Q. Why do we believe that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus was born? It doesn’t make sense to me that she couldn’t have normal relations with her husband, Joseph. Can you explain this part of Catholic teaching?
A. The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is a dogma of our faith (a divinely inspired and articulated teaching) that proclaims the divinity of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, as well as the supernatural nature of the Church as a virgin mother. The virginal conception of Jesus was a divine action – He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and thus has no human father. His divine nature comes from God the Father, while His human nature comes from Mary and her alone. The uniqueness of Jesus’ conception is further revealed in that the Church has always taught that Mary is aeiparthenos (Ever-Virgin) before, during and after Christ’s birth.
Why did God ask this of Mary? To forgo having any children with her husband Joseph when to do so would have been a good and holy act of love? Mary accepted her call from God to be a perpetual virgin (and we must say Joseph deserves equal admiration for honouring God and his wife in forgoing any conjugal relations with her) as a way to testify to the divinity of her Son who alone would bless her womb with His divine and human presence. But there are also two other important reasons. The first was to show her perpetual virginity as a sign of her faith. St. Augustine said that Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ. In doing so, she offers us all an example to imitate in our own relationship with Christ, one of deep and abandoning faith and trust as to whatever plans He has in store for our lives. Second, Mary’s perpetual virginity allows her to be a virgin mother, and not just as the mother of Jesus, but also a spiritual mother to all who come to the Lord to be saved (CCC 501).
As virgin and mother, Mary reveals how she is a perfect example of what the Church is meant to be. For just as Mary conceived Jesus in faith and gave birth to Him to allow Him to save us from our sins, so too does the Church as a mother conceive the Lord in faith and through her preaching and the gift of baptism give birth to countless sons and daughters (LG 64). As Mary allowed God to preserve her virginity for all time, so too is the Church preserved as a virgin by God to keep the faith in its entirety and purity for countless generations to embrace (LG 64).