When celebrating the saints, the Church most often commemorates them with one feast day. Naturally, for the Blessed Mother, we celebrate many more. We recall her Immaculate Conception on December 8th, her Assumption into Heaven in August, and today, Mary’s birthday.
Today, the Church invites us to renewed joy and anticipation in Mary’s birth, as it is the “dawn of the salvation” according to Pope Saint Paul VI’s 1972 encyclical, Marialis Cultus. Aside from the events directly surrounding the birth of Christ, Mary’s birthday is one of our first glimmers of hope for the saving action of God to come – because of all that God could have done to redeem His fallen creation, He chose a human woman to be instrumental to His cause!
Alongside the Assumption, Mary’s birth also gives us a tangible glimpse of life free from Original sin – a life where saying “yes” to God comes entirely naturally. The narrative surrounding Mary’s birth comes from the Protoevangelium of James – the same apocryphal gospel in which we find information about Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim. This popular tradition tells us that Joachim and Anne struggled with infertility and turned to prayer for guidance and assistance. Their faithfulness in times of hardship were rewarded with a child, one whom God had made essential to His plan to redeem the world, and we are even given a full conversation between Saint Anne and her midwife, and details surrounding Mary’s birth, in chapter five.
The earliest record of the Church’s jubilant celebration of the Blessed Mother’s birthday are from the sixth century, likely in Jerusalem from the Church of Saint Anne (in which, nowadays, pilgrims worldwide visit to experience its ethereal acoustics with a song). In 603, the Patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius declared that this spot, in the same neighborhood as the Pool of Bethesda (where Jesus healed a paralyzed man in the Gospel of John), was the true location of Mary’s birth.
The special occasion was originally commemorated just a week after the beginning of the Constantinople civil year on September 1st, and eventually became a fixed feast as the Immaculate Conception was cemented in the liturgical calendar nine months prior. The feast gradually moved from Jerusalem to Constantinople to Rome and, by the end of the seventh century, had a new litany attached to the day’s liturgies. But the joy of the feast couldn’t be contained in a singular litany – the birth of Mary became a feast of holy obligation in Roman Catholicism in the early 1000s.
Still today, we open the liturgy of Mary’s birthday with a call to supreme joy and an invitation to enter into it: “let us celebrate with joy the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for from her arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God.”
Celebrate Our Lady’s birthday today with a Rosary in her honor on the Family Rosary Across America, tonight at 7 PM CT. It’s the perfect gift for our Mother.
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us!
Our Lady is celebrated under many names, from popular apparitions to small-town titles. Each reveal something different about the Blessed Mother to us – and affirms what we already know of her love and intercessory power! Deepen your devotion to Our Lady with Miracles, Mysteries, & Mary, a monthly collection of stories, Church teaching, reflections, and so much more – guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Our Blessed Mother. Sign up today to receive this Marian content, right to your inbox, and check out our archive page to catch up on our year of Our Lady!