The Catholic Church celebrates today the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on its traditional fixed date of September 8, nine months after the December 8 celebration of her Immaculate Conception as the child of Saints Joachim and Anne.
Although not mentioned in the Gospels, the traditions which surround the “Nativity of Mary” get traced back to the early Church. The first authoritative teaching is found in the “Protoevangelium of James”. The term protoevangelium literally means, "First Gospel." This pseudepigraphal (noncanonical and unauthentic) work written about the mid-2nd century AD to enhance the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Christian tradition. The story of Mary’s childhood as given in the Protevangelium has no parallel in the New Testament, and reference to a nine-year stay in the Temple of Jerusalem contradicts Jewish customs. Mary’s birth to aged parents is termed miraculous, and after the birth of Jesus a midwife is said to have confirmed that Mary was still a virgin. The Protevangelium modified the nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke. Though the writer called himself James, his true identity is still uncertain. The work was possibly composed in Egypt and was widely popular from antiquity on through the Renaissance.
The “Protoevangelium of James,” which was probably put into its final written form in the early second century, describes Mary's father Joachim as a wealthy member of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Joachim was deeply grieved, along with his wife Anne, by their childlessness. “He called to mind Abraham,” the early Christian writing says, “that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac.” Joachim and Anne began to devote themselves extensively and rigorously to prayer and fasting, initially wondering whether their inability to conceive a child might signify God's displeasure with them.
As it turned out, however, the couple were to be blessed even more abundantly than Abraham and Sarah, as an angel revealed to Anne when he appeared to her and prophesied that all generations would honor their future child: “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.” The careful reader will notice that the way Mary’s birth is presented echoes the style of the ”Child of Promise”, as found in several Biblical accounts; Isaac, Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus. The reason for this writing technique is to entrench Mary in literary and theological traditions of the Bible.
After Mary's birth, according to the Protoevangelium of James, Anne “made a sanctuary” in the infant girl's room, and “allowed nothing common or unclean” on account of the special holiness of the child. The same writing records that when she was one year old, her father “made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel.”
“And Joachim brought the child to the priests,” the account continues, “and they blessed her, saying: 'O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations' . . . And he brought her to the chief priests, and they blessed her, saying: 'O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be forever.'” The protoevangelium goes on to describe how Mary's parents, along with the temple priests, subsequently decided that she would be offered to God as a consecrated Virgin for the rest of her life, and enter a chaste marriage with the carpenter Joseph.
Later, Saint Augustine described the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an event of cosmic and historic significance, and an appropriate prelude to the birth of Jesus Christ. “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley,” he said. The fourth-century bishop, whose theology profoundly shaped the Western Church's understanding of sin and human nature, affirmed that “through her birth, the nature inherited from our first parents is changed." He explains in a sermon on Mary's nativity why she was born of a sterile mother. "Since the Virgin Mother of God was to be born of Anne, nature did not dare to precede the product of grace, but remained sterile until grace had produced its fruit."
Saint John Damascene (675-749) sees a universal importance in the Nativity of Mary, by writing;
“The day of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a day of universal joy because through the Mother of God, the entire human race was renewed, and the sorrow of the first mother, Eve, was transformed into joy.”
It is the birth, nativity, of Mary that allowed the process of Salvation and Redemption to take place. The importance of this feast is often overlooked, but it is a vital part of the plan of God. It is from Mary that Jesus inherits His human nature. Mary had to be sinless so that Jesus would not inherit the sinful human condition. Therefore, the Cross was not a sacrifice for His sinful nature, inherited from a human mother, but an immaculate sacrifice, from an immaculate mother, for our sins. Take out the immaculate birth of Mary and Jesus becomes a good man that dies for His own shortcomings. With the Immaculate Nativity of Mary, the Cross becomes the key to opening the Gates of Heaven.
SANCTA MARIA, ORA PRO NOBIS