Dear Father Angelo B., I am Vincenzo G., a young man who obtained a Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology and is now enrolled in the first year of licentiate in Biblical Theology. In a personal study, I happened to dwell on the passage of the Annunciation and in particular on Mary’s question: “How will this happen, since I don’t know a man?” (Lk 1,34). Personally I am convinced of the fact that Mary made a vow of perpetual virginity already before the Annunciation, however I have seen that several authoritative theologians and exegetes do not support this position because it is contrary to the Jewish customs of the time. Instead, I see precisely in this both a sign of the Virgin’s humility and her total love for God, and an anticipation of the celibacy that Jesus would have lived and which, as stated in Scripture, it is not given to everyone to understand (Mt 19,11-12). Even Benedict XVI himself in his book “The Infancy of Jesus” writes: “Starting with Augustine, one explanation that has been put forward is that Mary had taken a vow of virginity and had entered into the betrothal only to have a protector of her virginity. But this theory is quite foreign to the world of Judaism of the time of Jesus and seems unthinkable in this context. But what does this word mean then? […] The enigma – or perhaps better say: the mystery – of this phrase remains. For reasons not accessible to us, Mary sees no way of becoming the mother of the Messiah through the conjugal relationship”. In short, I seem to understand that there is no unanimous opinion in the Church on this subject. I ask you a question: are there foundations in Scripture and Tradition to support that Mary gave herself totally to God in the vow of perpetual virginity even before the announcement of the angel? I thank you and wish you a good continuation of Advent under the protection of Mary Immaculate.
Response of the priest
1. We have as the immediate source of Mary’s virginal purpose the liturgical feast of the presentation of Mary in the temple set for November 21st.
Although this event is narrated only in the apocryphal gospels, however the Church has preserved this feast in the liturgical calendar because it recalls the offering to the Lord by Mary of all of herself.
It is secondary to know if she made a vow as we understand it today or if she made a resolution. John Paul II in his Marian catecheses speaks of purpose. And it is the equivalent.
2. It is true that in the Old Testament the virginal purpose on the part of women was inconceivable. It would have been like not helping to increase God’s people and not wanting to receive the blessing that the Lord gave to man and woman at the dawn of creation when he said: “Grow and multiply” (Gen 1:28) .
3. However, the case of Our Lady is different.
If we believe that Mary was filled with grace from the very first moment of her existence and that she received a degree of grace and love for God and neighbour that was higher than that of all the Saints put together, and if so many people in their excess of love for the Lord professed the intention of virginity to be united to the Lord without distraction and to be holy in body and spirit, how can we not think that Mary did not precede them all?
Mary’s intention of virginity springs like water from the spring from the fullness of grace received from the beginning. In other words, from her immaculate conception.
Of course, Sacred Scripture does not say anything explicit on this point, but to speak adequately of Our Lady it is also necessary to resort to theology.
4. Saint Catherine of Siena understood well that Our Lady had detached herself from the Jewish tradition and, differently from all other women in Israel, had consecrated her virginity to God.
For this reason, when she decides to make the vow of virginity, she appeals to Mary and says to her: “O most blessed and most holy Virgin, who first among women consecrated virginity to God in perpetuity, making a vow to it, and therefore you were so graciously made Mother of His only begotten Son, I pray for your ineffable mercy that by not looking at my sins and defects you are worthy to grant me so much grace and that you give me as a spouse the One whom with all my soul I desire, that is, the most sacred only Son of God and yours, the Lord Jesus Christ ”.
5. Another theological argument comes to us from St. Thomas who argues that “those whom God chooses for a special task, he prepares and arranges them so that they are suitable for their duties, according to the affirmation of St. Paul: “made them eligible to be ministers of the New Testament “. But the Blessed Virgin was elected to be the mother of God. No doubt, therefore, that God with his grace made her suitable for this, according to the angel’s words: “You have found grace with God” (Summa theologica, III, 27,4).
Applying this principle to our case we can say that God prepared Our Lady to become the Mother of God by inspiring her with the intention of virginity.
6. Furthermore, St. Thomas says that “the works of perfection are more praiseworthy if they are done by vow. But in the Mother of God virginity must have had an extraordinary splendour, as is clear from the reasons given above.
It was therefore fitting that her virginity be consecrated to God with a vow” (Summa theologica, III, 28,4).
7. It is therefore right to think – as John Paul II affirms – that the Holy Spirit inspired in her “her virginal dedication in view of Christ” (8.8.1996).
The words of Mary to the Angel: “How is this possible since I do not know man” (Lk 1:34) “highlight both Mary’s current virginity and her intention to remain a virgin.
The expression she used, with the verbal form in the present, reveals the permanence and continuity of her state “(John Paul II, 27.7.1996).
8. Again according to St. Thomas, initially her vow would have been conditional and gradual since the common mentality did not foresee it and did not understand it: “However, since under the law both women and men had to attend to procreation because with it the worship of God propagated before Christ was born from that people, it is unthinkable that the Mother of God, before getting engaged to Joseph, made the vow of virginity in an absolute way, although she desired virginity; but on this point she put her will back to divine will. Later, after taking a husband as the customs of the time required, together with him she took the vow of virginity ”(Summa theologica, III, 28,4).
9. These are precisely the reasons – in addition to what happened in her life – that lead to praise Mary as the Queen of virgins.
It was the Lord who willed it thus: “As the perfect fullness of grace was proper to Christ and yet there was a certain anticipation of it in his mother, so also the observance of the counsels, which derives from the grace of God, was inaugurated by Christ in a perfect way, but somehow it began in the Virgin his mother” (Summa theologica, III, 28,4).
I thank you for your question, I wish you well for the continuation of your theological studies, I remember you to the Lord and I bless you.