“Let us celebrate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Let us adore her Son, Christ our Lord.” Such is the invitation addressed to us today by the Church. Let us hearken to her call. Let us enter into her overflowing 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 with which His Mother is to crown Him on the day of the joy of His heart, and of ours. Today, 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 you: your Cherubim may leave the gates and return to Heaven. What are your 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 of which the former was but a shadow: all this are you, sweet infant, in whom already dwell all grace, all truth, all life.
You are the little cloud which the father of prophets in the suppliant anguish of his soul awaited, and you bring refreshment to the parched earth. Under the weakness of your fragile form appears the Mother of fair love and of holy hope. You are that other light cloud of exquisite fragrance, which our desert sends up to Heaven. In the incomparable humility of your soul, which knows not itself, the angels, standing like armed warriors around your cradle, recognise 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 your fair architecture were planned from all eternity. Together with Emmanuel who predestined you for His home of delights, you are yourself, O blessed child, the crowning point of creation, the divine ideal fully realised on Earth!
Let us, then, understand the Church when, even on this day, she proclaims your divine maternity and unites in her chants of praise the birth of Emmanuel and your 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 recognise you as Mother, even from your very cradle, and must celebrate your birthday by adoring your Son our Lord. Inasmuch as it embraces all the brethren of the Man-God, your blessed maternity sheds its rays upon all time, both before and after this happy day. “God is our king before ages: He has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 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 will call you blessed, for you have brought forth life and glory for all. In you the angels ever find their joy, the just find grace, sinners pardon. In you, and by you, and from you, the merciful hand of the Almighty has reformed the first creation.”
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 here,” cries Saint 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 Saint Peter Damian, “for behold! the Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice today, 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: “Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, brought joy to the whole world: for out of you arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God: who, taking on the curse has bestowed blessing, and defeating death has given us life everlasting.”
This union of Rome and Byzantium in the celebration of today’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 Angemne 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 in which 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 on which the holy Spirit was to rest, and the merciful power which caused Mary to blossom in Judah 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 19 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 further and further from our unhappy times. Our Lady was born during the second of the three periods of universal peace with which the reign of Augustus was blessed, 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 Judaea, the sceptre has been taken away from Judah, but the usurper of his power, Herod the Idumaean, 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.Epistle – Proverbs viii. 22‒35
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived: neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth. He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was present; when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the deep: when He established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: when He compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters, that they should not pass their limits: when he balanced the foundations of the earth: I was with Him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. New, therefore, ye children, hear me. Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that hears me, and that watches daily at my gates, and waits at the posts of my doors. He that will find me, will find life, and will have salvation from the Lord.Thanks be to God.
Dom Prosper Gueranger:
When princes are born, we pre-nosticate their future greatness by recalling the glory of their ancestors. The Church does in like manner today. The Gospel will recount the temporal genealogy of the Messiah which is also the genealogy of her who was born for the very purpose of giving birth to Him. But first, this passage from the Book of Proverbs sets before us the divine origin of the Son and of the Mother. It is of both that eternal Wisdom says: “Before the hills I was brought forth: when He prepared the heavens, I was present.” Our weak human nature, subject to time, can conceive of things only according to the series of their progressive evolutions, but God sees them independently of time, which He rules with His eternity. He sees them in the order of mutual dependence in which He has placed them with a view to the manifestation of His glory. With God, the beginning and the principle of every work is the purpose for which it is done. Now the Most High acts outside Himself solely to reveal Himself, by His Word made Flesh and become the Son of a created Mother as He is the Son of the Creator. The God-Man as end, Mary as the means: such is the object of the eternal decrees, the purpose of the world’s existence, the fundamental conception with regard to which all else is but accessory and dependent.
O Lady, who deigns to call us also your children, it is well for us that your goodness is equal to your greatness! Happy is the human race for having waited and watched for you during so many long ages, and for having found you at length: for with you is salvation and life.Gospel – Matthew i. 1‒16
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Judas and his brethren; and Judas begot Phares and Zaraof Thamar; and Phares begot Esron; and Esron begot Aram; and Aram begot Aminadab; and Aminadab begot Naasson; and Naasson begot Salmon; and Salmon begot Booz of Rahab; and Booz begot Obed of Ruth; and Obed begot Jesse; and Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her who had been the wife of Urias; and Solomon begot Roboam; and Roboam begot Abia; and Abia begot Asa; and Asa begot Josaphat; and Josaphat begot Joram; and Joram begot Ozias; and Ozias begot Joatham; and Joatham begot Achaz; and Achaz begot Ezechias; and Ezechias begot Manasses; and Manasses begot Amon; and Amon begot Josias; and Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon. And after the transmigration of Babylon Jechonias begot Salathiel; and Salathiel begot Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begot Abiud; and Abiud begot Eliacim; and Eliacim begot Azor; and Azor begot Sadoc; and Sadoc begot Achim; and Achim begot Eliud; and Eliud begot Eleazar; and Eleazar begot Mathan; and Mathan bogot Jacob; and Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.Praise be to you, O Christ.
Dom Prosper Gueranger:
Mary “of whom was born Jesus”: these words contain the whole mystery of our Lady, the title which expresses her whole being according to both nature and grace. For, Jesus, who was to be born of Mary, to be made of a woman (Galatians iv. 4), was from the beginning the hidden reason of all creation, to be manifested in the fullness of time. This was God’s great work of which the prophet said in ecstasy: “O Lord, your work... in the midst of the years you will make it known... the holy One will come from the shady mountain... The hills of the world were bowed down by the journeys of His eternity” (Habacuc iii. 2‒6). This mountain from where the holy One, the Eternal, the Ruler of the world, is to come, is the blessed Virgin Mary whom the power of the Most High will overshadow and who, at her very birth, is set far above all the heights of Earth and of Heaven.
The days, then, are accomplished. Ever since the hour when the eternal Trinity came forth from their repose to create Heaven and Earth, all the generations of Heaven and Earth have been in labour to bring forth the day which is to give a Mother to the Son of God. Parallel with the direct line from Abraham and David to the Messiah, all human genealogies have been preparing for Mary the generation of adoptive sons whom Jesus is to make His brethren. With the Church, let us congratulate our Lady on this her sublime maternity which embraces all creatures together with the Creator.Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYOLOGY:
At Nicomedia, St. Adrian, with twenty-three other martyrs, who ended their martyrdom on the fourth of March by having their limbs crushed after enduring many torments under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Their remains were carried to Byzantium by Christians and buried with due honours. Afterwards the body of St. Adrian was taken to Rome on this day on which his festival is celebrated.
At Alexandria, the holy martyrs Ammon, Theophilus, Neoterius, and twenty-two others.
At Antioch, the Saints Timothy and Faustus, martyrs.
At Gaza in Palestine, the holy martyrs Eusebius, Nestabus and Zeno, brothers, who were cut to pieces by a multitude of pagans that rushed upon them in the time of Julian the Apostate.
In the same place, and under the same Julian, St. Nestor, martyr, who, being most cruelly tortured by the same furious Gentiles, breathed his last.
At Valencia in Spain, St. Thomas of Villanova, archbishop, distinguished by his ardent charity for the poor. He was inscribed among the saints by Pope Alexander VII, and his feast is celebrated on the twenty-second of this month.
At Freisingen, St. Corbinian, first bishop of that city. Being consecrated by Pope Gregory II, and sent to preach the Gospel, he reaped an abundant harvest in France and Germany, and finally renowned for virtues and miracles, rested in peace.
And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.
Thanks be to God.