Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

“The friends of Christ refuse to admit subsequent marital relations between Joseph and Mary. Accordingly, those who denied the virginity post partum are not the friends of Christ; they are not true Christians.” (St. Basil the Great +379)

People of good will take a certain pleasure in seeing truth defended with conviction, with a combination of intelligence and fortitude that does not buckle in the face of error and opposition. Some subjects excite righteous passions more than others, perhaps. One of these is our own Blessed Lady — Mary, the Mother of God.

The virginity post partum (after the birth of Christ) of the Blessed Virgin is one of those doctrines that is cavalierly tossed aside by heretics of different stripes. Today, many so-called “fundamentalist” Protestants continue to misrepresent those Gospel verses which speak of the “brethren” of Jesus, verses which refer to His relatives, not to actual “brothers” and “sisters.” Thus, they choose to believe that Our Lady and St. Joseph had children after the virgin birth of Christ — in contradiction to the teachings of their own forerunners, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, who maintained at least enough presence of mind to uphold Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.

This particular assault on the Mother of the Savior is nothing new. The serpent in Eden heard God’s own prophecy about the “Woman” — the Mother of a Son — who would crush his head beneath Her heel. He has hated Her ever since, and naturally (or un-naturally, as the case may be), inspires others to do so. Our Lady is the very image of the Catholic Church. Her maternity brought forth the Redeemer; that of the Church brings forth the brethren of the Redeemer. Small wonder, then, that Mary — Virgin and Mother — should come under special attack.

"Am I not here who am your Mother?"

Our Lady of Guadalupe: “Am I not here, who am your Mother?”

The heretic, Cerinthus (who flourished c. 100 A.D.), influenced by gnosticism, taught that Jesus “received” Christ at His baptism — as a power or revelation from the “unknown” Father — and that this Christ left Jesus before the Passion. In his Adversus haereses (Against Heresies), St. Irenaeus (+202), Father of the Church, recorded that Cerinthus “represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while He nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men.” Here is an early example of sacrilege hiding behind a professed “respect” for Jesus.

The second century A.D. saw the rise of a heretical sect known as the Ebionites (“poor men”), who adhered to the observance of the Jewish Law. Some Ebionites accepted, while others rejected, the virginal birth of Christ, though all rejected His pre-existence and Divinity. They also denied Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. In his History of the Church, Eusebius (+ c. 341) wrote, “The heresy of the Ebionites, as it is called, asserts that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary, considering Him a mere man, and insists strongly on keeping the law in a Jewish manner.” Towards the end of the fourth century, they were regarded as Antidicomarianites (“opponents of Mary”), characterized by a denial of the formula “ever-Virgin Mary.” They were challenged by St. Epiphanius (+403), Father of the Church, who addressed them in his study and refutation of heresy, also entitled Adversus haereses:

“Is not the very name sufficient witness? Is it not enough to convince you, you quarrelsome fellow? Was there ever anyone who dared pronounce the name of holy Mary without immediately adding the title Virgin?”

The virginity in partu (during the birth of Jesus) and post partum (after His birth) are as zealously defended by the True Church as they are callously disregarded by those who spurn Her. The Lateran Council (649) proclaimed:

“If anyone does not properly and truly confess in accord with the holy Fathers, that the holy Mother of God and ever Virgin and immaculate Mary in the earliest of the ages conceived of the Holy Ghost without seed, namely, the Word of God Himself specifically and truly, Who was born of God the Father before all ages, and that She incorruptibly bore Him, Her virginity remaining indestructible even after His birth, let him be condemned.”

Pope Paul IV, in the ordinance Cum quorundam (1555), condemned as “depravity” and “iniquity” the belief that the Virgin Mary “did not always persist in the integrity of virginity, namely, before bringing forth, at bringing forth, and always after bringing forth.”

The great Fathers and Doctors of the Church had little patience with anyone who dared deny the Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God. St. Hilary of Poitiers (+368) referred to such people as “irreligious, perverted, knowing absolutely nothing of spiritual truth.” In his The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary, Against Helvidius, St. Jerome (+420) replied with gusto to that heretic, who had denied the Perpetual Virginity. He begins with:

“I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating.”

As for Helvidius himself, St. Jerome offers a colorful comparison by invoking the memory of the infamous arsonist of antiquity, Herostratus, who burned down the Ephesian Temple of Artemis (i.e., Diana), one of the wonders of the ancient world, in 356 B.C.:

“There are things which, in your extreme ignorance, you had read, and therefore you neglected the whole range of Scripture and employed your madness in outraging the Virgin, like the man in the story who being unknown to everybody and finding that he could devise no good deed by which to gain renown, burned the temple of Diana: and when no one revealed the sacrilegious act, it is said that he himself went up and down proclaiming that he was the man who had applied the fire. The rulers of Ephesus were curious to know what made him do this thing, whereupon he replied that if he could not have fame for good deeds, all men should give him credit for bad ones. Grecian history relates the incident. But you do worse. You have set on fire the temple of the Lord’s body; you have defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost from which you are determined to make a team of four brethren and a heap of sisters come forth. In a word, joining in the chorus of the Jews, you say, ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? The word  would not be used if there were not a crowd of them.’ Pray tell me, who, before you appeared, was acquainted with this blasphemy? Who thought the theory worth two-pence? You have gained your desire, and are become notorious by crime.”

Why such passion over Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity? It is understandable that Her virginity ante partum (before the birth of Jesus) should be so jealously safeguarded, for Her Son was and remains the Only-Begotten Son of God. Why express so much concern over Her life with St. Joseph after the birth of the Savior?

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and Doctor of the Church

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and Doctor of the Church

Firstly, in defending Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, we reject the sterile, utilitarian notion that She was nothing more than a “functionary,” used by God the Father to bear His Son, but with no further share in the life and mission of that Divine Son. We reject the notion that this marvelous Woman, the Immaculate Conception, was consecrated to the service of God for a limited amount of time only, after which Her desire to serve and give Herself to Him either waned or was discarded outright. In so doing, we defend also the integrity and honor of Her holy spouse, St. Joseph, after the manner of these words of St. Ambrose (+397), Father and Doctor of the Church (in De Inst. Virg.):

“But Mary did not fail, the mistress of virginity did not fail; nor was it possible that She who had borne God, should be regarded as bearing a man. And Joseph, the just man, assuredly did not so completely lose his mind as to seek carnal intercourse with the Mother of God.”

The Perpetual Virginity of the Virgin is not an “incidental” doctrine of the True Faith, neither is it so valiantly upheld solely to honor the Mother of the Redeemer. It is essential to an understanding of God’s plan for humanity, to a complete understanding of the very nature of the Catholic Church, founded by Christ as He walked the earth, and destined to become the means of salvation for each and every man and woman ever born into this “vale of tears.”

Jesus, The “First-Born”

In the Gospels, Our Lord is referred to as the “first-born” in two different, but complementary, contexts. He is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature” (Col. 1:15), proceeding from all eternity from the Father. Because He is both True God and True Man, He alone was able to pay the debt incurred by mankind at the Fall. As True Man, He could pay a debt owed by mankind to its Creator; as True God, this satisfaction, these merits, could atone for an offense committed against the eternal and omnipotent Creator. And so, Our Lord is “the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead” (Apoc. 1:5), the first to rise to immortal life.

However, Jesus Christ is also called the “first-born” of Mary: “And She brought forth Her first-born Son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger” (Lk. 2:7). The Holy Trinity has decreed that the Church — baptized souls redeemed by Christ — would form Our Lord’s “Mystical Body.” The word mystical in this context does not refer to anything insubstantial, or subjective, as the word is used today to denote any number of allegedly non-Christian “religious experiences.” It refers to an intimate connection between God and men, a connection that, while made apparent to the world through the visible, hierarchical Church, is created and sustained by a “hidden” bond between Redeemer and redeemed: “For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). The “Mystical Body” is not a metaphor; it is a diagram:

“He is the head of the Body, the Church” (Col. 1:18). “For as the body is one, and hath many members: and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink” (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

The Church does not merely “resemble” a human body; like a natural body, she is connected to and led by Her “Head.” Therefore, when grace is poured out upon an individual, it does not “enter” that person as though from a detached, external source, like a foreign substance that is “pumped in.” The transfer is “internal,” from the Head to the Body:

“Of His fullness we all have received, and grace for grace (Jn. 1:16)…. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you the branches” (Jn. 15:4-5).

The Scriptures refer to Catholics as the “brothers” of Jesus:

“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made  under the law: that He might redeem those who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:4-6). “And if sons, heirs also: heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

Through the Incarnation, the taking upon Himself of our human nature by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, we share God as Father with Jesus. He tells us, in no uncertain terms, “You therefore shall pray in this manner: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name” (Mt. 6:9). The “first-born” of every creature…Who became the “first begotten of the dead”…was and always will be the “first-born Son” of the Blessed Virgin. If the Incarnation created a unique bond between God and man (heirs indeed of God), and a unique relation of mankind to the Incarnate Word (He is the head of the Body, the Church), then it also created a unique bond between the redeemed and Our Lady, the Mother of our “Head” (Behold thy Mother).

Mary’s “Fiat”

When the youthful Virgin offered Her fiat to the Angel Gabriel — “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38) — She consented to become the Mother of the Redeemer. However, to imagine that such a consent was directed solely to the physical birth of the Redeemer, to the exclusion of any other considerations, is ludicrous. A mother does not await the birth of her child, so that she can “get it over with” and have nothing more to do with her offspring! Mary knew that Her Son was God. She knew the prophecies concerning the Redeemer, and of the Woman foretold in Eden, who would be by His side. Her fiat was a consent to bear the Redeemer, to raise Him, provide for Him, protect Him and serve Him as He desired to be served.

Mary’s fiat, then, was also an implicit acceptance of Her Spiritual Motherhood, Her motherhood “in the order of grace” of each and every member of the Church. Having consecrated herself — Her virginity, Her life, all Her actions — to the service of God, and having accepted the awesome Divine Maternity, She presented herself as the “handmaid” of the Lord. She is at His disposal. Unlike most people, who give only so much to God — in accord with their means and station in life — Mary placed Herself at His service totally, in all matters. So, when She said ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel, She said ‘yes’ to everything God was offering Her, all the joys, sorrows, and roles that were to be Hers and Hers alone. Thus, Our Lady consented — implicitly — to Her roles as Co-redemptrix, as Mediatrix of All Graces and as Spiritual Mother of the Church.

This “Spiritual” Motherhood is not a devotional “extra,” but a fact proclaimed by Christ Himself from the Cross: “Behold thy Mother” (Jn. 19:27). How momentous was this declaration? St. John recorded the scene, adding a very interesting gloss:

“Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus, His Mother, and His Mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus, therefore, saw His Mother, and the disciple standing, whom He loved, He saith to His Mother; Woman, Behold thy Son. After that, He saith to the disciple; Behold thy Mother. And that hour the disciple took Her to his own. Afterwards  Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, said; I thirst” (Jn. 19:25-28).

In the midst of His Passion, Jesus gave Mary to the Church, represented by St. John. It was only then that all things were accomplished. The Savior who deigned to form one Body with the members of His Church was born of the Virgin, His Mother in the order of nature. How can it be that His Mystical Body will not also be born of this same Virgin, a Mother in the order of grace? In True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St. Louis de Montfort (+1716) aptly pointed out:

“One and the same mother does not give birth to the head without the members nor to the members with the head, for these would be monsters in the order of nature. In the order of grace likewise the head and the members are born of the same mother.

And therefore:
“God the Son wishes to form Himself, and, in a manner of speaking, become incarnate every day in His members through His Mother.”

There are no empty displays with God. If Our Lord, in the midst of His agony — during which a redeemed humanity was born — proclaimed Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood, then She is truly our spiritual Mother, and nothing less. And what does a mother do? She gestates, gives birth to, and nourishes Her offspring. This is what “Mother Church” does through Baptism, the Sacraments and sound teaching, and this ecclesial “maternity” is a mirror of the Blessed Virgin’s “spiritual” maternity, exercised in Her solicitude for sinful mankind, Her powerful mediation and Her dispensing of the graces won by Her Son on Calvary. Therefore, when the inspired texts speak of one “maternity,” they speak of both:

“The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains: The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God… Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? And the Highest Himself hath founded her” (Ps. 86).

“And there appeared a great sign in Heaven: a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered…. And the dragon was angry against the Woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Apoc. 12:1-2,17).

St. Augustine (+430), in his Treatise on the Creed for the Catechumens, writes: “In the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, we read that the dragon stood by the woman as she gave birth, ready to pounce upon her child. The dragon, of course, is the devil. The woman is the Virgin Mary who, preserving Her own virginal integrity, gave birth to the Virgin Head of the Church. In this, Mary symbolizes the Church. She, a virgin, brought forth a Son. Holy Mother Church, herself a virgin, constantly brings forth children, also remaining a virgin.”

If the same mother gives birth to both the head and members of a single body, then Our Lord gave us the same Mother that He knows and loves. He gave Her to us in all Her glory, in all Her grace, in all Her beauty… and in all Her virginal purity. He gave us, therefore, a Virgin Mother. This is why Catholics defend Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, not as though it were an abstract doctrine fit only for scholars to debate, but as a matter of both a mother’s honor and an aid to understanding the very nature of the Church. When the young Mary consented to become the Mother of the Redeemer, She implicitly consented to become the Mother of the Redeemed. The members of the Catholic Church are the spiritual children borne by Our Lady after having given birth to Her natural Son, Jesus.

The Blessed Virgin, as Mother of the Church — and St. Joseph, as well, as Universal Patron of the Church — would be given numerous offspring. But this family would not be their natural family. The womb of Mary — the first and most sacred of all Tabernacles — would not be home to any other child, after it had held the Living God for nine months. And Joseph… well, he knew, better than anyone else did, that his beloved wife was consecrated to God, body and soul, beloved by, and set apart for, the Holy Trinity like no one before or since.

No, the offspring of the Blessed Virgin would not be Her natural children, but Her supernatural children — i.e., the glorious family foretold to Abraham when God said: “Look up to heaven and number the stars if thou canst…. So shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:5). This “seed” is identical to “the rest of Her seed,” the Church as described in St. John’s apocalyptic vision. The Virgin Mother of Christ is the Virgin Mother of the Church. The doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity is of a piece with this simple fact. It is not an incidental belief.

The Doctrine In
Our Lady’s Own Words

Detractors of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity would do well to consider the Annunciation narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel. Is it not curious that, at such a momentous, even troubling time, this young girl, Mary, should ask one question only, a question which, considering the circumstances, must have been of paramount importance for Her to give voice to it then and there: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Lk. 1:34)?

Mary was an espoused wife when She asked this question; She had been promised to a husband. Certainly, a young woman, awaiting only the solemnization of her marriage in a public ceremony, does not need to ask how she will eventually come to bear a child! We know enough of Our Lady’s character from Scripture and from Her approved apparitions to know that She does not speak frivolously, nor would She have asked a frivolous question of the Archangel. She did not say to Gabriel that She has not known any man, but that She does not know man:

Chaste Guardian of the Virgin

St. Joseph: Chaste Guardian of the Virgin

In On the Holy Generation of Christ, St. Gregory of Nyssa (+ c. 394) provides this morsel of common sense: “For if Joseph had taken Her to be his wife, for the purpose of having children, why would She have wondered at the announcement of maternity, since She herself would have accepted becoming a mother according to the law of nature? But just as it was necessary to guard the body consecrated to God as an untouched and holy offering, for this same reason, She states, even if you are come down from heaven and even if this phenomenon is beyond man’s abilities, yet it is impossible for me to know man. How shall I become a mother without knowing man? For though I consider Joseph to be my husband, still I do not know man.”

If someone says, “I do not drink” or “I do not gamble,” he is stating facts about himself; he is making it known that he has made certain decisions in his life. The implication is not, “I do not gamble… but I will probably take up gambling in the future.” The point is to reveal an abiding decision. Our Lady had consecrated Her virginity to God. That is, She made a vow of virginity: I know not man – “I am consecrated to my God.”

One can imagine the protestations arising on this point from those malcontents who will insist on placing the Immaculata in carnal scenarios. The faithful Israelites of Mary’s day awaited the coming of the Messiah. The birth of every child brought that day closer and closer. Can a “vow of virginity” make sense, then, to a betrothed woman — of all people — when children were considered the greatest blessing of all?

“Behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb” (Ps. 126:3). “Thy wife as a fruitful vine, on the sides of thy house. Thy children as olive plants round about thy table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord” (Ps. 127:3-4).

A barren woman, conversely, was deemed to be under a divine malediction. The Scriptures say of Anna, the mother of Samuel, before she conceived her son: “And the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Kgs. 1:5). St. Elizabeth, who was advanced in years at the birth of her son, St. John the Baptist, said, after he had been conceived, “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He hath had regard to take away my reproach among men” (Lk. 1:25). Would a woman given in marriage repudiate the possibility of raising a family, perhaps even the awaited Messiah?

Such arguments presume, rather arrogantly, to probe the spiritual depths of a human being. They assume that even gifted, blessed individuals must conform their reasoning, if not their very faith, to the opinions of their peers or to prevailing custom. These arguments simply do not apply to Mary, the Immaculate Conception. Sinless, Her intellect unclouded by anxiety or vain wonderings, She was able to place herself in God’s hands and at His disposal like no one else. She knew that a vow made to God — even a vow of virginity at a time when the Messiah was awaited — could only be turned to the good, for God will not incite or countenance a virtuous act or resolution if such an act will be detrimental to His plans: “And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as according to His purpose are called to be saints” (Rom. 8:28). As for the vow itself, there is nothing odd about vows made to God, both by individuals and groups. Some vows were made for the purpose of receiving special favors from God:

“And he [Jacob] made a vow, saying: If God shall be with me, and shall keep me in the way, by which I walk, and shall give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, and I shall return prosperously to my father’s house: the Lord shall be my God”  (Gen. 28:20-21).

Vows were also made by individuals or groups in the hopes of attaining greater sanctity and perfection. The “Nazarites,” described in the Book of Numbers (Chap. 6), made a vow “to be sanctified,” by which they would “consecrate themselves to the Lord.” The vow entailed abstinence from wine, from cutting the hair or shaving, from touching a dead body, as well as the performance of special rites, etc. Somewhat closer to Our Lady’s time, we find the Essenes, a Jewish religious group originating in the second century B.C., specifically advocating celibacy.

Are the opponents of Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity asking us to believe that a group of people, conceived in sin, could consecrate themselves to the service of the Lord, but that the same could not be said of Her who was born without the stain of original sin, who loved God above all things from the very beginning of Her existence? Considering the Divine Maternity to which Mary was called, Her future role as Mother of the Redeemer, is it not even more likely that She, above all others, would be consecrated completely and totally to Him? With just how little regard for the awesome grandeur of God-made-Man do Our Lady’s detractors regard Her and Her immaculate womb?

On the contrary, the Blessed Mother, full of grace at Her very conception, recognized and loved this truth imparted to us by St. Paul: “Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). From the start, Her eyes, Her mind and Her heart were turned towards God, and Her actions followed suit: “Lay up for yourselves treasure in Heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume…. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Mt. 6:80). Why feign surprise at a vow of virginity when Our Lord Himself said:

“For there are eunuchs who are born so from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven. He that can receive, let him receive it” (Mt. 19:12).

The Blessed Virgin was able to “receive” such an invitation, to offer a life of chastity to God as a sweet oblation of love and humility. Mary set herself apart for God. In so doing, She was set apart for the Divine Maternity. By the ineffable mercy and love of God for mankind, She was also set apart for us, this Virgin Mother of Christ and Virgin Mother of the Church. There is a historical instance in which this beautiful connection between the Perpetual Virginity and the Spiritual Motherhood was made so clear, in the most exquisite of words — words which came from the mouth of Mary herself. This historical instance occurred in December of the year 1531, in words spoken to Blessed Juan Diego (+1548) by Our Lady of Guadalupe. When She appeared, She announced Herself in these words: “Know for certain, dearest of My sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God.” Three days later, Our Lady spoke these words to Blessed Juan, who was grieved over the illness of his uncle, Juan Bernardino:

“Listen and let it penetrate your heart, My dear little son. Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under My shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of My mantle? In the crossing of My arms? Is there anything else you need?”

We need merely heed the Virgin’s own words to understand how deeply the doctrine of Her Perpetual Virginity affects each one of us personally, how vital it is to a proper understanding of our relationship to God and to His Church. “I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary…. Am I not here who am your Mother?” There is nothing esoteric about this doctrine. In fact, it completes a simple diagram (the one shown on this page).

There is a unique relationship between Jesus and Mary, and one between Jesus and the Church. These are actual, independent relationships. On Calvary, Our Lord proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church, a title which had been Hers from the moment She gave Her fiat to the Archangel, indeed from Her very conception. Therefore, the relationship between Mary and the Church must be understood also to be an actual, independent relationship, not something merely inferred from the other relationships, having no substance or character of its own. It is not a mere tangent, but a vital component of this visual representation — i.e., a “side” of the triangle. It is not a theory, deduced from the other relationships, but a meaningful one in its own right… as real as the words of Christ from the Cross.

Our Lady is a “type,” or model of the Church, which exists because Mary consented to bear its Head, Jesus. Like the Church, Mary is the “fruitful virgin,” a mother many times over — not in the order of nature, but in the order of grace. Because of this glorious, yet humanly warm, fact, St. Augustine could well ask:

“How is it that you do not belong to the Virgin’s birth, if you are members of Christ? Mary gave birth to our Head; the Church gave birth to you. Indeed, the Church also is both virgin and mother, mother because of Her womb of charity, virgin because of the integrity of Her faith and piety” (Sermo 192).

"You [Helvidius] havew defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost..."

St. Jerome: “You [Helvidius have defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost…”

This “womb of charity” also pertains to the Blessed Virgin. If we can speak of a Mystical Body of Christ, composed of Jesus and baptized Catholics redeemed by His Precious Blood, may we not speak also of a Mystical Womb of Mary? The Church baptizes, teaches, absolves — i.e., gives spiritual life to and nourishes souls. Our Lady is the Mother of this Church — She prays, intercedes, guides, admonishes when necessary. Because She united Her sorrows to those of Her Son on Calvary, which redeemed the human race, He has placed in Her loving hands those very graces which He won for us on the Cross, so that “every grace granted to man has three degrees in order; for by God it is communicated to Christ, from Christ it passes to the Virgin, and from the Virgin it descends to us” (St. Bernardine of Sienna +1444). This is only fitting, for the Woman prophesied in Eden would not be a mere “spectator” at the immolation of the Lamb She had borne and reared for the great Sacrifice. This Sacrifice was His, indeed, but She had a place by His side, and Her sorrows will be treasured by Her Divine Son throughout eternity, even if they are too often ignored by mankind.

“I know not man…. I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary…. Am I not here who am your Mother?” This is the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin in all its depth and simplicity, truly something for which to give heartfelt thanks to God.