Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Nativity (Birth) of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is celebrated as a liturgical feast in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, a great feast in Eastern Orthodox calender and in most Anglican liturgical calendars on 8 September, nine months after the solemnity of her Immaculate Conception, celebrated on 8 December.

This feast, like that of the Assumption of Mary, originated in Jerusalem. It began in the fifth century as the feast of the basilica Sanctae Mariae ubi nata est, now the Basilica of Saint Anne. In the seventh century, the feast was celebrated by the Byzantines and at Rome as the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast is also celebrated by Syrian Christians on 8 September and by Coptic Christians on 1 Bashans (i.e., 9 May).

In the Western Church, the feast was included in the Tridentine Calendar for 8 September and has remained on that date.

Roman Catholics believe that Mary was immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, by her father St. Joachim. The Feast of that Immaculate Conception, 8 December, is a much greater Feast than her birthday; but Catholics recall Mary's birthday, too -- the birth of the woman destined by God from the beginning of time to be born of the House of David and the Tribe of Judah, the women whose enmity toward Satan was spoken of as far back as Genesis, the woman whom St. John saw crowned with stars and with the moon at her feet, the woman whom God chose to bear His Son and bring life to the world.

This Feast of Mary's birth is one of the only three birthdays honored in the liturgical year (the others being that of St. John the Baptist and that of Jesus Christ Himself, all three born without original sin, though only Mary and Jesus were free from sin at the moments of their conceptions). Little is known about Mary's birth and youth, most of the information coming from the apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary (translated from the Hebrew by St. Jerome, A.D. 340-420), the Protevangelium of St. James (dated to ca. A.D. 125), and the visions of various mystics through the years.

The Nativity of the Theotokos (Mother of God, most esteemed title of Mary) is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, is also celebrated on September 8.

Like Roman Catholics, the Orthodox believe that the Holy Virgin and Theotokos Mary was born to elderly and previously barren parents by the names of Joachim and Anna, in answer to their prayers. Orthodox Christians do not hold to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, in which it is supposed that Mary was preserved from the ancestral sin that befalls us all as descendents of Adam and Eve, in anticipation of her giving birth to the sinless Christ. The Orthodox believe that Mary indeed received the ancestral sin, having been conceived in the normal way of humanity, and thus needed salvation like all mankind. Orthodox thought does vary on whether Mary actually ever sinned, though there is general agreement that she was cleansed from sin at the Annunciation.

Mary in Islam (مريم "Maryam" in Arabic), the mother of Jesus, is considered the most righteous woman in Islam. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur'an - her name is mentioned more than it is in the New Testament. According to the Qur'an, Jesus (called 'Isa in Arabic) was born miraculously by the will of God without a father. His mother is regarded as a chaste and virtuous woman and is a highly respected figure in Islam. The Qur'an states that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth, but that neither Mary nor her son was divine.

In the Qur'an, no other woman is given more attention than Mary. The nineteenth sura of the Qur'an is named after her and is, to some extent, about her life. Of the Qur'an's 114 suras, she is among only eight people who have a sura named after them. In Islam, she is generally referred to as Maryam, Umm Isa (Mary, the mother of Jesus). For Muslims she is a symbol of submission to God and piety. She is one of the most highly-regarded women in Islam; there are several verses in the Qur'an praising her and confirming that she was an extremely chaste and pious woman.

According to the Qur'an, Mary's father was 'Imran. The name which in Arabic means prosperity, not only links Mary to her direct father but also to her ancestor, Amram the father of Moses and of Aaron, whence the description "sister of Aaron" which the Quran likewise uses, is to show that Mary is of the same race as the two brother prophets, as commentators such as Al-Ghazzali have stated.

Mary's mother, although unnamed, is identified in some traditions as Hannah in Arabic or Saint Anne in Juedo-Christian tradition. The Immaculate Conception is not Islamic doctrine, however, as since Islam lacks the concept of original sin such a reference would be meaningless.

Mary's story in the Qur'an, begins while she is still in her mother's womb. The mother of Mary said, "O my Lord! I do dedicate into Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me: For Thou hearest and knowest all things." (Qur'an 3:35). When Mary was delivered, she said, "O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!" (Qur'an 3:36). She had expected her baby to be a boy who would grow up to be a scholar or religious leader. Qur'an 3:36 continues "...and God knew best what she brought forth — 'And no wise is the male like the female. I have named her Maryam, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from Satan, the Rejected.'"

(Published in ameia-kl.blogspot.com)

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