On September 8th in the small town of Bethlehem in Israel in the year 14 BC a woman named Anne gave birth to a girl named Mary. Why is it that we should remember this day some 2000 years later? Surely many were born on that day and we know nothing of them let alone remember the day of their birth. So why is this birthday different? This birth is unique because it was the first ever in history of a human being free from original sin. For Adam and Eve were formed by God directly and were not the product of conception and so nor were they born and their children and all of their decedents were tainted with their original sin. So who was this born, and yes even conceived without this stain? She was the one who would redeem womankind. She was the one who “by [her] obedience loosed the knot of Eve’s disobedience… who through faith loosed what the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief.” (Saint Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, Book II) It was indeed she who was the virgin of whom Isaias the prophet spoke when he said: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” (Is. 7:14) For this was she who would become the Theotokos the “God bearer” who would give birth to the Savior of the whole world: Jesus Christ. It was she who would give Him His flesh to be bruised and ripped for our sins and His blood which would be poured out for our salvation.
Now, as if it were not enough that this day should be so enriched with the birth of the Mother of God let us take a look at the further riches lavished by our Lord Jesus on His Mother’s birthday.
It was on this day in the year 730 that the great Saint Corbinian, First Bishop of Freising in Bavaria (Modern day Germany), left his earth to enter into his eternal reward.
In the year 1264 Pope Urban IV chose this day to release his Bull Transiturus which established the great and glorious Feast of Corpus Christi, the Liturgy for which was written by none other than Saint Thomas Aquinas.
This day in 1380 marked another birthday and this time it was that great devotee of Jesus and Mary the great Saint Bernardine of Siena who is one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church, in particular when considering the propagation of the devotion to the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. And the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary would come to be celebrated just a few days hence on September 12th.
The eight of the calends of September of 1475 marks the death of one of the greatest servants of our Blessed Mother to ever walk the earth and certainly one of the greatest promoters of the Holy Rosary, maybe second only to his holy father in religion Saint Dominic and of course I am speaking about Blessed Alan de la Roche.
Another death happened on this day in 1478 of a woman that ought to stir our spirits for this was the birthday into heaven of Blessed Seraphina Sforza. She was raised by her maternal uncle Pope Martin V and when she was of age married the Lord of Pesaro, but he was a most vicious man who after treating her most terribly finally tried to kill her. After a time she was forced to enter the Poor Claire Convent of that place where she spent every day praying for the conversion of her husband. After many years this prayer was granted. She was later elected Abbess of the Convent. It was then some years after her death her body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt.
The year 1515 marks another birthday and this time it is that of the great Jesuit Biblical Scholar Alphonsus Salmeron who was one of the guiding lights at the Ecumenical Council of Trent.
Forty years later in 1555 this day marked the birthday into Heaven of that great Spanish Augustinian Saint Thomas of Villanova, who sent the first Augustinians to the New World and who was eventually Consecrated the Archbishop of Granada.
Just a few years later in 1567 this day marked the entrance of Blessed Alphonsus Pacheco into the Society of Jesus. On 25 July 1583 he would suffer glorious martyrdom by being hacked to death by scimitars and spears in Goa, India.
This day in 1654 marks another birthday into heaven: that of the great Apostle to the African Salves that wonderful Spanish Jesuit Missionary: Saint Peter Claver.
It was in 1713 that this day was chosen to promulgate the famous Papal Bull Unigenitus Dei Filius by Pope Clement XI. This Bull marked the beginning of the end of the Jansenist Heresy.
Another birthday of note took place on this day in 1738, and in this case it was that of Phillippe-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Tronson Du Coudray. He was a French soldier, who fought alongside the colonists in America against the English during the Revolutionary war, and his life is otherwise not particularly notable, but in death we find something worth noting. He was drowned while crossing a river on horseback on 11 September 1777, and thus it was that Congress gave him an official funeral and attended his Catholic Requiem Mass on the 18th of that month at Saint Mary’s church in Philadelphia, PA. And this was one of only four occasions on which Congress was officially present at Mass during the Revolutionary War.
Six years before the death of Du Coudray however in 1771 it was on this day that the great Franciscan Missionary Blessed Junipero Serra made the foundation of the famous California Mission San Gabriel.
Just three years later on this day in 1774 we celebrate the birthday of the greatest seer in the history of the Church who saw more of the past, present, and future than any other mystic in history and whose visions of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be found below, and this is Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.
In 1850 it was this day that was chosen for the establishment of the 3rd order of the Society of Mary in France.
Forty years later to the day in another part of France in a humble little Carmelite convent in 1890 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face made her final profession as a Carmelite nun and gave herself over entirely to her spouse our Lord Jesus Christ.
This day was clearly of special significance to that great Pope of the Holy Rosary: Leo XIII, who chose this day to promulgate three of his eleven Encyclicals on the Most Holy Rosary: Magnae Dei Matris, Laetitiae Sanctae, and Iucunda Semper Expectatione in 1892, 1893, and 1894 respectively.
It was then on this day in 1907 that, a Saint whose feast is now celebrated just a few days before the 8th of September, Pope Pius X released his great encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis condemning the “synthesis of all heresies”: modernism.
His successor, the Venerable Pope Pius XII, chose this day too for three of his own encyclicals. First in 1951 his Encyclical on the Council of Chalcedon, Sempiternus Rex Christus. Then in 1953 he most fittingly released his Encyclical Fulgens Corona which proclaimed a Marian Year. And finally in 1957 he released his Encyclical on Mass Communications: Miranda Prorsus.
What incredible graces then might this wonderful Feast bring to us in the future?
Here then is the account from the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich of the birth of the Blessed Virgin and then her vision which explains the establishing of this wonderful Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos in the Liturgy of the Church.
The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
From the Visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
“…Anna did not go to bed, but prayed, and at midnight woke the other women to pray with her. They followed her to her praying-place behind a curtain.
“Anna opened the doors of a little cupboard in the wall which contained a casket with holy objects. On each side were lights–perhaps lamps, but I am not sure. They had to be pushed up in their holders, and then little bits of shavings put underneath to prevent them from sinking down. After this the lights were lit. There was a cushioned stool at the foot of this sort of little altar. The casket contained some of Sarah’s hair (Anna had a great veneration for her), some of Joseph’s bones (brought by Moses from Egypt), and something belonging to Tobias, I think a relic of his clothing; also the little shining, white, pear-shaped goblet from which Abraham had drunk when blessed by the angel. (This had been given to Joachim from the Ark of the Covenant when he was blessed in the Temple. I now know that this blessing took the form of wine and bread and was a strengthening and sacramental food.)
“Anna knelt before the little cupboard with one of the women on each side and the third behind her. She recited another hymn; I think it mentioned the burning bush of Moses. Then I saw the room filled with supernatural light which became more intense as it wove itself round Anna. The women sank to the ground as though stunned. The light round Anna took the exact form of the burning bush of Moses on Horeb, and I could no longer see her. The whole flame streamed inwards; and then I suddenly saw that Anna received the shining child Mary in her hands, wrapped her in her mantle, pressed her to her heart, and laid her naked on the stool in front of the holy relics, still continuing her prayer. Then I heard the child cry, and saw that Anna brought out wrappings from under the great veil which enveloped her. She wrapped the child first in gray and then in red swaddling bands up to her arms; her breast, arms, and head were bare. The appearance of the burning bush around Anna had now vanished.
“The women stood up and received the newborn child in their arms with great astonishment. They shed tears of joy. They all joined in a hymn of praise, and Anna lifted her child up on high as though making an offering. I saw at that moment the room full of light, and beheld several angels singing Gloria and Alleluia. I heard all their words. They announced that on the twentieth day the child was to be called Mary.
“In the moment when the newborn child lay in the arms of her holy mother Anna, I saw that at the same time the child was presented in heaven in the sight of the Most Holy Trinity, and greeted with unspeakable joy by all the heavenly host. Then I understood, that there was made known to her in a supernatural manner her whole future with all her joys and sorrows. Mary was taught infinite mysteries, and yet was and remained a child. This knowledge of hers we cannot understand, because our knowledge grows on the tree of good and evil. She knew everything in the same way as a child knows its mother’s breast and that it is to drink from it. As the vision faded in which I saw the child Mary being thus taught in heaven through grace, I heard her weep for the first time.”
“[On the evening of September 7th, the vigil of the Feast of Mary’s Nativity, Catherine Emmerich was unwontedly– as she said, supernaturally–happy, although she felt ill at the same time. She was in an unusually lively and confidential mood. She spoke of extraordinary joy in all nature because of Mary’s approaching birth, and said that she felt as if a great joy was awaiting her next day, if only this did not turn to sorrow.] There is such jubilation in nature: I hear birds singing, I see lambs and kids frolicking, and where Anna’s house once stood the doves are flying about in great flocks as if drunk with joy. Of the house and its surroundings nothing now remains; it is now a wilderness. I saw some pilgrims, holding long staffs and their garments girt about them, with cloths wrapped round their heads like caps. They are going through this part of the country on their way to Mount Carmel. A few hermits from Mount Carmel live here, and the pilgrims asked them in amazement what was the meaning of this joy in nature? They were told that it was ever thus in that country on the eve of Mary’s birth, and that it was probably there that Anna’s house had stood. A pilgrim who had passed that way before had, they said, told them that this was first noticed a long time ago by a devout man, and that this had led to the celebration of the feast of Mary’s Nativity.
“I now saw this institution of the feast myself. Two hundred and fifty years after the death of the Blessed Virgin I saw a very devout man journeying through the Holy Land in order to seek out and venerate all the places connected with the life of Jesus upon earth. I saw that this holy man was given guidance from above, and often remained for several days in prayer and contemplation at different places, enjoying many visions and full of interior delight. He had for many years felt, in the night of the 7th to the 8th of September, a great joyfulness in nature and heard a lovely singing in the air; and at last, in answer to his earnest prayer, he was told by an angel in a dream that this was the birthnight of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He received this revelation on his journey to Mount Sinai or Horeb. It was told him at the same time that in a cave of the Prophet Elijah on that mountain was a walled-up chapel in honor of the Mother of the Messiah, and that he was to inform the hermits living there of both these things. Thereupon I saw him arriving at Mount Sinai. The place where the monastery now stands was already at that time inhabited by isolated hermits, and just as precipitous on the side facing the valley as it is now, when people have to be hoisted up by means of a pulley. I saw now that upon his announcement the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was first celebrated here by the hermits on September 8th about A.D. 250, and that its celebration spread later to the Universal Church. I saw, too, how he and the hermits looked for the cave of Elijah and the chapel in honor of the Blessed Virgin. These were, however, very difficult to find among the many caves of the Essenes and of other hermits. I saw many deserted gardens here and there near these caves, with magnificent fruit trees in them. After praying, the devout man was inspired to take a Jew with them when they visited these caves, and was told that they might recognize as the cave of Elijah the one that he was unable to enter. I saw thereupon how they sent an aged Jew into the caves, and how he felt himself thrust out of the narrow entrance of one of them, however much he tried to force his way in. In this way they recognized it as the cave of Elijah. They found in it a second cave, walled-up, which they opened; and this was the place where Elijah had prayed in veneration of the future mother of the Savior. The big, beautifully patterned stones which made the wall were used later for building the church. They also found in the cave many holy bones of patriarchs and prophets, as well as many woven screens and objects of earlier worship. All these were preserved in the church. I saw much of Mount Horeb on this occasion, but have forgotten it again. I still remember that the place where Moses saw the burning bush is called in the language of the place The Shadow of God’, and that one may walk on it only with bare feet. I also saw a mountain there entirely of red sand, on which, however, very fine fruit trees grew.
“I saw much of St. Bridget, and was given much knowledge of what had been revealed to this saint about Mary’s conception and birth. I remember that the Blessed Virgin said to her that if women with child celebrated the vigil of her Nativity by fasting and by the pious recitation of nine Ave Marias in honor of her nine-months’ sojourn in her Mother’s womb; and if they renewed this devotion frequently during their pregnancy and the day before they expected their confinement, at the same time receiving with devotion the Holy Sacrament, she would bring their prayer before God and beg for a happy delivery even in difficult and dangerous conditions.
“I myself had today a vision of the Blessed Virgin who came to me and told me, among other things, that whoever recited with love and devotion on the afternoon of this day nine Ave Marias in honor of her nine months’ sojourn in her mother’s womb and of her birth, continuing this devotion for nine days, would give the angels nine flowers each day for a bouquet which they would receive in heaven and present to the Blessed Trinity, to obtain favor for the suppliant. Later I felt myself transported to a height between heaven and earth. The earth lay below, dark and troubled; above in heaven I saw the Blessed Virgin before the Throne of God, between the choirs of angels and the ordered hosts of the saints. I saw, built for her out of devotions and prayers on earth, two portals, or thrones of honor, which grew at last into palaces like churches, and even into whole cities. It was strange to see how these buildings were made entirely of herbs, flowers, and garlands all intertwined, their different species expressing the different kinds and different merits of the prayers of individual human beings and of whole communities. I saw all being taken by angels or saints from the hands of the suppliants and being carried up to heaven.”