Ave Maria: Venerating the Brave Virgin, and her Consent

 

Warning: Including some crass humor in the description of a Great Christian Mystery is intended to drive home just how extraordinary a woman Mary must have been, as well as the extraordinary — indeed quite odd — nature of the mystery involved.

Ave Maria, gratia plena… Hail Mary, full of grace… These words, whether set to the sumptuous music of Biebl’s much-beloved one-hit wonder, sung to another tune, or simply spoken, will ring out through many a church today, the last Sunday of Advent, the last caravanserai parishioners pause at before reaching Bethlehem itself, and the Word Made Flesh.

The lyrics to Biebl’s Ave Maria encompass a bit more than the usual Ave Maria prayer, including good portions of the Angelus as well:

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ… Mary hears angel Gabriel’s announcement, and replies, Ecce ancilla Domini. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. And then — only then — do we hear the beautiful words from John’s gospel: Et Verbum caro factum est. Et habitavit in nobis.

The order of events recited in the Angelus reflects traditional Christian understanding of the order in which the events of the Annunciation happened. Mary doesn’t merely hear God’s word, passively obeying it as if she had no other choice. Instead, she first proclaims, “Let it be to me according to your word,” and then the Word is Made Flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth. Mary, in short, consented.

As Simcha Fisher points out, Christian sexual ethics must include more — much more — than mere consent. But you can’t very well leave consent out of Christian ethics. In 16 things Catholic girls should know about consent (which might be better titled 16 things Christians should know about consent) Fisher emphasizes that Christian sexual ethics don’t stop with consent, but they bloody well must start there. We can’t be judged by our moral choices if those choices aren’t ours to make. For Mary, mother of God, to have made the moral choice to be the God-Bearer, it must have been a choice. Mary must have consented.

Here’s where some wag might pipe up asking how Mary could have consented when she was so young — by our age-of-consent standards still a minor, formally incapable of consent. If Mary was below our age of consent, does that make our age of consent too high, or does that make God a pedophile? We have to choose one or the other, right?

Of course not. Age-of-consent laws exist as convenient bright-line rules. It’s not that everyone below the age of consent is incapable, and that everyone above that age is fully capable (though hopefully the vast majority are by then — that’s why civilized societies set the age of consent so high). It’s just that we’re not God: We’re not omniscient beings capable of knowing just when a child has become mature enough to know just what she’s getting into, so we pick an age instead. Fortunately, God is God, and so does know.

Luke’s Gospel account of the Annunciation suggests Mary is no mere credulous child, despite her young age. Mary is greatly troubled by Gabriel’s arrival, and suspicious of the offer Gabriel makes: She asks him, “How will this be, since I am virgin?” — a question suggesting resistance to being sexually invaded as well as awareness of what sex is and does. When Gabriel answers, Mary replies, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Gabriel frames his announcement to Mary as what will happen, not what has happened. Clearly, Gabriel is not telling Mary she has already been impregnated without her knowledge or consent. Still, could Gabriel’s message be a threat telling Mary she will fall pregnant whether she agrees to it or not? Or is his message a promise to Mary, a promise whose fulfillment depended on her assent? I believe it’s only moral to consider it the latter — a promise which Mary had the choice to say yes or no to, a promise revealing Mary’s bravery in saying “Yes.”

After the Annunciation, Elizabeth, Mary’s kinswoman, greets Mary with, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Promises, not threats. Promises, though, which most young women of Mary’s time would have scarce reason to look forward to. People back then weren’t too dumb to know where babies come from or recognize a lame excuse when they heard one. Most sensible, upright people would quite rightly suspect a girl who insisted, “No, seriously, it’s not what you think — a god made me pregnant, I swear!” of lying to excuse her shame.

Sure, the pagan mythology of Mary’s time featured several stories of randy gods raping helpless mortals, but would a girl who claimed that’s really what happened to her be believed? Doubtful. I doubt she could hope for better than “belief” not much different from disbelief — “Well OK, then, sweetheart. You keep pretending that’s what happened to you, and we’ll keep pretending to believe you.”

Mary was not supposed to be That Kind of Girl. For that matter, our God is not supposed to be That Kind of God. Our God is not just one god among many, a being scarcely different from modern superheros, indulging human appetites, like getting frantically horny every now and then, only on larger-than-life scale. Our God is the God. Transcendent. All-wise. All-good. Infinitely above getting His almighty rocks off by raping little girls.

Mary, in knowing she should not be That Kind of Girl, must have realized that decent people would have good reason to suspect she was exactly That Kind of Girl — a lying slut. Worse than that: an obnoxiously sanctimonious, adulterous lying slut. Mary’s betrothal to Joseph was binding: sex with anyone else was adultery. And can you imagine the nerve it would take to insist that, after some “god” had “overshadowed” you, you were still a virgin? Would Leda have dared claim the Zeussian form which “overshadowed” her, weird swan genitalia and all, (yes, waterfowl genitalia are weird) had left her a virgin? By Jove, the sanctimony of it!

No wonder Mary was greatly troubled.

And yet she said “Yes” anyhow. Brave girl. Brave Joseph, too.

Joseph’s first reacted to Mary’s pregnancy by wondering whether he should divorce her quietly to avoid scandal. Had Joseph been the father of Mary’s child, any scandal involved would have been minimal, a mere matter of having gotten the nuptial rites a bit out of order — yes, you should wait till the marriage is completed, but as long as you’re engaged and will get married anyhow… Instead, Joseph, holy man that he was, needed an angel to reassure him before believing Mary’s story and deciding against divorce. Even the reassurance of an angel wouldn’t have prevented gossip, though. If word gets out that Mary claims it’s God’s kid, that means it’s not Joseph’s. Would a respectable man like Joseph cuck himself by raising someone else’s spawn?

Apparently, yes.

The Holy Family could not have been the Holy Family without fidelity to transcendent holiness, fidelity despite the risk that this holiness would be indistinguishable from tawdry scandal to most reasonable, decent people.

Not all Christians agree on whether Joseph left Mary a virgin once they married, or whether they instead had normal marital relations. The oldest Christian tradition holds that Mary did remain virgin for life, Joseph’s marriage to her providing guardianship over her status as a consecrated virgin. If Mary weren’t sworn to lifelong virginity, traditional reasoning goes, why would Mary be so troubled by the news she would soon bear a son? After all, Mary was engaged, and it’s perfectly normal — not at all troubling — for engaged virgins to marry, then lose their virginity before conceiving a son.

Whichever branch, perpetual virgin or ordinary wife, you believe Mary took after having agreed to walk down the path leading to the Word Made Flesh, meek and mild Mary must have been one helluva brave soul to agree to that path to begin with. I suspect those described as meek and mild in God’s service often are.

A blessed Advent and Merry Christmas to you all!

***

PS: I wasn’t kidding about Biebl’s sumptuous setting of Ave Maria, a piece America discovered thanks to a chance encounter between a German radio producer and an Ivy-League glee club. You can read about the history of Biebl’s piece here, if you like, but of course listening to it is even better! The men’s chorus Chanticleer widely popularized the piece, adopting it as a signature song:

If you also want to read the musical score while you listen, you can do so here:

There are 29 comments.

  1. SkipSul Moderator

    I’m not sure what to add at to this, this will require a lot of thought. But this is a fantastic essay.

    For a bit more on just why Mary did say “yes”, I have some thoughts here.

    • #1
    • December 22, 2018, at 6:56 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Nick H Coolidge

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Not all Christians agree on whether Joseph left Mary a virgin once they married, or whether they instead had normal marital relations.

    Interesting. Verses like John 2:12 or John 7:3, which refer to brothers of Jesus separate from his disciples always seemed to be clear that Mary and Joseph had other children. And isn’t James (the author of the book of James, not the disciple who was the brother of John) the brother of Jesus? And it doesn’t work to say that Joseph had children with someone other than Mary, because those wouldn’t be his brothers. Except in the sense that we’re all brothers and sisters as children of God.

    • #2
    • December 22, 2018, at 7:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. SkipSul Moderator

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Not all Christians agree on whether Joseph left Mary a virgin once they married, or whether they instead had normal marital relations.

    Interesting. Verses like John 2:12 or John 7:3, which refer to brothers of Jesus separate from his disciples always seemed to be clear that Mary and Joseph had other children. And isn’t James (the author of the book of James, not the disciple who was the brother of John) the brother of Jesus? And it doesn’t work to say that Joseph had children with someone other than Mary, because those wouldn’t be his brothers. Except in the sense that we’re all brothers and sisters as children of God.

    Well, actually in the Middle East to this day it’s quite common to call your cousins, even ones several times removed, your “brothers”. It was certainly common then too, so it does indeed work if Joseph did have children by a prior marriage, and it would have been common to refer to those half / step siblings as “brothers”. In other words, the text is not dispositive.

    Much early church tradition spoke of Joseph being much older than Mary too, and a widower, and while some of this finds its support in other non-canonical texts like the Protoevengelium of James, it is also curious that after Jesus’s birth, Joseph only appears one other time (the presentation of Jesus at the Temple), then vanishes from the narrative. This suggests that Joseph died sometime before Jesus began His ministry. Again, not dispositive, but still suggesting that Joseph was older than Mary.

    • #3
    • December 22, 2018, at 7:40 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Joseph Stanko Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    This suggests that Joseph died sometime before Jesus began His ministry. Again, not dispositive, but still suggesting that Joseph was older than Mary.

    There’s also the scene on the cross where Jesus says to John “behold, thy mother!” and John takes Mary into his home. This suggests that Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to protect and provide for her, so Jesus assigned “the disciple whom he loved” to care for her.

    Nick H (View Comment):
    And isn’t James (the author of the book of James, not the disciple who was the brother of John) the brother of Jesus? And it doesn’t work to say that Joseph had children with someone other than Mary, because those wouldn’t be his brothers.

    If James had been Mary’s son, why wouldn’t Mary have gone to live with him instead of John?
     

    • #4
    • December 22, 2018, at 8:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Doug Watt Member

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Not all Christians agree on whether Joseph left Mary a virgin once they married, or whether they instead had normal marital relations.

    Interesting. Verses like John 2:12 or John 7:3, which refer to brothers of Jesus separate from his disciples always seemed to be clear that Mary and Joseph had other children. And isn’t James (the author of the book of James, not the disciple who was the brother of John) the brother of Jesus? And it doesn’t work to say that Joseph had children with someone other than Mary, because those wouldn’t be his brothers. Except in the sense that we’re all brothers and sisters as children of God.

    I don’t believe there is a word for cousins in Aramaic. This may be where some of the confusion come from over brothers and sisters.

     

    • #5
    • December 22, 2018, at 9:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    There’s also the scene on the cross where Jesus says to John “behold, thy mother!” and John takes Mary into his home. This suggests that Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to protect and provide for her, so Jesus assigned “the disciple whom he loved” to care for her.

    The “behold, thy mother!” by itself could be explained by Mary, in bearing Jesus, who is Son of God, becoming in a sense the mother of us all — including, of course, John. And for a long time, I supposed that was what it meant.

    But that wouldn’t explain John taking Mary into his home. I never thought much about that aspect, and it being a sign Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to shelter her sounds plausible.

    • #6
    • December 22, 2018, at 10:11 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Age-of-consent laws exist as convenient bright-line rules. It’s not that everyone below the age of consent is incapable, and that everyone above that age is fully capable (though hopefully the vast majority are by then — that’s why civilized societies set the age of consent so high). It’s just that we’re not God: We’re not omniscient beings capable of knowing just when a child has become mature enough to know just what she’s getting into, so we pick an age instead. Fortunately, God is God, and so does know.

    I’d like to note that seeing as He didn’t get affirmative verbal consent every fifteen minutes from Mary, the Almighty is still falling short of the standards of the modern university administration.

    • #7
    • December 22, 2018, at 11:13 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Judge Mental Member

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Age-of-consent laws exist as convenient bright-line rules. It’s not that everyone below the age of consent is incapable, and that everyone above that age is fully capable (though hopefully the vast majority are by then — that’s why civilized societies set the age of consent so high). It’s just that we’re not God: We’re not omniscient beings capable of knowing just when a child has become mature enough to know just what she’s getting into, so we pick an age instead. Fortunately, God is God, and so does know.

    I’d like to note that seeing as He didn’t get affirmative verbal consent every fifteen minutes from Mary, the Almighty is still falling short of the standards of the modern university administration.

    Should have gotten a video consent.

    • #8
    • December 22, 2018, at 11:15 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Joseph Stanko Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    The “behold, thy mother!” by itself could be explained by Mary, in bearing Jesus, who is Son of God, becoming in a sense the mother of us all — including, of course, John. And for a long time, I supposed that was what it meant.

    I wouldn’t want to exclude that broader meaning, but like many passages of scripture, I believe it permits both a literal and a metaphorical reading.

    • #9
    • December 22, 2018, at 11:26 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    A very timely subject of veneration. I will add a bit in a day or so, and affirm that Protestants, like me, have probably short changed the venerable nature of Mary, for various reasons.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under December’s theme of Veneration. There are plenty of dates still available. Have you had an encounter with a saint, or someone who is truly venerable? Is there a sports figure who you believe is venerated, and what do you think of it? What is venerated in our society today? We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story to tell about nature, art, or architecture that points to subjects worth venerating. Have we lost the musical, written, visual language of veneration? The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits. As a heads-up, our January theme will be Renovation. I’ll post the sign-up sheet mid-month.

    •  
    • #10
    • December 23, 2018, at 12:50 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Mike Rapkoch Member

    Only in the age of sexual libertinism could people be this obsessed with Mary’s possible sex life.

    • #11
    • December 23, 2018, at 1:04 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Painter Jean Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    There’s also the scene on the cross where Jesus says to John “behold, thy mother!” and John takes Mary into his home. This suggests that Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to protect and provide for her, so Jesus assigned “the disciple whom he loved” to care for her.

    The “behold, thy mother!” by itself could be explained by Mary, in bearing Jesus, who is Son of God, becoming in a sense the mother of us all — including, of course, John. And for a long time, I supposed that was what it meant.

    But that wouldn’t explain John taking Mary into his home. I never thought much about that aspect, and it being a sign Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to shelter her sounds plausible.

    Another aspect to consider is that Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant”. The old ark contained pieces of the stone tablets that Moses brought down (the law); manna (bread from heaven), and the rod of Aaron (priesthood). In carrying Jesus, Mary was carrying all those things: the Word, the Bread of Life, the great High Priest. There’s a good article at Catholic Answers that goes into detail on the typology involved – it’s here if anyone is interested: https://www.catholic.com/index.php/magazine/print-edition/mary-the-ark-of-the-new-covenant-0

    The idea that Joseph would have relations with Mary after she had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is nuts – that is hallowed ground! In the Old Testament, people died from merely touching the Ark. I think we moderns have lost a great deal of the sense of things being holy, being set apart, hallowed – but Joseph was steeped in that awareness. 

    • #12
    • December 23, 2018, at 12:14 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Painter Jean Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    A very timely subject of veneration. I will add a bit in a day or so, and affirm that Protestants, like me, have probably short changed the venerable nature of Mary, for various reasons.

    Certainly Luther was devoted to Mary. In fact, he seems to have believed in the Immaculate Conception, long before it was declared a dogma by the Catholic Church: 

    “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” – (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527).

    And her perpetual virginity: 

    “Christ, ..was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him… “brothers” really means “cousins” here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.” – (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39)

    “He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb.. .This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.” – (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39)

    Mary as Theotokos:

    “God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary’s Son, and that Mary is God’s mother…She is the true mother of God and bearer of God…Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus. not two Christs. . .just as your son is not two sons…even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone.” -(On the Councils and the Church, 1539)

    “She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.” – (Personal {“Little”} Prayer Book, 1522)

    And in a post some days ago by Amy Schley, in which she said that Lutherans don’t venerate the saints, I pointed out that Luther himself did:

    “The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.”- (Sermon, September 1, 1522).

    “[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.”-(Sermon, Christmas, 1531).

    “No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.” -(Sermon, Feast of the Visitation. 1537).

     

    • #13
    • December 23, 2018, at 12:33 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Amy Schley Moderator

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Certainly Luther was devoted to Mary. In fact, he seems to have believed in the Immaculate Conception, long before it was declared a dogma by the Catholic Church

    Very true. I would note, however, that unlike Catholics he did not believe that the Immaculate Conception and Eternal Virginity rose to the level of required doctrine. That is, one could still be a Christian without believing in it.

    One of the things that bugs me in reading non-Lutherans talk about the Reformation is the assumption that Luther opposed all Catholic practices the way Calvin or Zwingli did. Luther (particularly before his last few years when he realized what a Pandora’s box he’d opened) was more interested in getting his parishioners to continue many “Catholic” practices, just for the right reasons. e.g. He wasn’t opposed to the various church fasts of the year, but rather the legalistic way in which they were performed, even at great financial hardship. i.e. Butter is far easier for German peasants to get than Mediterranean olive oil. At the very time they were supposed to be fasting to reduce expenditure for more almsgiving, they were required to spend more to get necessary dietary fats.

    • #14
    • December 23, 2018, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Percival Thatcher

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Certainly Luther was devoted to Mary. In fact, he seems to have believed in the Immaculate Conception, long before it was declared a dogma by the Catholic Church

    Very true. I would note, however, that unlike Catholics he did not believe that the Immaculate Conception and Eternal Virginity rose to the level of required doctrine. That is, one could still be a Christian without believing in it.

    Yes on one, meh on two, but that’s just me, and I’m only a Renegade Lutheran.

    • #15
    • December 23, 2018, at 1:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. SkipSul Moderator

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Certainly Luther was devoted to Mary. In fact, he seems to have believed in the Immaculate Conception, long before it was declared a dogma by the Catholic Church

    Very true. I would note, however, that unlike Catholics he did not believe that the Immaculate Conception and Eternal Virginity rose to the level of required doctrine. That is, one could still be a Christian without believing in it.

    One of the things that bugs me in reading non-Lutherans talk about the Reformation is the assumption that Luther opposed all Catholic practices the way Calvin or Zwingli did. Luther (particularly before his last few years when he realized what a Pandora’s box he’d opened) was more interested in getting his parishioners to continue many “Catholic” practices, just for the right reasons. e.g. He wasn’t opposed to the various church fasts of the year, but rather the legalistic way in which they were performed, even at great financial hardship. i.e. Butter is far easier for German peasants to get than Mediterranean olive oil. At the very time they were supposed to be fasting to reduce expenditure for more almsgiving, they were required to spend more to get necessary dietary fats.

    There’s a running joke that if Christianity had emerged in the American south, we would fast from fish and shellfish (except crayfish), and instead only be allowed chicken because it’s so much cheaper.

    • #16
    • December 23, 2018, at 2:42 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Painter Jean Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Certainly Luther was devoted to Mary. In fact, he seems to have believed in the Immaculate Conception, long before it was declared a dogma by the Catholic Church

    Very true. I would note, however, that unlike Catholics he did not believe that the Immaculate Conception and Eternal Virginity rose to the level of required doctrine. That is, one could still be a Christian without believing in it.

    One of the things that bugs me in reading non-Lutherans talk about the Reformation is the assumption that Luther opposed all Catholic practices the way Calvin or Zwingli did. Luther (particularly before his last few years when he realized what a Pandora’s box he’d opened) was more interested in getting his parishioners to continue many “Catholic” practices, just for the right reasons. e.g. He wasn’t opposed to the various church fasts of the year, but rather the legalistic way in which they were performed, even at great financial hardship. i.e. Butter is far easier for German peasants to get than Mediterranean olive oil. At the very time they were supposed to be fasting to reduce expenditure for more almsgiving, they were required to spend more to get necessary dietary fats.

    There’s a running joke that if Christianity had emerged in the American south, we would fast from fish and shellfish (except crayfish), and instead only be allowed chicken because it’s so much cheaper.

    That would certainly be more penitential for me!

    • #17
    • December 23, 2018, at 3:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Painter Jean Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    One of the things that bugs me in reading non-Lutherans talk about the Reformation is the assumption that Luther opposed all Catholic practices the way Calvin or Zwingli did. Luther (particularly before his last few years when he realized what a Pandora’s box he’d opened) was more interested in getting his parishioners to continue many “Catholic” practices, just for the right reasons. e.g. He wasn’t opposed to the various church fasts of the year, but rather the legalistic way in which they were performed, even at great financial hardship.

    Actually, I think it’s human nature to take just about anything and distort it at the edges. In matters of Church practices, there will probably always be some individuals inclined to be overly legalistic (a little OCD, maybe?), and others who will be inclined to give the bare minimum. For the great unwashed in the middle, I think most people will probably get it about right. But it is interesting to see what happened in the Roman Rite Church when the Friday abstention from meat was dropped: Roman Rite Catholics could now eat meat on Fridays, but they were to still do some penitential act, of their own choosing, as a way to commemorate the Passion on that day. Predictably enough, most people ended up not doing anything at all. I went to a Catholic grade school and never was taught that we were supposed to do something on Fridays. It was only after coming back to the Church as an adult, after many years, that I learned this. My parents were surprised when I told them – and they went back to abstaining from meat on Fridays. Hey, it’s easy to remember! The same is true for attendance at Mass on Sundays. Yes, it’s an obligation, but sometimes for a gal like me it’s not a bad thing to have an obligation. Without me taking that obligation seriously, it would be all too easy for me to be lazy. Obviously it’s better to go to Mass because of my love of God and the desire to worship Him and partake in the sacrifice of the Mass, but it doesn’t hurt to have that obligation as a backup when I am sleepy and uninspired.

    • #18
    • December 23, 2018, at 3:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    Only in the age of sexual libertinism could people be this obsessed with Mary’s possible sex life.

    I was thinking about what you said, @mikerapkoch, yesterday during the sermon in church (a mind that wanders during sermons being one of my besetting sins), and I think… yes and no…

    I agree focusing the crass rhetoric of “sex life” on the saints — rhetoric so often styling sex as an end in itself, a jumble of so many positions, prophylactics, toys and fluids — is a modern aberration. Still, the sexual status and history of saints — especially female saints — has always been a topic of interest in the church.

    Is a saint a virgin, a wife, a mother, a repentant harlot? These things seem to have always mattered, and reasonably so.

    Women’s sexual status in particular (much more so than men’s) has always been a topic of public interest for moral guardians, even purely secular moral guardians. Indeed, purely secular moral guardians, freed from having to see women as souls made in God’s image, can — and often have — freed themselves from the obligation of treating women’s sexual choices as their own to make, rather than property of the society surrounding them. The notion that a woman has a duty to bear ≥x number of children for her race (or nation-state), or that a woman, once “ruined”, cannot repent her way back into virtue (because what matters is not her soul, only her reputation) are secular notions. Is chastity a duty to God and your soul’s own good? Or is it your genitals’ — especially female genitals’ — very public duty to others?

    As a girl, I was edified by stories of female saints defying the sexual pressures put upon them, claiming allegiance to something higher — God — even when the sexual pressures were, from the world’s eyes, perfectly respectable, like making an advantageous marriage rather than doing something as absurd and impractical as vowing one’s virginity to God.

    Being Christian doesn’t mean being utterly impractical. Christians needn’t be blind to demographics, or to the differences in anatomy between men and women, differences which do tend to make sexual license riskier for women (and the children they bear) than it is for men. Nor need Christians be blind to aggregate social effects, such as there being more-or-less a mating market, a tendency toward a division of labor among the sexes, and a need for reputation management. Still, Christians are called to more than that, and for a Christian girl, answering that call takes having confidence she’s not a passive plaything when it comes to social expectations of how her sexuality will be used. Not even a plaything of social expectations that serve a useful — indeed, usually more good than not — purpose.

    Had Mary, Theotokos, regarded herself as such a plaything, how could she be Theotokos?

    • #19
    • December 24, 2018, at 10:13 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    There’s also the scene on the cross where Jesus says to John “behold, thy mother!” and John takes Mary into his home. This suggests that Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to protect and provide for her, so Jesus assigned “the disciple whom he loved” to care for her.

    The “behold, thy mother!” by itself could be explained by Mary, in bearing Jesus, who is Son of God, becoming in a sense the mother of us all — including, of course, John. And for a long time, I supposed that was what it meant.

    But that wouldn’t explain John taking Mary into his home. I never thought much about that aspect, and it being a sign Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to shelter her sounds plausible.

    Another aspect to consider is that Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant”. The old ark contained pieces of the stone tablets that Moses brought down (the law); manna (bread from heaven), and the rod of Aaron (priesthood). In carrying Jesus, Mary was carrying all those things: the Word, the Bread of Life, the great High Priest. There’s a good article at Catholic Answers that goes into detail on the typology involved – it’s here if anyone is interested: https://www.catholic.com/index.php/magazine/print-edition/mary-the-ark-of-the-new-covenant-0

    The idea that Joseph would have relations with Mary after she had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is nuts – that is hallowed ground! In the Old Testament, people died from merely touching the Ark. I think we moderns have lost a great deal of the sense of things being holy, being set apart, hallowed – but Joseph was steeped in that awareness.

    I was not raised Catholic — I was not even raised a good Lutheran, despite that being my heritage. But my parents did encourage me to read “moral books” — including many secondhand children’s books picked up for pennies at church basement sales, several of which evidently came from Catholic publishers. Consequently, I grew up with some rudimentary idea of the stories of saints. And…

    The logic of setting something apart always made sense to me. And so, I wouldn’t go out of my way to reject the tradition saying Mary was set apart. I wouldn’t refuse to join a church because that church held it as doctrine. Still, I have a lot of sympathy for those who believe otherwise:

    If people read their Bibles and read about Jesus’ siblings, well… that’s understandable. In a country like America where religious devotion has been so identified with biblical literacy, and biblical literacy is declining, can we be surprised that many sincere American Christians might be reluctant to read anything other into those words than their most literal meaning?

    Furthermore, American Christianity, especially as a political force, is very Family-Values. I don’t mean to disparage Family Values, but it is possible to elevate normal family formation to such a high degree that other holy ways of living, such as celibacy, become obscured and even unintelligible.

    When procreative relations between husband and wife are held up as so sacred, then wouldn’t it be sacrilege, in a way, if Mary and Joseph didn’t engage in them once they were married?… Wouldn’t setting Mary apart like that in her marriage to Joseph be undermining the natural family, calling it somehow lesser, since it was unworthy of Mary the Mother of Us All?… Wouldn’t that be somehow anti-Family-Values? These are not questions that trouble me, but I can see how they might trouble others.

    • #20
    • December 24, 2018, at 10:46 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Age-of-consent laws exist as convenient bright-line rules. It’s not that everyone below the age of consent is incapable, and that everyone above that age is fully capable (though hopefully the vast majority are by then — that’s why civilized societies set the age of consent so high). It’s just that we’re not God: We’re not omniscient beings capable of knowing just when a child has become mature enough to know just what she’s getting into, so we pick an age instead. Fortunately, God is God, and so does know.

    I’d like to note that seeing as He didn’t get affirmative verbal consent every fifteen minutes from Mary, the Almighty is still falling short of the standards of the modern university administration.

    Should have gotten a video consent.

    Does video recording equipment work reliably around God and His messengers? I mean, what if it’s all staticky?

    • #21
    • December 24, 2018, at 10:51 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. SkipSul Moderator

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Age-of-consent laws exist as convenient bright-line rules. It’s not that everyone below the age of consent is incapable, and that everyone above that age is fully capable (though hopefully the vast majority are by then — that’s why civilized societies set the age of consent so high). It’s just that we’re not God: We’re not omniscient beings capable of knowing just when a child has become mature enough to know just what she’s getting into, so we pick an age instead. Fortunately, God is God, and so does know.

    I’d like to note that seeing as He didn’t get affirmative verbal consent every fifteen minutes from Mary, the Almighty is still falling short of the standards of the modern university administration.

    Should have gotten a video consent.

    Does video recording equipment work reliably around God and His messengers? I mean, what if it’s all staticky?

    I know people who could answer that, oddly enough. I may ask, if I get the chance.

    • #22
    • December 24, 2018, at 7:14 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. ChefSly - Super Kit Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    When procreative relations between husband and wife are held up as so sacred, then wouldn’t it be sacrilege, in a way, if Mary and Joseph didn’t engage in them once they were married?

    Something to note is that the first commandment is “Be fruitful and multiply”. So, as good Jews, I think it would at the least, be odd.

    • #23
    • December 25, 2018, at 5:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. Painter Jean Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    There’s also the scene on the cross where Jesus says to John “behold, thy mother!” and John takes Mary into his home. This suggests that Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to protect and provide for her, so Jesus assigned “the disciple whom he loved” to care for her.

    The “behold, thy mother!” by itself could be explained by Mary, in bearing Jesus, who is Son of God, becoming in a sense the mother of us all — including, of course, John. And for a long time, I supposed that was what it meant.

    But that wouldn’t explain John taking Mary into his home. I never thought much about that aspect, and it being a sign Mary had neither husband nor adult sons to shelter her sounds plausible.

    Another aspect to consider is that Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant”. The old ark contained pieces of the stone tablets that Moses brought down (the law); manna (bread from heaven), and the rod of Aaron (priesthood). In carrying Jesus, Mary was carrying all those things: the Word, the Bread of Life, the great High Priest. There’s a good article at Catholic Answers that goes into detail on the typology involved – it’s here if anyone is interested: https://www.catholic.com/index.php/magazine/print-edition/mary-the-ark-of-the-new-covenant-0

    The idea that Joseph would have relations with Mary after she had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is nuts – that is hallowed ground! In the Old Testament, people died from merely touching the Ark. I think we moderns have lost a great deal of the sense of things being holy, being set apart, hallowed – but Joseph was steeped in that awareness.

     

    Furthermore, American Christianity, especially as a political force, is very Family-Values. I don’t mean to disparage Family Values, but it is possible to elevate normal family formation to such a high degree that other holy ways of living, such as celibacy, become obscured and even unintelligible.

    And in so doing, forget that St. Paul recommended celibacy, though recognizing it was not for everyone (and people always seem to forget that the Roman Rite discipline of celibacy in the Catholic Church is just that – a discipline, not a doctrine – and that other Catholic rites have a married clergy). Jesus also speaks of celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom”.

    When procreative relations between husband and wife are held up as so sacred, then wouldn’t it be sacrilege, in a way, if Mary and Joseph didn’t engage in them once they were married?…

    Mary and Joseph were in an entirely unique, never-to-be-repeated situation. It would be more sacrilegious to treat hallowed ground as ordinary.

    • #24
    • December 25, 2018, at 1:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Mole-eye Member

    Mary was on my mind last night, and in a holiday greeting I wrote to friends:

    “I think of Mary, a young girl in her first pregnancy, forced by the conquerors of her country to travel far from her mother and female relatives when she is about to give birth. She is alone, with a husband who has married her out of pity, because she is pregnant with someone else’s child. Her society so abhors illegitimacy that the stain of it follows a family for 10 generations. With her heavy belly she has walked or ridden a donkey’s sharp backbone for miles and miles over dusty, stony roads, and when her labor begins, there is only a drafty stable full of smelly, dirty animals in which to face the pain and perils of childbirth. If she gets any help at all, it is from strangers or the veritable stranger who is her husband. Yet when it is done, the miracle of her newborn son rests in her arms, and 2 millenia later, whatever our beliefs, we remember the miracle of that life.”

    The “10 generations” part I recalled from something that Herman Wouk wrote in one of his books, opining that illegitimacy is a crime against a child’s identity. Wouk was an impressive scholar of Judaism, and if he said that Jewish law decreed that “a bastard is a bastard for 10 generations”, I took that to be correct.

    Mary, being of the House of David, must have come from a “good family” at the very least. To have accepted a role that would make her the butt of the anger and disappointment of her family, as well as the whispers and snickers of her neighbors, must have been a very frightening thing to do. Knowing that her son and his line (if he had one) would be regarded as bastards for 10 generations seems awful. What a brave girl she must have been.

    I had forgotten about Gabriel’s visitation to Joseph, but even if Joseph wed Mary out of devotion to God rather than pity, in neither case was he marrying her because he wanted her and regarded her as a good catch. (Given the arrangement of marriages at the time, I didn’t bother with consideration of an actual love match.)

    Believing in the virgin birth is very hard for me. There are the modern scientific reasons, and the Greek tradition of gods impregnating mortal women, but most of all there is so little official attention paid to the suffering incurred by Mary and Joseph just to bring Jesus into the world. The Holy Family is so idealized, so trivialized, none of it seems to exist on the human plane. All I can do is ask God to forgive my skepticism.

    • #25
    • December 26, 2018, at 3:34 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Mole-eye (View Comment):

    …Mary, being of the House of David, must have come from a “good family” at the very least. To have accepted a role that would make her the butt of the anger and disappointment of her family, as well as the whispers and snickers of her neighbors, must have been a very frightening thing to do… What a brave girl she must have been.

    I had forgotten about Gabriel’s visitation to Joseph, but even if Joseph wed Mary out of devotion to God rather than pity, in neither case was he marrying her because he wanted her and regarded her as a good catch. (Given the arrangement of marriages at the time, I didn’t bother with consideration of an actual love match.)

    Although, if early Christian tradition is right, and Joseph was a widower knowingly marrying a consecrated virgin as her guardian, then, once Joseph believes what the angel tells him, Joseph finds out he is getting exactly what he wanted (the most consecrated virgin of them all). Just… probably never in the way he expected to want it…

    As they say, be careful what you wish for — you just might get it!

    Believing in the virgin birth is very hard for me. There are the modern scientific reasons, and the Greek tradition of gods impregnating mortal women, but most of all there is so little official attention paid to the suffering incurred by Mary and Joseph just to bring Jesus into the world. The Holy Family is so idealized, so trivialized, none of it seems to exist on the human plane. All I can do is ask God to forgive my skepticism. [emphasis added]

    @moleeye, I know what you mean. Simcha Fisher (whose ideas aren’t always sensible, but nearly always interesting), puts it this way:

    Mary’s behavior is what we should think of as feminine; but it’s so hard to grasp that we saddle her with a simpering passivity, turning her into a virgin too fragile to deal with men, rather than a virgin strong enough to deal with God.

    Traditionalist ideals of what makes a good girl, when they’re unmoored from a sense of the sacred, can easily paint good girls as good because they are weak. Too fragile to deal with the risky, masculine stuff of the world. In need of protection not just because they’re physically weaker, but because any virtue they could possibly have — virginity included — must be a virtue of submission, not assertion.

    Even in the modern American Purity movement, which seems well-intended enough, desacralization of virginity — treating virginity not as defiance of the principalities and powers of the world, but as meek submission to one’s guardians (current father, future husband) — is pretty common. A virgin who believes — especially in today’s society — that the way to preserve her virginity is through submission, not defiance, has another thing coming, though. Fisher again,

    And so girls who want to be good are left to piece together some kind of dreadful “least bad” course of action with almost no information about what they can and should do in actual relationships. Teenage girls often put their own best interests last, in hopes of minimizing damage or offense for everyone else.

    As Mark Regnerus has documented, teenage girls who put their own best interest last have a harder, not easier, time keeping their virginity.

    In Pale Fire, Nabokov described a “young queen, an angry young virgin with coal-black hair and ice-blue eyes”. Picturing Theotokos as an angry virgin misses the mark. But fierce? Terrible as an army with banners? I hope so.

    Right before baptism in the early church, initiates were expected to spit — literally — at the principalities and powers of the world. Sex is not evil — obviously it can be a great good — but sex makes a pretty good symbol of the secular order — the order that never expects to transcend the mundane and brutally material, the principalities and powers of the world. Picturing the Virgin as too merely too frail, simpering, and “submissive” to handle sex misses out on the sheer moxie it takes to defy the secular order.

    • #26
    • December 27, 2018, at 10:36 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    moxy

    I feel like I should call Max in to correct you on this. Moxie.

    • #27
    • December 27, 2018, at 11:23 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    moxy

    I feel like I should call Max in to correct you on this. Moxie.

    Thanks — and corrected. I wouldn’t want to leave the reader with the impression that what it takes to defy the secular order is a chain of affordable-yet-stylish hotels.

    • #28
    • December 27, 2018, at 11:49 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. SkipSul Moderator

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Right before baptism in the early church, initiates were expected to spit — literally — at the principalities and powers of the world.

    This is still done.

    • #29
    • December 30, 2018, at 8:26 PM PDT
    • 2 likes