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September 8, 2016
(Gen 3:15) I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall cursh thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
THE NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
The Catholic Church observes the actual birthday (the day they were born) of only two saints: Saint John the Baptist (June 24), and Mary, Mother of Jesus (8th September). In the case of all other saints, especially martyrs, they are venerated on the day of their death, which is called their dies natalis, or “birthday”, meaning “the day of their birth into heaven”. Patrick Duffy touches on the theme of joy and some of the history of this feast.
The joy of the feast
The Benedictus antiphon at Morning Prayer sums up the joy of this feast: Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, announced joy to the whole world, for from you has risen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. He released us from the ancient curse and made us blessed; he destroyed death and gave us eternal life.
Origin in St Ann’s Basilica, Jerusalem
The origin of the liturgy of this feast can be traced to the consecration of the church in Jerusalem in the 6th century that has been traditionally known as the Basilica of St. Ann, the mother of Our lady. The original church built in the 5th 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 6th century, it was named in honor of St. Ann.
Introduced to Rome
By the 7th century the liturgy of the feast was introduced to Rome by monks from the East, where Pope Sergius I (687-701) solemnised it with a litania, that is, a procession with prayers. The procession went from the Roman Forum to the Basilica of St. Mary Major’s.
The date, 8th September, was chosen as the 8th day (an octave) after the start of the Byzantine New Year and although it was celebrated on various other dates through the centuries, 8th September predominated. Later, the feast celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception, was set to correspond with it, nine months beforehand, on 8th December.
Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant
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”. The oldest existing sermon for the liturgy was written by St. Andrew of Crete (660-740):
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, exults, 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.
SERMON ST ANDREW, ARCHBISHOP OF CRETE: On the Nativity of the Virgin Mary
ST AUGUSTINE: “The Hoped for day of the blessed and venerable Virgin Mary ever a Virgin has now come; therefore let our earth rejoice with great gladness, illuminated by the birth of so great a Virgin. For she is the flower of the field from which came forth the priceless lily of the valley; by her child-bearing the nature inherited from our first parents is changed, their fault wiped out. In her the sentence passed on Eve was remitted which said, “In sorrow shall you bring forth children,” for Mary brought forth the Lord in joy.
Eve sorrowed, but Mary exulted; Eve carried weeping in her womb, but Mary carried joy, for Eve brought forth a sinner, but Mary innocence herself. The mother of our race brought punishment into the world, but the Mother of our Lord brought salvation into the world. Eve was the source of sin, Mary the source of merit. Eve by killing was a hindrance, Mary by giving life was a help. Ever wounded, Mary healed. Obedience takes place of disobedience, faith makes up for faithlessness.
Mary may now play on her instruments, the Mother strikes the cymbals with swift fingers. The joyful choruses may sound out and songs alternate with sweet harmonies. Hear, then, how the she sings, she who leads our chorus. For she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for, behold, hence forth all generations shall call me blessed because He who is mighty has done great things for me.” And so the miraculous new birth takes away the cause of our increasing burden of sin, and Mary’s song puts an end to the weeping Eve.”
Ancient Prayer In Honour of Our Lady's Nativity by St. Anselm: Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin; give me strength against thine enemies, and against the enemy of the whole human race. Give me strength humbly to pray to thee. Give me strength to praise thee in prayer with all my powers, through the merits of thy most sacred nativity, which for the entire Christian world was a birth of joy, the hope and solace of its life.
When thou wast born, O most holy Virgin, then was the world made light.
Happy is thy stock, holy thy root, and blessed thy fruit, for thou alone as a virgin, filled with the Holy Spirit, didst merit to conceive thy God, as a virgin to bear Thy God, as a virgin to bring Him forth, and after His birth to remain a virgin.
Have mercy therefore upon me a sinner, and give me aid, O Lady, so that just as thy nativity, glorious from the seed of Abraham, sprung from the tribe of Juda, illustrious from the stock of David, didst announce joy to the entire world, so may it fill me with true joy and cleanse me from every sin.
Pray for me, O Virgin most prudent, that the gladsome joys of thy most helpful nativity may put a cloak over all my sins.
O holy Mother of God, flowering as the lily, pray to thy sweet Son for me, a wretched sinner.
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