By Father Matthew Mauriello –
On Sept. 8, we commemorate the beautiful feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is one of my very favorite feast days of the Church year. When I studied “Mariology” some years ago, I was fascinated with the history of this feast and share it with you here.
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.
In the Byzantine world, in Constantinople, the New Year or Civil Year, began on Sept. 1, not on Jan. 1. The Church saw this new beginning as an opportunity to celebrate the beginning of our salvation! Therefore, a week later, on Sept. 8, was established the birth of Mary, called Origo Mundi Melioris, meaning “The beginning of a better world.” The Fathers of the Church, such as St. Andrew of Crete (660-740), 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.”
Pope St. Paul VI (r.1963-1978) wrote in the 1972 document Marialis Cultus that Mary’s Nativity is a cause for great joy as it is considered the “dawn of our salvation.”
The earliest document commemorating her Nativity comes from the 6th century. This feast originated in Jerusalem, since there is evidence of a 5th-century church dedicated to St. Anne, located north of the Temple, near the Pool of Bethesda. In 603, St. Sofronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, affirmed that this was the location of Mary’s birth. The Council of Ephesus, in 431, helped to increase popular devotion toward Mary, leading up to this.
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.”
May our dear Blessed Mother, the Dawn, aid us in our earthly pilgrimage to follow Christ, the bright Sun of Justice, and help light our own path to heaven.
Fr. Matthew Mauriello is an author and speaker. He is a regular contributor to Soul Magazine, including the column, Saints Alive, and speaks often at the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.