Rom. 8:28-30 OR Mic. 5:2-5); Mt. 1:16, 18-23]
On September 8th we celebrate the Feast of the Birth of Mary. This Feast provides us with an occasion to praise and thank God for the honour of the personal sanctity and vocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus. The Feast of Mary has its origin from the Eastern Church. In the Western Church this Feast was commemorated from the 5th century. The Scriptures do not provide us any detail on the birth of Mary but the early Church traditions to determine what the Christians believed in those days. According to the tradition the Blessed Virgin Mary was born in Bethlehem. The belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born grew and greeted by the angel in the Holy House of Loreto. These Papal Bulls were not affirming any validity to the historical question as to where the Blessed Virgin Mary was born. They simply consisted of expressing the common belief of their days. Nativity of Mary is one of the three birthdays celebrated in the Church Calendar namely, the Birth of Jesus, the Birth of Mary and the Birth of John the Baptist. All three were born without original sin, although Mary and Jesus were conceived without sin, and St. John was cleansed of original sin while in the womb of his mother during the Visitation of Mary.
For some centuries now, the Birth of Mary has been assigned to September 8 both in the East and in the West, but in ancient times the feast was celebrated on different dates. However, when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which has a later origin than that of the Birth of Mary was extended to the whole Church, this feast little by little became assigned to September 8, nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew affirms that, in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophesies, Jesus was born in the house of David. Mary is part of this royal household and she will be mother of the King. The Letter of Paul to the Romans tells us that Jesus descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with the power of the Holy Spirit. As affirmed in the Scriptures, the Blessed Virgin Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. And as indicated in the teachings of the Church Mary remained a virgin throughout and she was taken up to Heaven at the end of her earthly life. Mary’s virginity speaks for itself. Created as a new creation, the Second Eve, Mary was immaculate in nature from the moment of her conception. Mary was created holy, gave birth to the Son of God in holiness, lived a holy life in the Presence of the Lord God and was taken to Heaven in the fullness of her holiness. Truly, she shall be blessed every generation.
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is the oldest among all the Marian feasts. The Nativity of Mary is an important feast in the church because it is ordained in a particular way toward her mission as Mother of the Saviour. Her existence is indissolubly connected with that of Christ: it partakes of a unique plan of predestination and grace. God’s mysterious plan regarding the incarnation of the Word embraces also the Virgin who is His Mother. In this way, the Birth of Mary is inserted at the very heart of the History of Salvation. The theme of joy pervades throughout this Feast day liturgy. There is the joy in the birth of the mother of the saviour as there will be joy in the birth of the saviour himself. The birth of Mary is ordained in particular toward her mission as Mother of the Saviour. Her existence is always connected with that of Christ: it partakes of a unique plan of predestination and grace. God’s mysterious plan regarding the incarnation of the Word embraces also the Virgin who is His Mother.
Mary was born immaculate without any stain of sin. Mary, who is prepared by divine providence to be the Mother of Jesus the son of God, is conceived in the womb of her mother Anna, her father being Joachim. In the church her birth is considered as a solemn event and is described as “the hope of the entire world and the dawn of salvation”. That is why the Liturgy of the day says: “Let us celebrate with joy the birth of the Virgin Mary, of who was born the Sun of Justice. Her birth constitutes the hope and the light of salvation for the whole world. Her image is light for the whole Christian people”. St. Augustine connects Mary’s birth with Jesus’ saving work. He tells the earth to rejoice and shine forth in the light of her birth. She is the flower of the field, the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed. The opening prayer at Mass speaks of the birth of Mary’s Son as the dawn of our salvation.
This Feast of the nativity of Mary provides us with an occasion for praise and thanksgiving in honour of the personal sanctity and vocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus. “Let us celebrate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary; let us adore Her Son, Christ Our Lord.” Such is the invitation offered to us by the Church on this feast of our Lady. Let us hearken to her call; let us enter her overflowing joy. Let us understand the Church, when, even on this day, She proclaims the Divine Maternity and unites in Her chants of praise the birth of Emmanuel and of Mary, our Mother of love and of holy hope. He who, being Son of God by essence willed to be also Son of man, had, before all other designs, decreed that He would have a Mother. Such consequently, was the character of that title of Mother, that, in the eternal decree, it was one with the very being of the chosen creature, the motive and cause of her existence, as well as the source of all her perfections, natural and supernatural. We too, then, must recognize Mary as our Mother and the mother of Jesus and celebrate the birthday by honouring our Lord.
St Paul speaking to the Romans tells us that Jesus descended from David according to the flesh that is he became a human person, and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the Spirit. This summarizes the Feast of the Birth of Mary as predestined by the Lord God who called her to be the Mother of Jesus, God incarnated. As affirmed by the Holy Bible, the Blessed Virgin Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to the Lord Jesus. And as affirmed by the teachings of the Church since its early days, Mary has remained immaculate until she was taken up to Heaven at the end of her earthly life. Created as a new creation, the Second Eve, Mary was immaculate in nature from the moment of her conception. Mary was created holy, gave birth to the Son of God in holiness, lived a holy life in the Presence of the Lord God and was taken to Heaven in the fullness of her holiness. Truly, she shall be blessed every generation.
That message of faith given to us on the Nativity of Mary challenges all of us. It challenges our society. There are times when our self-sufficient society would willingly banish the sight of suffering into hidden corners. In Lourdes Mary has created a city where the sick and the weak are the privileged partners of our care and concern. That is a sign from Mary also of the type of society we should be building. Today our economic situation has changed and tough corrective measures and spending cuts are needed. The aim must not however to get back to business as before, be to restore a past model of society and economy whose weaknesses are now more clearly to be seen. The task, even amidst the necessary cost-cutting measures, is to create the beginnings of a new model, a new vision of society, and the signs of which people experience in Lourdes is a sign of hope for us the children of Mary. Therefore we ought to experience the presence and the faith of Mary in our lives in these days. Mary will give us her disposition to serve Jesus and help us experience the freedom which can come alone from such faith.
September 8 is also a special day to remember all over the world. It marks the end of summer and beginning of fall, this day has many thanksgiving celebrations and customs attached to it. In the Old Roman Ritual there is a blessing of the summer harvest and fall planting seeds for this day. In many places this day is the celebration of the harvest festival where the new corn is blessed in the church and later shared over a meal. The winegrowers in France called this feast “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest”. The best grapes are brought to the local church to be blessed and then some bunches are attached to hands of the statue of Mary. A festive meal which includes the new grapes is part of this day. In the Alps section of Austria this day is “Drive-Down Day” during which the cattle and sheep are led from their summer pastures in the slopes and brought to their winter quarters in the valleys. This was usually a large caravan, with all the finery, decorations, and festivity. In some parts of Austria, milk from this day and all the leftover food are given to the poor in honour of Our Lady’s Nativity.
As we celebrate today the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary we are reminded that each of us comes into this world loved by God, and destined for greatness – destined to share in the merits of the death and resurrection of Jesus – if we come to know about them, and believe in him, and then act like we believe in him! It takes most human beings their whole lives long to achieve the openness to God’s grace and love necessary for them to burst forth into eternal life and happiness! For one person, though, it was always that way: Mary, the beloved child of Nazareth, herself, was always fully open, by God’s special grace, to be full of the fruits of the redemption of Jesus, her own Son, even from the moment of her, conception, and today we celebrate, the day of her birth into this world. May we honour Mary on her day by doing as she would have us do: keep our eyes focused on her Son: he is the focal point of all history, and rightly so ought to be the focal point of the histories of our own lives. To honour the mother is to honour her Son. Hail Mary, you are blessed among women. Pray for us now and at the hour of our deaths.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome