Today we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 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.”
“Let us celebrate with joyful hearts the birth of the Virgin Mary, of whom was born the Sun of Justice, Christ our Lord.”
Heaven is our Goal.