Today we celebrate the Birthday of our Blessed Mother according to the flesh. But the epistle just read, accommodating the Old Testament book of Wisdom to our Lady, speaks of her conception in the mind of God before all eternity. We read it today to remind ourselves that the Blessed Virgin figured prominently in God's plans, even before the fall of Adam and Eve. While He was putting the finishing touches on creation -- and probably before that -- God knew that men and women were frail creatures with a free will. He knew that we would sin, and that He would send His Son as our most necessary Redeemer. And in order to carry out this plan, God knew, even then, that He would fashion this most obedient and most perfect woman to be His Mother when the time was ripe.
We don't have a great deal of information about the early days of our Lady -- there is a little in the Gospels, and a little bit more in the early Christian writings that are not a part of Sacred Scripture. We are told that according to the Jewish calendar, she was born on the new moon of Tisri, the first month of the lunar year (the Church approximates this with September 8th). What would have already been a day of celebration would have been all the more so for Joachim and Anne, heretofore barren, who bore Mary in relative old age. We think that she was born in Galilee, but we know that some years later her parents would present her at the temple in Jerusalem, where she spent some time in serving the needs of Jewish worship.
The Gospel reading may seem a bit curious, for the genealogy is that of Saint Joseph and not that of Mary.2 Jewish custom recorded ancestry according to the paternal line, and Mary was the wife of Joseph, so his ancestors were legally hers and those of our Lord, even though Joseph was a foster father. Yet the Jewish custom of marrying within one's own tribe made it reasonably sure that Mary had also descended from the house of King David. Matthew and Luke both mention this because the Jews of the Old Testament knew that the Christ -- the anointed of the Lord -- would be a son of Abraham through the Kingly line of David. It had been promised to David that his sons would rule over the house of Israel forever. And that promise would one day be fulfilled in Jesus Christ -- Christ the King.
But even with two evangelists recording the origin of our Lord from David, we are left to wish that we had more precise information. We read in the scripture that after the Annunciation, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth -- the mother of John the Baptist, and the wife of the priest Zachary. And we know that the Jewish priesthood was hereditary -- Zachary and every other priest were from the tribe of Levi; and, more precisely, they were the sons and grandsons of Aaron the brother of Moses. We are not sure exactly how Mary had a cousin in the priestly tribe. -- the word we translate as "cousin" is a little vague -- "kinswoman" might be more appropriate; a cousin or a second cousin perhaps. But somehow Mary and Jesus of the house of King David also had blood relatives who were of the priesthood of Aaron.
We don't know that exact relationship, but it is entirely fitting. In the Old Testament, we encountered the priest-king Melchesidech, who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine on behalf of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. It is entirely fitting that the Christ of the Lord be both a king to rule and judge the world, and also a priest who could mediate between God and His people. We often speak of our Lord as Priest and King -- sometimes in art, the Christ on the crucifix is dressed in priestly vestments, with a golden crown upon His head.
There is another thing to be learned from this study of our Lord's relatives. Rather unexpectedly, Saint Matthew includes four women in the genealogy. I say "unexpectedly" because, you will remember that the Jewish people traced their legal ancestry through the male line. Normally, the names of the men's wives would not be included. "But wait," you might say, "these were women are in the genealogy of Kings -- perhaps they were important in their own right -- perhaps they were Queens who ruled in their own name."
But, no, it turns out that all four of them were foreigners; women from completely outside of any of the tribes of Israel -- and three of the four were of pretty questionable moral character. One of these three, Rahab, is a sort of minor heroine in Jewish history, but that is because she betrayed her own people when the Jews were planning to conquer Jericho. The only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that Matthew mentioned foreign women and sinners among the ancestors of our Lord in order to demonstrate that our Lord's destiny went beyond the people of the Jews, and that He came to save sinners as well as the just.
But today we celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, certainly the noblest woman of all of Abraham's numberless descendants, certainly no a sinner. Today we celebrate the birth of the "new Eve" who, in turn, would give birth to the "new Adam," so that the human race might start over again in sanctifying grace.
Let me close by reading something written many centuries ago in her honor by the great Cistercian abbot, St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
1. Epistle: Wisdom viii.
2. Gospel: Matthew i.
3. Lesson vii from Matins of Our Lady of the Rosary.