Today is September 8th, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.
Sometimes you just have to laugh when God so clearly presents you with your task for the day. Remember, He planned for you to be alive in this world at this very moment; you were born for this, and His expectations are not a null set. Incredibly, my task today is to explain ancient Jewish marriage rituals. As it happens, there are Jews in my family, so I have first hand knowledge of how this works. The traditional rituals are virtually the same today as they were at the time of Christ.
But first, may I just say, you really need to get to know your Mother, the glorious and immaculate Virgin. The more love you have for her in your heart, the more room in your heart for Christ, and the more willing He is to dwell there. In the first hour of her birth, Mary bore more glory than all the Old Testament saints, and in that same hour, had already attained more sanctity than all the New Testament saints while they yet lived.
Your greatest confidence is to be entrusted to your Mother, who gave us the wedding at Cana as the first glimpse of her under the title Virgin Most Powerful. Gospel of John, chapter two. Wine runs out, Mary asks Jesus to help, Jesus says no, Mary doesn’t take no for an answer. Nope. GOD INCARNATE OVERRULED BY MOM. Not only does Jesus give in to Mary’s request, not only does He make more wine, really good wine, like the best wine evah, He makes 150 GALLONS OF WINE. Oh how the prots must hate John 2.
Now of course, Mary knew perfectly well that her request was aligned with Christ’s divine will, and that He would carry it out accordingly. God, being perfect, cannot act against His own will, and a creature cannot order God around. But here we have Christ as a model of the Fourth Commandment, even as he is yet God. This same dynamic plays out today, inside the Beatific Vision. Let’s just say the Holy Mother of God is… influential. He listens to her, and she wants to obtain and deliver great graces for you.
Folks, pray the Rosary every day.
So here is the deal with Mary’s marriage to Joseph. In the Jewish tradition, there are three steps to the marriage ritual. Today, all three steps happen on the same day. In ancient times, there could be long periods of time between the steps, especially the last two steps (up to a year). But the key point is this: The spouses are really married, lawfully married, at the very first step. This is the signing of the Ketubah, the marriage contract, which is countersigned by the parents.
The next step is espousal/betrothal in the Kiddushin, followed by the final step of Nissuin. Traditionally, these could take place up to a year apart, during which time the couple do not yet live together. This was the case for Mary and Joseph. Today the two rites take place minutes apart in the same ceremony, with the couple standing together with their parents under the huppah.
But what does the bible say?
Part of the confusion comes from our encounter with the Annunciation, which appears only in Luke. After explaining the miraculous conception of the Forerunner, Luke lays out the Annunciation and the Visitation, followed by the Nativity of St. John. The only term used in the first chapter of Luke is “espoused/betrothed,” which people misconstrue into thinking they were only “engaged.”
However, if you turn to chapter two and the birth of Jesus, you will see in Luke 2:4-5:
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.
WIFE. That is why Joseph, before he was visited by the angel, had decided to quietly divorce Mary (under the old law). You don’t divorce someone you’re not married to.
But the bigger clincher is from Matthew:
And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations. Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. Matt 1:16-20
“JOSEPH HER HUSBAND”
So there you go. Please feel free to use this as the need arises. Happy Feast!
11 thoughts on “Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was NEVER an unwed mother”
I attribute further confusion to very shoddy translations of the Bible, which might use the term “engaged” instead of “espoused / betrothed.” These shoddy translations are used in church. What frosts me further are even shoddier Bible commentators, including so-called Catholic ones who should know better. When you point out that Joseph couldn’t divorce someone he is not married to they don’t know what to say.
Well said, “frosty” Cathy! : )
Mark, thank you for this explanation of Jewish marriage laws. I’ve never heard it explained before. Although I’ve never thought of Mary as an unwed mother, something that should never be attributed to her.
On this day 31 years ago I had the privilege of giving birth to twin girls. One named for the Blessed Mother, the other named for the Virgin’s mother.
Mary, what an incredible blessing!
Thanks for this. And your treatment of Cana is great. The Lord was displaying to us that He listens to her and she can persuade Him.
Also Mary revealed to us that she knew what He could do. This was the Lord’s first public miracle but it stands to reason that Mary had seen this kind of thing before which made it natural for her to think of her Son when they ran out of wine. “He can whip some more up in no time. You oughtta see what He does around the house!” If I could be allowed a little levity on a wonderful topic.
Who knows? Maybe St. Joseph showing the teenage apprentice Lord this or that on the workbench and accidentally puts a nasty cut on his thumb with a saw…
And I also love her instruction in John 2:5 which, if you had to encapsulate one eternally important instruction to all humanity in one pithy phrase, you couldn’t come up with anything better: “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.”
You might say, well how about “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Indeed it is. And it is also something our Mother instructed us to do, because He said to.
Happy Feast to all and I echo the author: pray the Rosary every day!
NVP: Very much appreciate your clarity here in correcting a likely no singular error of misreading the Gospel to hold Mary was not yet Joseph’s wife when Gabriel appeared to her.
Great explanation, thank you.
The amazing nun, Sister Dede Byrne, who gave such an inspiring 4 minute talk at the RNC, defending the innocent unborn as the most marginalized people in the world, actually referred to Our Lady as “an unwed mother” in her brief talk. I wouldn’t criticize Sr. Byrne for anything, she is an incredible woman with certifiable bona fides in many realms, and her testimony was excellent, but it just goes to show how widespread that idea might be. Never once all the way up to my middle years did it even occur to me that this might be the case, that one might think of Our Lady as an “unwed mother”, but that’s a concept now out there. Such divine things are speculated upon now as though common. To me it offends the ear and the heart.
I posted Sister’s speech, but I did call her out on it, lightly. I’ve been waiting for a proper time to explain it, and today seemed opportune.
You handled it well. Thanks for the explanation.
The deification of unwed mothers needs to end and should never be pushed by any Catholic, particularly consecrated religious in full habit with an audience of millions. And using the Blessed Mother to drape a veneer of sanctity over out of wedlock births? Rankles me to the core. Multiply that by infinity and that’s probably a smidgen of how her Son feels about it. The 9 drops of truth 1 drop of poison approach which was elevated to an art form by the almighty council has to stop.
In a saner time Sister “Dede” would have received a prompt summons for a sit down with her Bishop at which point her error would have been explained to her and she would have received the instruction to publicly correct her error, given that she promulgated it publicly. The bishop himself could have made a public statement on it as well. After all, how far is too far in protecting the integrity of the Virgin of Virgins, or in protecting the sanctity of the family and motherhood?
If St. Joseph were around he probably would have dragged her off the stage.
It was still a blessing, nearly miraculous, to have her on that stage. Same with the Ave Maria being sung from the White House balcony at the conclusion of the convention. These are very visible signs. I will leave it at that.
Fantastic! Thank you for posting this!!
I read the post and the comments to my sons before we said the Rosary!
You guys are the best!