April 20, 2013

Is It Important That Mary Was a Virgin?

Catechism paragraphs 484 – 534

“The mission of the Holy Spirit is always conjoined and ordered to that of the Son.  (Jn 16:14-15)  The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, is sent to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary and divinely fecundate it, causing her to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own. (Lk 1:34)  485   What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.  487   From all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  (Lk 1:26-7) 488   


“To become the mother of the Savior, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.  (LG 56)  The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.”  490   Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, full of grace through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.  That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:  The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.  491   The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God the All-Holy (Panagia) and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as thought fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.’  By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.”  493 


“By the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that ‘with God nothing is impossible:’  Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.  (Lk 1:28-38) 494   The One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity.  Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos).  495   From the first   formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own.  496   The gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility.  (Mt 1:18-25)  The Church sees here the fulfillment of the divine promise given through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.’ (Is 7:14, quoted in Mt 1:23)  497   People are sometimes troubled by the silence of St. Mark’s Gospel and the New Testament Epistles about Jesus’ virginal conception.  Some might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological constructs not claiming to be history.  To this we must respond:  Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery, or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike; so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation to the ideas of the age.  The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, which understands in it the connection of these mysteries with one another in the totality of Christ’s mysteries, from his Incarnation to his Passover.  498   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.  In fact, Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’ (LG 57)  And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the ‘Ever Virgin.’ 499   Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus.  The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary.  In fact, James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus,’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary.’  (Mt 13:55)  500   Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save.  501   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 new sons who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God to a new and immortal life.’” (LG 64) 507  


“Concerning Christ’s life the Creed speaks only about the mysteries of the Incarnation (conception and birth) and Paschal mystery (passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension).  It says nothing explicitly about the mysteries of Jesus’ hidden or public life, but the articles of faith concerning his Incarnation and Passover do shed light on the whole of his earthly life.  All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter.(Acts 1:1-2) 512   Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels.  What is written in the Gospels was set down there ‘so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.’ (Jn 20:31) 514   Christ’s whole earthly life – his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking – is Revelation of the Father.  Jesus can say: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’ (Jn 14:9, Lk 9:35) 516   Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption.  Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of his cross, (Col 1:13-14) but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.  517   Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation ‘for us men and for our salvation’ to his ‘death for our sins’ and Resurrection ‘for our justification.’  He is still ‘our advocate with the Father,’ who ‘always lives to make intercession’ for us.  519   In all his life Jesus presents himself as our model.  He is ‘the perfect man,’ who invites us to become his disciples and follow him.  In humbling himself, he has given us an example to imitate, through his prayer he draws us to pray, and by his poverty he calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way.  520   By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man. (GS 22) 521  To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom.  For this, we must humble ourselves and become little.  Even more:  to become ‘children of God’ we must be ‘born from above’ or ‘born of God.’” (Jn 3:7, 1:13, 1:12) 526  

I bolded the above section because I believe it to be a key teaching of the Catholic Church, one which must be thought on much, to understand what it means to be and live as a Catholic and a Child of God.  It is how we were created to be, and an clear example of how we are meant to live our lives.  This is most important, and we so easily forget it in our concerns for ourselves.

“Jesus’ circumcision, on the eighth day after his birth, is the sign of his incorporation into Abraham’s descendants, into the people of the covenant.  It is the sign of his submission to the Law.  This sign prefigures that ‘circumcision of Christ’ which is Baptism.  (Cf Col 2:11-3) 527   During the greater part of his life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor.  His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the law of God, a life in the community.  From this whole period it is revealed to us that Jesus was ‘obedient’ to his parents and that he ‘increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.’ (Lk 2:51-2) 531   The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into the fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.”  533  

In the next session, we’ll begin considering those parts of the Creed which center on the mysteries of Jesus’ public life, catechism paragraphs 535 – 570.

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