Karnataka Jesuits

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lovely lady dressed in blue teach me how to pray
God was just your little boy, And you know the way.

Can anyone know a child better than the mother? The poem depicts the close bond Mary shared with Jesus, her son and portrays her as the person who knows the way to Jesus. Mary, a first-century Galilean Jewish woman of Nazareth and the wife of Joseph, stands as one of the central figures in Christianity today. Her faithfulness and obedience to the divine will brought the promised saviour, Jesus, into the world. No wonder she is the only person apart from Jesus and John the Baptizer, whose earthly birthday is commemorated in the Church.

The feast of the Nativity marks the beginning of a new era in the salvific history, an era of fulfilment of the promises and prophesies of old. Mary, the mother who trusted the unseen, unthinkable future even when everything seemed lost, stands as a perfect model for human cooperation in the divine plan.

The feast that has entered the popular religiosity has its roots in the second century apocryphal text, Protoevangelium of James. Though it does not have much of a historical value, it reflects the development of Christian piety in the second century. According to this account the prayer of infertile Anna and Joachim is heard, and they were promised a child who will advance God’s plan of salvation for the world. The feast is celebrated nine months after the December 8 celebration of her Immaculate Conception as the child of Saints Joachim and Anne. St Augustine called her “a flower of the field, from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents, is changed.”

The feast is celebrated differently in different parts of the world. In some places it is more of a liturgical celebration alone; in some other places it is also combined with the harvest festival. The concept of thanksgiving for the good harvest is found in several cultures and in different parts of the world. In our State too this feast is celebrated variously in different ‘parts. There are places where the feast is a celebrated in a very grand or luxurious manner, more as a feast of the parish or shrine. The Marian Basilica at Shivajinagar is a typical example. In parts of Bangalore, Mangalore and in several other places it is seen more as a family feast as well, along with the thanksgiving for the good harvest.

Christianity, that initially emerged as a broken fraction from Judaism had celebrations and feasts parallel to Jewish feasts. The Jewish harvest festival, Sukkot, is one of the important feasts in Judaism. Sukkot or Festival of Ingathering is significant in two ways. According to the book of Exodus (34,22) it marks the end of the harvest time and thus of the agricultural year in the land of Israel. This points to the arrival of a new year, a new beginning. The book of Leviticus (23,42–43) provides further religious significance to the feast, as it is seen as a commemoration of the Exodus event and the dependence of the people of Israel on the will of God.

The celebration of the harvest festival or thanksgiving in certain parts of Karnataka involves offering of the new grains to the church for blessing. The festive meal, made of variety of vegetables begins by consuming the blessed new grains among the family members, a ceremony led by the head of the family, who also shares a few words of wisdom. The practice seems to have the echoes of the celebration of the Jewish Passover meal rather than mere Sukkot celebration, where year after year, the elder of the family reminds the members of the family of the mighty and wondrous acts of a faithful God in their history, who liberated them.

Does celebrating harvest and family feast on the Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary make sense? Just as the celebration of the harvest festival and its echoes into the Passover meal remind us of the mighty works of God in the human history, so does the life of blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1,46-55), reminds humanity yet again of the mighty deeds of God among his people. The birth of Mary was the first step in the direction of creating a new Israel, the new chosen people of the Kingdom, as promised. Mary was the pillar of strength for the Holy Family of Nazareth. She had a perfect family as Jesus, the promised savior, was part of her family. She cared for and stood by her Son against all odds and trusted in the divine word relentlessly, even when everything seemed lost. She not only bore Jesus but was also there at the birth of the church at the foot of the cross and at the Pentecost accompanying the terrified and lost disciples. The ability to ponder everything in her heart and to trust the impossible, unthinkable, sets Mary, the mother of Jesus, apart from ordinary humans. At the final moments of his life, Jesus gave his mother not only to his beloved disciple but also to all humanity as a mother,.

The land and the harvest have an inseparable bond. Just as a farmer awaits with hope for new life from the seed, Mary awaited at every moment of her life to see the will of God in and through her Son, Jesus. The ordinary girl from Galilee, whom God chose for his salvific mission, stands before us as an example of perfect discipleship. Truly Mary is the way to Jesus.

The feast brings back to my mind those nostalgic feelings of childhood. We ran after the festive mass and waited with joy for our share of the sugarcane, freely given from the parish. The sugarcane makes much more sense to me today than it once did. No matter how hard you crush it, even the last drop of its juice is sweet and only sweet. I believe sugarcane reminds us, no matter how hard we are tested or crushed, we must never lose hope and trust, just as was the case with our heavenly mother. Hope and trust are the very constituents of the followers of Jesus. We pray to Mary, the mother of God, to bless us and our families on this special occasion.

Lovely lady dressed in blue teach me how to pray
God was just your little boy, and you know the way.

Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue, was the poem by Mary Dixon Thayer that Archbishop Fulton Sheen often used in his homilies or lectures.

Rayan Joel Lobo is currently pursuing his Ph.D studies in Frankfurt, Germany after completing his
Licentiate in Biblicum Rome.
Write to him at: rayanjoelsj@gmail.com

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