On Sunday 8 September we celebrated the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As I listened attentively to the liturgical readings being read at Church, while celebrating the 7 am Mass at Mater Dei Chapel, I was really touched by the word joy. Yes indeed! The birth of the Virgin Mary brought about joy throughout the entire world. It is as if the whole creation was waiting for the coming of the Mother of God amongst us! As Psalm 13 joyfully proclaims: Though I trusted in your mercy, let my heart rejoice in your salvation. Let me sing of the Lord, “He has been good to me.”
It is obvious that this responsorial line reflected Mary’s life. She was full of joy because she submitted herself to the Father’s will. And this she did with great love and not out of obligation! Regarding this point I cannot not mention what St. Justin Martyr, in the second century, wrote about Mary in his work Dialogue with Trypho:
“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it unto me according to your word’” (Dialogue with Trypho, 100).
How powerful are Justin’s words when he affirms that “the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her”. Mary opened herself up to receive God’s two great gifts: faith and joy! No wonder why both gifts are mentioned by St. Paul himself in his letter to the Galatians, namely joy and faithfulness (Gal 5:22). But why Mary was so joyful?
In the liturgical readings of the day we encounter the responsorial line for Psalm 13, which is taken from Isaiah 61:10 which says: With delight I rejoice in the Lord. This simple verse keeps accentuating this joy theme that animates this special day for our faith. Mary is, in fact, our joy! Not because, as some erroneously think, she takes Christ’s place. Christ’s joy remains the source of Mary’s joy. It is interesting that the second reading, taken from the Office of Readings for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in other words the discourse by the bishop St. Andrew of Crete, spells this out very clearly: “This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed”.
However, in the following sentence St. Andrew adds: “This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages”. Thus, Mary is the prologue for Christ’s incarnation. She is the one who prepares for the Son of God’s eventual coming among us. Yet how she prepares his waiting? By faith filled with joy!
In her greeting and blessing Mary’s kinswoman, Elizabeth, clarifies this fact when she greets and blesses Mary with the Holy Spirit’s joy that Mary herself transmitted to her when she met her: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord (Luke 1:42-45).
Mary’s joy is contagious! Mary’s joy directly ministers to other persons’ hearts. First and foremost to the tiniest of people, babes! As a matter of fact, the babe John, who is in his mother’s womb Elizabeth, when meeting with Mary’s joyous spirit he leaps for joy. This interesting detail makes me appreciate more what we find written in Psalm 8 regarding the glory given to the Almighty Lord by babes and infants: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of babes and infants, thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger (Ps 8:1-2).
Yes! Mary is that babe and infant who welcomes the Lord’s most glorious power in her life. As she says in her Magnificat: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (Luke 1:46-48). Mary’s joy, which is intimately connected with her humility, made her the first one to live what Jesus presented as the essential condition for receiving God’s Kingdom in one’s heart. Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:3-4). And that simply means that Mary, after the Most Blessed Trinity, is the greatest in Heaven because she humbled herself like little children.
In his apostolic exhortation which talks on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis ends it by a special prayer dedicated to Mary. In this prayer we notice how her joy becomes an inspiration for real and fruitful evangelisation:
Filled with Christ’s presence, you brought joy to John the Baptist, making him exult in the womb of his mother. Brimming over with joy, you sang of the great things done by God. Standing at the foot of the cross with unyielding faith, you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection, and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit so that the evangelizing Church might be born. Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection, that we may bring to all the Gospel of life which triumphs over death. Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty may reach every man and woman” (no, 288).
Mary, help us to be filled with your joy, the joy of the Holy Spirit. Sustain us by your maternal prayer so that our joy could be seen on our faces. Encourage us to be confident and rest in this joy. Amen.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap