Which woman has the perfect body? Unquestionably, it’s the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is “the masterpiece of embodied creaturely existence,” according to Donald Calloway’s The Virgin Mary and the Theology of the Body.
This idea is logical, but it sounds strange to us. What most people mean when they talk about a perfect body is a body that is the ultimate in sexual attractiveness. But a human body is much more than that. To reduce the body’s value to sexiness alone diminishes its true worth, not to mention the worth of the person to whom the body belongs. We need to alter our concept of the perfect body.
This doesn’t mean we should all remain virgin. If we did, the human race would quickly die out. So how should people, particularly married people, imitate the virginity of Our Blessed Mother? Should married people just shrug and assume it’s an irrelevant theological detail, or does it reveal something crucial about our married vocation?
In The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism, John Zmirak quips:
I’ve always been confused by priests who held up the Holy Family to ordinary couples as a model of behavior. What can a regular Joe Catholic husband really gain from imagining that his wife is a sinless virgin and his kid is the adopted Son of God? What part of that is supposed to be helpful?
New Advent suggests that virginity is a sign of perfect chastity. Obviously, a person who remains virgin is not necessarily chaste. Someone who engages in “everything but” intercourse or someone burning with lust and resentment, while still remaining virgin, is not exactly demonstrating the virtue of chastity. But Our Lady had perfect chastity, not only because she remained virgin, but also because she successfully integrated her sexuality into her marriage with St. Joseph — “into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman,” which is how the Catechism defines married chastity. (Catechism, sec. 2337) Mary and Joseph didn’t try to push the line, see how far they could get, or slump grumpily around during the endless succession of “not tonight, not ever” days. Every day they must have searched for ways to be a gift to one another.
They had a perfect marriage, because their hearts and minds were totally united to each other and to the will of God. As one, they gave themselves totally and completely to God in their virginity and thus became a perfect symbol of married life and religious life at the same time. Pope John Paul II in the Theology of the Body stated:
The marriage of Mary with Joseph … conceals within itself at the same time, the mystery of the perfect communion of persons, of Man and Woman in the conjugal covenant and at the same time the mystery of this singular “continence for the kingdom of heaven.”
This perfect union bore incredible spiritual fruit; it led to the incarnation of the Son of God. Their physical virginity thus symbolized their spiritual rather than biological fruitfulness. (TOB, 75:3) This reminds biological parents that we must be spiritually fruitful, also, taking care of our children’s souls as well as bodies. Far from being irrelevant, Mary and Joseph’s example can teach us to be perfect parents in addition to perfect spouses.
The Catechism also sees in Mary’s virginity “the sign of her faith ‘unadulterated by any doubt,’ and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will.” (Catechism, sec. 506) This is an example anyone would do well to follow, married or not.