September 8, 2019: NATIVITY OF MARY
September 8, 2019: COMMEMORATION OF NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
‘Thy birth O Virgin Mother of God, brought joy to the whole world: for out of thee arose the Sun of justice, Christ our God: who, taking off the curse, hath bestowed blessing; and defeating death, hath given us life everlasting.’
Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, to thy servants, the gift of heavenly grace; that as our redemption began in the delivery of the blessed Virgin, so, in this solemnity of her Nativity, we may have increase of peace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
‘Let us celebrate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary; let us adore her Son, Christ our Lord.’ Such is the invitation addressed to us to-day by the Church. Let us hearken to her call; let us enter into her over flowing joy. The Bridegroom is at hand, for His throne is now set up on earth; yet a little while, and He will appear in the diadem of our human nature, wherewith His Mother is to crown Him on the day of the joy of His heart, and of ours. To-day, as on the glorious Assumption, the sacred Canticle is heard; but this time it belongs more to earth than to heaven.
Truly a better paradise than the first is given us at this hour. Eden, fear no more that man will endeavour to enter thee; thy Cherubim may leave the gates and return to heaven. What are thy beautiful fruits to us, since we cannot touch them without dying? Death is now for those who will not eat of the fruit so soon to appear amid the flowers of the virgin earth to which our God has led us.
Hail, new world, far surpassing in magnificence the first creation! Hail blessed haven, where we find a calm after so many storms! Aurora dawns; the rainbow glitters in the heavens; the dove comes forth; the ark rests upon the earth, offering new destinies to the world. The haven, the aurora, the rainbow, the dove, the ark of salvation, the paradise of the heavenly Adam, the creation whereof the former was but a shadow: all this art thou, sweet infant, in whom already dwell all grace, all truth, all life.
Thou art the little cloud, which the father of prophets in the suppliant anguish of his soul awaited; and thou bringest refreshment to the parched earth. Under the weakness of thy fragile form, appears the Mother of fair love and of holy hope. Thou art that other light cloud of exquisite fragrance, which our desert sends up to heaven. In the incomparable humility of thy soul, which knows not itself, the angels, standing like armed warriors around thy cradle, recognize their Queen.
O Tower of the true David; citadel withstanding the first shock of satan’s attack, and breaking all his power; true Sion, founded on the holy mountains, the highest summits of virtue; temple and palace, feebly foreshadowed by those of Solomon; house built by eternal Wisdom for herself: the faultless lines of thy fair architecture were planned from all eternity. Together with Emmanuel, who predestined thee for His home of delights, thou art thyself, O blessed child, the crowning point of creation, the divine ideal fully realized on earth.
Let us, then, understand the Church, when, even on this day, she proclaims thy divine maternity, and unites in her chants of praise the birth of Emmanuel and thine own. He who, being Son of God by essence, willed to be also Son of man, had, before all other designs, decreed that He would have a Mother. Such, consequently, was the primordial, absolute character of that title of mother, that, in the eternal decree, it was one with the very being of the chosen creature, the motive and, cause of her existence, as well as the source of all her perfections natural and supernatural. We too, then, must recognize thee as Mother, even from thy very cradle, and must celebrate thy birthday by adoring thy Son our Lord.
Inasmuch as it embraces all the brethren of the Man-God, thy blessed maternity sheds its rays upon all time, both before and after this happy day. ‘God is our king before ages: He hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth.’ (Ps, lxxiii. 12) ‘The midst of the earth,’ says the Abbot of Clairvaux, ‘admirably represents Mary. Mary is the centre of the universe, the ark of God, the cause of creation, the business of ages. Towards her turn the inhabitants of heaven and the dwellers in the place of expiation, the men that have gone before us, and we that are now living, those who are to follow us, our children’s children and their descendants. Those in heaven look to her to have their ranks filled up; those in purgatory look for their deliverance; the men of the first ages, that they may be found faithful prophets; those who come after, that they may obtain eternal happiness. Mother of God, Queen of heaven, Sovereign of the world, all generations shall call thee blessed, for thou hast brought forth life and glory for all. In thee the angels ever find their joy, the just find grace, sinners pardon; in thee, and by thee, and from thee, the merciful hand of the Almighty has reformed the first creation.’ (Bern. In festo Pentecost. Sermon ii. 4)
Andrew of Crete calls this day a solemnity of entrance, a feast of beginning, whose end is the union of the Word with our flesh; a virginal feast, full of joy and confidence for all. ‘All ye nations, come hither,’ cries St. John Damascene; ‘come every race and every tongue, every age and every dignity, let us joyfully celebrate the birthday of the world’s gladness.’ ‘It is the beginning of salvation, the origin of every feast,’ says St. Peter Damian; ‘for behold! the Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice to-day; and the Church, beside herself, bids her choirs sing wedding songs.’
Not only do the Doctors of east and west use similar language in praise of Mary’s birth, but moreover the Latin and Greek Churches sing, each in its own tongue, the same beautiful formula, to close the office of the feast: ‘Thy birth O Virgin Mother of God, brought joy to the whole world: for out of thee arose the Sun of justice, Christ our God: who, taking off the curse, hath bestowed blessing; and defeating death, hath given us life everlasting.’
This union of Rome and Byzantium in the celebration of to-day’s festival, dates back as far as the seventh century at least; beyond that we cannot speak with anything like certitude, nor is it known when the feast was first instituted. It is supposed to have originated at Angers, towards the year 430, by an apparition of our Lady to the holy bishop Maurillus in the fields of Marillais; and hence the name of Notre Dame Angevine often given to the feast. In the eleventh century Chartres, the city of Mary, claims for its own Fulbert, together with Robert the Pious, a principal share in the spreading of the glorious solemnity throughout France. It is well known how intimate the bishop was with the king; and how the latter himself set to music the three admirable responsories composed by Fulbert, wherein he celebrates the rising of the mysterious star that was to give birth to the Sun; the branch springing from the rod of Jesse, and producing the divine Flower whereon the holy Spirit was to rest; and the merciful power which caused Mary to blossom in Judæa like the rose on the thorn.
In the year 1245, in the third. session of the first Council of Lyons, (the same session which deposed Frederick II from the empire), Innocent IV established for the whole Church, not the feast which was already kept everywhere, but the Octave of the Nativity of the blessed Virgin Mary. It was the accomplishment of a vow made by him and the other Cardinals during the Church’s widowhood, which through the intrigues of the crafty emperor, lasted nineteen months after the death of Celestine IV, and which was brought to a close by the election of Sinibaldo Fieschi under the name of Innocent.
In 1377, the great Pope Gregory XI, who broke the chains of captivity in Avignon, wished to add a vigil to the solemnity of our Lady’s birthday. But whether he merely expressed a desire to this effect, as did his successor Urban VI with regard to a fast on the eve of the Visitation, or whether for some other reason, the intentions of the holy Pope were carried out for only a very short time during the years of trouble that followed his death.
Together with the Church, let us ask, as the fruit of this sweet feast, for that peace which seems to flee ever farther and farther from our unhappy times. Our Lady was born during the second of the three periods of universal peace wherewith the reign of Augustus was blest, the last of which ushered in the Prince of peace Himself.
The temple of Janus is closed; in the eternal city a mysterious fountain of oil has sprung up from the spot where the first sanctuary of the Mother of God is one day to be built; signs and portents are multiplied; the whole world is in expectation; the poet has sung: ‘Behold the last age, foretold by the Sybil, is at hand; behold the great series of new worlds is beginning; behold the Virgin!’
In Judæa, the sceptre has been taken away from Juda; but the usurper of his power, Herod the Idumæan, is hastening to complete the splendid restoration, which will enable the second temple worthily to receive within its walls the Ark of the new Covenant.
It is the sabbatical month, the first of the civil year, the seventh of the sacred cycle; the month of Tisri which begins the repose of each seventh year, and in which is announced the holy year of Jubilee; the most joyous of months, with its solemn Neomenia celebrated with trumpets and singing, its feast of tabernacles, and the commemoration of the completion of Solomon’s temple.
In the heavens, the sun, in his passage through the zodiac, has left the sign of Leo and entered that of Virgo. On earth, two obscure descendants of David, Joachim and Anne, are thanking God for having blessed their long-barren union.
In relation to the virtues of Mary.
The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary announced joy and the near approach of salvation to the lost world: therefore is this festival celebrated by the church with praise and thanksgiving. It was a mystery of sanctity, and distinguished by singular privileges. Mary was brought forth into the world, not like other children of Adam, infected with the loathsome contagion of sin, but pure, holy, beautiful, and glorious, adorned with all the most precious graces, which became her who was chosen to be the Mother of God. She appeared indeed in the weak state of our mortality; but in the eyes of heaven, she already transcended the highest seraph in purity, brightness, and the richest ornaments of grace. “I am black, but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.” (Cant, i. 4) The spouse says to her much more emphatically than to other souls sanctified by his choicest graces, “As the lily among thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters. (Cant, ii. 2) Thou art all fair, and there is not a spot in thee? (Cant, iv. 7)” Man was no sooner fallen in paradise through the woman seduced by the infernal spirit, but God promised another woman whose seed should crush that serpent's head. “I will put enmities,” said he to the serpent, “between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” (Gen, iii. 15) This curse is evidently to be understood of the devil who seduced Eve, and with implacable malice sought the destruction of her posterity. It is not the real serpent that is here meant; the sense would be too low: and why should the serpent, which was not in fault, be so treated, and the true offender, the devil, who had either taken the figure of the crafty serpent, or concealed himself in that reptile, escape all punishment? The Hebrew original expresses the latter part of the prophecy as follows, “It (i.e. her seed) shall crush thy head.” In the birth of the Virgin Mary was the accomplishment of this solemn prediction begun.
To understand the great present that in her God bestowed on the world, we must consider her transcendent dignity, and the singular privileges by which she was distinguished above all other pure creatures. Her dignity is expressed by the evangelist when he says, “That of her was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” (St. Matth, i. 16) From this text alone is that article of the Catholic faith sufficiently evinced, that she is truly Mother of God. It is clear this is not to be understood as if she could be in any sense mother of the Divinity, the very thought whereof would imply contradiction and blasphemy, but by reason that she conceived and brought forth that Blessed Man who, subsisting by the second divine person of the adorable Trinity, is consequently the natural, not the adoptive Son of God, which was the Semi-Nestorian error broached by Felix and Elipandus. In the Incarnation the human nature of Christ was assumed by, and hypostatically, that is, intimately and substantially, united to the person of God the Son, so that the actions done by this nature, are the actions of that Divine Person, whose assumed or appropriated nature this is. Hence we truly say with St. Paul, that we are redeemed by the blood of a God, and with the church, that God was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross; all which he did in that human nature which he had wonderfully taken upon him.
The dignity of Mother of God is the highest to which any mere creature is capable of being raised. What closer alliance could any pure creature have with the Creator of all things? What name could be more noble, what prerogative more singular, or more wonderful? He who was born of the Father from all eternity, the only-begotten and consubstantial Son, Maker and Lord of all things, is born in time, and receives a being in his nature of man from Mary. “Listen and attend, O man,” cries out St. Anslem, “and be transported in an ecstasy of astonishment, contemplating this prodigy. The infinite God had one only-begotten coeternal Son: yet he would not suffer him to remain only his own, but would also have him to be made the only son of Mary.” And St. Bernard says, “Choose which you will most admire, the most beneficent condescension of the Son, or the sublime dignity of the Mother. On each side it is a subject of wonder and astonishment: that a God should obey a woman is a humility beyond example, and that a woman commands a God, is a pre-eminence without a rival.” The first, which is the humiliation of him who is infinite, in itself can bear no comparison with the other; but the astonishing exaltation of Mary transcends what we could have imagined any creature capable of. No creature can be raised to what is infinite: yet the object or term of this dignity of Mary is infinite, and the dignity has a nearer and closer relation to that object than could have been imagined possible by creatures, had not omnipotence made it real. To this transcendent dignity all graces and privileges, how great and singular soever, seem in some measure due. We admire her sanctity, her privileged virginity, all the graces with which she was adorned, and the crown with which she is exalted in glory above the cherubims; but our astonishment ceases when we reflect that she is the Mother of God. In this is everything great and good that can suit a mere human creature, naturally comprised.
To take a review of some other singular privileges of this glorious creature, we must further consider that she is both a mother and a spotless virgin. This is the wonderful prerogative of Mary alone; a privilege and honour reserved to her, which shall not be given to any other says St. Bernard. The ancient prophets spoke of it as the distinguishing mark of the Mother of the Messiah, and the world's Redeemer, and frequently call the Christ Jehovah or the true God, as Dr. Waterland demonstrates by many passages. This was the miraculous token of the assured deliverance of mankind by the long expected Saviour, which God himself was pleased to give to the incredulous king Achaz, doubtful and anxious about his present deliverance from his temporal enemies. “The Lord himself shall give you a sign,” said Isaias: “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” (Isaias, vii. 14) This must evidently be understood of the Messiah, to whom alone many qualities and epithets in this and the following chapter can agree, though a son of the prophet mentioned afterwards was also a present type of the king's temporal deliverance. The title of Virgin must here mean one who remained such when a mother; for this circumstance is mentioned as a stupendous miracle. Jeremy also, contemplating this mystery in spirit, (Jeremias, xxxi. 22) expressed his astonishment at this prodigy unheard of on earth, that a woman should encompass in her womb a man, the great Redeemer of the world.
The perpetual virginity of the Mother of God has been denied by several heretics. Ebion and Cerinthus had the insolence to advance that she had other children before Jesus: but this impious error is condemned by all who receive the holy gospels, by which it is manifest that Jesus is the first born. In the fourth age Elvidius, and soon after him Jovinian, pretended she had other children after Christ. Jovinian, and among modern Protestants, Beza, Albertin, and Basnage, will not allow her the title of Virgin in the birth of Christ. Against these errors the Catholic church has always inviolably maintained that she was a Virgin before, in, and after his birth; when she is styled “ever Virgin.” This article is defended in all its points by St. Jerom, St. Epiphanius, and other fathers. St. Jerom shows that the expression of the evangelist, that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born,” (St. Matth, i. 25) no ways intimates that he knew her afterwards, as no one will infer that because God says, “I am till you grow old,” he should then cease to be, &c. The same father proves that first-born in the sacred writings means the first son, whether any other children followed or no; and that those who were called the brothers of our Lord according to the Hebrew phrase, were only cousins-german, sons of another Mary, called of Alphseus and of Cleophas, sister to the Blessed Virgin. He confirms the belief of her perpetual virginity from the testimony of St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, St. Irenæus, St. Justin, &c. St. Epiphanius further observes, that no one ever named Mary without adding the title of Virgin; and that had she had other children, Jesus would not have recommended her on the cross to St. John, &c. The fathers apply to her many emblems and types of the old law and the prophets expressive of this prerogative, calling her the Eastern Gate of the Sanctuary shown to Ezekiel, through which only our Lord passed, (Ezek, xliv. 2) the bush which Moses saw burning without being consumed, Gideon's fleece continuing dry whilst the earth all round it was wet, &c. Her virginity was not only a miraculous privilege, but also a voluntary virtue, she having, by an early vow, consecrated her chastity to God, as the fathers infer from her answer to the angel. Such a privileged mother became the Son of God. The earth, defiled by the abominations of impurity, was loaded with the curses of God, who said, “My spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh.” (Gen, vi. 3) But God choosing Mary to take himself flesh of, prepared her for that dignity by her spotless virginity, and on account of that virtue said to her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” (St. Luke, i. 35) It is by imitating her perfect purity according to our state, that we shall recommend ourselves to our heavenly spouse, who is the lover of chaste souls, and is called by St. Gregory Nazianzen, the virgin by excellence, and the first of virgins. In the example and patronage of Mary we have a powerful succour against the opposite most abominable and destroying vice. We can only be victorious in its most dangerous conflicts by arming ourselves with her sincere humility, perfect distrust in ourselves, constant spirit of prayer and flight of the shadow of danger, and with the mortification of our own will, and of our senses and flesh.
To study these lessons in the life of Mary, to praise God for the graces which he has conferred upon her, and the blessings which through her he has bestowed on the world, and to recommend our necessities to so powerful an advocate, we celebrate festivals in her honour. This of her nativity has been kept in the church with great solemnity above a thousand years. The Roman Order mentions the homilies and litany which were appointed by Pope Sergius in 688 to be read upon it; and a procession is ordered to be made on this day from St. Adrian's Church to the Liberian basilic or St. Mary Major. In the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great, published by Dom. Menard, particular collects or prayers are prescribed for the mass, procession, and matins on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a special preface for the mass. A mass with particular collects for this festival occurs in the old Roman Sacramentary or Missal, published by Cardinal Thomasius, which is judged by the learned to be the same that was used by Pope Leo the Great, and some of his predecessors. This feast is mentioned by St. Ildefonsus, in the seventh century. The Greeks (as appears from the edict of the Emperor Emmanuel Comnenus), the Copths in Egypt, and the other Christian Churches in the East, keep with great solemnity the feast of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. St. Peter Damian pathetically exhorts all to celebrate it with great devotion.
In honour of our sweet Lady’s birth, let us sing the beautiful responsories composed by Fulbert of Chartres and Robert the Pious. France first adopted them, and the whole of Europe soon followed her example.
R. In order to bring forth the sun of justice, the sovereign King:
°Mary, the star of the sea, to-day arose in the heavens.
V. Rejoice, ye faithful, to behold the divine
°Mary, the star of the sea, to-day arose in the heavens.
R. The rod of Jesse produced
a branch, and the branch a flower:
°And upon the flower rests the Spirit of love.
V. The Virgin
Mother of God is the branch, the flower is her Son.
°And upon the flower rests the Spirit of love.
At the will of the Lord enriching us with honour:
°Mary sprang from Judæa as the rose from the thorn.
V. That vice might be overcome by virtue, and sin by grace.
°Mary sprang from Judæa as the rose from the thorn.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
°Mary sprang from Judæa as the rose from the thorn.
from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Holy Infant Mary, pray for us.