My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This week, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. It is both a Marian Feast and a Feast of Jesus Christ because it is on this day that Mary virginally conceived the Lord Jesus. This feast has always been celebrated as a feast of both Christ and Mary. In fact, in the past it carried the name of the Annunciation of Christ or the Conception of Christ.
Unfortunately, many people confuse the Annunciation with the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to the privilege of Mary that she was conceived without Original Sin, no sin touched her who was destined to be the Mother of God.
Instead, on the Feast of the Annunciation we remember that the message of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary is that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would give birth to a son, notwithstanding Mary’s objection that she knew not man.
Pope Paul VI, in his 1974 Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultus, emphasizes for us that, “They commemorate it as the beginning of the redemption and of the indissoluble and wedded union of the divine nature with the human nature in the one Person of the Word.”
Today, when the Incarnation is celebrated nine months before Dec. 25, we recognize that Jesus had the normal nine months of gestation before He was born to Mary Immaculate in a real birth as is testified in the Scriptures.
There are many other questions which arise as we celebrate this feast. It is good that we have an opportunity to raise them and answer some of the questions which are in our minds.
One arises when we look at the position of Joseph, whom we call the “putative father” of Jesus, that is, he was known to be the father of Jesus, and Joseph accepted Jesus as his son.
Last week in my column, I spoke about the position of Joseph in the economy of salvation. One author, in investigating this relationship, puts it this way, “And therefore we see, in Matthew 1:18-25, the emphasis on the fact that Joseph took Jesus as his own son: what the evangelist is there saying is that, in spite of the virginal conception, Jesus was still truly of the line of David, because he was legally adopted by Joseph.”
The genealogy of Jesus is given to us in Matthew’s Gospel to emphasize that He is of the line of David. And Joseph, being of that line, legitimizes the fact that the Messiah was to be born of the line of David. In other places in the Sacred Scripture, especially in the prologue to John’s Gospel, we see that it clearly indicates a virginal conception, as we recite in the Creed, “Born of the Virgin Mary.” It is essential to our faith that we recognize from the very beginning Scripture and the tradition of the Church upheld this understanding of the place of Mary in the work of salvation through her virginal conception.
Not everything, however, can be explained clearly from Scripture alone. The faith of the Church from the early councils reminds us of the place Mary held in the understanding of the early Church for those who lived so much closer to the actual events. Traditionally, it has been explained that Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ, which clearly denotes her virginity, an exceptional miraculous fact surrounding the birth of Christ who was both God and man.
There is another question, however, that some use to cast doubt on the perpetual virginity of Mary and that is the question of the “brothers of the Lord,” James and Joset (or Joseph). One explanation which seems to be plausible is that Mary, the mother of James and Joset, was the sister of St. Joseph. In this case, the children would be first cousins to Jesus, and could be called brothers and sisters of Jesus because He had no blood brothers or sisters. “Mary ever virgin” is the belief. We do not have scientific proof either from the Scriptures. However, the tradition of our faith handed down from the very beginning reminds us that not everything we believe can be proven in a scientific way.
If we are to understand this feast in today’s world and what it means to our culture, we recognize that the virginity of Mary should be something we imitate in a counter-cultural witness to today’s culture which is characterized by casual sex and the “hook-up” mentality. This is a challenge to our young people today to recognize the value of preserving virginity for marriage, not only for the imitation of Mary, but also as a real preparation for the state of marriage which demands a total commitment. This is a commitment not only before, but also after the marriage when sexual relations are not possible.
As we have meditated on the theological basis of our understanding of the Annunciation of Mary, we put out into the deeper waters of understanding our culture which portrays virginity as an impossible feat. Mary is the new Eve, a new mother to humanity. May she continue to renew our faith in the value of virginity and motherhood, which Mary embodies in a unique way.