The Nativity of Mary: Family and Birthday Blessings
The feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary continues Our Lady's Thirty Days which began on the feast of the Assumption. This feast is the last of the Church's celebration of earthly birthdays celebrated in the Liturgical Year, the other two being the Birth of John the Baptist and Birth of Jesus on Christmas. It is this feast day that reminds us of our family life in Christ, seen through our immediate family, our relationship with Christ, and connection with the Mystical Body of Christ.
Focus on the Family
Celebrating a birthday is usually a family event. Again and again we see how the Liturgy stresses how our relationship with God is oriented towards the family. I'm focusing on three particular ways the family relationship is stressed throughout the Bible and the Liturgy:
- The Church emphasizes and honors family relationships. We see this in the reflection of Christ's own family tree and relationships. I wrote about this aspect for the feast of the Visitation. Throughout the Liturgical Year we celebrate that closeness of Jesus and Mary with their own earthly family and lineage. The Gospel for this feast begins with the genealogy of Christ.
- God revealed Himself as Father to the Israelites and established his Covenant with them. Christ's redemption fulfilled that Covenant. Through the Christ and our Baptism, we become adopted sons of God. We are brothers and sisters of Christ. The Divine Filiation or Divine Sonship is the center of the Gospel message.
- Because of this family relationship with God, our baptism connects us with all the members of the Mystical Body. All the baptized members of the Church, past, present and future are our family; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. This is constantly reiterated in the Word and the Liturgy, for example:
- Every day at Mass we pray the Confiteor: "I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters...."
- Later at the Preparation of the Gifts, the priest invites us to "Pray, brethren (or brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."
- This Sunday's (Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time) Collect is an example stressing our spiritual adoption and relationship: "O God, by whom we are redeemed and received adoption, look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters...."
When the Church celebrates a feast day, we all are celebrating with whole family of God. God is our Father, Christ is our Brother; Our Lady is our Mother. The saints are our brothers and sisters. The Liturgical Year is our family calendar, full of family feast days!
The connection with the family of Christ continues through all the events with family: new life, nuptials, death. Our thoughts and prayers center around our earthly and spiritual family life. John Paul II in his Familiaris Consortio brings this our attention:
Family prayer has for its very own object family life itself, which in all its varying circumstances is seen as a call from God and lived as a filial response to his call. Joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, births and birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries of the parents, departures, separations and homecomings, important and far-reaching decisions, the death of those who are dear, etc.--all of these mark God's loving intervention in the family's history. They should be seen as suitable moments for thanksgiving, for petition, for trusting abandonment of the family into the hands of their common Father in heaven. The dignity and responsibility of the Christian family as the domestic church can be achieved only with God's unceasing aid, which will surely be granted if it is humbly and trustingly petitioned in prayer.
Celebrating Mary's Birthday: A Family Day
The Nativity of Mary is her birthday! A birthday is one of the easiest type of family celebration that brings this thought of our family in Christ to the forefront. Who doesn't enjoy celebrating birthdays? Every age understands and appreciates them, whether it be a quiet remembrance and thankfulness to God or a celebration among friends and family.
This is a feast day that lends naturally to outward physical ways of celebration. If you have children (who always love birthdays), they can provide perfect inspiration for ways to celebrate, such as a birthday cake or cupcake, perhaps decorated with blue icing or a monogram of Our Lady. The older crowd can drink a toast to Our Lady.
The Liturgy focuses on God's plan in choosing Mary, preparing her soul without sin so she could be the Mother of God. We are honoring her and thankful that she cooperated with the Will of God to become the Mother of the Redeemer. So in our outward ways of celebrating, we are in our actions thanking God for the gift of His beautiful Mother.
Blessings of the Day
The Church recognizes that the cycle of family life also extends with the cycles of seasons, I've mentioned a few times before how the Church does not ignore the solar year and agricultural needs. The Birthday of Our Lady is yet another traditional harvest feast (the previous ones being August 1 on Lammas Day, the Transfiguration and the Assumption). The older form of the Roman Ritual (1952 and 1964) includes the sacramental Blessing of Seeds and Seedlings. A beautiful older prayerbook from 1959 entitled Rural Life Prayerbook edited by Alban J. Dachauer, S.J. (recently reprinted by TAN Books and true to original edition) extends this blessing as "Seeds, Flowers, and Crops." This is the time of year in many places when the seeds are harvested, and fall and winter crops are being planted. Even with my simple home garden I can see the seasonal connection as I harvested my dill seeds for next year.
This inclusion of our earthly needs and cycles ties in the theme of family life. Because we are all interconnected through the Mystical Body, our brethren's physical needs are also our own:
If our Holy Mother the Church seems to multiply her blessings over the farm home, and have few left for the city apartment, it is not because she is partial to her children in the country and forgetful of city children, but because she is a realist--like every woman. She knows that from the farm homes comes the world's food supply. That is why she has composed so many sacramental blessings for the farmer.... [S]uch blessings are for the welfare of all the members of Christ's Body on earth... For all members of Our Lord's Body are dependent on one another (Family Sacramentals, edited by Walter Sullivan, O.S.B., 1952).
These sacramentals are gifts and reminders of our daily life with family. The change of seasons, the life and death in nature echo our lives here on earth. The blessings recognize that we have these gifts from God, asking Him for blessings on us and His gifts, and point to our eternal future, where there will be no death. The Church recognizes that our family needs extend to our daily human needs.
It is in small ways that we can recognize the importance of family and see how much the Church values our familial ties. May your celebration of Our Lady's Nativity help you to further unite yourself to the family life of Christ.
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