Origins and meaning
The reading from the Book of Genesis for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin has earlier prompted our celebration of her birthday. We have learned of God's gracious promise of a Saviour who will deliver us from the power of Satan. Already fashioned in the Father's mind is Mary, the new Eve, through whom our relationship with God, imperilled by our disobedience in the persons of Adam and Eve, will be restored. God the Son will become man, born not only of a woman but of a virgin to give us second birth. His 'heel', His humanity will be bruised by His sufferings and death as He reconciles mankind with its creator.
Milton expresses the gentleness of the Father speaking to the Son:
"O thou My sole complacence!
Well thou knowst how dear
To me are all my works, nor Man the least
Though last created, that for him I spare
Thee from my bosom and right hand, to save,
By losing thee a while, the whole race lost.
Thou therefore whom thou only canst redeem,
Their Nature to thy Nature join;
And be thyself Man among men on Earth,
Made flesh, when time shall be, of Virgin seed,
By wondrous birth..."
('Paradise Lost' Bk. 3)
"Let us celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary. Let us adore her Son, Christ the Lord. When the sacred virgin was born, then the world was filled with light; blessed and holy is the stock which bore such blessed fruit. With joy let us celebrate the nativity of blessed Mary so that she may intercede for us with the Lord Jesus Christ. Your birth O Virgin Mother of God, announced joy to the whole world for from you has risen the Sun of Justice. He released us from the ancient curse and made us blessed."
(The Antiphons of the Feast, Liturgy of the Hours)
"Father of mercy, give your people help and strength from heaven. The birth of the Virgin Mary's Son was the dawn of our salvation. May this celebration of her birthday bring us closer to lasting peace."
(Opening Prayer of the Feast)
From the readings for the feast
"You Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; His origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old. The Lord is therefore going to abandon them till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth... He himself will be peace." (Micah 5:1-4)
"We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love Him, with all those that He has called according to His purpose. They are the ones He chose especially long ago and intended to become true images of His Son, so that His Son might be the eldest of many brethren. He called those He intended for this; those He called He justified, and with those He justified He shared His glory."
“This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His Mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name Him Jesus because He is the one who is to save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:18-23)
"So radiant, so glorious a visitation of God to men needed some prelude of joy to introduce to us the great gift of salvation... the birth of the Mother of God, and the concluding act is the union which is destined between the Word and human nature. A virgin is now born and suckled and moulded, and is made ready to be the Mother of God, the King of all forever. Let the whole creation sing praise and dance and celebrate the glories of this day. Let there be one common feast of those in heaven and those on earth. To-day, a shrine is built for the Creator of the universe. The creature is newly prepared as a divine dwelling for the Creator."
(St Andrew of Crete, 660-740)
Joachim and Anne
Joachim and Anne
As we rejoice in the birth of the Virgin Mary in her
motherhood of our Saviour and of ourselves, it seems only proper to honour her own parents, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne whose feast the Church celebrates on July 26th. On our behalf they remain powerful advocates with their daughter, the Queen of Heaven. Their traditional names come to us from the 'Protovangelium of James', an apocryphal writing which contains an account of Our Lady's birth. The story bears a resemblance to Samuel's being born to the childless Hannah and her husband Elkanah. Devotion to Saint Anne dates from the sixth century although Saint Joachim had to wait a while longer for recognition. (1 Samuel:1)
Father, You gave Saints Joachim and Anne the privilege of being the parents of Mary,
the Mother of Your incarnate Son.
May their prayers help us to attain the salvation You have promised to Your people.
(Opening Prayer of the Feast)
Companion To The Feasts Of Mary
Published by Catholic Truth Society
"Let us celebrate with joy the birth of the Virgin Mary, of whom 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" (From the Liturgy).
As these texts so clearly indicate, an atmosphere of joy and light pervades the Birth of the Virgin Mary.
1. Historical Details about the Feast
The origin of this Feast is sought in Palestine. It goes back to the consecration of a church in Jerusalem, which tradition identifies as that of the present basilica of Saint. Anne.
At Rome the Feast began to be kept toward the end of the 7th century, brought there by Eastern monks. Gradually and in varied ways it spread to the other parts of the West in the centuries that followed. From the 13th century on, the celebration assumed notable importance, becoming a Solemnity with a major Octave and preceded by a Vigil calling for a fast. The Octave was reduced to a simple one during the reform of St. Pius X and was abolished altogether under the reform of Pius XII in 1955.
The present Calendar characterizes the Birth of Mary as a "Feast," placing it on the same plane as the Visitation.
For some centuries now, the Birth has been assigned to September 8 both in the East and in the West, but in ancient times it was celebrated on different dates from place to place. However, when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which has a later origin than that of the Birth) was extended to the whole Church, the Birth little by little became assigned everywhere to September 8: nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
2. At the Heart of Salvation
As we know, the Gospels have not transmitted to us anything about the birth of the Virgin Mary. Their attention is completely centered on the mystery of Christ and His salvific mission.
The birth of Mary is recounted by the Protevangelium of James (5:2), an apocryphal writing from the end of the 2nd century. Subsequent tradition is based on this account.
The description - although in the manner of an apocryphal document - obviously presents an important historical event: the birth of the Mother of the Lord.
But the problem that concerns us here is the significance of this event. In the case of all the Saints, the Church commemorates their birthday on the day of their return to the Lord. However, in the cases of St. John the Baptizer and the Blessed Virgin, it also celebrates the day of their earthly birth. This is a singular fact already emphasized in ancient times, for example, by Paschasius Radbertus (d. about 859).
The reason for this fact 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. In this light, the birth of the Blessed Virgin is considered to be - like that of John the Baptizer - in direct relationship with the coming of the Saviour of the world. Thus, the birth and existence of Mary similar to and even more than those of the Baptizer - take on a significance that transcends her own person. It is explained solely in the context of the History of Salvation, connected with the People of God of the Old Covenant and the New. Mary's birth lies at the confluence of the two Testaments - bringing to an end the stage of expectation and the promises and inaugurating the new times of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ.
Mary, the Daughter of Zion and ideal personification of Israel, is the last and most worthy representative of the People of the Old Covenant but at the same time she is "the hope and the dawn of the whole world." With her, the elevated Daughter of Zion, after a long expectation of the promises, the times are fulfilled and a new economy is established (LG 55).
The birth of Mary is ordained in particular toward her mission as Mother of the Savior. 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.
3. Christological Orientations
The Biblical readings of the Feast have a clear Christological- salvific orientation that forms the backdrop for contemplating the figure of Mary.
Micah 5:1-4a. The Prophet announces the coming of the Lord of Israel who will come forth from Bethlehem of Judah. The Mother of the Messiah, presented as one about to give birth, will give life to the prince and pastor of the house of David who will bring justice and peace. She will work with the Messiah to bring forth a new people.
Romans 8.28-30. This passage does not speak directly about Mary but about the believer justified by the grace of Christ and gifted with the indwelling of the Spirit. He or she has been chosen and called from all eternity to share Christ's life and glory. This is true in a privileged manner for Mary, Spouse and Temple of the Holy Spirit, Mother of God's Son, and intimately united with Him in a Divine plan of predestination and grace.
Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23. The meaning of this seemingly and genealogy is theologically profound: to place Jesus, the Messiah Lord, within the dynastic tree of His people. He is a descendant, and in fact "the descendant," of Abraham (cf. Gal 3:16) and the Patriarchs in accord with the promises, and He is the semi-heir of the Prophets. The ring that united Christ with His people is Mary, Daughter of Zion and Mother of the Lord.
The virginity stressed by the Gospel text is the sign of the Divine origin of the Son and of the absolute newness that now breaks forth in the history of human beings.
The Christological-salvific purpose and tone dominate not only the Bible readings but also the Eucharistic Celebration and the Liturgy of the Hours.
It has been observed that, although the texts of this Feast's celebration are less rich than those of other Marian feasts, they do have one outstanding characteristic: "The number of themes is rather restricted, [but] there are extremely numerous invitations to joy" (J. Pascher).
Indeed, joy pervades the whole of this Feast's liturgy. If many "will rejoice" at the birth of the precursor
(cf. Lk 1:14), a much greater joy is stirred up by the birth of the Mother of the Savior. Hence, this is a Feast that serves as a prelude to the "joy to all people" brought about by the Birth of the Son of God at Christmas and expressed by the singing of hymns and carols.
Added to this theme of joy on this Marian Feast is that of light because with Mary's birth the darkness is dispersed and there rises in the world the dawn that announces the Sun of Justice, Christ the Lord.
Dictionary of Mary (NY: Catholic Book, 1985)
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