A blessed and joyful birthday to Mary, a feast that has been celebrated since at least the sixth century in Syria, in the wake of the proclamation of Mary as the Mother of God, and, by corollary, co-Redemptrix of the human race, at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Mary is Theotokos, the true ‘Mother of the Creator’, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, in His human nature. The day of the feast was deliberately placed nine months after the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Of course, heaven transcends space and time, and we may ponder what it means to have a ‘birthday’ in heaven – usually we celebrate the death day of the saints as their entrance into their eternal reward, and there are only three persons whose birth we commemorate – Christ, of course; John the Baptist, His precursor, on June 24th; and the Blessed Virgin today. Their heavenly lives are not unconnected with their earthly ones, and the same for us. We make our eternity here and now, with all of our free decisions.
Josef Ratzinger, in his liturgical works, emphasizes the historical, concrete, incarnational dimension of Catholicism and its liturgy. We celebrate with great joy the works of God, as He brings about our salvation within time with the free cooperation of His creatures, when and how He decides. Anna and Joachim, the parents of Mary, corresponded patiently with the grace of God, and their child even more so, the vessel ‘full of grace’, whose fiat allowed the Saviour of the World to become incarnate with her womb. God waited upon her word, as He does to this day.
As Saint Andrew of Crete says in today’s Office:
Hence, our devotion to the Virgin should be great indeed. Ask of her what you will, offer her some little present, a decade of the Rosary, a Memorare, and who knows what surprise you may get. Like the fictional hobbits, I am rather confident that Our Lady on her birthday is far more pleased to give presents than to receive them – or at least to give back far more than we might offer her. It’s the thought, and more importantly the love, that counts.