The pure gift of God

WESTERN and Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary today (September 8).

No woman is so well-known and loved than the Mother of Jesus, an honor that began with the Apostles even before Jesus ascended into heaven. The affection of Catholics for her arose from her many appearances and intercessions through the centuries that the Church gave her titles to describe and commemorate special favors. “She is the pure gift of God” to mankind.

Her birthday celebration today is only a traditional fixed date as there is no record of her actual birth date.

September 8 is nine months after the December 8 celebration of her Immaculate Conception as the child of Saints Joachim and Anne. The Virgin Mary’s infancy and early life are not directly recorded in the Bible, but there are documents and Church traditions describing the circumstances of her birth that were cited bythe earliest Christian writers from the first centuries of the Church. The most often quoted are from the Protoevangelium of James, which is believed to reach its final written form in the early second century.

This document tells us that Mary’s father, Joachim, was a wealthy member of a tribe of Israel who was “deeply grieved, along with his wife Anne, by their childlessness”, thinking that God was displeased with them. They prayed intensively for a child but their prayers were fruitless that Joachim went to the desert alone where he prayed and fasted for 40 days. He took too long there that Anne thought he had died but on the 40th day, an angel appeared to Anne telling her, “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth a child; your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.”

After Mary’s birth, according to the Protoevangelium, Anne “made a sanctuary” in the infant girl’s room, and “allowed nothing common or unclean” because of the special holiness of the child.

When she was one year old, her father “made a great feast and invited the priests, the scribes, the elders and all the people of Israel.” He brought the child to the priests and said,‘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.’”

When Mary was three years old, her parent brought her to the temple where she stayed until she was twelve. Her life there is a story in itself. Back home her parents build her a room where later Angel Gabriel appeared and greeted her, “Hail full of grace” and announced she would conceive the Messiah.

Saint Augustine described the birth of Mary as an event of cosmic and historic significance, 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 and affirmed that “through her birth, the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.”

Islamic scripture, the third sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, tells of Mary’s birth. Her father Imran and her mother, Hannahprayed to God to fulfill their desire to have a child. They vowed that if their prayer was accepted, their child would be dedicated to the service of God and that her child should remain protected from Satan (Shayṭān). Muslim tradition records a hadith, which states that the only children born without the “touch of Satan” were Mary and Jesus. In Islam her name is Miriam.

The reverence to Mary has ancient beginnings. The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., insisted “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account, the holy virgin is the “Theotokos” (for according to the flesh, she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema” or unbeliever, a heretic. That became a doctrine of Catholic faith.

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