On our way to Mass yesterday, I asked my 14 year-old to read the Scripture readings out loud so we could think about them a bit before Mass, then get more out of them during Mass. There were a couple of things I realized from the Gospel at Mass yesterday:
- Luke makes a big point of Mary being a virgin. Not a maid or young girl, but a virgin. Her virginity seems VERY important to him. Her purity is important to ackowledge.
- When Gabriel says she will be the mother of the Savior, she asks, “How can this be?” even though she is betrothed to Joseph. If she and Joseph were going to have a regular marriage, this wouldn’t even be a question to ask, since obviously this would happen the usual way. Indeed, it would happen the same way the Covenant was continued in the Old Testament. One of her children would be the Messiah, and God would reveal at a later time which one. But Mary asks the question, as if there’s no way this can happen naturally.
What I think both of these point to is that Mary was not just any kind of virgin, but someone who had dedicated herself entirely to God, body and soul. A consecrated virgin, if you will. Her whole life was centered on doing the will of God, bending her own will to match His. If she was a consecrated virgin, dedicated to God and His Temple, then she would remain a virgin all her life. However, it wasn’t safe in those days for young girls to be alone in the world. She would have needed someone who would provide for her and protect her from danger.
That someone would be Joseph. Some traditions hold that Joseph was a widower, and that Mary was someone he could protect while she helped provide his home with the care that women typically gave at that time. If he had children (and if he was a widower, he probably did, she would be a step-mother to his children, and her Divine Son would have step-brothers and -sisters. This, of course, is an explanation for the passages that make note of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (Another is that ancient Hebrew had only one word for close relatives, and that word would cover siblings, cousins, and aunts and uncles.) But the point that came to mind yesterday was that right here, under our noses in Luke’s Gospel, are two keys to understanding Mary’s perpetual virginity: two clues that we read annually and probably miss completely. (I know I did!)