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And where in cell or roofless shrine
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
WITH joy let us once again hail the return of the blessed name of Mary in the Kalendar. For the Catholic Church knows nothing of the discoveries of modern wisdom, that to dishonour the Mother is to honour the Son, or that the best means to keep Him in remembrance is wholly to forget her. And although God has concealed from us the circumstances of her birth, and the graces which He bestowed on her, yet we cannot praise Him enough for all that we owe to the Fruit of her womb; and therefore we are bid to hasten to do honour to His Mother in the first hour of her life. And enough has been revealed to make it a willing service to every grateful heart. Some of the events in her life which holy Scripture has recorded have already passed before us; and on this, the last of her annual festivals, we may contemplate the part which she was honoured to bear in the great
mystery of godliness. For although two of the more solemn festivals in the year are kept in her honour, and the narrative of her history might seem more properly to belong to one of these, inasmuch as she is exalted by the grace of her Lord far above saint or angel; yet as the feasts of her Annunciation and Purification commemorate other and still more glorious events, the day of her Nativity is the fittest for gathering into one view all that we know of her life.
Her Nativity is celebrated, as Durandus remarks, because she was sanctified in the womb, according to the psalm, The Lord hath sanctified His tabernacle. For the same reason the Church honours the nativity of S. John the Precursor, who even before his birth acknowledged the presence of his Lord, by the aid of the Holy Ghost. We have already admired the grace and high favour which rested upon our Blessed Ladye S. Mary in her conception; and we have heard many holy fathers of the Church bear testimony to the pious belief that she was free from the taint of original and all other sin. And as we follow her course through joys and sorrows till she was reunited to her adorable Son in His kingdom, the words of Peter, abbat of S. Remi, to Nicolaus, a monk of S. Alban's, may teach us the frame of mind which becomes such studies: "We both seek devotion of heart, not verbosity of mouth; secret admiration, not public discussion. We both run to follow her, and I wish it may be towards her. You praise the Blessed Virgin, and I also; you proclaim her holy, and I also; you exalt her above the choir of angels, and I also; you say that she was free from all sin,
and I also. In this offering of veneration I go you and think with you; but if you wish to fabricate any new form of language contrary to that which is approved by the see of Peter, whose office it is to approve or to condemn the order of the universal Church, then I stand firm and pass not the forbidden bounds. And you did well to concede to me that many things are presumed of the Blessed Virgin, which are no where read; and that we are to stand to such presumptions until the contrary can be proved1."
Nothing is certainly known of the family or parents of the holy Virgin. There is a tradition in the Church that her father's name was Joachim; and her mother S. Anne is commemorated, as we have seen, in the Anglican Kalendar, on the 26th of July. The logies of our Lord which are given by S. Matthew and S. Luke, trace the descent of S. Joseph, His reputed father, and not His mother's, as it seems at first. Various reasons are given for this. By some it is maintained to be contrary to the order of Scripture to reckon genealogies through women. Others allege that it was done in order that no reproach might seem to be cast on her husband S. Joseph, since nothing of the truth was lost by such a method of reckoning, for S. Joseph and S. Mary were both descended from the royal line of David, of the tribe of Judah, and their genealogy was therefore the same. "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ," according to S. Matthew2, is sung as the Gospel of this day at Mass in the Latin Church. S.
1 Mores Catholici, b. vii. c. 6.
2 Chap. i. 1-16.
Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and the mother of S. James the Less and of Joseph, was the sister of the Blessed Virgin, as S. John relates'. This was understood literally by many of the fathers, though some have explained it according to the wider meaning which Scripture sometimes gives to the name of brother or sister. The Blessed Virgin was also related to S. Elizabeth, the mother of S. John Baptist. "Many before her were called Mary," says S. Ambrose," for the sister of Aaron was so named. But Mary means the bitterness of the sea. So the Lord comes in the bitterness of human frailty, to sweeten the bitterness of our condition, and temper it with the sweetness and grace of the celestial word"." S. Isidore, bishop of Seville, in the seventh century, interprets her name to mean "Stella Maris-the Star of the sea; for she gave birth to the Light of the world." So also S. Bernard says, that "the Virgin-Mother is well compared to a star, because as a star sends forth its ray without in→ jury to itself, so she brought forth her Son without prejudice to her virginity." These quotations are mentioned with approbation by bishop Pearson, in his Exposition of the Creed.
We may learn how the Blessed Mary spent her childhood and early youth from the gracious assurance of the angel, that she had "found favour with God." "To this man will I look," saith the Lord, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word3." The devotion of her tender years to His service has been celebrated by many holy fathers. Among these are SS. Hilary,
1 Chap. xix. 25.
De Inst. Virg. c. v. 3 Isa. lxvi. 2.
Ambrose, Augustin, Chrysostom, and Epiphanius. They attest the belief of the Church that she had dedicated herself to God by a vow of perpetual celibacy. It was then the most ardent wish of every Jewish maiden to be married, that, as she hoped, she might perchance become the mother of the future Messiah. But, as these ancient writers testify, the Blessed Mary was the first to embrace a life whose pattern she beheld only in heaven. Hence she is justly called the Queen of Virgins,—of that spotless company "whose hearts none save their Lord can to the full possess." Illustrious then was Mary," cries S. Ambrose, "who first displayed the ensign of holy virginity, and set up the standard of inviolate integrity." This belief is confirmed by Scripture. For if we compare her words to the angel' with the testimony of S. Matthew and of S. Luke', that she was espoused to S. Joseph, we shall find at least a very strong presumption that it was even as those holy fathers have said. For what cause of wonder was there, that a maiden espoused to a man should in due time become a mother, or what need of inquiring, as the Blessed Mary did, how it should come to pass, even if she was then only looking forward to her marriage with S. Joseph? For the words of the angel which gave rise to her inquiry necessarily implied nothing supernatural, or which might not have been fulfilled in the ordinary course, as far as at first sight appeared. Her wonder was, not how so great honour and dignity should descend upon the child of one so lowly as herself, but how a child
1 S. Luke i. 34.
2 S. Matt. i. 18.
8 S. Luke i. 27.