The Catholic Church has always taught that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. Mary conceived Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit without the loss of her virginity. She remained a virgin in giving birth to Jesus, such that the miraculous birth did not diminish her virginal integrity but rather sanctified it. Following the birth of Jesus, Mary remained a virgin the rest of her earthly life, until such time as she was taken body and soul into heaven, where she reigns as queen.
This teaching is a stumbling block to many people. For skeptics and Modernists–those who, for example, attempt to explain away the miraculous–the notion of a virgin birth is totally unacceptable.
At the other end of the spectrum, Bible Christians accept the scriptural account of the Virgin Birth, but dispute Mary’s perpetual virginity, citing passages such as those that refer to Jesus’ “brothers” in support of their position.
It should be noted that Mary’s virginity postpartum, while not explicitly taught in Scripture, is repeatedly attested by the Latin, Greek, and Syriac Fathers. Of particular note is St. Jerome’s biting treatise On the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mary Against Helvidius (383), which not only affirms the traditional teaching, but also specifically addresses the objections against Mary’s virginity postpartum that are typically raised in Protestant circles even today.
In Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God, which I coedited with Scott Hahn, I wrote a chapter entitled “Always a Virgin,” in which I try to lay out the Church’s perennial teaching on this Marian dogma. This book is available at www.emmausroad.org. CUF members receive discounts not only on this title, but on all Emmaus Road books. If you’re not already a member, you may join CUF today by calling toll-free 1-800-MY-FAITH or by visiting www.cuf.org.
As we examine Marian teachings, such as her perpetual virginity or immaculate conception, we need to keep in mind that we’re not talking about some abstract teaching. Rather, we’re talking about our flesh-and-blood mother, God’s masterpiece, whom all generations call “blessed” (Lk. 1:48).