September 8

The birth of the Virgin Mary

Scripture gives us no information on the life of the Virgin Mary before the Gospels speak of her espousal to Joseph and the angel’s visit to her in Nazareth. However, the early church came to believe in the information conveyed by certain pseudo-gospels which purported to know the truth about her parentage and early life. One of these writings, the Protoevangelium of James, composed in the second century, is particularly rich in details.

According to the Protoevangelium, a pious old couple, Joachim and Anna, have not been able to have a child, prompting the wife to lament:

And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel, and made a lamentation in herself, saying: “Alas! who begot me? and what womb produced me? because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like the beasts of the earth, because even the beasts of the earth are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like these waters, because even these waters are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like this earth, because even the earth bringeth forth its fruits in season, and blesseth Thee, O Lord.” 

 And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said: “As the Lord my God liveth, 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 thy husband is coming with his flocks. For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: ‘Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God hath heard thy prayer Go down hence; for, behold, thy 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 hath 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. 

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.

The Church does not usually celebrate birthdays; the date of a saint’s death — his or her birth into glory — is considered more important, but in the case of Mary and Jesus an exception is made. Celebration of Mary’s birth seems to have originated in Jerusalem in the 400s.

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