Can you help with my struggle regarding Christian marriage?
I have always regarded faithfulness within marriage as a path to holiness equal in virtue to that of priests or sisters who remain celibate. However, the Church seems to be teaching that intercourse defiles the body in quotes like "And to holy Mary, [the title] ‘Virgin’ is invariably added, for that holy woman remains undefiled" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 78:6 [A.D. 375]).
How can I reconcile the fact that a marriage is not considered valid unless it is consummated with the teaching that Mary never had intercourse with Joseph? I am willing to accept the authority of the Church, but I have genuinely struggled with this issue for years.
Thanks for your help!
The Church has never officially taught that intercourse within marriage defiles the body. In his theology of marriage Pope John Paul II likened the union of marital intercourse to the union of receiving the Eucharist. In Christian marriage it is a holy thing. That quote expressing Mary’s perpetual virginity, used a poor choice of words.
Even though a marriage is consummated on the marriage bed, it is indeed valid the moment the vows have been spoken at the altar.
The vows of religious life comprise an act of worship that direct the person to God in a more immediate way than do the vows of marriage. The process is considered higher because of its greater proximity to God. But the goals of both religious life and marriage are the same: union with God for all eternity.
So worry not. Pope John Paul called marriage the primordial sacrament. It is the sacrament on which all the other sacraments depend. I encourage you to get the book, Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West.