Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What was it like to be pregnant with the Savior?


For nine months, the Blessed Virgin Mary carried the Christ Child within her own body. She was “with child”, pregnant. The body of our Lord grew within her over those nine months, and he was sustained by the nourishment which was given him through her most pure body.
St. John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate on Wednesday, writes beautifully of this mystery:
Del Verbo divino
La Virgen preƱada
Viene de camino
¡si le dais posada!
With the divine Word
The Virgin heavy
Comes down the way
If only you'll give her welcome!
During the season of Advent, we await the Nativity of our Savior; and it is only natural that, meditating upon the time before Christ’s birth, we should begin to ponder what the pregnancy was like. In such matters as these – which touch upon the most intimate union of our Lord and our Blessed Lady – we must write with great tenderness, caution, love, devotion, and dignity.

The dogma of the miraculous birth – Mary suffered no pains
It is a dogmatic teaching of the Church that the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered no pains in giving birth to her Son. Any who wish to be saved must believe this truth. Those modernists who claim that our Lady suffered pain and rupture in bearing forth the Son of God are impious blasphemers, fools and heretics, children of Satan – so state the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church (most especially St. Epiphanius).
In the days before he gave up his arms, St. Ignatius Loyola very nearly killed a Moor who claimed that the Blessed Lady suffered pains in giving birth. The Church has always maintained that she gave birth without any pain and with no rupture or injury to physical integrity of her virginal womb.
We will write more about this in the future, but for now I only desire that the dogma be presented (without any significant defense), so as to give us some context for a discussion of the pregnancy.
If any doubt that our Lady could give birth to a Son without any pain or physical rupture, let such a one recall that the same Savior walked through the walls of the upper room after his Resurrection. Can the God who took flesh to himself without the seminal power of any man, not come forth from the Virgin’s womb as light passing through glass, as thought proceeding from intellect? If all things are possible to God, is it not madness and sacrilege to deny this Christmas miracle?
NOTA BENE: In the comment box, no comments disputing the miraculous birth of our Savior from the Virgin will be permitted. The mystery will be considered in a post next week. I refer to it here only to set the stage for a consideration of the pregnancy itself.
Natural properties of the pregnancy
Christ took his flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was nourished by her body according to the natural mode. Indeed, there is no doubt that our Lady had to eat more food (for example), just as any pregnant mother must. Anything which is connected to the nature of pregnancy is to be affirmed of the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son, excepting those things which are the result of sin rather than of nature per se (and also excepting anything which may have been effected by a special miracle).
The Christ Child had weight and took up space in our Lady’s womb. Thus, the Virgin would have “shown” and would have been “heavy”. Certainly, she would have become tired more quickly and would have had decreased mobility (as is the case with all pregnant women). We may even suppose that she would have suffered the various hormonal variations which are part of the natural process of pregnancy.
Morning sickness and other physical sufferings?
In considering the matter of morning sickness (and other such physical “ailments” associated with most pregnancies), I am quite disinclined to believe that our Lady would have suffered such things. While, at first, it may seem that she would have – since, after all, the Child did have weight and pressure within her; and, further, it is almost certain that her body reacted to pregnancy according to the natural hormonal changes – a brief consideration will lead us to conclude that it is more likely that she suffered neither morning sickness, nor painful “quickening” (i.e. the kicking of the Christ Child), nor any other such pains.
The Blessed Virgin endured pregnancy according to the manner in which Eve would have endured it before the fall. Thus, our Mother did not suffer the pains which are a punishment for sin. Further, her pregnancy would be the most peaceful and gentle of all pregnancies – she would suffer intensely at the foot of the Cross, and so was spared any unnecessary suffering in pregnancy.
Hence, since not all women suffer morning sickness, nor do all women have severe pains from prenatal “quickening”, neither should we suppose that our Lady suffered such things. And, though both morning sickness and quickening may well often be good signs of healthy pregnancy (some doctors suppose that morning sickness helps to keep the baby from any toxins present in most normal foods, while quickening is a sign that the baby is progressing in his development), such signs are not necessary nor would they have to be present in our Lady in a manner which would bring great discomfort – while our Lady would have felt the Child moving within her, we need not think that this would have been particularly painful.
Further, we must consider that the Christ Child would not will that his first act in the world would be to cause harm to his Mother. Therefore, while he certainly weighed her down and enlarged her womb, we ought not think that he would have caused any discomfort beyond what is absolutely necessary.
We may well presume that our Lady would have been tired at times and suffered some level of stiffness in her muscles – for, of course, she carried the physical weight of the Child in her virginal womb. Obviously, the Virgin’s feet would be sore from carrying the additional weight – hence, she is often pictured riding on a donkey during the trip to Bethlehem.
Moodiness and other mental changes?
We must not suppose that the Blessed Virgin Mother of God would have suffered from any disorders of soul. By the grace of the Immaculate Conception and also by the additional graces given to our Lady throughout her life, every impulse of the lower powers of the soul was directed and wholly ordered by reason.
Mary, like her Son, never suffered from any interior temptation. She was never angry without reason, nor sad without reason, nor upset or distressed or anxious in a manner contrary to reason. Our Lady’s emotions never raged against the power of her reason – for such is the result of sin, but she was entirely preserved from all sin.
Most certainly, our Lady would become tired and sleepy. At times she would not be able to think things through as quickly – though, we must affirm, she never made an error in judgment; for error is a result of sin. But to think that our Holy Mother could have been moody during her pregnancy?! Why, if any should say such a thing, let such impiety be answered with a strike upon the foul mouth which bore it! It is a blasphemy worthy of hell!
Did our Mother have “cravings” for particular foods? Perhaps, but again we affirm that these would not be of the same sort as most women – for the “cravings” for food which the Mother of God would have had would not have overpowered her reason, but would have been entirely subjected to the higher faculties of her soul.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son
How great the mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation! What tender love and devotion we must have when we consider it! To think on such things, and to meditate upon them in our hearts will not fail to inspire true and holy love for God the Almighty.
“In such things, the whole ground of the mystery is the might of God who permits it to happen.” (St. Augustine, Epistle 137, 2,8)

Virgin conceived without sin, Pray for us who have recourse to thee!

9 comments:

kkollwitz said...

"he was sustained by the nourishment which was given him through her most pure body"

Yes. This is explicitly taught in my Catechism class.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Father. God Bless you for defending the truth that Mary's delivery was painless.

When you devote a post to that topic, I am already armed with numerous quotes from Dom Gueranger's, "The Liturgical Year" to back-up your post.

bluebonnetreads said...

Do you have a more specific source for the dogma that Mary's birth was painless? I haven't heard before that this was a dogma, and I'm interested in learning more about it.

I am currently in RCIA, so no blame need be laid at the foot of catechists. :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@bluebonnetreads,
mid next week I will have an article which explains the dogma more fully and gives the magisterial citations.

For now let a couple quotes suffice:
From the Roman Catechism (of Trent) - "From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain."

Further, the pains are caused by the child opening the womb, but the Church teaches that Mary retained the physical integrity of her virginity -- hence we do not say simply that "he was conceived of the Virgin Mary", but that he was "born of the Virgin Mary"; she is a "virgin before, during and after birth", but being a virgin "during birth" can only make sense if "virginity" entails the preservation of the physical closure of the womb.

Hence the Catechism of the Catholic Church (that of Vatican II) says that "Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.'" (CCC 499, citing Lumen Gentium [of Vatican II] #57)

Further, that Mary suffered no pains is the constant teaching of all the Fathers of the Church, and is expressly maintained in the Liturgy.

Much more to come next week! :)

Praise God that you are in the RCIA program ... many blessings to you as you prepare to enter the Church! +

A Christian Family in the Modern World said...

"The Blessed Virgin endured pregnancy according to the manner in which Eve would have endured it before the fall. Thus, our Mother did not suffer the pains which are a punishment for sin."
I had never thought of it in this way! Thank you for a wonderful post, Father! I have wondered about many of the things you explained.

I am 39 weeks pregnant with a son due a few days before Christmas, so I just couldn't resist reading this post...I've been praying to Mary often for the blessing of another healthy delivery. Happy Advent and please keep me and our little baby boy in your prayers.

Stacy Trasancos said...

Father Erlenbush,

This...

"Those modernists who claim that our Lady suffered pain and rupture in bearing forth the Son of God are impious blasphemers, fools and heretics, children of Satan – so state the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church (most especially St. Epiphanius)."

And this...

"But to think that our Holy Mother could have been moody during her pregnancy?! Why, if any should say such a thing, let such impiety be answered with a strike upon the foul mouth which bore it! It is a blasphemy worthy of hell!"

Wonderful! I'm sure glad you didn't sugar-coat anything there. :-D God bless you. What an excellent post. Thank you!

A Christian Family in the Modern World, our son was born about this time last year (in Jan.) and it was very special being "heavy" during Christmas (even though I was quite moody!). We will remember your family in our prayers too. Bless you and your little boy!

Anonymous said...

"Before she was in labour, she brought forth; before her time came to be delivered, she brought forth a man child." Isaiah 66:7

(BarefootPilgrim)

Anonymous said...

I was always taught that pain in childbirth was the result of original sin. So since Mary was sinless, does it not follow (logically) that she did not have the pain in childbirth? Makes sense to me.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@anonymous,
Yes, additional pains were added as a result of sin; and Mary was freed from these.

Also, I would point out that there is something even more in the miraculous birth of Christ -- in that our Savior passed through the womb of his Mother as light through glass and as thought from intellect ... this is much more than would have been even if Eve had never fallen.

Peace to you. +

also, please use a pseudonym in the future ... at least at the end of the comment ... like so ...

- Fr. Ryan

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