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Birth of Blessed Virgin Mary

The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Birth of Blessed Virgin Mary

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

8 September The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary White


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.

Post Communion

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.

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Image by Giotto – ~, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94599

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12 thoughts on “The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary”

    1. It is kind of nice, Peter, that you think the celebration of the Birth of Mary survived the English Reformation (along with, according to what you see as your source, Enurchus, Holy-Cross Day, Lambert, St. Cyprian, and St. Jerome). But, of course, none of those even got into the most catholic of the reformed BCPs, 1549. What you are looking at is an 1871 calendar revision, part of the nineteenth-century catholic renewal that I refer to in my post. It is not as if TEC removed the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary after that had survived the Reformation. They have simply never reinstated it. Blessings.

      1. It’s good to be reminded, Bosco, that most “1662” BCPs silently give us the 1871 lectionary revision. (Brian Cummings’s new edition in the Oxford World’s Classics series gives the original 1662 lectionary.) *However*, Peter is right.

        The 1549 and 1552 BCPs had only four “Black Letter” days. A very full provision of Black Letter days was first given in the Latin translation of the BCP published on Queen Elizabeth I’s authority in 1560, and intended for use in universities and by others who preferred to pray in Latin.

        A rather slimmer provision (but including Nativity of the BVM on September 8, and also her Conception on December 8) was imposed on the whole Church of England in the calendar revision of 1561, which was incorporated in subsequent printings of the 1559 BCP. The only later changes were the addition of Enurchus in 1604 and of Alban and Bede in 1662. So far as I am aware, the 1871 lectionary revision introduced no changes to the Black Letter days.

        Of course, there was no official way to *observe* any of these days liturgically, since they had no collects or proper lessons. In the preface to the English Hymnal, Percy Dearmer observed that “it is a common practice to sing a hymn as a memorial of such days”. I have found that a useful devotion in my own daily practice (after the third collect).

        What I find interesting is the determined omission of the Assumption/Dormition (August 15) in all Anglican calendars before the twentieth century. Unless one counts local almanacs, like the calendar of the University of Oxford. The summer was quite deliberately stripped of saints’ days to prevent interruption of agricultural labour, but the Black Letter days were not holidays: St Lawrence has a Black Letter day on August 10. I suppose that it was just too “Romish” (like St Thomas of Canterbury, the only other “double” feast of the Sarum calendar that didn’t make it into the 1561 calendar). But it wasn’t a very consistent approach. Mary’s conception was surely as theologically problematic as the end of her earthly life.


        F. E. Brightman, The English Rite, 2nd edn, 2 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1921) I, pp. clxxii-clxxiii, 113, 125

        Liturgies and Occasional Forms of Prayer Set Forth in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, ed. William Keatinge Clay, Parker Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1847), pp. 320, 322, 452, 455

        Francis Procter and Walter Howard Frere, A New History of the Book of Common Prayer (London: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 338-41

        1. Wow! Thanks, Jesse! I will alter the original post – so are you saying that TEC has removed the celebration of Mary’s birth which has been present since 1561? Why? Blessings.

          1. My pleasure! The 1789 American BCP removed all the Black Letter days, keeping only the Red Letters (i.e. those with propers). I assume this was inspired by the abortive revision of 1689, the so-called Liturgy of Comprehension, which was admired by the American revisers. There were also no Black Letter days in either of the subsequent American revisions (1892 and 1928).

            I really can’t imagine why Mary’s Nativity didn’t make it into the the 1979 American BCP. But that was the first American book to include what it calls “commemorations”, and it has loads of them.

            The difference in Canada is that we directly inherited the 1662 English BCP, without alteration. Our first local revision wasn’t until 1918. Because monarchy. 🙂

          2. Thanks, again, Jesse – this thread has become an excellent resource because of your input. Blessings.

  1. Dear Bosco
    One cannot rely on the internet these days.
    Actually one cannot rely on having a copy of the BCP published by the Cambridge University Press looking for all the world as though it is unchanged since 1662 🙂

    I stand corrected and will add to my complaints about all the changes the 19thC Anglo-Catholics brought into a once perfect church …

        1. Yes, Peter, in our ecclesia-semper-reformanda-est church, it appears that the catholic spine of Anglicanism was strong even in the sixteenth century. Blessings.

  2. ” the via media is not half-way between catholic and protestant – it is both catholic and protestant” I do enjoy this comment.

  3. This feast was, initially, the dedication of St Anne’s church in Nazareth.

    Besides Christ, two other persons have their nativity and conception in the calendar: Mary and John the Baptist.

    Feasting John’s nativity and conception gives us the good balance, which would make us avoid excess in marial devotions.

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