Aside from the birth of Jesus on Christmas, the Church celebrates only two birthdays over the course of the Liturgical Year – Saint John the Baptist, on June 24, and Our Lady, today. All other saints are honored on the day of their death. We do, however, honor the death of both John the Baptist and Our Lady – John the Baptist on the feast of his beheading (Aug 29) and Our Lady on the Feast of the Assumption (Aug 15).
So why are these two different from all the others? It is because of their distinct role as it relates to Jesus. Everything about the Blessed Virgin Mary points to Jesus; the same holds true for John the Baptist. Today’s opening prayer states it most aptly:
Father of mercy,
give your people help and strength from heaven.
The birth of the Virgin Mary’s Son
was the dawn of our salvation.
May this celebration of her birthday
bring us closer to lasting peace.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Mary’s unique role in salvation history demands a unique observance. Pope Benedict explains, “…the Church always argued that it was premature to celebrate a birthday because the rest of the life of the person born on that day was subject to such ambiguity.” He adds, however, “her soul was the space from which God was able to gain access to humanity.” Having prepared her in advance as the vessel of honor which would bring the savior into the world, no ambiguity could exist. No need to examine her life remained because of God’s saving power in preparing her particularly as part of the mission of the redeemer.
Sometimes I lose sight of the magnitude of this mystery, especially because of my relationship with Our Lady. She’s a mom to me, familiar, comfortable, and ever-present. When I stop and reflect on her role and the heroic virtue required to play her part in these saving mysteries, I fall to my knees. Yes, she was singularly prepared, but she had free will – just like you and me – to say yes or no. Moreover, in saying, “Yes,” to the Annunciation, she said, “Yes,” to Calvary.
Like many women, she probably really didn’t know what she was getting into when she said, “Yes,” to that little baby. I think nothing in the world can prepare you for what happens when you become a mom! You think you might have an idea, but, really, let’s face it – most of us are clueless. Nothing prepares you for the stretching you have to do when another person totally relies on you. Nothing prepares you for the physical and mental fatigue. Nothing prepares you for the patience required to be in the moment at all moments.
Above all, though, nothing prepares a woman for what happens to her heart when she becomes a mom, absolutely nothing in the world. In spite of all the difficulties and challenges, we love beyond what we ever thought possible, and things we once thought important recede into a lesser prominence. Love transforms our hearts. Love demands, and love responds.
If we compare what happens on a human level, with us fallen creatures, how much greater is the love Our Lady has for us She gets it! Granted, she raised a sinless child, so we can be tempted to think it was easier for her. Perhaps in some ways, that’s true. So much is hidden in the gospel accounts about Jesus’ growing up, that we can only guess. We do know that whatever she faced required love. Whether it was the teetering toddler tumbling as he learned to walk or the agonized adult crushed beneath the cross, Our Lady loved. She still does.
When we celebrate her birth, we celebrate her motherhood. The only reason we revere this woman of so long ago is because of her divine maternity. On the cross, Jesus gave her to us and us to her. She continues to mother. Perhaps, she drew a bit of a bye in raising a child without sin, but I think it is more than compensated for when Jesus gave the rest of us to her. Her mother’s heart rejoices. Her mother’s heart aches.
I am grateful for her constancy and intercession.
Would you join me today in praying the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary in thanksgiving for her presence in our lives and praying for her intercession for our needs and the needs of the world.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! Anne