The Nativity of The Blessed Virgin Mary:

Author: Father Johann G. Roten, S.M.

The History of the Liturgical Celebration of Mary’s Birth


Mary's Birth; Master of the Pfullendorf Altar

The Churches of Constantinople in the East and Rome in the West celebrate liturgies in honor of Mary’s birth from the sixth and seventh centuries on. The origin of the liturgy is traced to the consecration of the church in Jerusalem in the sixth century that has been traditionally known as St. Ann’s Basilica. The original church built in the fifth century was a Marian basilica erected on the spot known as the shepherd’s field and thought to have been the home of Mary’s parents. After its destruction and reconstruction in the sixth century, the basilica was named in honor of St. Ann.

By the seventh century the liturgy was also celebrated in Rome where it had been introduced by monks from the East. From there, it spread throughout the West, and by the thirteenth century the liturgy had developed to a solemnity with a major octave (eight days of commemoration prior to the liturgy) and a solemn vigil which prescribed a fastday. Pope Sergius I (687-701) established a procession (a litania) from the Roman Forum to St. Mary Major for the feast.

During the reform of St. Pius X, the octave was simplified, and in 1955 Pius XII abolished it. The liturgy received the rank of feast.

The date, September 8, was chosen as the eighth day (an octave) after the former Byzantine New Year. Although Mary’s birth was celebrated on various dates throughout the centuries, September 8 predominated. The feast celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception, December 8, (a liturgy instituted later) was set to correspond to nine months before Mary’s birth.

In the East, Mary’s birthday is celebrated as one of the twelve great liturgies. The title for the liturgy in the East: “The Birth of Our Exalted Queen, the Birthgiver of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.” Around 560, Romanos the Melodist wrote a Kontakion for the celebration. The oldest existing sermon for the liturgy was written by St. Andrew of Crete:
The present feast forms a link between the New and the Old Testament. It shows that Truth succeeds symbols and figures and that the New Covenant replaces the Old. Hence, all creation sings with joy, exalts, and participates in the joy of this day. … This is, in fact, the day on which the Creator of the world constructed His temple; today is the day on which, by a stupendous project, a creature becomes the preferred dwelling of the Creator.

The responsory for the liturgy proclaims:

Your birth, Birthgiver of God, announced joy to the whole world. From you came the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. He released the curse and gave the blessing.

The Spiritual Tradition Regarding Mary’s Birth

Sacred Scripture does not record Mary’s birth. The earliest known writing regarding Mary’s birth is found in the Protoevangelium of James (5:2), which is an apocryphal writing from the late second century. What matters is not the historicity of the account, but the significance of Mary’s and of every person’s birth. In Mary’s case, the early Church grew more and more interested in the circumstances surrounding the origin of Christ. Discussion about Mary throws light on the discussion about the identity of Jesus Christ.

The Church usually celebrates the passing of a person, that is, the person’s entry into eternal life. Besides the birth of Christ, the Christian liturgy celebrates only two other birthdays: that of St. John the Baptizer and of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It is not the individual greatness of these saints that the Church celebrates, but their role in salvation history, a role directly connected to the Redeemer’s own coming into the world.

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. (Lumen Gentium 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. (M. Valentini, Dictionary of Mary, PP. 36-7.)

Representations of Mary’s Birth in Art

Mary’s birth is usually included as one panel in art series on Mary’s lifestory; however, it is also a theme depicted by itself. The oldest known representation is on a sixth century diptych in Leningrad. From the very beginning, the paintings were modeled on the type used for the birth of Christ, where the mother is in a lying position. Instead of a landscape, a cave or a stable as in the birth of Christ, various types of architectural structures are depicted which represent an interior dwelling place. Ann, the mother of Mary, is lying on a couch or on a bed. Usually, servants are busy bathing the child. Starting around 980 the compositions depict three women. One very simple painting, the so-called Berlin diptych from the early twelfth century, shows a servant handing Ann a bowl, while the child lays all tucked in on a little bed. These representations show the natural and joyful event of Mary’s birth.


 
Anne Conceiving the Virgin

Other works place the stress on the destiny of the child and the teachings of the faith. Pietro Lorenzetti (1342, Siena, Museum dell’Opera del Duomo) places the birth in a side room of a church. On Wolf Huber’s Field Church altar, angels participate in the birth through an opening in the heavens. Albrecht Altdorfer places Mary’s birth in a church with pillars surrounded by angels (1525, Munich, Alte Pinakothek). During the baroque and the rococo periods, heaven and earth unite in the paintings in happy profusion at Mary’s birth.

During the later periods, especially after the fifteenth century, the representations of the birth of Mary highlight her destiny as the immaculate virgin, the child predestined by God’s choice to bear the God-man, Jesus Christ. The words of the mystic, Mary of Agreda (1602-1665), describe well the way art would attempt to depict this birth. Mary of Agreda wrote, “Not only was the Word conceived before all these by eternal generation from the Father, but His temporal generation from the Virgin Mother full of grace, had already been decreed and conceived in the divine mind. Inasmuch as no efficacious and complete decree of this temporal generation could exist without at the same time including his Mother, such a Mother, the most holy Mary, was then and there conceived within that beautiful immensity, and her eternal record was written in the bosom of the Divinity, in order that for all the ages it should never be blotted out. She was stamped and delineated in the mind of the eternal Artificer and possessed the inseparable embraces of his love.”

The Prayer of the Church

The Church prays at midday in the Liturgy of the Hours:

Today is the birthday of the holy Virgin Mary whose life illumined all the Churches.

In many cultures, the birthday of every person merits a celebration. Family and friends gather to wish the “birthday child” many happy returns. There are well-wishing, balloons, cards, cakes, candles, a favorite meal, there are gifts and jests–all the things that say, at least once a year, “You are special, there’s only one of you, we are happy that you exist.” So, it is for the people of God and Mary.

The Byzantine Daily Worship gives us the following prayer:

Come, all you faithful, let us hasten to the Virgin: for long before her conception in the womb, the one who was to be born of the stem of Jesse was destined to be the Mother of God. The one who is the treasury of virginity, the flowering Rod of Aaron, the object of the prophecies, the child of Joachim and Anne, is born today and the world is renewed in her. Through her birth, she floods the church with her splendor. O holy Temple, Vessel of the Godhead, Model of virgins and Strength of kings: in you the wondrous union of the two natures of Christ was realized. We worship Him and glorify your most pure birth, and we magnify you. (441-442).

O Blessed Mother, on this special day, the day of your nativity, I am thanking our Lord Jesus Christ for giving you to us. Though we are not worthy, you became our Mother through your Son. You are the most perfect Mother of all. Your heart is like an oasis which is always full of love for us. You are our model in this life because even though you are the Queen of heaven and earth, you are humble. Since the day you were conceived, all the gifts of virtue were given to you; you are full of grace. For all the generations you will be called blessed because the Almighty God has done great things for you. As we your slaves of love continue in our daily lives here on earth, we are always marching with your queenly and holy banner on our side in the everyday battle to honor your Divine Son through you. We are ready for anything good or bad to happen because we are confident that you will not leave us alone in our battle in this confused world of ours. Even though some are twisting the truth, making the lies into truth and making the truth into lies, we know in our hearts that the head of the prince of lies, the serpent who is Satan, will be crushed. As we joyfully wait for the triumph of your Immaculate Heart and the return of your Divine Son, we promise that we will strive to prevent the loss of more souls. We ask you to please help us, guide us, protect us, and pray for us. Amen.

Nativity of Our Lady – September 8

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

She deserves a worship beyond compare. Above, Mary's glorification by Fra Angelico
We can measure the immense finesse of the Church in dealing with everything when we consider that the only saint with a special feast for her birthday is Our Lady. We are not considering Christmas, of course. This corresponds to the worship of hyperdulia that the Church reserves for her.

The Church reserves the worship of latria, or adoration, only for God - for Our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, Who is the Word Incarnate. The worship of dulia, or veneration, the Church assigns to the saints. But to Our Lady she has a worship that is neither the simple worship of dulia nor the supreme worship of latria, but rather the worship of hyperdulia, which is a higher veneration unparallel to any other.

So, we have a feast celebrating the birthday of the Holy Virgin, one of the many feasts the Church reserves for her.

Analogously, because of her singular virtue, the Church permits that a church can have more than one statue of Our Lady at the same altar, a rule that does not apply to any other saint. In this way she makes it understood that Our Lady is beyond comparison with any other creature. It is a liturgical way to teach the theological truth that she is the Mother of God.

The feast day of the nativity of Our Lady induces us to ask: What advantage did her birth bring for mankind? And why should mankind celebrate her nativity in a special way?

The Nativity of Our Lady by Andrea di Bartolo

In the order of nature, Our Lady was conceived without original sin, giving her a singular and peerless value. She was a lily of an incomparable purity and beauty that appeared in the night of this land of exile. She also had all the natural psychological gifts that a woman can have. God gave her the richest personality imaginable. To this, He added gifts of the supernatural order, the treasures of graces that were hers. She received the most precious graces God ever gave to any human creature.

Given that she was without original sin, she had the entire use of reason from the moment she was conceived. Therefore, already in the maternal womb, Our Lady had very elevated thoughts. The womb of St. Anne was for her a kind of temple. There she was already interceding for the human race and had begun to pray – with the highest wisdom that was a gift from God – for the coming of the Messiah. In reality she was influencing the destiny of mankind as a source of graces. Scripture tells us that the tunic that Our Lord wore was a source of grace that cured those who touched it; this being the case, you can imagine how Our Lady, the Mother of the Savior, was a source of graces for whosoever would approach her, even before she was born. For this reason we can say that at her nativity, immense graces began to shine for mankind and the Devil started to be smashed. He perceived that his scepter had been cracked and would never be the same again.

At the time of her birth, the world was laid groveling in the most radical Paganism. Vices prevailed, idolatry dominated everything, abomination had penetrated the Jewish religion itself, which was a presage of the Catholic Religion. The victory of evil and the Devil seemed almost complete. But at a certain moment God in His mercy decreed that Our Lady should be born. This was the equivalent of the beginning of the destruction of the reign of the Devil.

She received wisdom from God since her conception. 
 
Our Lady was so important that her birthday marks a new era in the Old Covenant.
The History of the Old Covenant was a long wait for the coming of the Messiah. After the original sin of our first parents, mankind had to wait 3,000 years, perhaps more, for the Messiah. But at a certain blessed moment, Divine Providence decreed that a woman should be born who would deserve the coming of the Messiah. Her nativity represents the entrance into the world of the perfect creature who found grace before God and had merit sufficient to end that extensive wait.

All the prayers, sufferings, and faithfulness of the just men living and dead reached their apex with her arrival. There had been Patriarchs, Prophets, just men among the Chosen People and certainly some just men among the Gentiles who had prayed, suffered, and waited; none of this was sufficient to attract the coming of the Redemption. But when God so willed it, He made the perfect creature be born to be the Mother of the Savior. Therefore, the entrance of this exquisite creature into the world marks the presage of the Redemption. The relationship between God and man began to change, and the gates of Heaven that had been tightly locked were semi-opened, permitting the light and breeze of hope to pass through.

Her birth represents the entrance into the world of a new grace, a new blessing, a new presence that was an incomparable presage of the presence, blessing and grace that would come with the Savior.

For all these reasons the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady should be most dear to us. It is the event that announces the fall of Paganism.

Since we are sons of Our Lady not by our own merit but by her choice, on this day we can ask of her a special grace. Many mystics who had visions of Our Lady said that on her feast days she visits Purgatory to release a great number of souls whom she takes back with her to Heaven. What happens with the Church Suffering gives us an idea of what takes place with the Church Militant. On these feast days her grace envelops us and gains innumerable favors for us.

I suggest that on her nativity each one of us ask her the graces that we need. But I also suggest that as counter-revolutionaries, we ask her to give us a love and ardent desire for the Reign of Mary similar to the desire she had for the Messiah. A wise and reflective desire that cleanses our souls of any attachment to this revolutionary world and allows us to be her tools for the destruction of the Revolution and implantation of her Reign.
 

Day Blessing
G.E. Mullan
The feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated each year on the eighth of September. Usually it is the custom of the church to celebrate the feast day of a saint on the date of their death as this is truly their "die natalis", the day remembered as their birth into everlasting happiness. Mary, however, entered this world sinless through the privilege of the Immaculate Conception and is the firstborn of the redeemed. Her nativity is a cause for great joy as it is considered the" dawn of our salvation" as Pope Paul VI wrote in the document, Marialis Cultus in 1972.

There is no reference in the Sacred Scriptures to the birth of Mary. That which is known about Mary's nativity is found in the Apocrypha, principally the Protoevangelium of James which has been dated by historians prior to 200 AD. This book gives us a detailed account of the birth of Mary which begins in the fifth chapter and even gives a detailed conversation between Mary's mother, St. Anne and the midwife.
The earliest document commemorating this feast comes from the sixth century. It is generally believed that this feast originated in Jerusalem since there is evidence, in the fifth century, of a church dedicated to St. Anne, located north of the Temple in the neighborhood of the Pool of Bethesda. Sofronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, affirmed in the year 603 that this was the location of Mary's birth. After the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary increased significantly. This, combined with the influence of the Apocrypha, may have been a factor in the increase of popular devotion of the people toward Mary

It is generally believed that the date of September 8 was chosen to celebrate the Nativity of Mary since the civil year began in Constantinople on September 1. Scholars believe that this date was chosen since it was symbolic that the "beginning" of the work of salvation should be commemorated near to the beginning of the new year. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was later fixed at December 8, nine months prior.

This feast day was introduced in Rome from the Eastern Church in the seventh century . The Syro-Sicilian Pope St. Sergius I, who reigned from 687-701, prescribed a litany and procession be part of the liturgical celebration of this feast day. Paschasius Radbertus (d.860) wrote that this feast of Mary's Nativity was being preached throughout the universal church and it became a holy day of obligation for the west by the year 1007.
The primary theme portrayed in the liturgical celebration of this feast day is that the world had been in the darkness of sin and with the arrival of Mary begins a glimmer of light. That light which appears at Mary's holy birth preannounces the arrival of Christ, the Light of the World. Her birth is the beginning of a better world: "Origo mundi melioris." The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer expressed these sentiments in the following way: "Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, proclaims joy to the whole world, for from you arose the glorious Sun of Justice, Christ our God; He freed us from the age-old curse and filled us with holiness; he destroyed death and gave us eternal life."

The second reading of the Office of Readings is taken from one of the four sermons written by St. Andrew of Crete ( 660-740 ) on Mary's Nativity. He too used the image of light: "...This radiant and manifest coming of God to men needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us...Darkness yields before the coming of light."

A secondary theme of joy also appears throughout the liturgical celebration. The entrance antiphon at Mass states: "Let us celebrate with joyful hearts the birth of the Virgin Mary, of whom was born the Sun of Justice, Christ our Lord." It is with these two themes of both the approach of light and joy that the faithful senses the great happiness and festive nature on this beautiful feast of Mary's birthday


 

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