by Father Peter Damian M. Fehlner, FI
Under this general title, we inaugurate a series of reflections on the mystery of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Our interest is not only on what we confess in believing in this mystery, but on its implications for the life of the Church as an extension of the interior or personal life of the Immaculate Virgin Mother. The “great sign” to which the title makes reference is the Woman who appeared when the Holy of Holies, where God dwells in reality and not in figure (cf. Heb 9:24), was opened. This Woman – prefigured in the Ark of the Covenant, temple of God on earth, and in Noah’s ark – is first of all the Immaculate Virgin and then by extension the Church as virgin and mother (cf. Lumen Gentium, ch. 8, n. 63). This Woman is also the great sign on earth, not merely in the past, but in every moment and place of the Church’s pilgrim existence (cf. LG 62) until her full glorification will be realized at the second coming of Mary’s Son. Christ expects that His bride the Church, in providing Him a dwelling place, will be adorned with the same immaculate purity as He found in the Heart and womb of His Virgin Mother (cf. Eph 5:27). The reflections on the mystery of the virginal Maternity and the maternal Virginity of the Immaculate are designed to point out how the interior and personal life of the Ever-Virgin is the key both to achieving and to understanding a life of grace in the Spirit of the Lord—key, that is, to realizing what St. Maximilian M. Kolbe called “transubstantiation into the Immaculate” so as to be fully incorporated into Christ crucified.
What do we really understand when we believe in the virginal Motherhood of Mary?
We confess Mary to be “ever Virgin.” From the earliest centuries the Church has carefully defined the meaning of Mary’s perpetual virginity, particularly because a denial of this privilege immediately entails a denial either of the person or of the work, or of the outcome of the work of Her Son and Savior. This last means a denial of the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. This is as true today as on the day of Pentecost. Take the Virgin Mary out of the faithful gathered as Church on that glorious day, and the day would not have been glorious, nor would the Church have been uniquely different from every other religious society.
Unfortunately, there still remain many, far too many, who refuse to acknowledge Mary as God’s Virgin Mother and ours. They insist that such acknowledgment and the practice of hyperdulia—that unique veneration due the Immaculate Mother of God—requires belief in the reality of the supernatural and miraculous, and that this, in the final analysis, is impossible because virginal maternity (they say) is impossible.
From the point of view of the rationalist and naturalist, for instance, this privilege involves two contradictions or impossibilities: a human conception without intercourse with a man; and the presence of two bodies in the same place during a childbirth which takes place without the opening of the mother’s womb. Such a position denies not only the fact but also the very possibility of a supernatural and divine order which transcends the merely physical and natural. In the order of knowing and loving, that denial places divine knowledge and love on the same level with that of man. We might say very simply that rejection of the perpetual virginity of Mary collapses the distinction between nature and grace (the heresy of pelagianism, in which grace is identified with nature), between faith and reason (the heresy of rationalism, in which what can’t be known naturally is not knowable), and that between Creator and creature (the heresy of evolutionary pantheism, in which creation is identified with God, or God is the end product of natural, created forces).
The Church in the Apostles’ Creed rightly insists that 1) Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit which implies Mary’s virginal motherhood before childbirth, and that 2) Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, which implies Mary’s virginal motherhood during childbirth, whereby She became what She was not—a mother— without ceasing to be what She was—perpetually virgin. This doctrine was later given a more technical formulation: Virgin before and during childbirth, therefore remaining after childbirth what She was before: ever- Virgin.
This virginal motherhood was the great miracle whereby the Son of God from eternity, without ceasing to be what He was – divine – in fact became what He was not – man. Whoever accepts the possibility of miracles in general (viz., the possibility of something beyond the natural or physical), will ultimately come to accept the possibility of the miracle of miracles: the Incarnation and divinevirginal maternity. And whoever accepts the great sign of the Incarnation and Redemption (viz., the divine-virginal maternity), will accept the Incarnation as well, and all the supernatural as well as natural blessings which come with this greatest of divine deeds. The miracle of Mary’s virginal maternity is, therefore, a sign, indeed the great sign on which hinge all revelation or manifestation of Our Savior and our salvation.
In the light of this sign we can easily see how grace and nature are quite distinct, and yet grace perfects nature; how faith makes plain what lies beyond reason, yet in so doing perfects reason; how God, without ceasing to be unchanging, impassible and transcendent and without becoming confused with the created, truly becomes man, subject even to suffering and death: all this without contradiction.
These are some of the profound mysteries of revealed Truth bound up with the Church’s confession of Mary’s virginal motherhood. Understanding how these truths are interconnected makes clear the gravity of the rationalist error: denial of the miraculous and supernatural character of Mary’s motherhood amounts to a denial of Christ’s divinity and of our salvation.