In at least 1,400 towns in predominantly Christian Philippines, covering 82 provinces including the national capital region or Metro Manila, the Catholic faithful will mark with Masses today the 2,035th birth anniversary of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Filipino Catholics, especially the Marian devotees, will be celebrating one of the oldest Marian solemnities and one of the cardinal feasts of the liturgical devotion to the Blessed Mother—the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.
In the Catholic churches in most of these towns, Marian shrines, and schools under the patronage of the Holy Mother in the Philippines, celebratory masses, novenas, living rosaries, solemn processions, and the traditional “Harana kay Maria” (Serenade for Mary) will be observed.
Catholic Church sources say the Liturgy of the Hours, one of the highest expressions of liturgical worship, which involves the recitation of morning, midday, and evening prayers, will be held in many churches across the archipelago of 106 million people, more than 88 percent of whom profess the Catholic faith, brought to the country in the 16th century by Fernando Magallanes, who sailed under the flag of Spain.
According to the sources, the last of the Triduum Masses that begin on Sept. 6 will also be celebrated on Sept. 8 for Mary, daughter of Saints Anne and Joachim.
People ask why Sept. 8 is the birthday of Mary. There is no actual record of Mary’s date of birth in Jerusalem, but Catholic tradition celebrates the event as a liturgical feast on Sept. 8—which resonates the culture where Filipinos and others overseas celebrate the birthdays of their loved ones.
Tradition dictates she was born on Sept. 8 circa 18 B.C. in the town of Nazareth in Galilee, Hebrew Ha-galil, the northernmost region of ancient Palestine, corresponding to modern northern Israel. Its biblical boundaries are indistinct; conflicting readings leave clear only that it was part of the territory of the northern tribe of Naphtali.
One is tempted to ask where Nazareth is in the Bible. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph and Mary resettled in Nazareth after returning from the flight from Bethlehem to Egypt. According to the Bible, Jesus grew up in Nazareth from some point in his childhood. However, some modern scholars also regard Nazareth as the birthplace of Jesus.
Catholic theologians say tradition celebrates the event as a liturgical feast in the General Roman Calendar and in most Anglican liturgical calendars, nine months after the solemnity of her Immaculate Conception, which is celebrated on Dec. 8.
Some sources say several religious congregations, like the Sons of the Holy Mary Immaculate and the Society of Divine Word, will profess their religious vows on September 8 to signify their total love, devotion, and commitment to the Virgin Mary.
The Catholic Church, theologians say, observes only two birth anniversaries of saints: that of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, and of St. John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ, on June 24.
According to Church officials, “The birth of the Blessed Mother celebrates the dawning of the day of redemption, the moment when she, who was to be the mother of our Savior, was born. In celebrating the Nativity of Mary, Christians anticipate the Incarnation and birth of her Divine Son and give honor to the mother of our Lord.”
How did all this begin? The Feast of the Nativity of Mary originated in Jerusalem, Israel as early as the 6th century, and was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Sergius I in the year 687.
Answer to prayers
According to Catholic literature, Saints Anne and Joachim prayed and fasted for a child and, in answer to their prayers, God granted them a daughter who was to be the Mother of the Messiah.
Except for a few towns, like El Salvador in Misamis Oriental in Mindanao, thousands of devotees are expected yet again to flock to the Divine Mercy Shrine, which houses a 15-meter image of the Divine Mercy, on Sept. 8 to celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin, with Marian devotees expected to parade her image around the shrine.
Otherwise, the other towns and cities—like Paoay and Pinili in Ilocos Norte, Moncada in Tarlac, Camalig in Albay, Gonzaga and Sanchez Mira in Cagayan, Minglanilla in Cebu, Taytay and Cainta in Rizal as well as San Juan City in Metro Manila—will just mark the date with Masses.
Mary, or Santa Maria in most Catholic towns in the Philippines, was a first-century B.C. Galilean Jewish woman of Nazareth, and the mother of Jesus according to the New Testament and the Quran.
Catholic literature says the gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament and the Quran describe Mary as a virgin; according to Christian theology she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit while still a virgin.
The same literature says the miraculous conception took place when she was already betrothed or engaged or affianced to Joseph—some apocryphal accounts suggesting she was 12-14 years old when she was betrothed to widower Joseph, then 90 years old, although such accounts, according to some theologians, are unreliable.
But theologians, quoting the Bible, say Joseph had wives previously.
Joseph’s previous wives
Who were Joseph’s wives in the Bible? Asenath, Asenith and Osnat is a figure in the Book of Genesis (41:45, 41:50-52), an Egyptian woman whom Pharaoh gave to Joseph, son of Jacob, to be his wife.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, which names Joseph’s first wife as Salome, holds that Joseph was a widower and merely betrothed, but never married, to Mary, and that references to Jesus’ “brothers” are to children of Joseph and Salome.
The Gospel of Luke begins its account of Mary’s life with the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced her divine selection to be the mother of Jesus.