The Catholic Defender: The History of Celebrating the Virgin Mary's Birthday
In the old Testament, we read about Sarah, Hannah, Manoah's Wife, and St. Elizabeth (New Testament) who were childless until the Lord gave them the miracles of Isaac, Samuel, Sampson, and St. John the Baptist.
All these situations the Lord had a plan that would affect his people in blessed ways.
In reality, each child is a blessing and an opportunity that God will work miracles in the lives of his people. There is another woman who can be added to this list of fantastic women who were childless for a special reason of God. There will come a woman who would fulfill the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
Consider what happens on December 8, 19 B.C.? St Anne at an elderly age conceived a miraculous child. This example is unique because the child would be a woman and not a man that God would liberate His people. The event is known as the "Immaculate Conception" which St. Anne gave birth to the Blessed Virgin Mary which is celebrated on December 8. The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the “New Eve”, the woman together with her seed would bruise the serpents head while the Devil strikes at their (Her/His) heal is celebrated on September 8.
The Virgin Mary's Immaculate Conception taking place December 8, 19 BC, Born on September 8, 18 BC making the coming Messiah a reality to fulfill prophecy and bring into light what God's real intention was with Abraham on Mount Moriah. (Genesis 22:4-13)
Joseph's dream was a great sign for St. Jochim and St. Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary. Jesus was coming into the world. After the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary's Parents realizing the history of the Eastern Gate went to the location contemplating the Immaculate Conception, how wonderful it was that they were blessed to bring into the world the one who would crush the head of the serpent. They were blessed to have had the woman of Genesis 3:15:
Mount Moriah was the site of this important happening where Abraham showed his faithfulness to God and gave us a glimpse of God's own Son taking the place of not only Isaac, but all of mankind. Moriah became a very important foundation in God's plan of Salvation.
A thousand years later, the city of Jerusalem and the temple mount was surrounded by a protective wall. The East Gate of the wall was built on the Mountain of Mount Moriah, the site of Abraham's sacrifice. The Eastern Gate was the closest entrance and exit to the Temple site. When looking at the Gate, the Southern portion of the Gate became known as the "Gate of Mercy" while the Northern portion of the Gate became known as the "Gate of Repentance". This is a powerful symbolism steeped into the historical approach through the Gate tied to the mystery of the Angel intercepting and stopping Abraham's sacrifice.
Place yourself in the time of King Solomon who built the first Temple during his 4th year of reign (966 BC). They went by the tradition handed down year after year going back to Moriah. This was very important to the Israelite. Mount Moriah sits in the middle of three mountains known as the "Zion" mountains. Jerusalem was built on this middle mountain called Moriah.
King David had placed Jerusalem as his Capital in 1003 BC and would last as a dynasty for 400 years when the Babylonians conquered the Jews. Jerusalem continues to stand at the center of Jewish spiritual life and also for Christians who holds to the foundation of God's plan in the New Testament.
The Israelite tradition holds that the Messiah will one day enter the city through the Eastern Gate. Strangely, this is why the Muslims when they held control of Jerusalem sealed the Gate. Their purpose was to prevent the Jewish Messiah from being able to enter through this Gate. I suppose the Muslims were not aware that Jesus can go through locked doors (John 20:19).
Originally, the gates were not only intended for safety if under an attack, but the gates were also a means to bless travelers coming and going. The walls were built for protection, that was their purpose. The Eastern Gate had a very important function. Ezekiel 44:1-3 states,"Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary facing east, but it was closed. The LORD said to me: This gate must remain closed; it must not be opened, and no one should come through it. Because the LORD, the God of Israel, came through it, it must remain closed. Only the prince may sit in it to eat a meal in the presence of the LORD; he must enter through the vestibule of the gate and leave the same way."
Whenever the appeared the Lord would come through this Eastern Gate. Because of this, the masses of people did not ordinarily use this Gate, this was reserved for the Jewish High Priest and those within his company for the purpose of sending out the "Red Heifer" or the "scapegoat" on the "Day of Atonement".
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. This festival, the Day of Atonement took place shortly after the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah. To the Jews, this was known as the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" when God was petitioned for forgiveness. They would cry out to God for forgiveness.
The Eastern Gate is also called "The Golden Gate", remember that gold is a symbol of the purest of metals. Remember also this Gate is known as the "Gate of Mercy.." Ezekiel's vision of the temple foretells the coming of the Lord through the East Gate, this would happen following the violent purification of the land. The re-entry of God among the Congregation. The early Church began to recognize the Virgin Mary as this temple Gate because Jesus came into the world through her.
Interestingly, the Temple Eastern Gate was dedicated November 18 B.C. very close to the birth of Our Lady September 8, 18 B.C. Mary's birth ushered in Rosh Hashanah as the Jews celebrated the Jewish New Year marking the beginning of ten days of repentance culminating with Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “High Holy Days” in the Jewish religion.
"The LORD said to Moses: Tell the Israelites: On the first day of the seventh month you will have a sabbath rest, with trumpet blasts as a reminder, a declared holy day; you shall do no heavy work, and you shall offer an oblation to the LORD." Leviticus 23:23-25
"In the seventh month on the first day you will declare a holy day, and do no heavy work; it shall be a day on which you sound the trumpet. You will offer a burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the LORD: one bull of the herd, one ram, and seven unblemished yearling lambs. Their grain offerings will be of bran flour mixed with oil: three tenths of an ephah for the bull, two tenths for the ram, and one tenth for each of the seven lambs. One goat will be a purification offering to make atonement for yourselves. These are in addition to the burnt offering for the new moon with its grain offering, and in addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, together with the libations prescribed for them, for a pleasing aroma, an oblation to the LORD." Numbers 29:1-6
Something significant happens in March 2 BC as the Angel Gabriel appears to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“In the sixth month (since the announcement of John the Baptist-October 2 B.C.), the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail Full of Grace, the Lord is with you. But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-22)
"I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman (Mary), and between your offspring and hers (Jesus); They (Jesus and Mary) will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel."
The Protoevangelium of James is an apocryphal writing that goes back to 145 A.D. which is important because even though it is not accepted as the inspired Word of God, it does give a glimpse of what the early Church believed about Mother Mary. The account is this:
"4. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life. And, behold, two angels came, saying to her: Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks. For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, your wife Anna shall conceive. And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying: Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people. And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying: Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive. And Joachim rested the first day in his house.
5. And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself: If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest's forehead will make it manifest to me. And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest's plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said: Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins. And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house. And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary."
Anna, the Mother of Mary, the Grandmother of Jesus is so much like the women I mentioned earlier. To be barren and childless was seen as a curse, but God sometimes has a plan that displays His almighty power.
The Church calendar places the birth of the Virgin Mary as September 8, which is not specific to the Scripture, but it seems to have been revealed by the celebration of angels in Heaven commemorating the holy birth.
In 430 A.D., a man was given a vision of angels praising and glorifying God for the coming of Mother Mary because what her coming meant to the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
According to the vision, September 8 was Our Lady's birthday. This vision was so important to St. Maurilius (Bishop of Angers France between 423 and 453) that he began the celebration of Our Lady's birthday as a Feast day.
It would take another couple of centuries (7th century) before the Church would make the celebration universal mostly because the Protoevangelium of James was not regarded as biblical.
I place importance here with this apocryphal work because it's writing is about 40 some years before St. Irenaeus of Lyons writing, "Against Heresies" which details much of the Blessed Virgin Mary especially as the "New Eve".
There is a story that concerns St. Maurilius I find very interesting, here it is:
During the consecration of a Mass celebrated by the bishop, a dying child was brought in great haste to the church, to receive Confirmation. The Saint waited for the end of the Holy Sacrifice, but during this time the child died. Maurilius was so grieved by this that he fled without advising anyone and embarked for England, where in great humility he took employment as the gardener of a nobleman. His diocesans at Angers were inconsolable, and sought him out so well that they discovered his retreat. He refused, however, to return as bishop, stating that he could not do so because during his voyage he had lost at sea the keys to the cathedral, and had vowed not to return until he found them. But see, said the messengers, what we have here; during our crossing a fish was cast up by a wave onto the deck of the ship, and in its stomach we found these keys! Maurilius obeyed the Will of Heaven. When he returned he asked to be taken to the tomb of the child, and with tears streaming from his eyes asked God to restore him to life. The resurrected child was given the name of René for this reason, which in French means reborn, and he became the successor to Maurilius as bishop of Angers.
God is so good, He is so detailed, what a story of God's presence among his people! With signs like these, a man hearing angels praising God which is very biblical, Psalms 148:1-2 states, "Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!"
St. Anna and Joachim received the great blessing of bearing a child who would have the greatest impact among women, to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.
Like them, may we accept Mary into our homes, where Mother Mary is, there also is Jesus.
Jesus Birthday is December 25, 2 B.C.
It is noted that according to the belief in the Medjugorje visions, it is believed Mary's birthday is August 5, however, Medjugorje has not been accepted as true and is still under investigation.
Holy Mary, Child most precious, joy of the Holy Trinity.
Purest daughter soon to bless us; Holy Spirit’s bride to be!
Heavenly child and purest temple, from your cradle send your grace.
Make us pure and sweet and simple, as the love shining from your face.
Holy Mary, Child sublime, garden of virtue, full of grace.
Gate of Heaven make us thine, as we reach out for your embrace!
Heavenly child and fairest dove, beautiful lily, oh so sweet.
Fill us with your trusting love, as we lay flowers at your feet.
Holy Mary, Child of life, mirror of love and hope and peace.
In the sorrow of our strife, teach us the way; our faith increase!
Heavenly child and mystical rosebud, Mother of Mercy, soon to weep.
To thee we bring this song of love to console you as you sleep.