This Saturday the Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The days of the saints' deaths are normally commemorated. So why do we celebrate Mary's birthday – and what do swallows have to do with it??
Interviewer: Commemoration days and feasts of saints are usually their death anniversaries. Why do we celebrate Mary's birthday?
Jan Hendrik Stens (Liturgy Editor): That is correct. It is the case that the Roman liturgy knows exactly three birthdays that are celebrated. This is once John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, then the Blessed Mother and that of Jesus himself. Christmas, of course, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on 24. June and the Nativity of the Mother of God today, the 8. September. This is to highlight the importance of these three particular individuals. This also has something to do with their election.
Interviewer: And how did the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary come to be??
Stens: It probably has something to do with the consecration of the St.-Anna Church in Jerusalem to do. Anna is the mother of Mary, and this is the church that stands near Bethesda Pond. This is the place where Jesus did many miracles. It is believed that the house where Mary was born also stood near here. In the Eastern Church, this feast of the Nativity of Mary was already known in the sixth century, and in the West it was finally introduced at the end of the seventh century. It actually spread throughout the Catholic Church in the course of the High Middle Ages, that is, in the tenth and eleventh centuries.
Interviewer: A historical date is the 8. September certainly not. How does this date come about?
Stens: The connection is with the Solemnity of Mary "conceived without original sin", that is, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is celebrated exactly nine months before. Nine months ago we were still in another calendar year – that is on the 8th day of the year. December 2017. On the day we celebrate that Mary was conceived.
She was chosen to be the Mother of God at the very first moment of her existence, so this Solemnity is celebrated on the 8th of December. December also called the election of Mary.
Interviewer: This festival is also associated with customs, which is exactly what?
Stens: The main thing is that people associate this day with farming rules. There is for example the saying "Maria birth, fly the swallows furt" or also "Maria born, farmer would see your grain". One connects with it thus once the harvest. So, these are peasant rules that show that autumn is beginning and the harvest is coming in. The swallows head south in great flocks. This is a sure sign that we are now heading towards autumn in nature as well. This has little to do with the actual theological mystery of the feast, but the feasts and high festivals in the church year also have a secular signal in this respect.
The interview was conducted by Aurelia Rutters.