The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin MarySep 8th, 2011 | By Andrew Preslar | Category: Blog Posts
Today is the celebration the birth of Mary, the Mother of our Lord. This feast is observed on September 8 in both the Roman and Byzantine rites. The Gospel appointed for the feast, in the Roman Rite, is Matthew 1:1-16. This passage, like Luke 3:23-38, presents the genealogy of Jesus.
It is curious that both Evangelists chose to feature Joseph, rather than Mary, as the penultimate link in the chain of the generation of Jesus, since each of them makes it clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Nor was any other man. Mary is presented as the only human parent of our Lord, which is a mystery that Christians traditionally refer to as “the Virgin Birth” (not to be confused with the birth of the Blessed Virgin, which we celebrate this day). The parents of Mary were Joachim and Anna, neither of whom is mentioned in the genealogies.
The Catholic Encyclopedia addresses this aspect of the biblical account of Jesus’s lineage as follows:
How can Jesus Christ be called “son of David”, if the Blessed Virgin is not a daughter of David? (a) If by virtue of Joseph’s marriage with Mary, Jesus could be called the son of Joseph, he can for the same reason be called “son of David” (St. Augustine, On the Harmony of the Gospels, II, i, 2). (b) Tradition tells us that Mary too was a descendant of David. According to Numbers 36:6-12, an only daughter had to marry within her own family so as to secure the right of inheritance. After St. Justin (Adv. Tryph. 100) and St. Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 18), the Fathers generally agree in maintaining Mary’s Davidic descent, whether they knew this from an oral tradition or inferred it from Scripture, e.g. Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8. St. John Damascene (De fid. Orth., IV, 14) states that Mary’s great-grandfather, Panther, was a brother of Mathat; her grandfather, Barpanther, was Heli’s cousin; and her father, Joachim, was a cousin of Joseph, Heli’s levirate son. Here Mathat has been substituted for Melchi, since the text used by St. John Damascene, Julius Africanus, St. Irenæus, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus omitted the two generations separating Heli from Melchi. At any rate, tradition presents the Blessed Virgin as descending from David through Nathan.
The Gospel reading for this feast thus underscores Jesus’s identity as an Israelite, a son of Abraham and son of David. The Evangelists’ parenthetical comments at the end and beginning, respectively, of the genealogies does not negate the significance of Joseph in this lineage. Rather, they indicate that Jesus is more than the legal or covenantal “son of God.” Jesus’s Father really is God; therefore, Jesus really is God the Son. Likewise, the significance of the mention of Mary in Matthew’s genealogy, and in these narratives more generally, is that Jesus is really (not just legally or only in appearance) human, a descendant of Abraham and of David. The Son of God really is the offspring of the Virgin Mary.
The earliest source of material on the birth of Mary is the apocryphal “Protoevangelium of James,” written around 145 A.D. The Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes some of the evidence that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, gave rise to the Catholic tradition concerning Mary’s parentage and birth:
According to Luke 1:26, Mary lived in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, at the time of the Annunciation. A certain tradition maintains that she was conceived and born in the same house in which the Word became flesh. Another tradition based on the Gospel of James regards Sephoris as the earliest home of Joachim and Anna, though they are said to have lived later on in Jerusalem, in a house called by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem Probatica. Probatica, a name probably derived from the sanctuary’s nearness to the pond called Probatica or Bethsaida in John 5:2. It was here that Mary was born. About a century later, about A.D. 750, St. John Damascene repeats the statement that Mary was born in the Probatica. It is said that, as early as in the fifth century the empress Eudoxia built a church over the place where Mary was born, and where her parents lived in their old age. The present Church of St. Anna stands at a distance of only about 100 Feet from the pool Probatica. In 1889, 18 March, was discovered the crypt which encloses the supposed burying-place of St. Anna. Probably this place was originally a garden in which both Joachim and Anna were laid to rest. At their time it was still outside of the city walls, about 400 feet north of the Temple. Another crypt near St. Anna’s tomb is the supposed birthplace of the Blessed Virgin; hence it is that in early times the church was called St. Mary of the Nativity…. (Source)
Together with the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, these traditions witness to the Church’s love for and devotion to Mary, because of her special role in the plan of God for the redemption of mankind. May all Christians, who confess that the Virgin’s Son is Lord and Christ, join together today in the celebration of her birth. Out of love, we make sure to celebrate the birthdays of our family members and closest friends. How shall we do less for the Mother of God’s family, the Church? (On a related note: CTC’s own Tim Troutman has the distinction of sharing a birthday with the Blessed Virgin. Happy birthday, Tim!)
From a Sermon by St. Augustine, as cited in the Office of Matins for this Feast:
Dearly beloved brethren, the day for which we have longed, the Feast-day of the Blessed and Worshipful and Alway-Virgin Mary, that day is come. Let our land laugh and sing with merriment, bathed in the glory of this great Virgin’s rising. She is the flower of the fields on which the priceless lily of the valleys hath blossomed. This is she whose delivery changed the nature that we draw from our first parents, and cleansed away their offence. At her that dolorous sentence which was pronounced over Eve ended its course ; to her it was never said : In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. She brought forth a Child, even the Lord, but she brought him forth, not in sorrow, but in joy.
Prayers from the Office of Matins in the Roman Breviary:
Let us keep the Birth-day of the Virgin Mary: Let us worship Christ her Son, our Lord. This day was the Blessed Virgin Mary born of the lineage of David; The same is she through whom the salvation of the world hath been manifested before the eyes of all believers, and whose glorious life hath given light to the world. With joy let us keep the Birth-day of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The same is she through whom the salvation of the world hath been manifested before the eyes of all believers, and whose glorious life hath given light to the world. Thy Birth, O Virgin Mother of God, was a message of joy to the whole world, * For out of thee rose the Sun of righteousness, even Christ our God: Who hath taken away the curse and brought a blessing, confounded death, and given unto us everlasting life. V. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb. R. For out of thee rose the Sun of righteousness, even Christ our God. V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. R. Who hath taken away the curse and brought a blessing, confounded death, and given unto us everlasting life.