So, were Mary and Joseph married?

Today the priest at the homily called Our Blessed Mother an “unmarried woman”. :confused: I understand that he possibly meant her being unmarried at the moment of Annunciation, when she was still just betrothed to Joseph, but nevertheless, this confused me a lot.

So, were Mary and Joseph legally husband and wife:

  1. by the Jewish law, and
  2. from the Christian understanding of a sacramental marriage?

I remember the early Canon law authors responding positively to this question, which was one of the main arguments for them that a Christian marriage may be possible even without consummation by sexual relationship.


That’s unfortunate.

Yes, they were married. Applying “Christian understanding” to their marriage would be a bit anachronistic but…yes, they were married according to Jewish law, Christian law, natural law.

It would not have been a “sacramental marriage”, however, since that requires two, baptized (i.e., Christian) Parties.

Here’s a sermon by Cardinal Burke on the topic.


In the modern sense of a bodily “consummated” marriage, no.

In the sense of vows taken according to the Jewish Law (God’s law), yes.


Jewish law says that if the ketubah (marriage contract) is valid and its provisions are fulfilled (like the stuff about dowry or whatever), and if you go through the marriage ceremony before sunset on the day named on the ketubah, you are married.

Catholic canon law requires consummation for a marriage to be indissoluble. However, if neither party to the marriage complains about the marriage being non-consummated, and neither of them is looking to dissolve it, it’s still a valid marriage.

(Heck, there are a lot of things which could be grounds for annulment, but none of them are grounds if neither party complains. The only stuff that invalidates a marriage without the parties complaining is stuff like marriage under duress, or other versions of the marriage being totally done wrong and thus not existing in any way in the first place. Otherwise, there’s a basic assumption that the marriage is valid.)

So yes, of course Mary and Joseph were legally married.

This is a misunderstanding of the effect of consummation.


Catholics do believe that valid, unconsummated marriages can exist. However, they may be dissolved, unlike consummated marriages.

Also, while they were in the betrothal period, this had culturally different implications than it would today. Such a betrothal at that time was pretty much already an official marriage. There was just about a year of waiting before she moved in with her husband.

In discussing canon law on marriage, there is a distinction made between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” indissolubility. All marriages are intrinsically indissoluble, whether consummated or not and whether sacramental or not. Indissolubility is an essential property of marriage (see canon 1056).

Marriages, therefore, are to be considered “indissoluble” even before consummation. In other words, the Parties themselves are unable to dissolve their marriage.

Sacramental and consummated marriages are intrinsically and extrinsically indissoluble. The Parties cannot dissolve the marriage nor can any external power (such as the Pope–e.g., for non-consummated marriages, or the law itself (Pauline privilege)).

Death, of course, can dissolve any marriage bond.


Thanks, I think, this is the most helpful comment. :thankyou:

I didn’t know that.

I only discovered it recently.

I stand corrected on the indissolubility of an unconsummated marriage, though. Thanks, dan.

Read Matt: 18-25. 19-- and her HUSBAND, Joseph, a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send Her away quietly. (He couldn’t have done that if he wasn’t validly married to Her.) Clearly states that Mary was his wife, and the Angel said. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in Her is of the Holy Spirit. Read it for yourself. So for anyone, let alone a priest, to call Her an unwed Mother is such a shame and an insult towards God and the Blessed Mother. Do you really think HE would do that to the Immaculate Mother of HIS DIVINE SON.There was no Sacrament of Marriage until Jesus Christ raised it to that Sacrament. Consummation was not an issue then. Fr. Pacwa has explained that several times. God Bless, Memaw

Are you telling me that Jesus’s parents don’t earn a sacramental marriage in your view?

There is a well known hymn that is very ancient that calls her the ‘bride unwedded’ but that is used in a particular, mystical sense. I do remember a priest giving a sermon where he pointed out that Mary might have suffered the same stigma that an unmarried mother would receive when he was trying to make a point about how we should relate to people on the margins of society. That was a reasonable point and I wonder was the intent similar here at all.

Seriously, this has been answered before.

The movie Mary of Nazareth does a good job showing this.

Back in those days their was a “legal marriage first” called the betrothal where you were legally married. However, the wedding ceremony would not take place until the home was built and ready for the couple to move into it.

The betrothal is sort of a kin to the engagement today (though not exactly). The couple has agreed to marry, but the ceremony hasn’t taken place yet.

They were legally married and if Joseph would have died, Mary would have inherited whatever was his. The year gave them time too prepare for their home. He the home, she the linens, pottery etc. Nothing “unwed” about it. It’s a shame we try to put our standards on them. Actually, their Marriage was more than a Sacrament, it was SACRED. I wouldn’t dare question the Wisdom of GOD. God Bless, Memaw

No-one has questioned the wisdom of God at any point. However the Gospels do make it plain that Mary would have suffered social ostracism if Joseph had rejected her. In that respect we can use her situation as an useful parallel at that moment to other issues in our own societies. I personally tend towards the view of some of our own particular Churches and other apostolic Churches that Joseph may well have been have a much older man who was previously married. However whether he was young or old he provided Mary with a home and served as a role model to the young Jesus of how a man should behave and thus he filled a very important role in human history I always felt he got somewhat overlooked growing up.

Any Married women who was accused of adultery could have been stoned to death or “put away quietly” by her husband. But not a boyfriend (so to speak). The only way Joseph could have done that, (put Her away quietly), would have been if he truly was Her husband. To accuse Mary of adultery would have been an insult to God"s Wisdom and her purity. The Angel saw to it that that didn’t happen. Calling Her an "unwed mother "I think is an insult to God and Her. The reason Joseph has been portrayed as and old man by artists is their way, (I think) of preserving Mary’s purity. Guess they didn’t think a young man could do God’s will and protect Her, but there is NO proof whatever of Joseph being old or widowed with children. God Bless, Memaw

It is the tradition of many of the apostolic Churches and some of the Churches in the Catholic communion that he was an older man and a widower. Catholics are free to choose whether they believe he was young or old as whether he was or not does not affect his virtues.

The Catholic Church has never taught that. Seems he was pretty spry for all the traveling he had to do and the work he did. Carpentry in those days was not an old mans work, I wouldn’t think.God Bless, Memaw

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