Editor’s Note: Post originally published on September 8, 2019.
According to 20th century Scottish author William Barclay, “There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.” Everyone had a birthday. Birthdays are universal. Celebrations of life. Reminders of impending death. Or a view somewhere in between. Why do you celebrate your birthday?
Each new year of our life allows us to learn from our past shortcomings and hope for future successes. Celebrating our birthday helps us to live in the present moment. On September 8th, the Catholic Church observes the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The topic of the Mother of God is a point of contention for Protestants. There are a lot of misconceptions that Catholics worship Mary. I even had a conversation with a co-worker last week who asked me, “Why is it that some Catholics worship Mary?” My reply was concise and the same as the official stance of the Catholic Church, “Catholics don’t worship Mary. She is not God. We never, ever worship her. Instead, we honor her.”
Some of you might still be skeptical. You might be thinking, “Well, if you don’t worship Mary why does the Church have a specific feast to celebrate her birthday [along with the countless other feasts!] It all seems too much.” That certainly is a valid concern. I can understand how non-Catholics perceive Catholics’ devotion to Mary as being excessive or over the top. This article will discuss three reasons why Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary— and how authentic honor should always end in the worship of Jesus Christ!
An Anchor to the Incarnation
Birthdays celebrate a real and historical event. Your parents received a birth certificate a few weeks after you were born. In the modern era, people use their date of birth on loan applications, online activity, account openings, as passwords, and other situations where you have to prove your identity.
When the Catholic Church celebrates the birthday of Mary, her existence as a real figure, in history, is recognized. Why is it important that Mary was actually born, a real person like you or I? Her existence is absolutely necessary for the doctrine of the Incarnation—the teachings that Jesus is fully God AND fully human. During the Nicene Creed, the priest and the laity bow at the following line: “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
Before I studied theology it always seemed peculiar that we would bow during those words. For my master’s course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I had to write a paper discussing the internal consistency and unity of the doctrines. The doctrine I chose to study was the Incarnation. I discovered that Mariology [the theological study of Mary] was closely related to the Incarnation.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. formally rejected the Nestorian heresy— a belief that rejected Mary was the Mother of God and thus also rejected the humanity of Jesus. Mary as the Mother of God secures the reality that Jesus was fully human along with being fully God.
Obeying the 4th Commandment
Another reason Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary is out of honor. According to the Second Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, ” [Mary] she is our mother in the order of grace” (no. 61). This truth is in keeping with Scripture when Jesus gives her mother to the Apostle John (see John 19:26-27) and Sacred Tradition.
The vast number of Marian feast days throughout the year point to her holiness and complete obedience to God. Just like our earthly mother, we should honor our spiritual mother as well!
True Devotion of the Mother Ends with Worship of the Son
Each year it seems like retail stores put out Christmas displays and products earlier and earlier. Already I have heard people at work lament that the radio is not yet playing Christmas music. The birth of Christ is definitely something to get excited about. Catholics celebrate the birthday of Mary as a type of early preparation for Christmas!
The Catholic Church is quite clear that Jesus is the sole Mediator. According to St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human,d who gave himself as ransom for all.” We only honor Mary as a means to get closer to Her Son. St. Louis de Montfort said it best, “We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son” (True Devotion to Mary ).
While we are members of the Body of Christ, Mary is the “neck of the Body of Christ” connecting us to the Head—Jesus. Celebrate the birth of Mary because it was through her decision to fully obey God that the Savior of the World was born. Happy Birthday Mary and happy early birthday Jesus!