We do not really know the date of Mary’s birth. September 8 is chosen by the Church as the date to celebrate her nativity as it comes exactly nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother was already in full bloom by the second century after Jesus’ birth. Much of our devotion to her stems from a non-canonical work called the Protoevangelium of James. The earliest manuscript of this work dates back to the second century. Though the manuscript which is still extant is older, St. Justin, Martyr, used this work in his writings. St. Justin was martyred in 165 A.D., which confirms that the Protoevangelium dates back to at least the second century. A translation of the manuscript first appeared in 1552.
The fourth chapter of this work tells the story of Anna being visited by an angel. She was told that she would conceive and give birth to a child that would be spoken of in the whole world. Like her namesake, Hannah in the First Book of Samuel, Anna was considered barren and beyond the age of childbearing. The angel also told her that her child was to be presented in the Temple which she and her husband did when Mary was three years old. Mary lived in the Temple until she was twelve years old when the priests gathered the widowers together and asked God for a sign which had been chosen to be her husband. Joseph was chosen as a dove came to rest on his head.
As I said previously, this information is not part of the Christian Scriptures but is part of the tradition of the Church. Our faith is built upon both the Scriptures and the traditions which have come down to us through the so-called Fathers of the Church. The Scriptures which are chosen for this feast are rightly focused on Jesus rather than Mary. Jesus Christ was born into a particular lineage, into the Davidic line. He is the Messiah. This is important for us to hear, because it is a fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and a sign of God’s providence. Equally important, however, is that he was born of a woman. His mother, Mary – chosen by God before her own conception to be the first tabernacle of Christ – was fully human. Not divine, not another type of creature, but human: formed in the image and likeness of God. Conceived without sin and full of grace so as to be sinless in all things, she was the perfection of humanity who gave birth to the Savior of humanity and the world. As we celebrate her birth today, we give praise to Almighty God for the careful plan that was put into place for our salvation.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator