View all Ask a Priest | December 6, 2016
“Ask a Priest: Doesn’t Mary’s Virginity Detract From Marriage?”
Q: Why do we believe that Mary is ever-virgin? It makes it seem as though she would be less if she weren’t. I find it a little frustrating, though, because it makes her seem more far away, less human, especially if I’m a woman/mother/wife who won’t be ever-virgin. It makes it seem like what I’m doing is less or bad somehow. I don’t understand. Thank you. –K.J.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Let me point out at the start that marriage is a sacrament – and thus being a wife is good – and motherhood is a rightly honored state.
A proper answer to your question would require a book. But let me offer a few observations that might help.
First, Mary’s perpetual virginity is a fact of faith, if I may use that term. We don’t believe it because it’s “convenient” or because it fits in with some preconceived notions that we have. We believe it because it is true; it was part of God’s plan for Mary, and the Holy Spirit guides the Church so that it isn’t mistaken on this important point. It was fitting, too, that Mary, who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, would be the perpetually faithful spouse of the Spirit.
Your deeper question, though, is that perpetual virginity seems to somehow put marriage in a bad light. It doesn’t. In fact, it elevates marriage. Let me explain.
The Church values virginity for various reasons, including Jesus’ own virginity. Virginity points toward heaven, where there is no marriage (“At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” — Matthew 22:30). So virginity can be a kind of foretaste of heaven.
Virginity is prized, too, precisely because it can represent the voluntary giving up of marriage. Now, if marriage were bad, then it wouldn’t be a sacrifice to give it up — we would all be obliged to forgo it. But marriage is good – a sacrament, in fact. Hence, to give up marriage freely for the sake of the Kingdom is a noble sacrifice. In effect, virginity points up to the dignity and beauty and goodness of marriage.
Another consideration: many people instinctively recognize something good in virginity. Think of children. Part of what makes them so endearing is their innocence, their purity — their virginity.
Virginity can make it easier for a person to have a disinterested love across the board, without being tied down to one particular person. Virginity can also bring out good in others — it can raise their vision toward more transcendent goals.
Marriage, of course, has its own kind of beauty. Mary herself was the fruit of a marriage. And God’s very first command to humans was to “Be fertile and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
For further reading you might consider works dealing with St. John Paul II’s theology of the body. Popular writers such as Christopher West help to make accessible that Pope’s deep teaching about the beauty and dignity of marriage.
So don’t think that marriage is somehow faulty. On the contrary, it is a calling that can allow people to participate in the creative power of God in a special way. It is a pillar of healthy societies.