The question of whether Mary experienced labour pains or not has been also an objection used by non-Catholics to jettison the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, the Church’s Constant Tradition in line with the truths of Sacred Scripture would indicate that Mary never experienced the pangs of birth.
To begin with, according to the Bible, Eve and all women would experience “greatly multiplied” labour pains as a penalty of original sin (cf. Gen 3:16). The Blessed Virgin Mary alone would be exempt from such suffering as a symbol of her particular holiness, and above all, her IMMACULATE CONCEPTION, according to many Fathers of the Church and theologians throughout the ages. Put differently, one of many justifications for believing in Mary’s immaculate conception is that she was spared the agony of childbirth as upheld by the great scholars and teachers of the Catholic faith.
Turning our gaze to St. Luke 2:7, we are told that when Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Now, here is the point, the fact that Mary is shown as “wrapping” and subsequently “laying” Christ in a manger suggests that she did not experience the typical labour pains, according to St. Thomas Aquinas (who quotes St. Jerome); for when in the throes of labour, a mom would be unable to wrap their new-born in swaddling garments. This kind of job is still done by doctors and nurses in our day. It would have been a midwife in the first century. Yet, the Bible says that Mary did this on her own as soon as she gave birth to Christ, suggesting that she had a pain-free delivery and was already working and taking care of her divine Child.
To support this, the Catechism of the Council of Trent affirms: “But as the conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord… just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from his mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity.” The Council continues: “We are wrathful creatures because of Eve, but we have Jesus Christ because of Mary. It was said to Eve: “In sorrow, thou shalt bring forth children. Mary was excluded from this punishment since she gave birth to Jesus while maintaining her virginal purity, as we have already stated, without feeling any kind of agony. Therefore, labour discomfort is a direct result of Eve’s transgression. The New Eve did not feel that suffering since she was uniquely free from Eve’s sin.
In the same way, Pope Alexander III, (1169), penned: “According to the word of the angel, or rather [the word] of God through the angel, [Mary] did indeed conceive without shame, gave birth without pain, and departed from this life without corruption, [so that] God her son would faithfully fulfil the old commandment that he had previously given, namely, to treat one’s father and mother with honour.
Importing the Eucharistic Prayers of both the Oriental and Roman Liturgies, we tend to also agree that Mary was delivered from her labour pangs. For instance, in the Roman Liturgy of the Pre-Vatican II rites, the Church prays: “In your divine wisdom, you devised a plan for the redemption of humanity, and you ordained that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam: just as she became his mother through the power of the Holy Spirit, so, through a new gift of your love, she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given birth to him without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in giving birth to the family of your Church.” This “greatest pain” that she endured was at the foot of the Cross (the crucifixion of Christ) when the Church was born at the side of Christ at his death.
© By Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Medeiros, São Paulo
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PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?