Any number of Church documents dating back well over a thousand years can easily be interpreted to mean that Mary, Jesus’ Mother and our Mother, was physically a virgin all her life – that is, nothing had ever penetrated her going in or going out. The preservation of her virginal integrity is then taken to be a miracle, by which Jesus was born without the normal biological consequences to her anatomy.
I am coming to the conclusion that this interpretation of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not at all necessary, may contradict Catholic teaching, and misses the point of Mary’s Motherhood.
To see that the interpretation is not necessary, consider a 55-year old nun who may have cervical cancer. The doctor will most likely need to penetrate her anatomy in order to examine her and obtain a tissue sample for biopsy. Once this has occurred, will the sister be any less a virgin than she was before? Of course not.
In the same way, Jesus being born in the completely normal way with all the usual physical consequences of giving birth would not in any way lessen Mary’s virginity. It is simply unnecessary to argue otherwise.
Now consider how the interpretation in question might contradict Catholic teaching.
First, the Church teaches that Jesus was fully and truly human. He had a body just like any of us. He wasn’t a ghost, and his body was not glorified until his Resurrection 33 years after his birth, so it couldn’t pass through walls or other obstacles just like ours can’t. So if Jesus’ human body could pass through the birth canal without physical consequence to Mary, then he wasn’t really fully human with a real body after all. Looks like a contraction.
Second, the Church teaches the value of motherhood, and in fact declares it a sin for a married woman to intentionally act in such a way as to avoid motherhood or to make motherhood impossible.
The Church also teaches that Mary is the New Eve, the Mother of the Living, the very essence of motherhood perfected! But if Jesus’s human body passed through the birth canal without physical consequence so that, after the fact, there was absolutely no evidence that Mary had ever given birth to anyone, then she was actually not a real mother. She could hardly be a role model for motherhood for women today or any day. Looks like another contradiction.
Now to the point of Mary’s Motherhood. I read once someone who said that Mary was perfect and that was the reason her virginal integrity was maintained before, during, and after Jesus’ birth. But the obvious question is: what does “perfect” really mean here? A perfect virgin or a perfect mother? If being a perfect virgin means that she gave birth without physical consequence, then she could not be said to be a perfect mother. In fact, no real human mother could ever fully identify with her because (if that interpretation were true) Mary’s motherhood would have been erased from her body.
Here is a sort of counter-example to illustrate what I mean in part about the point of Mary’s true and perfect motherhood. At a parish function a couple of years ago, I saw a Catholic woman visibly shaken when she heard someone say that Mary had not suffered from labor pains or experienced the physical consequences of giving birth. She said that she had always felt close to Mary while she was giving birth to her children because she had always thought that Mary had gone through the same things she was experiencing.
In summary, I have suggested three things. First, arguing that Mary’s physical virginal integrity was maintained before, during, and after Jesus’ birth is simply unncessary because giving birth in the completly normal way with all the normal consequences could not possibly have lessened Mary’s virginity in any way. Second, denying the physical consequences of Mary’s motherhood seems to deny the reality of Jesus’ fully human body, and also seems inconsistent with the Church’s promotion of the value of motherhood. Third, that interpretation of Mary’s perpetual virginity misses the whole point of Mary’s motherhood, that she was in fact a true and perfect mother who experienced all the joys, pains, and sorrows of being mother and with whom mothers in all places and times can readily identify.