For centuries, Catholics have celebrated Mother Mary’s birthday on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. September 8 marks exactly nine months after December 8—the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. December 8 is not the day on which Mary conceived Christ, but in fact the day on which Mary herself was conceived by her mother, Anne.
Christians commonly celebrate the day which saints died, because that is when they entered into eternal life. And indeed, Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate the end of Mary’s life in the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
But we also mark three birthdays, and Mary’s is one of them. The other two are the births of Christ and Saint John the Baptist. The common thread tying these feasts together is that all three – Mary, Jesus, and Saint John – were born without Original Sin.
In earlier centuries, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated with greater fanfare; today, however, most Catholics probably don’t even realize that the Church has a special feast day set aside to celebrate it. Christ needed a mother, and Mary’s conception and birth, therefore, are events without which Christ’s own birth would have been impossible.
The Christians of the second century A.D. recorded the details of Mary’s birth in such documents as the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. While neither document bears the authority of Scripture, they provide us with everything that we know about the life of Mary before the Annunciation, including the names of Saint Mary’s parents, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne.
While the Protoevangelium is not Scripture, it does reflect the development of Christian piety. According to this account, Anne and Joachim are infertile but pray for a child. They receive the promise of a child that will advance God’s plan of salvation for the world. Such a story, like many biblical counterparts, stresses the special presence of God in Mary’s life from the beginning.