In the mongrel/platypus phenomenon that is Anglicanism, the via media is not half-way between catholic and protestant – it is both catholic and protestant; protestant software running on catholic hardware. It is unsurprising, then, that a catholic celebration such as The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord has some, possibly hidden, controversial history within Anglicanism.
Obviously, Anglicanism came out of the Reformation having a denuded calendar [but see the comment below for clarification/correction]. But, through the nineteenth century catholic renewal, elements were restored. The English Proposed Book of Common Prayer of 1928 had, in its An Alternative Calendar (1928), on September 8, “Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The American 1928 revision, however (even though it was influenced by the English 1928), did not. New Zealand accepted some parts of the English 1928 Prayer Book – but not its calendar.
The earliest account that we have of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is in the second-century Protoevangelium of James (5:2), where Mary’s parents are Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.
Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (Nativity of the Theotokos), and Syrian Christians celebrate the birth on 8 September.
New Zealand Anglicans revised the calendar in 1972 – no sign, still, of the celebration. The 1980 revision The New Zealand Calendar, however, included it as a “Lesser Holy Day” (formerly known as Black Letter Days). When the film of our liturgical development comes out, we’ll get a clearer picture of the backroom battles between 1972 and 1980. Who should play whom?!
An Australian Prayer Book 1978 had it as “The birth of Mary, the Mother of the Lord”. It is a Festival and Greater Holy Day in An Alternative Service Book 1980 (CofE) called, simply, “The Blessed Virgin Mary”. The Episcopal Church (USA), however, continues its tradition of not acknowledging it – through BCP 1979, and even the wide-reaching Holy Women, Holy Men. Canada, often mimicking its southern sibling, however, does have “The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.
So, once you celebrate a birth, you soon might end up celebrating a conception! The Church of England does. Australia does. Canada does. BCP 1928 does. But NZ Anglicanism’s back-room arm-wrestling went part of the way, but couldn’t bring itself to do the Maths that others logically did.
And then there’s the title. For the protestant wing, “Blessed Virgin” is an emeritus title.
Common Worship – CofE
Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary:
grant that we, who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image
and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God most high,
whose handmaid bore the Word made flesh:
we thank you that in this sacrament of our redemption
you visit us with your Holy Spirit
and overshadow us by your power;
strengthen us to walk with Mary the joyful path of obedience
and so to bring forth the fruits of holiness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Image by Giotto – ~, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94599