Month: December 2018

IS THE DOCTRINE OF MARY’S PERPETUAL VIRGINITY BIBLICAL?

1.  CHURCH DOCTRINE
That Mary remained a virgin her entire life is a De Fide (required of the faithful) doctrine of the Catholic Church.  See Documents of Vatican II (LG57), Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499, The Mother of the Redeemer, 39 (Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul Il, 1987), and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
2. VIRGINITY FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM
Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a radical feature of Christianity, and finds its biblical mandate at Matthew 19:12. Jesus, in fact, “is described” and “sees his own self identity” as that of the “celibate bridegroom” (article by Janet Smith; see also John 3:29 and Matthew 9:15). Paul presents celibacy as a highly favored state of life for believers saying, “I wish that all were as myself am [celibate].  But each has his own special gift from God….” (1 Cor. 7:7). Paul confirms the goodness of marriage at 1 Cor. 7:38 saying, “He who marries does well,” but then adds that “he who refrains from marriage will do better.” Mary embraced both marriage and celibacy, thus exemplifying in a unique way the sublime dignity of both vocations.
 
3.  MARY, SPOUSE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Mary is properly to be considered the spouse of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her and was the formal cause of her virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). This is why her offspring, Jesus, “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and this is also why Mary is properly called the Mother of God according to the decree of The Council of Ephesus in 431. Mary’s unique and “supernatural maternity” through the power of the Holy Spirit necessarily precludes her from intimate union with a man. Mary is a virgin because of her “undivided gift of herself” to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506).
 
4.  MARY’S VOW OF VIRGINITY
The relevant verse is Luke 1:34: “How shall this be, seeing I do not know man.” These words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation show that Mary did not intend to have conjugal relations with a man; otherwise, Mary surely would have known that conjugal relations with Joseph, her husband, could cause a pregnancy. Catholic theologian Stefano Manelli explains Mary’s strange response to the angel this way:
 
“Confronted by this [the angel Gabriel’s] wondrous announcement, however, the virgin finds herself embarrassed; not because of the sublime greatness of the majesty announced to her, but rather for the way in which such a maternity might be realized. The embarrassment would seem inexplicable because, on any reasonable grounds, she is precisely a woman in ideal conditions to conceive a son. She is the young spouse of Joseph – What young spouse would not be inclined to desire a beautiful son? It is obvious, therefore, and must be acknowledged that Mary’s difficulty stems from a precise commitment — vow or promise — “not to know man,” that is, to be and remain a virgin.  St. Augustine rightly says, that ‘Mary certainly would not have spoken those words If she had not vowed her virginity to Got” In fact, only by admitting Mary’s virginal consecration to God, can it be understood why she found herself facing an unsolvable dilemma: How to reconcile her virginal offering to God with the request of maternity on the part of God? How could she become a mother without betraying a promise of virginal consecration to God.”
(Stefano Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed, pages 137-140)

Warren H. Carroll adds:

“[The] Greek present tense used for Mary’s words in Luke 1:34 corresponds…to the Hebrew and Aramaic active participle indicating a permanent condition. Mary’s words in Aramaic were ki enneni yodaat ish, the yodaat indicating a permanent condition of virginity” (Warren Carroll summarizing and quoting from Manuel Miguen’s “indispensable” work, The Virgin Birth: an Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence (p.81) in The Founding of Christendom, Vol. I, p.310).

 
5. DID JESUS HAVE BROTHERS?

Robert Payesko comments:

“It is often alleged too that such verses as Mark 6:3, “His brethren James and Joseph, and Judas and Simon,” and Matthew 13:55- 56, “his brethren James and Joseph, and Simon and Judas,” are evidence that Jesus had brothers and sisters. What is forgotten is that the Jewish expression for brothers and sisters applies to cousins and even to people in the same tribe. Although Lot was the son of Jjraharn’s brother Aran, he is described as Abraham’s “brother” (Genesis 14:14). Similarly, Jacob is referred to as the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Genesis 29:15). Similar examples are found throughout Scripture.  In any case, in Matthew 27:56, Mark 14:40 and John 19:25, James and Joseph are described as the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas— thus Scripture tells us that the “brethren” James and Joseph in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 are not blood brothers of Jesus. If James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was truly a son of Mary it would be impossible for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be affirmed in the early Church Nevertheless, such ancient writers as IrenaeusPolycarp and Ignatius all taught the doctrine as an article of faith.”
(Robert Payesko. The Truth about Mary, page 2-198).

 Section 500 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“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.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”
 
 
6. MATTHEW 1:25: “UNTIL SHE BORE A SON”
The relevant verse is sometimes translated, “he [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, whom he named Jesus.” The New American Bible translates the verse as follows: “He had no relations with her at anytime before she bore a son, whom he named Jesus,” This verse demonstrates that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before Jesus’ birth, thus establishing the doctrine of Jesus’ virginal birth, The verse does not mean that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus was born.

Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

“The Greek hoes [until] does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth. This conjunction is often used (translated ‘”to” or “till”) to indicate a select period of time, without implying change in the future (2 Sam 6:23 [LXX]; Jn 9:18; 1 Tim 413). Here Matthew emphasizes only that Joseph had no involvement in Mary’s pregnancy before Jesus’ birth.”
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, page 18).
 

J. Laurericeau explains:

The semitic locution “until” makes no judgment about the future. Thus, “Michal was childless until the clay of her death” (2 Sm 6:23) [does not’t imply Michal became a mother after her death.]”
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)
 
7. MARY EXCLUSIVELY REFERRED TO IN BIBLE AS JESUS’ MOTHER
Mary is never called the mother of anyone else except Jesus in the New Testament. The Gospels refer only to Jesus as Mary’s son (the verses where Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son include John 2:1, John 19:25, and Acts 1:14). Further, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, it is unlikely that Jesus would have entrusted Mary to the Apostle John’s care at his crucifixion if Mary had other natural sons to care for her (John 19:26-27).
 
8. LUKE 2:7 “FIRSTBORN SON”

J. Laurencaau explains:

Luke says: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son” (2:7). This makes allusion to the legal prescriptions concerning the first male child of a family, even if there were no other children.
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)

 Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

[Luke 2:7 is] a legal term linked with a son’s social standing and rights of inheritance.  It does not imply that Mary had other children after Jesus, only that she had none before him.
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, page 22)
 
9. THE CHURCH FATHERS
The Protoevangelium of James, written around A.D. 120, had as one of its “principal aims” to prove the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Origin (died 254) strongly defended Mary’s perpetual virginity but Tertullian (died 230), who was excommunicated, denied it.  Other early Church fathers affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity include Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.  Reference: Mary: Ever Virgin (This Rock: February, 2002) and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
10. EARLY DOCTRINAL DEVELOPMENT
Mary referred to as “perpetual virgin” by the Fifth General Council at Constantinople in 553.  The first doctrinal formulation of this belief takes place at the Lateran Synod of 649 under Pope Martin I where Mary is called “blessed ever-virginal and Immaculate Mary.”  Reference: Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Black Madonna of Częstochowa (Public Domain, U.S.A.). Pope Francis prayed in front of this famous icon during his  World Youth Day visit to Poland in July of 2016. According to Joan Carroll Cruz, “the miracles attribited to Our Lady of Czestochowa are numerable and spectacular.” When my daughter Bridget Mulcahy visited the image in question at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland (during her WYD pilgrimage) she took the following photograph of the “wall of crutches” there which speaks to the miraculous, healing intercession of Our Lady of Czesochowa. Thanks Bridget!

 

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DEVOTION TO MARY’S IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CAN RENEW THE CHURCH

           

       “I am the Immaculate Conception” (The Blessed Virgin at Lourdes)

The Kingdom of the Incarnation – that is, the Kingdom founded by Jesus – is built on purity. “Since all God’s works are a disclosure of Himself,” we can look  backwards to the commencement of the Kingdom of the Incarnation to see that Christ’s Kingdom is built on purity (we cannot deny that God’s love is an even deeper foundation for this Kingdom, but love and purity go hand in hand).

The basis for our conclusion is simply the overwhelming purity of the four main members of Christ’s Kingdom at its very inception:

FIRST, we have the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Conception is, in essence, the hidden beginning of Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus chose to enter humanity through the Immaculate one, who is both Virgin and mother.

SECOND, we have our Lord himself, the “Celibate Bridegroom,” who is nothing short of INFINITE PURITY.

THIRD, we have Saint John the Baptist,  Jesus’ forerunner, who is a man of “mighty mortifications” and consecrated to celibacy.

FOURTH, we have Saint Joseph, a preeminent model of purity in the church (often depicted in art holding a lily of purity).

From these telling facts, we can see very clearly that not only was the Kingdom of the Incarnation built on purity, but that, in fact, this new Kingdom ushered in a monumental purity revolution. From these providential works of God (namely, the persons Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist and Joseph), which came at the very beginning of the Kingdom of the Incarnation, we reach the very important conclusion that the Eternal Father has the highest regard for purity (and thus that purity and holiness are inseparable). Stated differently, God’s Eternal and Infinite Purity shines forth at the commencement of Jesus’ Kingdom.  “…God’s works are so many mirrors in which He allows His creatures to behold the reflection of His invisible perfections and hidden beauty….” (F.W. Faber).

And yet when we look at the current condition of the Church there is great confusion being sown (by some Catholics) about sexual morality, even at very high levels (even within the Vatican). And there are certain priests and even Bishops who give impetus to the idea of approving homosexual relationships in some way, even while the Church is embroiled in a clergy sex abuse crisis which has rocked the very foundations of her existence. The only remedy out of this crisis is for the Church to lead the life of purity that has always been taught and preached by the Church. Trying to revise Catholic morality to fit the times is a complete disaster.

We are in need of power in the spiritual life in order to live lives of purity consistent with our baptismal consecration into the Kingdom of Christ. Here is a devotion full of power because Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a spiritual revolution in human history. It was a revolution because it brought forth a human being no longer contaminated by sin (Mary), who was fit to be the mother of the Savior of the world (Jesus). It is the Saints themselves who understood the marvelous union of Mary and Jesus.

Mary entered human existence by a remarkable grace that preserved her from original sin, and which set her apart to become the Mother of God and the harbinger of God’s own human existence in the person of Jesus.  Mary’s Immaculate Conception thus warrants a special devotion, and wearing the Miraculous Medal (first called the medal of the Immaculate Conception), and saying the prayer each morning, “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you,”  is one way to effectively practice this devotion. Saints who have been devoted to Mary’s Immaculate Conception include Saint Catherine Laboure (the nun who received the Miraculous Medal devotion from the Virgin Mary), Saint Bernadette, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and Saint Mother Teresa (whose nuns have given out millions of Miraculous Medals).

Father Faber, who I am essentially relying on for this note, talks about the power of this devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception; he indicates that her Immaculate Conception “is the first dawn of the world’s redemption.” He further indicates that devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception is calculated to help us greatly in our “present needs…against the torrent of modern impurity” (and Faber was writing around 150 years ago, so how much more do we need this devotion now!). Perhaps you know someone battling impurity: here is a devotion “eminently calculated” to sanctify our unruly passions. Faber recommends immense devotion to Mary and her Immaculate Conception, calling such devotion “a special power with God.” Of the power of Mary’s mediation Saint Pope John Paul II once said:

“In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation…Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ ” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 39)

This “preparation” began with the Immaculate Conception. If you are interested in the Miraculous Medal devotion, I recommend you read about the amazing conversion story of a Jewish man, Alphonse Ratisbonne. To do so, click on the post below:
The Miraculous Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

“…even the worlds of grace with which the angels were so munificently endowed, were as drops to the ocean compared with the grace of the Immaculate Conception” (F.W. Faber, The Precious Blood, p.145).

Renewal of the Church will come through devotion to Mary Immaculate. Otherwise, without devotion to the purity of Mary and Jesus, the Church is not true to her mission and suffers the horrible consequences of its own impurity.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: A short but powerful prayer invoking the Immaculate Conception is: “Oh Mary, by thy Immaculate Conception make my body pure and my soul holy.”  The tone and content of this note owing to the writings of Father Faber, and in the first two sentences I am copying him.

Image: The Virgin of the Lillies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau,1899 (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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WHAT IS THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION AND IS IT BIBLICAL?

(The Immaculate Conception by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1630, Public Domain, U,S.A.)

“And the angel … said… : ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women’.” (Luke 1:28)

1. Mary’s Immaculate Conception – the teaching that she was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb –  is an infallible doctrine of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope Pius IX , ex cathedra  (from the chair of St. Peter) on December 8, 1854. The Papal Bull reads:

“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” 

“With these words in 1854, Pope Pius IX in the Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus, declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be dogma. Pius was simply affirming a long-held belief of many Christians East and West before him, that Mary was conceived free of the stain of original sin, on account of Christ’s work, in order to bear God-made-flesh.”  (From Saint John Cantius Parish web-site)

2The dogma is confirmed four years later (in 1858) by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself in the most famous of her apparitions at Lourdes. At Lourdes, when asked her name by St. Bernadette, Mary responded in an extraordinary fashion, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Since then, Lourdes has been the situs of countless miracles.

3. Some of the early Reformers, such as Martin Luther, at least initially stood firmly behind this doctrine in that they saw that Mary would have to be a pure and sinless vessel in order to communicate to Jesus his sacred and holy body. The following quote from Martin Luther is illustrative:
 
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”
Martin Luther, (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the 
Mother of God,” 1527).

4. Contrary to popular belief, the doctrine has strong scriptural support in that:

A. Gabriel announces that Mary is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). If Mary is full of grace it follows that she is without sin (note how the angel does not call Mary by her name, but rather by a title, saying:“Hail, full of grace”  – and the angel is God’s messenger). The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible defends the traditional translation, “Hail, full of grace,” as against some modern translations, stating: “[The Greek word used by Luke], kecharitomene, indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life. Alternative translations like ‘favored one’… are possible but inadequate.”   

B. Saint Luke (in his Gospel) and Saint John (in the Book of Revelation) identify Mary as the  Ark of the New Covenant, thus comparing her to the all-holy Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. See “Topical Essay: Mary Ark of the Covenant” in The Ignatius Catholic Bible Study or click the following on-line article from Catholic Answers: Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant | Catholic Answers

C.  Mary’s Immaculate Conception is internally consistent with the doctrine of Original Sin (which flows from a number of Old and New Testament passages, especially at Romans 5:12-21). Since original sin is transmitted by physical generation, it follows logically that Jesus, who was born without sin, would have to be born from a spotless womb. Mary is that pure and spotless vessel: the woman who overflows with God’s grace; and

D. John the Baptist was sanctified in his mother’s womb. At Luke 1:15 it states that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. The passage, in context, reads as follows:

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:11-17)

The angel then identifies himself as Gabriel, the same angel of Mary’s annunciation a few lines later at Luke 1:26, who addresses Mary, not by a name, but by a title, “Hail, Full of grace.”  The point is obvious (I think its obvious): if John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, what was done in God’s providence to prepare Mary to be the mother of God? Luke then, as you know, makes a direct comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, implying the incredible magnitude of her sanctity and holiness. All of this fits in very nicely with the Church’s proclamation of her Immaculate Conception.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 

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