock, especially if my focus is about not eating till four o’clock. That preposition eos used in “Joseph did not have relations with her until (eos) she delivered her son,” denies the past without confirming the future.
The same term (eos) is also used in 2 Samuel 6:23: “and Michal daughter of Saul had no children until (eos) the day of her death.” Obviously, this cannot mean that she had children after her death. The focus is on the ‘before’ of the event’ not on the ‘after’.
Jesus did not have blood brothers and sisters? No, Jesus did not have blood brothers. One needs to understand Scripture in the context in which it was written (we call this exegesis). An example of exegesis is Mark 6 where four “brothers” of Jesus are mentioned. When a person living in the United States today reads the word “brother” they immediately think that Jesus Christ had physical brothers from the same mother and father. In Mark 6, this is not the case. A person from the Middle East who understands its culture would comprehend immediately that Jesus did not have blood brothers (see Gen 13:8; 14:16; 29:15). Several reasons:
- The Virgin Mary has always been called “the Mother of Jesus” or “His Mother.” There are no other titles applied to her in the New Testament except these two. The four brothers mentioned in Mark 6 have a different Mary as their mother mentioned twice at the end of the same Gospel (Mark 15 and Mark 16:1). The mother of the four brothers is a different Mary. St Matthew calls her the ‘other Mary’. (Matthew 13:55)
- In Jesus’ culture of honor and shame, Jesus would have never entrusted his Mother to John at the foot of the cross if Jesus had blood brothers. It just does not happen in that culture.
- After his resurrection Jesus told the women to ask “his brothers” (the Apostles) to meet him in Galilee (Matthew, 28). The Apostles, as we all know, are not Jesus’ blood brothers, even though Jesus called them brothers.
- In the tribal system of life during the time of Jesus, all children of the patriarch and the matriarch lived in a tribal system of tents and everyone called everyone “brother” (Abraham called Lot his brother even though Lot is his nephew).
- The Tradition of the Catholic Church has taught since the beginning that Mary remained Virgin her entire life. As we all know (see the chapter on The Tradition of the Catholic Church), the Holy Spirit has led the Church to believe in Mary’s Virginity as part of the Divine Revelation entrusted by God to the Catholic Church.
After Mary delivered Jesus, she freely and willingly decided to maintain her physical and spiritual virginity as a sign of her total dedication to Christ’s work of redemption. It is a dedication from the womb to the tomb. Nobody ever consecrated themselves to the work of Jesus like Mary did. At the moment Mary accepted to be inserted into the Mystery of Christ, she chose to be ever Virgin, physically and spiritually, until the end of her life. Vatican II and the Catechism summarizes this theology: “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 (See Vatican II, LG 57) In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (CCC, 499)
Mary’s virginity and motherhood becomes the most perfect icon of the Church identity and mission. Vatican II and the Catechism beautifully express this by saying: “At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church: the Church indeed. . . by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse.” (CCC, 507 and LG 64)
Virginity in today’s Culture
God’s truth about purity is unchanging: The truths of the Gospel are transcendental and eternal. God’s laws and commandments cannot be changed by any culture whatsoever. We read in the Psalms: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Ps 119:9). We are all called to purity of intention in all our acts. This means that the motive behind our action must coincide with the nature of the action done.
Virginity is a vocation: People might think “we all have sexual needs.” If your vocation is to be married, it is a noble vocation. Follow it and practice virginity in your marriage in the sense of faithfulness and sexual practices according to God’s plan. Until then, train your body to abstain from sexual relationships. Your body will get used to being dedicated to Christ. As soon as you have it in your mind to abstain, your body will follow. In the context of marriage, every time a husband and wife offer themselves to each other, they live their spiritual virginity because through their mutual self-offering they dedicate themselves to Christ through their spouse.
Our battle against concupiscence: Having sexual relationship randomly as the media portrays it, is false and misleading. Making fun in shows and movies of those who consecrate themselves through virginity to Christ, is pitiful. Everyone will be judged by the merciful Lord who revealed the sacredness of the human body. St. Paul says to Timothy: “Shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22) There are ‘gospels’ that help us conquer our disordered passions: receiving the sacraments, deep prayer life, avoid the occasions of sin, and develop an addiction to innocent things that life offers.
Virginity defeats Rationalism: Because of the unity of body and soul, as Saint Pope John Paul II taught throughout his pontificate, the action of the human person involves the body and the soul equally. Separating the body from the soul destroys the intrinsic dignity of the moral code: we see it today when someones claims to be ‘a spiritual person and close to God’ whereas what they do in their bodies is often against the moral values of the Gospel. Every action involves the totality of the human person, body and soul. This false separation is exactly what rationalism is all about.
Rationalism reduces the human person to a mere flesh and therefore identifies it with no more then any material of this world or an animal body. Rationalism hates the teaching of Vatican II where it states that “only in the mystery of the Word made flesh is the mystery of man unfolded.” This sentence is a summary of what the Church teaches about the human person as a unity of body and spiritual soul: The human person is not a mere body that will disappear forever after death. The human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and, united to the soul, will rise from the dead on the last day. On this subject, check the presentations of EWTN: EWTN
Mary’s virginity as our ultimate model: I invite you today when you look at the Virgin Mary as the highest model of virginity and consecration, to consider that as a lesson for your life and try to imitate it. Your battle against concupiscence starts in the deepest recesses of your heart (heart in the biblical sense which includes the entire interior dimension of the human person).