Today’s catechism sections discuss the perpetual virginity of Mary. Supporting material comes from St. Jerome’s “The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary”.

Mary's divine motherhood

495 Called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus"; Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord".144 In fact, 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).145

Mary's virginity

496 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, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived "by the Holy Spirit without human seed".146 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. Thus St. Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century says:

You are firmly convinced about our Lord, who is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, Son of God according to the will and power of God, truly born of a virgin,. . . he was truly nailed to a tree for us in his flesh under Pontius Pilate. . . he truly suffered, as he is also truly risen.147

497 The Gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility:148 "That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit", said the angel to Joseph about Mary his fiancee.149 The Church sees here the fulfillment of the divine promise given through the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son."150

498 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;151 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"152 in the totality of Christ's mysteries, from his Incarnation to his Passover. St. Ignatius of Antioch already bears witness to this connection: "Mary's virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord's death escaped the notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God's silence."153

Mary - "ever-virgin"

499 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.154 In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it."155 and so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin".156

500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus.157 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".158 They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.159

501 Jesus is Mary's only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: "The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother's love."160

IN BRIEF

509 Mary is truly "Mother of God" since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God himself.

510 Mary "remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin" (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is "the handmaid of the Lord" (⇒ Lk 1:38).

St. Jerome discussed the perpetual virginity of Mary in his work, “The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary”.

5. This, however, is a point which will find its proper place further on. We must now hasten to other matters. The passage for discussion now is, And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife and knew her not till she had brought forth a son, and he called his name Jesus. Here, first of all, it is quite needless for our opponent to show so elaborately that the word know has reference to coition, rather than to intellectual apprehension: as though anyone denied it, or any person in his senses could ever imagine the folly which Helvidius takes pains to refute. Then he would teach us that the adverb till implies a fixed and definite time, and when that is fulfilled, he says the event takes place which previously did not take place, as in the case before us, and knew her not till she had brought forth a son. It is clear, says he, that she was known after she brought forth, and that that knowledge was only delayed by her engendering a son. To defend his position he piles up text upon text, waves his sword like a blind-folded gladiator, rattles his noisy tongue, and ends with wounding no one but himself.

6. Our reply is briefly this—the words knew and till in the language of Holy Scripture are capable of a double meaning. As to the former, he himself gave us a dissertation to show that it must be referred to sexual intercourse, and no one doubts that it is often used of the knowledge of the understanding, as, for instance, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem, and his parents knew it not. Now we have to prove that just as in the one case he has followed the usage of Scripture, so with regard to the word till he is utterly refuted by the authority of the same Scripture, which often denotes by its use a fixed time (he himself told us so), frequently time without limitation, as when God by the mouth of the prophet says to certain persons, (Isaiah 46:4) Even to old age I am he. Will He cease to be God when they have grown old? And the Savior in the Gospel tells the Apostles, (Matthew 28:20) Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Will the Lord then after the end of the world has come forsake His disciples, and at the very time when seated on twelve thrones they are to judge the twelve tribes of Israel will they be bereft of the company of their Lord? Again Paul the Apostle writing to the Corinthians says, Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ's, at his coming. Then comes the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet. Granted that the passage relates to our Lord's human nature, we do not deny that the words are spoken of Him who endured the cross and is commanded to sit afterwards on the right hand. What does he mean then by saying, for he must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet? Is the Lord to reign only until His enemies begin to be under His feet, and once they are under His feet will He cease to reign? Of course His reign will then commence in its fullness when His enemies begin to be under His feet. David also in the fourth Song of Ascents speaks thus, Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us. Will the prophet, then, look unto the Lord until he obtain mercy, and when mercy is obtained will he turn his eyes down to the ground? Although elsewhere he says, My eyes fail for your salvation, and for the word of your righteousness.

Footnotes

144 ⇒ Lk 1:43; ⇒ Jn 2:1; ⇒ 19:25; cf. ⇒ Mt 13:55; et al.
145 Council of Ephesus (431): DS 251.
146 Council of the Lateran (649): DS 503; cf. DS 10-64.
147 St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Smyrn 1-2: Apostolic Fathers, ed. J. B. Lightfoot (London: Macmillan, 1889), 11/2, 289-293; SCh 10, 154-156; cf. ⇒ Rom 1:3; ⇒ Jn 1:13.
148 ⇒ Mt 1 18-25; ⇒ Lk 1:26-38.
149 ⇒ Mt 1:20.
150 Is 7:14 (LXX), quoted in Mt 1:23 (Greek).
151 Cf. St. Justin, Dial. 99, 7: PG 6, 708-709; Origen, Contra Celsum 1, 32, 69: PG 11, 720-721; et al.
152 Dei Filius 4: DS 3016.
153 St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Eph. 19, 1: AF 11/2 76-80: cf. I Cor 2:8.
154 Cf. DS 291; 294; 427; 442; 503; 571; 1880.
155 LG 57.
156 Cf. LG 52.
157 Cf. ⇒ Mk 3:31-35; ⇒ 6:3; ⇒ I Cor 9:5; ⇒ Gal 1:19.
158 ⇒ Mt 13:55; ⇒ 28:1; cf. ⇒ Mt 27:56.
159 Cf. ⇒ Gen 13:8; ⇒ 14:16; ⇒ 29:15; etc.
160 LG 63; cf. ⇒ Jn 19:26-27; ⇒ Rom 8:29; ⇒ Rev 12:17.