Listening to Sister Deirdre Byrne’s otherwise wonderful speech at the RNC I was taken aback by her referral to Our Lady as an “unwed mother.” The speech could hardly have been more Catholic if it were not for that unfortunate indiscretion. Hopefully someone has brought it to her attention and, humble soul that she surely is, she will make a public correction.
Our Lady was indeed married to Saint Joseph at the time she conceived Our Lord.
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27).
We must first note that espousals were not the same thing as engagements today. There was no such thing as engagement in Jewish matrimonial ritual. Nor, as far as I could ascertain, were there rings involved.
Espoused, therefore, means married. The Church has even had a feast day for the Espousals of Mary and Joseph. With the revisions of the calendar in 1962, it was omitted. It was on January 23 in the universal calendar, although some religious orders had it on different dates. Thankfully, it is still celebrated by some priests who use the older calendar.
There were two parts to marriage in the Old Testament. The first bound husband and wife legally. Jesus received His title Son of David, His Kingship, from Joseph, His foster father. The second was when the husband took his wife into his home and consummated the marriage. Joseph took Mary into his home in Nazareth as his ever-Virgin Spouse in an unconsummated marriage. Thusly do we read in the Gospel of Matthew:
[T]he angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost (1:20).
Note, therefore, that Mary is called his “wife” before he takes her into his home.
I think that this is what is missing in the painting called Madonna of the Streets. It is a very popular work today by Roberto Ferruzzi, who actually painted it about one hundred years ago. Our Lady is very young as she holds the Infant Jesus in her arms and indeed she was. But the painting needs Saint Joseph, her Spouse, the protector of Jesus and Mary. It is too open to the interpretation of an “unwed mother.” This is my opinion.
Saint Joseph, chaste spouse of the Mother of God, pray for us!