Q: From time to time, I have heard the expression that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin in partu. What does this term mean?
A: The expression means “in the act of giving birth.” Some Christians have thought that belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary requires saying that Jesus did not come through Mary’s birth canal when he was born. Thus, those same people speculated that Jesus was born in some miraculous way.
They have also pointed out that the pain of childbirth was connected to Eve’s punishment for her part in the first sin (see Genesis 3:16). If Mary did not suffer from Original Sin, they reasoned, she could not have suffered the normal pains of childbirth for Jesus. Thus, they could speak of Mary as being a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus.
Although respected theologians have used the expression in partu, I very much doubt that today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would say that the Catholic Church’s belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity requires believing that Jesus was born miraculously and not by passing through Mary’s birth canal. Believing that Jesus’ birth occurred normally would not destroy belief in Mary’s virginity before and after the birth of Jesus.