By Dan Valenti (Sep 8, 2008)
On Sept. 8, the Church celebrates the birth of Mary, as it has been doing for 12 centuries. It is only one of three birthdays observed by the official Church calendar, the others being Jesus and John the Baptist.
While Scripture traces the lineage of St. Joseph in Chapter One of Matthew's Gospel, the Bible remains silent on Mary's ancestry. Tradition recognizes Anne as Our Lady's mother and Joachim as her father. These references are found in the "Gospel of James," a book dating from the 2nd century, part of the apocryphal canon not included in Holy Scripture. Other sources include the apocryphal "Gospel of the Nativity of Mary," translated from Hebrew by St. Jerome late in the 4th century, as well as private revelation.
The account in James shows Anne and Joachim beyond childbearing age, but their faithfulness to God and their unremitting life of prayer results in Anne becoming pregnant.
Church tradition holds that Mary's conception was achieved through ordinary marital relations between Anne and Joachim, but everything else about the conception is extraordinary. Mary was conceived immaculate, that is, without the stain of original sin. This belief was generally, but informally, shared in the Church for many centuries until Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary dogma on Dec. 8, 1854:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful. Ineffabilis Deus)
Imagine the joy Mary's parents felt on the birth of their special daughter. Many prayers, poems, and odes have been written about the birth of Mary. Saint Anselm composed one of the most beautiful. In part, it reads:
Give me strength to praise thee in prayer with all my powers, through the merits of thy most sacred nativity, which for the entire Christian world was a birth of joy, the hope and solace of its life. When thou wast born, O most holy Virgin, then was the world made light. Happy is thy stock, holy thy root, and blessed thy fruit.