Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a stained glass window depicting the Nativity of Mary; date and artist unknown; Church of Notre-Dame de l'Assomption in Château-Landon, Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France; photographed on 25 June 2011 by GFreihalter; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsPious tradition thus accounts for the origin of the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin: A simple, but very devout lay brother, a faithful client of Mary, once, as he was at prayer, heard the most entrancing strains of music. It was the 8th day of September. He asked God what this sweet music meant, and received for answer that the choirs of angels were celebrating in heaven the birthday of their Queen. Whereupon the hermit carried the news to the Pope, who established this festival in order that these praises of Mary might be sung on earth as well as in heaven. Each reader may give what credence he pleases to this simple legend. One thing is certain, we know no other reason why this festival is celebrated on the 8th of September. A great and learned and holy bishop, Saint Antoninus, tells us, “Thy birth, O holy Mother of God, brought joy to the whole earth, for when the angels beheld this beautiful creature, they sang canticles of joy. These hymns of praise they repeat on the same day every year, as God has been pleased to reveal to a certain holy hermit in the woods.” We have no positive information as to the precise time when the Church began to celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. We only know that at a very early age, even in the first century of Christianity, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist was observed solemnly in the Church. May we not then, with much more reason, suppose that the faithful children of the early Church commemorated the birth of Mary, that chosen creature whose advent to the earth was the aurora of salvation to sinful man? It is certain that in Eastern countries this festival was kept by the Church in the fifth century, for Saint Proclus, Patriarch, who died in the year 447 and had himself been a disciple of Saint Chrysostom, has left extant a sermon which he preached on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. In Western Europe we find Saint Ildephonsus, bishop of Toledo, in Spain, writing in the following strain in the year 658, “No saint’s birthday is celebrated in the Catholic Church except that of our divine Saviour, Jesus Christ, that of His blessed Mother, and that of Saint John the Baptist.” In the eleventh century the observance had become universal in the Church, for Saint Peter Damian exclaims, “The birth of the ever blessed Mother of God brings special and extraordinary joy to the hearts of men. Well may the whole human family shout with irrepressible joy and gladness; well may the whole Church linger at the cradle of the infant Mary and sing canticles of thanksgiving and joy; let us rejoice in the Lord and be glad on this day on which, while commemorating the birth of Mary, we celebrate the beginning of all our other festivals.” We understand and know with more certainty what it was that gave rise to the octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. The occasion was as follows: Pope Gregory IX, a brave and zealous defender of the liberties of the Church, died in the year 1241 while in the midst of a conflict with the Emperor Frederick II who was persecuting the Church. The cardinals assembled in Conclave for the purpose of electing a successor to the Chair of Peter, but found it very difficult to make a choice, for their action was trammeled by the presence of the emperor, who was carrying on hostilities in Italy. They therefore decided to enrich the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin with an octave, if, by the aid of her intercession, they should succeed in making a speedy selection of a new Pope. Their vows were heard and accepted by Heaven; very soon the choice fell upon the learned and pious Cardinal Godfrey, who, as Head of the Church, assumed the name of Celestine IV. Unhappily, as the Pontiff lived only fourteen days after his election he could not carry out the promises of the conclave. Hardly, however, had his successor, Innocent VI, assumed the tiara when he hastened to keep the promises. The institution of an octave to this festival only shows that the Church considers it wise and salutary for her children to call upon the Virgin Mother in the hour of private trial and in all afflictions of the Church.

Prayer of Holy Church

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to Thy servants the gift of heavenly grace, that those to whom the birth of the Blessed Virgin was the beginning of salvation, may in her holy festival obtain an increase of peace. Permit us, O Lord, to offer with pure intention of soul our gifts to Thee who, in the heart of the Blessed Virgin, prepared a dwelling without stain for Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord. Now. O Lord, that we have tasted and enjoyed in the annual commemoration of the birth of the Blessed Virgin the sweet mystery of the day, we beseech Thee that Thou wouldst make this mystery a saving help for us in this life and a pledge of happiness in the life to come. Amen.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898