Q: Did Mary and Joseph make a vow of virginity?

A: There have been times when the Catholic Church generally favored the view that they did.  But the matter is considered more of an open question now.  The annual conference of the Mariological Society of America (MSA) in 2007 focused on the theme of Mary's virginity.  A talk given there by Father Johann G. Roten included the following comments related to the specific topic of Mary's vow of virginity.  His complete talk was published as "Virginity Between Fact and Meaning" in Marian Studies 58 (2007).

Is it possible to see a relation between Mary, virgin and disciple, and the question of a possible vow of virginity?  The fundamental attitude of oblation, of openness and receptivity towards God, proper to the model disciple, may it be considered an existential disposition on which will be grafted, after the event of the Annunciation, a way of life that we call virginity?  Some recent readings point in that direction, without saying so expressly.1  Several authors affirm or reaffirm the existence of a vow of virginity.  B. Pixner suggests a convergence of meaning between Luke 1:34 and 11 Q Migd 53, 1654, 3 of Qumrân (which comments on Numbers 30: 4-9) on the meaning of God's legitimation of a woman's vow of sexual abstinence.2  R. Laurentin goes back to Tradition: "That Mary had resolved to belong to God alone, by reason of an inspiration, is clearly attested by Luke 1:34."3  But is it a question of inspiration leading to intent or to an actual vow?  I. de La Potterie does not wish to imply that Mary made a vow of virginity.  According to him, Mary was penetrated by desire for virginity that will be fully respected by God.4  P. Guilbert does not seem to share the same opinion.  He finds de La Potterie's proposal too involved and surprising: "The author seems to lend to Mary the 'secret desires' of his own Marian devotion."5  The general tenor recognizes the fact but seems to be hesitant to attribute firm intent leading to an actual vow6.

1 See García Paredes, Mariología, 355. "There was no need for any vow of virginity. The charism of the virginal maternity was received by her as a program for her life;"  Brown, A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus, Matthew 1 and Luke 1 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1988), 62: "... so that what happens is not a response to her yearning [virginity!] but a surprise initiative by God...."

2 See B. Pixner, "Maria im Hause Davids. Tempelrolle ung Jungfrauengeburt," Geist und Leben 64 (Jan./Feb. 1991): 42-43.

3 Laurentin, Vie authentique de Jésus Christ, 2:64-65.

4 See I. de la Potterie, "La concezione verginale di Cristo," in Atti di Capua (1992), 1:203, n.60.

5 P. Guilbert, Marie des Écritures (Paris: Nouvelle Cité, 1995), 135.

6 James R. White, Mary: Another Redeemer?, 29-31.

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