September 7, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Blessed Virgin Mary’s birth is a cause for special joy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Let us celebrate with joy the birth of the Virgin Mary, of whom was born the Sun of Justice. … Her birth constitutes the hope and the light of salvation for the whole world. … Her image is light for the whole Christian people.”
(Liturgy of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Tomorrow, Sept. 8, the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s a minor Marian feast unlike the Assumption (Aug. 15) or the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), but it is still an important day in the liturgical calendar.

In fact, only two saints are remembered on their birthdays—St. John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Both birthdays represent the transition from the Old Testament faith of Israel to the New Testament’s account of the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the birth of the Church and the age of the Holy Spirit.

Both birthdays are celebrated with readings, songs and prayers that emphasize the great joy we experience through the birth of John, the final prophet of the Old Testament and precursor of Jesus, and the birth of Mary, the sinless one who was chosen to be the mother of God.

According to the Dictionary of Mary, published by Catholic Book Publishing Company (New York, 1985), “The birth of Mary is ordained in particular toward her mission as Mother of the Savior. Her existence is indissolubly connected with that of Christ: it partakes of a unique plan of predestination and grace. God’s mysterious plan regarding the incarnation of the Word embraces also the Virgin who is his Mother. In this way, the Birth of Mary is inserted at the very heart of the history of Salvation.”

Like John the Baptist, son of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the history of our salvation reaches a culmination point when she is born. The Bible tells us nothing about Mary’s birth or about her parents, whom tradition identifies as St. Joachim and St. Anne. Still, the devotion of Christians dating back to the earliest days of the Church attests to Mary’s birth as a time of great joy, the fulfillment of God’s promise to free humankind from the curse of original sin by providing us with a new mother, the new Eve, whose “yes” to God’s will would crush the head of the evil serpent and make possible the birth of our Savior.

In the first reading for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mi 5:1-4a), the prophet announces the coming of the Lord of Israel who will come forth from Bethlehem of Judah. The Mother of the Messiah, presented as one about to give birth, will give life to the prince and pastor of the house of David who will bring justice and peace. She will work with the Messiah to bring forth a new people.

The second reading (Rom 8:28-30) does not speak directly about Mary, but about the believer justified by the grace of Christ and gifted with the indwelling of the Spirit. He or she has been chosen and called from all eternity to share Christ’s life and glory. This is true in a privileged manner for Mary, Spouse and Temple of the Holy Spirit, Mother of God’s Son, and intimately united with him in a divine plan of predestination and grace.

As presented in the Gospel according to Matthew (Mt 1:1-16, 18-23), the meaning of the genealogy is theologically profound: to place Jesus, the Messiah, within the dynastic tree of God’s chosen people. Through Mary, Jesus is a descendant, and in fact “the descendant” of Abraham (cf. Gal 3:16), and the patriarchs in accord with God’s promises. The ring that unites Christ with God’s people is Mary, Daughter of Zion and Mother of the Lord.

The virginity stressed by the Gospel text is the sign of the divine origin of the Son and of the absolute newness that now breaks forth in the history of human beings.

No wonder the liturgy for this feast day stresses the joy we should experience as we celebrate the birthday of our Mother Mary. Through her son, all of humanity is given a second chance. Through her, God’s promises to our ancestors in faith and to us are fulfilled.

Let’s pray that this quiet feast day will serve to remind us that Mary is the key to her divine son. Let’s also pray that the Holy Spirit will guide our Church, and all of us who are disciples of Mary’s son, to believe with all our hearts, as Mary did, that God’s promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord. †

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