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The value of the virginal conception of Jesus

Blessed John Paul II's Catechesis
General Audience in Paul VI Hall, Wednesday, 31 July 1996 - in Italian & Spanish

"1. In his saving plan, God wanted his only Son to be born of a virgin. This divine decision calls for a profound relationship between Mary's virginity and the Incarnation of the Word. "The eyes of faith can discover in the context of the whole of Revelation the mysterious reasons why God in his saving plan wanted his Son to be born of a virgin. These reasons touch both on the person of Christ and his redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf of all men" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 502).

The virginal conception, by excluding human fatherhood, affirms that Jesus' only father is the heavenly Father and that the Son's being born in time reflects his eternal birth: the Father, who begot the Son in eternity, also begets him in time as a man.

2. The account of the Annunciation emphasizes his state as "Son of God", the result of God's intervention in his conception. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35).

He who is born of Mary is already Son of God by virtue of his eternal birth; his virginal birth, brought about by the Most High, shows that he is Son of God even in his humanity.

The revelation of his eternal birth in his virginal birth is also suggested by the passages in the Prologue of John's Gospel which relate the manifestation of the invisible God to the work of the "the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father" (Jn 1:18), by his coming in the flesh: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (Jn 1:14).

In recounting the birth of Jesus, Luke and Matthew also speak of the role of the Holy Spirit. The latter is not the father of the Child. Jesus is the Son of the Eternal Father alone (cf. Lk 1:32-35), who through the Spirit is at work in the world and begets the Word in his human nature. Indeed, at the Annunciation the angel calls the Spirit "the power of the Most High" (Lk 1:35), in harmony with the Old Testament, which presents him as the divine energy at work in human life, making it capable of marvellous deeds. Manifesting itself to the supreme degree in the mystery of the Incarnation, this power, which in the Trinitarian life of God is Love, has the task of giving humanity the Incarnate Word.

3. The Holy Spirit, in particular, is the person who communicates divine riches to men and makes them sharers in God's life. He, who in the mystery of the Trinity is the unity of the Father and the Son, unites humanity with God by bringing about the virginal birth of Jesus.

The mystery of the Incarnation also highlights the incomparable greatness of Mary's virginal motherhood: the conception of Jesus is the fruit of her generous co-operation with the action of the Spirit of Love, the source of all fruitfulness.

In the divine plan of salvation, the virginal conception is therefore an announcement of the new creation: by the work of the Holy Spirit, he who will be the new Adam is begotten in Mary. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary's womb because he is the New Adam who inaugurates the new creation" (n. 504).

In the mystery of this new creation shines forth the role of Mary's virginal motherhood. Calling Christ "the firstborn of the Virgin" (Ad Haer., 3, 16, 4), St Irenaeus recalls that after Jesus many others are born of the Virgin, in the sense that they receive the new life of Christ. "Jesus is Mary's only Son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: the Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother's love" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 501).

4. The communication of the new life is the transmission of divine sonship. Here we can recall the perspective opened up by John in the Prologue of his Gospel: he who was begotten by God gives all believers the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:12-13). The virginal birth allows the extension of the divine fatherhood: men are made the adoptive children of God in him who is Son of the Virgin and of the Father.

The contemplation of the mystery of the virgin birth thus enables us to realize that God chose a Virgin Mother for his Son to offer his fatherly love more generously to humanity."