The 8th day of September is a red-letter day for the devotees. This is the feast of the birthday of our blessed mother Mary. Although not officially a holiday of obligation, many devotees flock to Baclaran and attend the masses, which makes it look like an ordinary Wednesday or Sunday. The Shrine is usually packed with devotees. The birthday of Mary even surpasses the solemnity of the Assumption and equals the solemnity of Immaculate Conception in attendance. After each mass, devotees heartily sing “Happy Birthday” to Mary. Many offer flowers to her icon and in the altar. This day is a happy day for many devotees as they share in the joy of the birth of Mary who is their intercessor and companion in the journey of life full of trials and tribulations.
There is no historical record of the birth of Mary. It might come as a surprise to many, however, that during the time of Mary, as in any other Mediterranean societies of ancient times, the birth of a girl is a non-event inasmuch as the birth of a boy is a call for a big feast and celebration. Mary lived in a society where women were regarded properties of men and second class citizens. Thus, it would not be farfetched to say that Mary never celebrated her own birthday during her lifetime. Besides, there is no such thing as a yearly celebration of one’s birthday during Mary’s time.
Today, however, birthdays have become a big deal. Could you imagine not celebrating your own birthday? This means that if you have no money or any food and drinks, you are so ashamed to let anyone know that it is your birthday lest you would incur the butt of teasing from everyone for not throwing a party or offering anything to nibble on.
As the story of our salvation goes, however, Mary was chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s Son into the world. God chose, of all the people, a poor, unknown and humble handmaid notwithstanding the domination of kings, powerful rulers, mighty warriors, wise judges, rich and influential people during her lifetime. Because of bearing God into the world, she was, indeed, “full of grace” and “blessed among all women/men.” God’s election of Mary which brought forth the savior in the world will be a cause of joy for all generations. This is the primary reason why we are celebrating today her birthday. This celebration is not so much about herself but about all the wonders and bountiful graces that God has done to her. Mary herself would proclaim this in her song of Magnificat,
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
In the liturgy on this day, the primary theme portrayed on this feast day is that the world had been in the darkness and with the arrival of Mary begins a glimmer of light. That light which appears at Mary’s holy birth pre-announces the arrival of Christ, the Light of the World. Her birth is the beginning of a better world. The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah at the Morning Prayer of this day expressed these sentiments in the following way:
“Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God,
proclaims joy to the whole world,
for from you arose the glorious Sun of Justice,
Christ our God;
He freed us from the age-old curse
and filled us with holiness;
he destroyed death and gave us eternal life.”
The birthday of Mary is a glimmer of light amidst the darkness and uncertainties that many devotees in Baclaran experienced everyday. By celebrating her birthday, devotees expressed their relentless hope and resilience that someday they would experience the real joy and peace in God’s abundant grace that they have aspired for so long.
Here is the schedule of masses at the Baclaran shrine for the feast of the nativity of Mary which is the same as Sunday’s schedule:
6:30 – Tagalog
8:00 – Tagalog
9:30 – English
11:00 – English
12:30 – Tagalog
2:30 – Tagalog
4:00 – Tagalog
5:30 – English
7:00 – English
Joey Echano, CSsR
(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)