In some Catholic parishes will be found "Give Us This Day: Daily Prayers for Today's Catholics" published by Liturgical Press of St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minn. With such editorial advisers as James Martin, SJ; Timothy Radcliffe, OP; and Ronald Rolheiser, IMI. "Give Us This Day" may be regarded the liberal counterpart to "Magnificat", a far more impressive monthly presentation of liturgical prayer for the laity.
In its issue for December 2013, James Martin, SJ, assures readers that the Holy Family...
"faced some of the same struggles that families do today – worrying about money, to begin with. The Greek word the Gospels use for Joseph's profession (teknon) means not only carpenter but, more properly, craftsman. That meant working with wood, of course, but also building walls, and often scrounging for work. Mary had to undergo the physical pains of childbirth, and later, mourned the death of Joseph."
But it is true that the Ever-Virgin Mary endured the "physical pains of childbirth"?
In the post-conciliar period, Catholics have heard other attempts to humanize "our nature's solitary boast" and depict Her "just like us". How often we may have read how Mary:
- was just an "unmarried pregnant teenager",
- didn't know Her Child was divine,
- bore Jesus' other "brothers and sisters",
- and gave birth to Jesus Christ in the same manner as other women with labor pains and the opening of her womb.
More recently, the well known popularizer of the "Theology of the Body", Christopher West, received notoriety for his graphic description of the Virgin Birth of Christ as painful. It has been distressing that some modern theologians and writers (Raymond Brown, Karl Rahner, and others), have not hesitated to question the Church's traditional understanding of the Virgin Birth and to strip the Catholic doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ of miracle and mystery. In doing so, they manifest the pernicious influence of radical biblical critics who have questioned the truth of the infancy narratives regarding the divine Child related in the Gospels.
In 2002 a leading Mariologist, Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins, took issue with biologist Dr. Catherine Brown Tkacz's treatment of Mary's virginity in giving birth to Christ (commonly referred to as "virginitas in partu"). In his article "The Virginitas in Partu", he lamented that:
"...it must be admitted that the datum of the faith that Mary gave birth as a virgin, unfortunately, receives virtually no attention in contemporary catechesis or preaching. Indeed, who can remember having heard of the 'virgin birth' of Christ (and not of his 'virginal conception' or of His Mother's 'lifelong virginity') in a homily of the last 40 years?"
The fact is, as Msgr. Calkins stressed, the Catholic Church teaches AS DOGMA that the "Blessed Ever-Virgin and immaculate Mary" was a Virgin "before, during, and after the Birth of Jesus Christ" ("ante partum, in partu, et post partum"). – Her Virginity Is Perpetual. –
After giving a list of Church Fathers who taught "the mystery of Mary's virginity in giving birth to the Savior", Msgr. Calkins noted:
"This preaching and teaching was not a mere matter of pious fantasizing, but rather it was a careful 'handing on' of what had been received. The miraculous birth of Jesus in time was seen as a reflection of the mystery of His eternal generation by the Father."
A number of fathers emphasized that Christ came from His Mother's womb as the rays of the sun penetrate glass without injury. Various declarations of the Magisterium of the Church insisted that the Ever-Virgin Mother of God gave birth to Christ without corruption or injury to Her biological integrity. In AD 649 the famous Roman Lateran Synod formally condemned those who would deny this "teaching of the holy fathers."
Msgr. Calkins further observed that the traditional doctrine of the Church was succinctly reaffirmed in Vatican II's speaking of "the birth of Our Lord, Who did not diminish His mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it" (Lumen Gentium, n. 57). The Catechism of the Catholic Church clarified: "The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man" (n. 499).
The Church's understanding of "virginitas in partu" involved it being miraculous in nature and "without in any manner opening any part of Mary's body" (Msgr. Calkins' quoting the famed Marian theologian Fr. Juniper Carol, OFM).
It may be added here that the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is upheld by the Eastern Churches separated from the Chair of Peter. An important witness to this is the noted 14th-century Byzantine Greek theologian Gregory Palamas who unhesitatingly wrote of Mary's.. :
- "painless pregnancy and the birth without labor" – (Homily 14 on the Annunciation)
- "Christ did not spoil the womb of the Virgin Who bore Him in the flesh. He did not undo the signs of virginity when He was born, but kept them intact, even though at that time His body was subject to suffering and death." – (Homily 17 on the Sabbath and the Lord's Day)
The glorious Feast of Christmas presents all the faithful with the opportunity to meditate on the miracle and mystery of the Virgin Birth of Christ. Interestingly, in 1930 the seer of Fatima, Lucia, revealed that our Lord appeared to her and told her there were five ways in which people offended God by blaspheming against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One way involved blasphemies against her Perpetual Virginity.