September 8: Our Lady's Birthday
Rev. Matthew R. Mauriello
The feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated each year on the
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
Note: Fr. Matthew Mauriello is the Administrator of Our Lady of Montserrat Church in
The above article appeared in the Fairfield County Catholic January 1996. Reprinted
with permission of the author and publisher.
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