THE NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
On September 8th, the Church celebrates the Feast Day of The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If we look back in the liturgical calendar, we will see that this date falls exactly nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which we observe each December 8th. As a rule, the Church celebrates the births of the Saints on the day that they begin their lives with our Lord in eternity, not on the day of their earthly births. The reason for this is that we cannot know whether we will have remained faithful to our Lord until our earthly lives have come to a final end. We do commemorate the end of Mary’s earthly life on August 15th, The Feast of the Assumption. Why, then, do we also celebrate her birth?
There are actually three exceptions to the Church’s “birthday rule”: we celebrate the earthly births of John the Baptist on June 24th, the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th, and the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, on Christmas Day, December 25th. The Dictionary of Mary explains: “The reason [that we celebrate the births of St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary] is not found primarily in the greatness or the privileges of the persons involved but in the singular mission that was theirs in the History of Salvation.”1 In other words, both John the Baptist and Mary have a direct relationship with the coming of Jesus into the world, and because of this, their births take on a significance that transcends their own persons.2 The birth of Mary prepares the way for the birth of Christ. She is the bridge between the Old and the New Testaments, marking an end to the time of waiting and expectation. Because Mary agreed to become the Mother of Jesus, the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled, and she became the vehicle through which a new era of grace and the hope of Salvation were ushered into the world.
Scripture gives us no information about the birth of Mary or even the names of her parents. What little we do know comes to us from the Protevangelium of James, an apocryphal Gospel that dates back to the end of the 2nd century. Here we read that Mary’s parents were Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, and that the birth of their daughter, Mary, was an answer to the prayers of these elderly parents who had been barren for many years before she was born. St. Joachim belonged to the royal family of David and St. Anne belonged to the priestly tribe of Aaron; in this way, Jesus would be born of both a royal and a priestly family.3
Pope John Paul II writes, “The Mother of Christ … is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind.”4 We therefore celebrate Mary’s birthday as that of our own Mother, a Mother conceived without sin in order to bear Christ into the world, a Mother who continues to intercede for us in heaven today.
Collect (from the Roman Missal):
Impart to your servants, we pray, O Lord, the gift of heavenly grace, that the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin may bring deeper peace to those for whom the birth of her Son was the dawning of salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 A. Valentini, “Birth of Mary,” EWTN; quoted from Dictionary of Mary (NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1985); accessed September 4, 2012; available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/MARYBRTH.HTM; Internet. Emphasis added.
3 Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Birth of Mary”; cf. Aug., Consens. Evang., l. II, c. 2; accessed September 4, 2012; available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15464b.htm; Internet.
4Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer), 1987.