Q: How could Mary be engaged if she vowed virginity for herself?

A: The explanation of the engagement to Joseph is primarily of socio-cultural nature. Jewish custom suggests prearranged betrothal and marriage. Thus, even if Mary had vowed virginity for herself, this would not have prevented her father from arranging her future marriage.

The so-called vow of virginity is first mentioned--not as vow but as fact--in the apocryphal gospel of James (~150). It is stated explicitly as vow in Augustine: "Quod profecto non diceret [Mary's reply to the angel in Luke 1:34], nisi Deo virginem se ante vovisse." (PL 40, 398) Scripture however does not refer to a vow of virginity. Mary's objection (since I am a virgin) is to be understood as Mary asking how all this is possible since she has had no marital relationship with Joseph. The teaching or magisterium of the Church has never addressed the question of Mary's vow of virginity.  

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