The Catholic Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8, nine months after the December 8 celebration of her Immaculate Conception as the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.
The life and times of Virgin Mary’s infancy and early life are however not directly recorded in the Bible, but other documents and traditions describing the circumstances of her birth are cited by some of the earliest Christian writers from the first centuries of the Church.
The annual church celebration is often closely connected to Monti Fest, a major festival among the Mangalorean Catholics in India which involves blessing of Novem – new crops.
“On this special day, the Catholic Church community members take the freshly grown paddy stalks or corns to their respective churches in a procession as an offering of the first bounty of nature to mother Mary. Special prayers are offered pleading the Holy Mother to keep the fertility of the nature for generations,” explains Basil Serrao, chairman of the Liturgy committee at Consolata shrine.
To keep up with the tradition, over 100 Christians mostly from the Indian community living in Kenya came together at the Consolata Shrine prayer garden in Westlands on Saturday the afternoon of September 10, with flowers and festive dresses to celebrate the birthday of Blessed Virgin Mary and for the Novem.
“Normally, the feast is expected to take place on September 8, the same day Blessed Virgin Mary was born but due to logistics we pushed it to September 10,” Basil the event organizer explained to The Seed.
The faithful carried bundles of the freshly harvested maize corns to the altar whereas children carrying flowers lined them neatly at the grotto of Blessed Virgin Mary before the prayer session begun.
The special Mass begun at 3pm with Fr Anto Thekkudan of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) as the main celebrant, assisted by Fr Paul Vilangappara from Missionaries of the Poor (MOP) and Fr Evans Mochama, assistant Parish priest at the Consolata shrine.
In his homily Fr Anto noted that the Feast of the Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary is not only about marking the celebration of the birthday of Mother Mary but also about bringing families together.
“Apart from the feast meant to mark the birth of mother Mary. It is also observed as the family feast since it brings family members closer when they take a family meal together in which the blessed maize corns is added,” said Fr Anto.
He notes that the number of faithful joining the celebrations has risen over time from just 30 people to over 100 since they begun the program in 2013.
“When we adopted Christianity we also came with our culture. Culturally we participate in the feast for nine consecutive Saturdays with novena prayers for mother Mary,” Basil told The Seed in an interview.
“We started the practice in 2013 with the novena prayers to mother Mary, during which period small children take special hymns meant for the occasion, especially for the showering of flowers,” he added.
“Anna, mother of Mary, was barren till she was very old. So, her first child is considered to be a journey from barrenness to first fruit. That is the rationale of celebrating Nativity also as a harvest or new corn festival,” he says.
The maize corns that had been brought for the celebrations were later given out to Christians, each member getting at least two cobs to carry home and share with the rest of the family members.
Dorina Osyanju, one of the participants and a lead singer during the event said that the celebration of Blessed Mother Mary was important since it connected her more to Christ.
“This is the second time I am participating in this feast of the birth of Blessed Mother Mary. Every time after receiving the Holy Communion I sing a Marian hymn it connects me to Jesus and I love it so much,” said Osyanju.
“The feast has been good especially the tradition of showering mother Mary with flowers. It has fulfilled my heart since mother Mary always intercedes in my prayers,” Osyanju told The Seed.
“We should all spread the gospel about Christ and also mention mother Mary in our prayers. We should always make sure that we pray for those who do not believe in Mother Mary’s intervention for our prayers,” she said.
There is no historical record on the birth of Mary. However, the Church believes that from the very moment of her conception she was totally free from sin and remained free of sin for her whole life.
The Churches both in the East in Constantinople and in the West in Rome have been celebrating Mary’s birth since the 6th and 7th centuries with the liturgy tracing the origins to the consecration of a church in Jerusalem, known as St Ann’s Basilica, in the 6th century.
The feast celebrating Mary’s conception without sin on December 8 was later set to correspond to nine months preceding Mary’s birth (just as the Annunciation precedes the Birth of Jesus by nine months).
The festival derives its name from the Monte Mariano Church at Farangipet in South Canara, and was initiated by Joachim Miranda, a Goan Catholic priest at Farangipet in 1763.
By Henry Onyango
THE SEED MAGAZINE