By Tom Quiner
No, Jesus was not conceived out of wedlock, despite popular perception to the contrary.
Jesus was virginally conceived, but AFTER the betrothal of Mary and Joseph.
The late Fr. John Hardon tells us that we need to have an understanding of how betrothal worked in the time of Christ. Father Hardon was a Jesuit priest (like Pope Francis) and American theologian. He explains:
Because Mary is a virgin Mother before, during and after childbirth, Saint Joseph is known as “foster father” of Jesus. Many people today are surprised that a virgin
should be married, and even more that a virginal marriage should be the most perfect of marriages. Behind these erroneous assumptions is a belief that the essence of marriage is its use of the marriage act, whereas, in fact, the Church teaches as a matter of faith that the essence of marriage consists not in its consummation, but in the fact that a man and a woman have definitively consecrated themselves to each other by exchanging rights to their bodies so as to be one flesh. Whether they ever consummate or whether they agree never to ask for use of the marriage act, does not change the fact that they are married.
It is objected that a virginal marriage excludes the primary end of marriage, the procreation and education of children. This it does not. It only includes a promise not to procreate children by carnal intercourse.
I attended a beautiful wedding this summer. The young priest said that in holy matrimony, the souls of the spouses are stitched together in heaven forever, that two truly become one, that the notion of two becoming one flesh goes far beyond the physical realm. Fr. Hardon builds on this idea:
We see in the virginal marriage of Mary and Joseph that, by the miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit, it is also possible to procreate virginally the Child of all children, making possible the spiritual rebirth of all children. In addition, all who in Baptism are born again of water and the Holy Spirit are spiritually children of Mary, and Christ’s brethren.
So, the Holy Family is truly our family.
The reason for the virginal marriage of Mary with Saint Joseph was to secure the conception and birth of Jesus within wedlock, the normal context for all conception and birth.
For all who are born of man and woman are intended eventually to be part of the Holy Family first constituted by Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
For Jesus tohave been born out of wedlock would, in fact, make the Holy Family something significantly less than holy. The fact that Jesus was virginally conceived and born after the marriage of Mary and Joseph means that Jesus was conceived and born within wedlock. This is contrary to what so many, even priests, are saying at the present time, namely, that Jesus was born out of wedlock, like the children of so many unmarried women today, and that this is not an “abnormal” situation.
A pregnant, un-wed mother is said to be, according to these people, in the same condition as Mary, who they claim was also un-wed at the time she conceived Jesus. This is false; it is indeed a very serious falsehood, for it undermines the sanctity of marriage and the reason for that sanctity. It is said by defenders of this position that Jesus was conceived after Mary and Joseph were engaged, but not yet married. This is not true, as we will see.
The Betrothal of Joseph and Mary
The word betrothal, often used to translate what is in origin a Hebrew word, does not mean, in this case, engagement to be married at some future date. Rather, it corresponds to the Hebrew word, kidushin, designating a marriage actually contracted: in Latin matrimonium ratum, or marriage contracted but not yet consummated.
In Hebrew times, marriage was a two-step affair after what we call an engagement or a promise to marry. The two steps were the kidushin and the nisuin.
The kidushin was first; it created the marriage bond between the bride and the groom. Even though they were now married until death, the bride remained a virgin and continued to live with her parents or guardians. Any intercourse during this period with a man other than her husband constituted a sin of adultery. This would not have been the case, were she only engaged. Intercourse with an unmarried man during engagement would have been a sin of fornication, not adultery.
The nisuin took place about one year later. At this point in the marriage, the woman moved to her husband’s home, at which time the marriage was normally consummated.
From this we can understand why, in ancient times, Christian marriage was often also carried out in two steps separated in time. The two steps corresponded respectively to the contraction of marriage (or its consecration) and to its use. In more recent times, the two steps, not only in Christian but in Jewish marriage, came to be combined as a single step. But it is interesting that the rite of Christian marriage should initially have been modeled on that of Mary and Joseph, and that the actual theological-canonical language used by the Church to speak of marriage as a contract (matrimonium ratum) and of marriage as consummated (matrimonium ratum et consummatum) should find its basis in the virginal marriage of Mary and
So as Christmas 2013 nears, remember that Our Lord was truly conceived within the sanctity of marriage.