Feast Day: September 8th
Mary, the Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, and wife of St. Joseph, is the greatest of all Christian saints. Important in the cycle of Marian feast days, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary originated in the Eastern Church, but became established in the West under Pope Sergius I (r.687-01), who instituted feasts for Mary’s Annunciation (Mar. 25), the Presentation at the Temple (Nov. 21), and the Assumption (Aug. 15).
The Virgin Mother “was, after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and men” (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, n. 66). Mary is venerated (to regard with respect, reverence, or heartfelt deference) with special honor, called by St. Thomas Aquinas, “hyperdulia,” as the highest of God’s creatures. The principal events of her life are celebrated each year as liturgical feasts of the universal, i.e., “catholic” (with lowercase c; derived via Late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective καθολικός – katholikos, meaning “universal”) Church.
Born in Jerusalem, Mary was presented in the Temple and took a vow of virginity. The birth of Mary is not recounted in the Bible, and the principal source is the apocryphal 2nd-century “Protoevangelium of James,” which tells the story of her parents, Sts. Anne and Joachim. Mary’s life and role in the history of salvation is prefigured in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:15, “Protoevangelium” — the first Gospel) and recorded in the New Testament of her life surrounding the conception, birth, life, and death of Jesus.
The Church has long taught that Mary is truly the Mother of God (Theotokos). St. Paul observed (Gal. 4:4) that “God sent his Son, born of a woman,” expressing the union of the human and the divine in Christ. As Christ possesses two natures, human and divine, Mary was the Mother of God in his human nature. This special role of Mary in salvation history is clearly depicted in the Gospel in which she is seen constantly at her Son’s side during his soteriological mission.
In the Order of Mass, Prayer over the Gifts, we read that “the birth of Christ your Son increased the Virgin Mother’s love for you.” The implication is that if the birth of Christ preserved intact the temple of the Virgin, so also her birth was a salvific event. The second antiphon for Evening Prayer in the Divine Office, Liturgy of the Hours states that “God saw her beauty and visited her in her lowliness.”
In the document on the liturgy, the Second Vatican Council states that Mary “is inseparably linked with her Son’s saving work.” The mystery of the divine election of Mary as Mother of God is explicitly related to her humility. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48, NAB). That same sense of humility and lowliness is an indispensable condition for receiving the divine gifts.
Opening Prayer for Mass:
“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.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.”
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.