Monday 9 January 2012

Some Thoughts on the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph (Part 1 of 2)

I thought I would gather together all the Gospel references to the relationship of Mary and Joseph, and I’m glad I did.

But first, the Jewish Encyclopaedia has a fascinating article on betrothal. In addition to the interesting text, it contains a number of beautiful illustrations which are well worth seeing in their own right.

I’ve picked out the following words:

- Once they were betrothed, the couple “were considered as man and wife in all legal and religious aspects, except that of actual cohabitation.”

- Betrothal “is equivalent to an actual marriage and only to be dissolved by a formal divorce.”

- The period between betrothal and the formal hometaking (the completion of the marriage) was 12 months, or 30 days if either of the spouses had previously been widowed.

Set within this context, here are the Gospel references to Mary and Joseph’s relationship. First, Mary’s story.

Luke 1:27 describes Mary as “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.”

It is interesting and possibly significant that when the angel says in Luke 1:31, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus”, he does not say that it will happen straight away, or indeed when it will happen.

Perhaps this sheds some light on Mary’s response to the angel (Luke 1:34): “How can this be [or “how will this be”], since I have no husband?” It is strange that she says she has no husband, at a time when she and Joseph are already husband and wife “in all legal and religious aspects, except that of actual cohabitation”. It has always seemed unlikely to me that Mary would have waited until after the “hometaking" to tell Joseph about her vow of virginity. Bearing in mind the Church’s teaching on the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, it feels as if this text contains a hint of a special understanding between them, of a kind that makes it necessary for her to ask the means by which the Lord has willed her to bear a son.

This is a long post, so I have split it and will continue it tomorrow.

Picture from via Google Images


Augie said...

Great post. My wife was asking about these issues appertaining to betrothal just the other day. I'm grateful you did the research and I will try to check back tomorrow for Part II. A new Catholic website based out of Belgium, I believe by a Leuven Theologian, seems to be stirring a lot of attention. I've tuned in daily,

Keep up the good work, Bradford

Dorothy B said...

Thank you for the kind words, Augie. I have just posted Part 2.

Best wishes,
Dorothy B.