Thursday, November 20, 2014

Did you know that Mary was raised in the Temple and made a vow of virginity?

November 21st, The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple

“Congratulate me, all ye that love the Lord, because when I was a little one I pleased the Most High.” (from the Common Office of our Lady)

Though it is related nowhere in the sacred books, ancient tradition tells us of the presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple when she had been weaned from her mother at the age of three. This presentation is quite diverse from that of our Lord in his fortieth day – for Blessed Mary was given over to the Temple for her rearing and education, as Joachim and Ann returned to Nazareth, she remained in Jerusalem until her fourteenth or fifteenth year.

It was during these twelve years of dedicated service in the Temple that our Lady made her vow of virginity, which God then protected through the ministry of St. Joseph.

Let us consider the outline of the history of the presentation of Mary in the Temple, and then further the vow of Blessed Mary to remain a virgin.

The historical context of the presentation in the Temple

It is thought that some of the Jews who had a special devotion for the Lord and the Temple, would give over to the service of the Temple their daughters. At a young age, these girls would be dedicated to the High Priest and would serve in the Temple as a quasi-Altar Society, caring for the linens, the vestments, and other such appointments of the sanctuary. 
[See an excellent post by Taylor Marshall for more on this (here)]

Tradition holds that such was the case also of Joachim and Ann, and further that they had vowed that they would give the Blessed Mary to such service. It is related in early Christian literature, that the child Mary was taken to the Jerusalem at the age of three and, unlike other children of such tender years, was wholly self-possessed and rational, running with joy to consecrated herself to the service of God in the Temple. Not once did she look back to her parents, but she only looked straight on ahead to the coming of the Messiah. (cf. Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 4)

The history of the presentation in the Temple

Much of the tradition of the presentation of our Lady in the Temple is recorded in the Protevanglium of James (an apocryphal book of the second century). Although this text was not truly written by an apostle, nor is it an inspired text of holy writ, yet the book does bear witness to the ancient traditions of the Christian faithful regarding our Lady.

While not a part of the inerrant word of God, the Protoevangelium gives us a hint of what beliefs were common among the first Christians. That our Lady’s presentation had been a commonly held tradition in the early Church is testified to in the following passage (7.1-2)

“And the child was two years old, and Joachim said, ‘Let us take her up to the Temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us and our offering be not received’. And Anne said, ‘Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother’. And Joachim said, ‘Let us so wait’. And the child was three years old … and they went up to the Temple of the Lord, and the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her, saying, ‘The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.’ And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the Temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there.” (quoted in Butler’s Lives of the Saints)

Consider also the testimony of the mystics of the Church. Here, an excerpt from a prayer revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden by our Lord,

“Blessed may you be, my Lady, O Virgin Mary. In your most holy infancy, immediately after your weaning, you were borne by your parents to the temple of God and were, with the other virgins, entrusted to the keeping of the devout high priest.”

Again, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmmerich, relates the same tradition,

“When the signing was ended, Mary took leave of her parents. Joachim was especially affected. He took the little child up in his arms, pressed her to his heart, and said weeping; ‘Remember my soul before God.’”

Mary vows her life as a virgin – the Biblical evidence

“Infinite glory be to you, my Lady, O Virgin Mary, who humbly vowed your virginity to God himself and therefore had no concern about who would betroth you.” (Prayer revealed by God to St. Bridget of Sweden)

It is an ancient tradition of the Church that our Lady had vowed virginity during her years of service in the Temple. In this respect, she is a model to all as consecrated virgins, as she was herself the first to make of herself this perfect offering to the Almighty in anticipation of the coming of the Christ.

But, is there any biblical evidence that Mary had made a vow of virginity? Yes!

When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary with the joyful news of her conception of the Christ Child, Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus (Luke 1:31), she is perplexed and uncertain:

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? (Luke 1:34)

Let us consider that question of our Lady. What caused her to be uncertain regarding her conceiving of a male child? She was not infertile. She was not old. In every respect, she seems to be in prime condition and age to conceive a son.

Was she unwed? No! She was already betrothed to St. Joseph! And so strong was the bond of betrothal that she was already called the “wife” of Joseph (Matthew 1:20).

Here we have a young woman, betrothed to a man, already his wife, and soon to move into his home. In modern terms, this would be something like a girl the day before her wedding (yet with no fear of being left at the altar). Would any young woman, a day before her wedding, be surprised to hear that she would soon conceive a child? No!

Why then was Mary, about to be wed, uncertain of the manner in which the Child should be conceived? She was not so naïve, for at least ancient times marriage was directed to childbirth.

There is only one explanation: Mary did not intend to enter into a natural marriage with St. Joseph. She knew she would be wed, she knew she was in prime condition to conceive a child, and yet she also knew that she would conceive no child by Joseph! This is why she is amazed!

How does she know she will conceive no child by Joseph? Because she and the Just Man had agreed to live as virgins within their marriage. Blessed Mary had made a vow of virginity while she was at the service of God in the Temple. She had given herself wholly to the Most High, and thus she never expected to have a child of St Joseph in this marriage whereby she would love Joseph more as a brother than a husband. 
Update: By way of clarification, we should point out that St Joseph must have agreed to this vow of our Lady, and likewise made such a vow of continence himself. Indeed, who would be so impious as to think that St Joseph would presume to have relations with the wife he had taken into his house when it had been revealed to him that the Child in her womb was Christ the Lord?! Obviously, he had made a vow of continence!

There can be no other explanation for this simple question: How shall this be done? Such a question only makes sense if Mary can say I know not man and “I will never know man”! Mary could only ask this question if she had vowed virginity during those tender years in which she cared for the Temple which was a mere shadow of her pure womb.

O Mary, Ever-Virgin! Pray for us!


Squashed Sardine said...

Thank you, Father. This raises a question for me; if Our Blessed Lady and St Joseph had already decided not to have children, then doesn't that make their marriage invalid? Isn't the desire for natural children a requirement of marriage?

Colin Kerr said...

Catholics can't "know" something taught by a false Gospel.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Colin, we know it because it was believed by the early Christians. We know that it was believed by the fact that early Christian literature speaks of it as something everyone knows. ... Believing in the presentation of Mary is no further a stretch that believing Mary's parents were Joachim and Ann.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

SS, God himself consecrated the union of Joseph and Mary with the gift of a child. However, you are correct that a marriage must be consumated for the union to be unbreakable - but this marriage could be considered miraculous on account of the moraculous virginal conception.

jptheo1978 said...

Both St. Augustine of Hippo (in the West) and St. Gregory of Nyssa (in the East) wrote how Mary took a vow of virginity in the Temple. They write on this from the question she asks the Angelic Messenger at the Annunciation. Both of the quotes are very long and I don't want to overpower the comment section with them. Both quotes will be published in a booklet I wrote for Emmaus Road Publishing on the Four Marian Dogmas set to be released soon.

Anonymous said...

Has the Church proposed for belief this teaching about Mary?

Are we to believe that Joseph was aware of Mary's vow and yet that he desired to marry her nonetheless? Or was this vow a surprise that Mary was to spring on Joseph at some point?

This tradition is very odd.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yan, Not sure why you find it odd ... another post on this can be found here -

And yes, of course Joseph would have known. All the saints and theologians state that he saw himself more as her guardian than as her husband. It would be close to blasphemy to think that Joseph had intended to have relations with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the time that he took her into his house - for by then she was with child and he knew this Child to be the Messiah.

So, all must agree that Joseph took his wife to his house knowing that he would never have relations with her.

The odd thing would be to dare to have relations with the Mother of God! More than odd - it is blasphemy!

Anonymous said...

I did know this. It's great proof against any argument that Mary had other children or that Jesus had "brothers."

Anonymous said...

What about Joseph ? Did he make a vow a virginity too ?

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr.,

It's odd because my assumption is that when people intend to marry that they intend to do the marital act. Is there evidence that virgin marriages were common at that time? Or is this marriage a rare or unique exception to the general rule that marriages are entered into with the intention of being consummated?

It's one thing to say that Joseph married Mary without the intention to have marital relations with her AFTER he learned that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God. That is obviously not what I was talking about. In your response to me you are conflating the propriety of marital relations with Mary AFTER Joseph learned of her motherhood with the situation that existed between Joseph and Mary BEFORE he learned of this. Two different things entirely. So my original question as to whether the assertion that Joseph was aware of Mary's vow and yet intended to marry her and respect that vow is proposed for belief by the Church, remains unanswered.

In your response you assert further that we must agree, after Mary's motherhood of Christ was known to Joseph, that Joseph had no expectations or plans to have relations with her.

Clearly, Protestants don't believe that, since they judge such matters using the Bible alone. We Catholics must believe that Mary's virginity is and was perpetual. But why 'must'--your word--we agree, in addition, that Joseph took Mary to wife 'knowing that he would never have relations with her'?

So again I ask you, now in reference to this new assertion: is this proposed for our belief by the Church? Or is it simply your best inference, and therefore, we are free to believe or not believe it?

Appreciate your help. I want to believe all things the Catholic Church infallibly teaches. As for other matters, I like to be able to think about them freely and without fear that my faith is in error. Is there a catechism reference you can cite to me?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

No, a virgin marrying was not common. It was designed by God for a wholly unusual gift.
As far as whether Mary and Joseph agreed to live in perpetual continence -- we know that Mary must have intended this from at least the conception of Jesus. This was before Joseph took her into his home. Thus, could anyone doubt that Mary would have told Joseph of this decision before the final stage of wedlock? Obviously Jospeh knew.

No, that joseph took a vow is not dogma -- it's just common sense. It is very dangerous to accept only what has been explicitly defined - catholics have never thought like that

Anonymous said...

Thanks Fr. for your response. On the point of the alleged peril of 'accept[ing] only what has been explicitly defined,' I would appreciate a blog post some time vis a vis the meaning or meanings of 'accept' in the context of Catholic tradition; and on the point of the scope and limits of 'Catholic tradition,' as well as the possibility of considering that Catholic tradition may have different 'forms' [for lack of a better word for the moment], and that said different forms may bind our conscience in different ways. Thanks!


Gerhard Wallbank said...

St Joseph is described as a "just" man. Justice is explained in the CCC as being one of the 4 cardinal virtues: temperance, prudence, fortitude (constancy and courage) and justice. Justice is defined there as rendering unto God what is due to God, and to man what is due to man. St Joseph clearly had all four of these virtues to a high degree: read the Gospels. So it is impossible that he would have presumed to have intended to have, or in fact have, marital relations with the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also impossible that Our Lady would not have told St Joseph of her vow before their betrothal. Ergo St Joseph must have known and agreed to respect Our Lady's vow before their betrothal. We must unforget also that vows are made before God. St Joseph would have had to have been an intemperate, imprudent, unjust and selfish monster not to have accepted the commitment of virginity Our Lady had made to God - and we know he was none of these things.

Gerhard Wallbank said...

A classic example of accepting only what has been explicitly defined is the Apostle St Thomas's moment of doubt after the Resurrection. 'Nuff said? We are to use both reason and faith (BOTH properly formed in accordance with the Word of God as given to us in the Catholic Bible, Sacred Tradition, and through the Magisterium) to advance ourselves spiritually. Our "own lights", twisted by our fallen nature, are a sure guide for leading us into stubborn error.

Lawoski said...

In addition to St. Bridget of Sweden and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmmerich, Venerable Mary of Agreda also described Mary's entry into the temple.

Mr. Hallagan said...

Another apocryphal story indicates Joseph was an aged widower, which would explain a lot. True, Father?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Mr Hallagan,
There is indeed some good reason to think that Joseph may have been older -- this is certainly the Greek tradition, and found in various revelations to saints.
On the other hand, there is an ancient Latin tradition that Joseph was younger and had vowed perfect and perpetual chastity -- this is reflected in "most chaste spouse" which does not necessitate virginity, but leans in that direction...

Anonymous said...

I believe many of us do not consider the revelations of the great mystics of the Church well enough. Either these messages are coming from the Lord or they are placed by another to confuse us. Would our Lord allow such widespread confusion disguised in the most holy and inspiring accounts? Would so many bishops or popes who praised these saints be so deceived? Would our Lord allow Satan to use His blessed mother in such a despicable way, or would He not preserve her most of all from such desecration? Only the latter makes sense to me. Mystics such as St. Bridget, Catherine, and a few precious others are truly gifts from the Lord allowing us further glimpses and greater knowledge to His glory.

Along the line of great mystics ---- The book "The Mystical City of God" was written in the 1600's by a Spanish nun, Mary of Agreda, who had little formal education. The Virgin Mary appeared to her on numerous occasions and instructed her to write down virtually an auto-biography of the life of the Holy Family. 2600 pages! and the universities and theologians of that day were amazed and had almost no quarrel with its detraction from any Catholic teaching on faith or morals. Amazing details within these pages, yet it is a difficult book to read. The booked is permeated with praises to heavenly holies and even the 800 page popular abridged version follows this pattern. It is a most highly revered document yet so few know about it.

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