Whenever we talk about Mary, we address her with many different titles: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Holy Mary, Blessed Mother. However, out of all these, the one most often heard across Catholic (and Protestant) aisles is The Virgin Mary.
Virtually every person that claims the Christian faith accepts that Mary miraculously conceived Christ as a virgin. Yet, it is widely believed across every Protestant denomination that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was free to give herself fully to her husband Joseph, and thus ceased to be “the virgin” Mary.
For Catholics, it’s a different story. We hold that Mary was Ever Virgin, which means even after she bore the Son of Man, she remained a virgin for the rest of her life. This belief is significantly crucial to our understanding and veneration of the Mother of God.
The Traditional belief that Mary was Ever-Virgin is as old as the Church itself, and held by those who were closest to Mary and her family. In other words, those who could’ve pointed fingers and said “nuh-uh” but instead attested to the belief that she lived her life as a virgin.
Tradition is an important word because you won’t find any specific reference to Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Bible. As we’ve discussed before, Catholics rely on more than just Sacred Scripture. In fact, our Tradition precedes the scripture by many decades. So technically speaking, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is actually older than the New Testament itself.
The earliest writings we do have of this belief are once again found in the Protoevangelium of James, which if we recall, is not considered inspired scripture by the Church, but does contain true Tradition.
However, much in the same way we approached her immaculate conception, we can understand the Tradition of Mary as ever-virgin through reason alone.
So ultimately the question is, does it make sense that, after birthing the savior, Mary did not enter into a normal relationship with Joseph, her spouse, with whom she shared all the rights of the marriage bed?
To answer this, we must first recall that Mary was never “normal” to begin with. Remember that when we refer to Mary, we refer to her as holy, which means set apart. She was brought into this world for a specific, divine purpose, one that would impede her from living a “normal” life all together.
Mary’s perpetual virginity was the mark of her complete and total purity. That’s how God made her to be. Were she to simply go about her business as any other woman, she would have ceased to be the perfect vessel that bore the Light of the World.
But what about Biblical references to siblings of Jesus? Many who wish to discredit Mary’s perpetual virginity will often cite verses in the Scriptures that refer to Jesus’ brethren.
It is suggested in the Protoevangelium of James that Joseph was a widower with his own children, which could make Christ’s “brethen” his step-siblings.
However, St. Jerome in the 4th century claimed such references to be cousins of Christ, born by a relative of Mary, who also happened to be named Mary. This is perhaps the most logical explanation.
Even more telling, are the actions of Christ right before his death. Before breathing his last, Jesus gave Mary to John, who was with Him at the cross, to care for as if she was John’s own mother. Why would Jesus do that if Mary had other children — or even stepchildren?
When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. — John 19: 26-27
Whatever the explanation, the truth remains that Christ was the son of Mary, not a son of Mary. It’s important to understand that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity dates back to the time of the apostles, and it wasn’t until after Martin Luther broke away from the Church that it was ever widely contested. In fact, Luther himself accepted the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Those who were closest to Mary — who knew her, walked with her, and took care of her — they knew that the Lord had made her holy. They knew of her perfection and unblemished purity, and Catholics across the world hold tight to that truth today.
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”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church. 499