We continue our look at the Perpetual Virginity of Mary and its significance from MARY, MOTHER OF THE SON.
John sees Mary as a sign and icon of the Church, just as the early Fathers did. All of them thought her virginity, like Christ’s, was significant. For Mary is the model disciple whose sacrificial offering of virginity responds to Christ’s sacrificial offering, just as the disciple’s offering of the body as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” is the fitting response of worship to the Lord (Rom. 12:1). More than anybody, Mary models the self-donating love of the disciple in imitation of Christ. For her face is, as Dante said, “the face that is most like the face of Christ’s.”
That’s more than poetry. For Jesus, we must remember, took his humanity from her. At the very level of physical appearance, it is quite likely that they strongly resembled one another. But even more profoundly, she was the disciple who spent more time in the direct presence of Jesus, loving and learning from God Incarnate more than anyone else who ever lived. And she didn’t begin her discipleship by crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinner” (Luke 5:8), nor with the necessity of being knocked to the ground and blinded to get her attention (cf. Acts 9), but with immediate, complete, and loving submission to the will of God (Luke 1:38). In every other case, the overture of grace is received imperfectly. But in one case—Mary’s—it received a perfect welcome on behalf of the whole Church—enabled (like all sacrificial gifts) by the power of God’s grace. Mary was the disciple who loved Jesus more deeply and lived with him more closely than anyone, and the living sacrificial offering she made of her body was like nobody else’s. For Jesus himself was the living sacrifice of her body and the very fruit of her womb. When the lance pierced his heart, it pierced hers, too (cf., Luke 2:34–35). No other disciple of Jesus has ever offered more to God than she offered.
“But,” says the Evangelical doubter, “mere physical relationship doesn’t save! Remember when the woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” (Luke 11:27–28).
All true. Which is why virginity matters as a sign, not of deprivation and sexlessness, but of faith. For
Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith “unadulterated by any doubt,” and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will. It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior: “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 506).
Mary was not blessed because she gave birth. She gave birth because she was blessed: blessed to be chosen by God and more blessed still to have the pure faith to respond with an unreserved “yes” to God’s call—a pure faith she never lost or tainted, all the way through the bitterness of Golgotha. It’s not just her face, but her love for God, that most resembles Christ’s.