Mary (Judeo-Aramaic: מרים, Maryām, from Hebrew Miriam, Greek Μαριαμ or
Μαρια, in Arabic Maryam), and called since medieval times Madonna (My Lady),
resident in Nazareth in Galilee, is known from the New Testament as the mother
of Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament describes her as a young maiden who
conceived by the agency of the Holy Spirit whilst she was already the betrothed
wife of Joseph of the House of David and awaiting their imminent formal
home-taking ceremony (the concluding Jewish wedding rite).
Christians generally maintain that she was a virgin at the point of conception
and at least until the birth of Jesus. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and
Oriental Orthodox Churches and some Protestant denominations also maintain that
Mary remained a virgin throughout the rest of her life.
The New Testament recounts her presence at important stages during her son's
adult life (e.g., at the Wedding at Cana and at his crucifixion). Also, she was
present at communal prayers immediately after Jesus' Ascension.
Narratives of her life are further elaborated in later Christian apocrypha, who
give the names of her parents as Joachim and Anne.
Christian churches teach various doctrines concerning Mary, and she is the
subject of much veneration. The area of Christian theology concerning her is
known as Mariology. The conception of her son Jesus is believed to have been an
act of the Holy Spirit, and to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that a virgin (or
young woman) would bear a son who would be called Immanuel ("God with us"). The
Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches venerate
her as the Ever-Virgin Mother of God (Theotokos), who was specially favoured by
God's grace (Catholics hold that she was conceived without original sin) and
who, when her earthly life had been completed, was assumed bodily into Heaven.
Some Protestants, including certain Anglicans, Methodists and Lutherans, embrace
veneration of Mary and also hold some of these doctrines. Others, especially in
the Reformed tradition, question or even condemn the devotional and doctrinal
position of Mary in the above traditions. Mary also holds a revered position in
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The Blessed Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, the mother of God.
In general, the theology and history of Mary the Mother of God follow the
chronological order of their respective sources, i.e. the Old Testament, the New
Testament, the early Christian and Jewish witnesses.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, the mother of God.
In general, the theology and history of Mary the Mother of God follow the chronological order of their respective sources, i.e. the Old Testament, the New Testament, the early Christian and Jewish witnesses.
I. MARY PROPHESIED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament refers to Our Blessed Lady both in its prophecies and its types or figures.
The first prophecy referring to Mary is found in the very opening chapters of the Book of Genesis (3:15): "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." This rendering appears to differ in two respects from the original Hebrew text:
(1) First, the Hebrew text employs the same verb for the two renderings "she shall crush" and "thou shalt lie in wait"; the Septuagint renders the verb both times by terein, to lie in wait; Aquila, Symmachus, the Syriac and the Samaritan translators, interpret the Hebrew verb by expressions which mean to crush, to bruise; the Itala renders the terein employed in the Septuagint by the Latin "servare", to guard; St. Jerome  maintains that the Hebrew verb has the meaning of "crushing" or "bruising" rather than of "lying in wait", "guarding". Still in his own work, which became the Latin Vulgate, the saint employs the verb "to crush" (conterere) in the first place, and "to lie in wait" (insidiari) in the second. Hence the punishment inflicted on the serpent and the serpent's retaliation are expressed by the same verb: but the wound of the serpent is mortal, since it affects his head, while the wound inflicted by the serpent is not mortal, being inflicted on the heel.
(2) The second point of difference between the Hebrew text and our version concerns the agent who is to inflict the mortal wound on the servant: our version agrees with the present Vulgate text in reading "she" (ipsa) which refers to the woman, while the Hebrew text reads hu' (autos, ipse) which refers to the seed of the woman. According to our version, and the Vulgate reading, the woman herself will win the victory; according to the Hebrew text, she will be victorious through her seed. In this sense does the Bull "Ineffabilis" ascribe the victory to Our Blessed Lady. The reading "she" (ipsa) is neither an intentional corruption of the original text, nor is it an accidental error; it is rather an explanatory version expressing explicitly the fact of Our Lady's part in the victory over the serpent, which is contained implicitly in the Hebrew original. The strength of the Christian tradition as to Mary's share in this victory may be inferred from the retention of "she" in St. Jerome's version in spite of his acquaintance with the original text and with the reading "he" (ipse) in the old Latin version.
As it is quite commonly admitted that the Divine judgment is directed not so much against the serpent as against the originator of sin, the seed of the serpent denotes the followers of the serpent, the "brood of vipers", the "generation of vipers", those whose father is the Devil, the children of evil, imitando, non nascendo (Augustine).  One may be tempted to understand the seed of the woman in a similar collective sense, embracing all who are born of God. But seed not only may denote a particular person, but has such a meaning usually, if the context allows it. St. Paul (Galatians 3:16) gives this explanation of the word "seed" as it occurs in the patriarchal promises: "To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He saith not, and to his seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to his seed, which is Christ". Finally the expression "the woman" in the clause "I will put enmities between thee and the woman" is a literal version of the Hebrew text. The Hebrew Grammar of Gesenius-Kautzsch  establishes the rule: Peculiar to the Hebrew is the use of the article in order to indicate a person or thing, not yet known and not yet to be more clearly described, either as present or as to be taken into account under the contextual conditions. Since our indefinite article serves this purpose, we may translate: "I will put enmities between you and a woman". Hence the prophecy promises a woman, Our Blessed Lady, who will be the enemy of the serpent to a marked degree; besides, the same woman will be victorious over the Devil, at least through her offspring. The completeness of the victory is emphasized by the contextual phrase "earth shall thou eat", which is according to Winckler  a common old-oriental expression denoting the deepest humiliation .
The second prophecy referring to Mary is found in Isaias 7:1-17. Critics have endeavoured to represent this passage as a combination of occurrences and sayings from the life of the prophet written down by an unknown hand . The credibility of the contents is not necessarily affected by this theory, since prophetic traditions may be recorded by any writer without losing their credibility. But even Duhm considers the theory as an apparent attempt on the part of the critics to find out what the readers are willing to bear patiently; he believes it is a real misfortune for criticism itself that it has found a mere compilation in a passage which so graphically describes the birth-hour of faith.
According to IV Kings 16:1-4, and II Paralipomenon 27:1-8, Achaz, who began his reign 736 B.C., openly professed idolatry, so that God gave him into the hands of the kings of Syria and Israel. It appears that an alliance had been concluded between Phacee, King of Israel, and Rasin, King of Damascus, for the purpose of opposing a barrier to the Assyrian aggressions. Achaz, who cherished Assyrian proclivities, did not join the coalition; the allies invaded his territory, intending to substitute for Achaz a more subservient ruler, a certain son of Tabeel. While Rasin was occupied in reconquering the maritime city Elath, Phacee alone proceeded against Juda, "but they could not prevail". After Elath had fallen, Rasin joined his forces with those of Phacee; "Syria hath rested upon Ephraim", whereupon "his (Achaz') heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind". Immediate preparations must be made for a protracted siege, and Achaz is busily engaged near the upper pool from which the city received the greater part of its water supply. Hence the Lord says to Isaias: "Go forth to meet Achaz. . .at the end of the conduit of the upper pool". The prophet's commission is of an extremely consoling nature: "See thou be quiet; hear not, and let not thy heart be afraid of the two tails of these firebrands". The scheme of the enemies shall not succeed: "it shall not stand, and this shall not be." What is to be the particular fate of the enemies?
Syria will gain nothing, it will remain as it has been in the past: "the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rasin".
Ephraim too will remain in the immediate future as it has been hitherto: "the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria the son of Romelia"; but after sixty-five years it will be destroyed, "within threescore and five years Ephraim shall cease to be a people".
Achaz had abandoned the Lord for Moloch, and put his trust in an alliance with Assyria; hence the conditional prophecy concerning Juda, "if you will not believe, you shall not continue". The test of belief follows immediately: "ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God, either unto the depth of hell or unto the height above". Achaz hypocritically answers: "I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord", thus refusing to express his belief in God, and preferring his Assyrian policy. The king prefers Assyria to God, and Assyria will come: "the Lord shall bring upon thee and upon thy people, and upon the house of thy father, days that have not come since the time of the separation of Ephraim from Juda with the king of the Assyrians." The house of David has been grievous not merely to men, but to God also by its unbelief; hence it "shall not continue", and, by an irony of Divine punishment, it will be destroyed by those very men whom it preferred to God.
Still the general Messianic promises made to the house of David cannot be frustrated: "The Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good. For before the child know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of the face of her two kings." Without answering a number of questions connected with the explanation of the prophecy, we must confine ourselves here to the bare proof that the virgin mentioned by the prophet is Mary the Mother of Christ. The argument is based on the premises that the prophet's virgin is the mother of Emmanuel, and that Emmanuel is Christ. The relation of the virgin to Emmanuel is clearly expressed in the inspired words; the same indicate also the identity of Emmanuel with the Christ.
The connection of Emmanuel with the extraordinary Divine sign which was to be given to Achaz predisposes one to see in the child more than a common boy. In 8:8, the prophet ascribes to him the ownership of the land of Juda: "the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Emmanuel". In 9:6, the government of the house of David is said to be upon his shoulders, and he is described as being endowed with more than human qualities: "a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to Come, and the Prince of Peace". Finally, the prophet calls Emmanuel "a rod out of the root of Jesse" endowed with "the spirit of the Lord. . .the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness"; his advent shall be followed by the general signs of the Messianic era, and the remnant of the chosen people shall be again the people of God (11:1-16).
Whatever obscurity or ambiguity there may be in the prophetic text itself is removed by St. Matthew (1:18-25). After narrating the doubt of St. Joseph and the angel's assurance, "that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost", the Evangelist proceeds: "now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel." We need not repeat the exposition of the passage given by Catholic commentators who answer the exceptions raised against the obvious meaning of the Evangelist. We may infer from all this that Mary is mentioned in the prophecy of Isaias as mother of Jesus Christ; in the light of St. Matthew's reference to the prophecy, we may add that the prophecy predicted also Mary's virginity untarnished by the conception of the Emmanuel .
A third prophecy referring to Our Blessed Lady is contained in Micheas 5:2-3: "And thou, Bethlehem, Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall be come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel, and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. Therefore will he give them up till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth, and the remnant of his brethren shall be converted to the children of Israel." Though the prophet (about 750-660 B.C.) was a contemporary of Isaias, his prophetic activity began a little later and ended a little earlier than that of Isaias. There can be no doubt that the Jews regarded the foregoing prediction as referring to the Messias. According to St. Matthew (2:6) the chief priests and scribes, when asked where the Messias was to be born, answered Herod in the words of the prophecy, "And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda. . ." According to St. John (7:42), the Jewish populace gathered at Jerusalem for the celebration of the feast asked the rhetorical question: "Doth not the Scripture say that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the town where David was?" The Chaldee paraphrase of Mich. 5:2, confirms the same view: "Out of thee shall come forth unto me the Messias, that he may exercise dominion in Israel". The very words of the prophecy admit of hardly any other explanation; for "his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity".
But how does the prophecy refer to the Virgin Mary? Our Blessed Lady is denoted by the phrase, "till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth". It is true that "she that travaileth" has been referred to the Church (St. Jerome, Theodoret), or to the collection of the Gentiles united with Christ (Ribera, Mariana), or again to Babylon (Calmet); but, on the one hand, there is hardly a sufficient connection between any of these events and the promised redeemer, on the other hand, the passage ought to read "till the time wherein she that is barren shall bring forth" if any of these events were referred to by the prophet. Nor can "she that travaileth" be referred to Sion: Sion is spoken of without figure before and after the present passage so that we cannot expect the prophet to lapse suddenly into figurative language. Moreover, the prophecy thus explained would not give a satisfactory sense. The contextual phrases "the ruler in Israel", "his going forth", which in Hebrew implies birth, and "his brethren" denote an individual, not a nation; hence we infer that the bringing forth must refer to the same person. It has been shown that the person of the ruler is the Messias; hence "she that travaileth" must denote the mother of Christ, or Our Blessed Lady. Thus explained the whole passage becomes clear: the Messias must be born in Bethlehem, an insignificant village in Juda: his family must be reduced to poverty and obscurity before the time of his birth; as this cannot happen if the theocracy remains intact, if David's house continues to flourish, "therefore will he give them up till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth" the Messias. 
A fourth prophecy referring to Mary is found in Jeremias 21:22; "The Lord has created a new thing upon the earth: A woman shall compass a man". The text of the prophet Jeremias offers no small difficulties for the scientific interpreter; we shall follow the Vulgate version of the Hebrew original. But even this rendering has been explained in several different ways: Rosenmuller and several conservative Protestant interpreters defend the meaning, "a woman shall protect a man"; but such a motive would hardly induce the men of Israel to return to God. The explanation "a woman shall seek a man" hardly agrees with the text; besides, such an inversion of the natural order is presented in Isaias 4:1, as a sign of the greatest calamity. Ewald's rendering, "a woman shall change into a man", is hardly faithful to the original text. Other commentators see in the woman a type of the Synagogue or of the Church, in man the type of God, so that they explain the prophecy as meaning, "God will dwell again in the midst of the Synagogue (of the people of Israel)" or "the Church will protect the earth with its valiant men". But the Hebrew text hardly suggests such a meaning; besides, such an explanation renders the passage tautological: "Israel shall return to its God, for Israel will love its God". Some recent writers render the Hebrew original: "God creates a new thing upon the earth: the woman (wife) returns to the man (her husband)". According to the old law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Jeremias 3:1) the husband could not take back the wife once repudiated by him; but the Lord will do something new by allowing the faithless wife, i.e. the guilty nation, to return to the friendship of God. This explanation rests upon a conjectural correction of the text; besides, it does not necessarily bear the Messianic meaning which we expect in the passage.
The Greek Fathers generally follow the Septuagint version, "The Lord has created salvation in a new plantation, men shall go about in safety"; but St. Athanasius twice  combines Aquila's version "God has created a new thing in woman" with that of the Septuagint, saying that the new plantation is Jesus Christ, and that the new thing created in woman is the body of the Lord, conceived within the virgin without the co-operation of man. St. Jerome too  understands the prophetic text of the virgin conceiving the Messias. This meaning of the passage satisfies the text and the context. As the Word Incarnate possessed from the first moment of His conception all His perfections excepting those connected with His bodily development, His mother is rightly said to "compass a man". No need to point out that such a condition of a newly conceived child is rightly called "a new thing upon earth". The context of the prophecy describes after a short general introduction (30:1-3) Israel's future freedom and restoration in four stanzas: 30:4-11, 12-22; 30:23; 31:14, 15-26; the first three stanzas end with the hope of the Messianic time. The fourth stanza, too, must be expected to have a similar ending. Moreover, the prophecy of Jeremias, uttered about 589 B.C. and understood in the sense just explained, agrees with the contemporary Messianic expectations based on Isaias 7:14; 9:6; Mich. 5:3. According to Jeremias, the mother of Christ is to differ from other mothers in this, that her child, even while within her womb, shall possess all those properties which constitute real manhood . The Old Testament refers indirectly to Mary in those prophecies which predict the incarnation of the Word of God.
II. OLD TESTAMENT TYPES AND FIGURES OF MARY
In order to be sure of the typical sense, it must be revealed, i.e. it must come down to us through Scripture or tradition. Individual pious writers have developed copious analogies between certain data of the Old Testament and corresponding data of the New; however ingenious these developments may be, they do not prove that God really intended to convey the corresponding truths in the inspired text of the Old Testament. On the other hand, it must be kept in mind that not all truths contained in either Scripture or tradition have been explicitly proposed to the faithful as matters of belief by the explicit definition of the Church. According to the principle "Lex orandi est lex credenti" we must treat at least with reverence the numberless suggestions contained in the official prayers and liturgies of the Church. In this sense we must regard many of the titles bestowed on Our Blessed Lady in her litany and in the "Ave maris stella". The Antiphons and Responses found in the Offices recited on the various feasts of Our Blessed Lady suggest a number of types of Mary that hardly could have been brought so vividly to the notice of the Church's ministers in any other way. The third antiphon of Lauds of the Feast of the Circumcision sees in "the bush that was not burnt" (Exodus 3:2) a figure of Mary conceiving her Son without the loss of her virginity. The second antiphon of Lauds of the same Office sees in Gideon's fleece wet with dew while all the ground beside had remained dry (Judges 6:37-38) a type of Mary receiving in her womb the Word Incarnate . The Office of the Blessed Virgin applies to Mary many passages concerning the spouse in the Canticle of Canticles  and also concerning Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, 8:22-31 . The application to Mary of a "garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up" mentioned in Canticles 4:12 is only a particular instance of what has been said above.  Besides, Sara, Debbora, Judith, and Esther are variously used as figures of Mary; the ark of the Covenant, over which the presence of God manifested itself, is used as the figure of Mary carrying God Incarnate within her womb. But especially Eve, the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20), is considered as a type of Mary who is the mother of all the living in the order of grace .
III. MARY IN THE GOSPELS
The reader of the Gospels is at first surprised to find so little about Mary; but this obscurity of Mary in the Gospels has been studied at length by Blessed Peter Canisius , Auguste Nicolas , Cardinal Newman , and Very Rev. J. Spencer Northcote . In the commentary on the "Magnificat", published 1518, even Luther expresses the belief that the Gospels praise Mary sufficiently by calling her (eight times) the Mother of Jesus. In the following paragraphs we shall briefly group together what we know of Our Blessed Lady's life before the birth of her Divine Son, during the hidden life of Our Lord, during His public life and after His resurrection.
Mary's Davidic ancestry
St. Luke (2:4) says that St. Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be enrolled, "because he was of the house and Family of David". As if to exclude all doubt concerning the Davidic descent of Mary, the Evangelist (1:32, 69) states that the child born of Mary without the intervention of man shall be given "the throne of David His father", and that the Lord God has "raised up an horn of salvation to us in the house of David his servant".  St. Paul too testifies that Jesus Christ "was made to him [God] of the seed of David, according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3). If Mary were not of Davidic descent, her Son conceived by the Holy Ghost could not be said to be "of the seed of David". Hence commentators tell us that in the text "in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God. . .to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David" (Luke 1:26-27); the last clause "of the house of David" does not refer to Joseph, but to the virgin who is the principal person in the narrative; thus we have a direct inspired testimony to Mary's Davidic descent. 
While commentators generally agree that the genealogy found at the beginning of the first Gospel is that of St. Joseph, Annius of Viterbo proposes the opinion, already alluded to by St. Augustine, that St. Luke's genealogy gives the pedigree of Mary. The text of the third Gospel (3:23) may be explained so as to make Heli the father of Mary: "Jesus. . .being the son (as it was supposed of Joseph) of Heli", or "Jesus. . .being the son of Joseph, as it was supposed, the son of Heli" (Lightfoot, Bengel, etc.), or again "Jesus. . .being as it was supposed the son of Joseph, who was [the son-in-law] of Heli" . In these explanations the name of Mary is not mentioned explicitly, but it is implied; for Jesus is the Son of Heli through Mary.
Though few commentators adhere to this view of St. Luke's genealogy, the name of Mary's father, Heli, agrees with the name given to Or Lady's father in a tradition founded upon the report of the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal Gospel which dates from the end of the second century. According to this document the parents of Mary are Joachim and Anna. Now, the name Joachim is only a variation of Heli or Eliachim, substituting one Divine name (Yahweh) for the other (Eli, Elohim). The tradition as to the parents of Mary, found in the Gospel of James, is reproduced by St. John Damascene , St. Gregory of Nyssa , St. Germanus of Constantinople , pseudo-Epiphan. , pseudo-Hilar. , and St. Fulbert of Chartres . Some of these writers add that the birth of Mary was obtained by the fervent prayers of Joachim and Anna in their advanced age. As Joachim belonged to the royal family of David, so Anna is supposed to have been a descendant of the priestly family of Aaron; thus Christ the Eternal King and Priest sprang from both a royal and priestly family .
The hometown of Mary's parents
According to Luke 1:26, Mary lived in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, at the time of the Annunciation. A certain tradition maintains that she was conceived and born in the same house in which the Word became flesh . Another tradition based on the Gospel of James regards Sephoris as the earliest home of Joachim and Anna, though they are said to have lived later on in Jerusalem, in a house called by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem  Probatica. Probatica, a name probably derived from the sanctuary's nearness to the pond called Probatica or Bethsaida in John 5:2. It was here that Mary was born. About a century later, about A.D. 750, St. John Damascene  repeats the statement that Mary was born in the Probatica.
It is said that, as early as in the fifth century the empress Eudoxia built a church over the place where Mary was born, and where her parents lived in their old age. The present Church of St. Anna stands at a distance of only about 100 Feet from the pool Probatica. In 1889, 18 March, was discovered the crypt which encloses the supposed burying-place of St. Anna. Probably this place was originally a garden in which both Joachim and Anna were laid to rest. At their time it was still outside of the city walls, about 400 feet north of the Temple. Another crypt near St. Anna's tomb is the supposed birthplace of the Blessed Virgin; hence it is that in early times the church was called St. Mary of the Nativity . In the Cedron Valley, near the road leading to the Church of the Assumption, is a little sanctuary containing two altars which are said to stand over the burying-places of Sts. Joachim and Anna; but these graves belong to the time of the Crusades . In Sephoris too the Crusaders replaced by a large church an ancient sanctuary which stood over the legendary house of Sts. Joachim and Anna. After 1788 part of this church was restored by the Franciscan Fathers.
Her Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady has been treated in a special article.
The birth of Mary
As to the place of the birth of Our Blessed Lady, there are three different traditions to be considered.
First, the event has been placed in Bethlehem. This opinion rests on the authority of the following witnesses: it is expressed in a writing entitled "De nativ. S. Mariae"  inserted after the works of St. Jerome; it is more or less vaguely supposed by the Pilgrim of Piacenza, erroneously called Antoninus Martyr, who wrote about A.D. 580 ; finally the popes Paul II (1471), Julius II (1507), Leo X (1519), Paul III (1535), Pius IV (1565), Sixtus V (1586), and Innocent XII (1698) in their Bulls concerning the Holy House of Loreto say that the Blessed Virgin was born, educated, and greeted by the angel in the Holy House. But these pontiffs hardly wish to decide an historical question; they merely express the opinion of their respective times.
A second tradition placed the birth of Our Blessed Lady in Sephoris, about three miles north of Bethlehem, the Roman Diocaesarea, and the residence of Herod Antipas till late in the life of Our Lord. The antiquity of this opinion may be inferred from the fact that under Constantine a church was erected in Sephoris to commemorate the residence of Joachim and Anna in that place . St. Epiphanius speaks of this sanctuary . But this merely shows that Our Blessed Lady may have lived in Sephoris for a time with her parents, without forcing us to believe that she had been born there.
The third tradition, that Mary was born in Jerusalem, is the most probable one. We have seen that it rests upon the testimony of St. Sophronius, St. John Damascene, and upon the evidence of the recent finds in the Probatica. The Feast of Our Lady's Nativity was not celebrated in Rome till toward the end of the seventh century; but two sermons found among the writings of St. Andrew of Crete (d. 680) suppose the existence of this feat, and lead one to suspect that it was introduced at an earlier date into some other churches . In 799 the 10th canon of the Synod of Salzburg prescribes four feasts in honor of the Mother of God: the Purification, 2 February; the Annunciation, 25 March; the Assumption, 15 August; the Nativity, 8 September.
The Presentation of Mary
According to Exodus 13:2 and 13:12, all the Hebrew first-born male children had to be presented in the Temple. Such a law would lead pious Jewish parents to observe the same religious rite with regard to other favourite children. This inclines one to believe that Joachim and Anna presented in the Temple their child, which they had obtained by their long, fervent prayers.
As to Mary, St. Luke (1:34) tells us that she answered the angel announcing the birth of Jesus Christ: "how shall this be done, because I know not man". These words can hardly be understood, unless we assume that Mary had made a vow of virginity; for, when she spoke them, she was betrothed to St. Joseph.  The most opportune occasion for such a vow was her presentation in the Temple. As some of the Fathers admit that the faculties of St. John the Baptist were prematurely developed by a special intervention of God's power, we may admit a similar grace for the child of Joachim and Anna. 
But what has been said does not exceed the certainty of antecedently probable pious conjectures. The consideration that Our Lord could not have refused His Blessed Mother any favours which depended merely on His munificence does not exceed the value of an a priori argument. Certainty in this question must depend on external testimony and the teaching of the Church.
Now, the Protoevangelium of James (7-8), and the writing entitled "De nativit. Mariae" (7-8),  state that Joachim and Anna, faithful to a vow they had made, presented the child Mary in the Temple when she was three years old; that the child herself mounted the Temple steps, and that she made her vow of virginity on this occasion. St. Gregory of Nyssa  and St. Germanus of Constantinople  adopt this report; it is also followed by pseudo-Gregory of Naz. in his "Christus patiens".  Moreover, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation, though it does not specify at what age the child Mary was presented in the Temple, when she made her vow of virginity, and what were the special natural and supernatural gifts with which God endowed her. The feast is mentioned for the first time in a document of Manuel Commenus, in 1166; from Constantinople the feast must have been introduced into the western Church, where we find it at the papal court at Avignon in 1371; about a century later, Pope Sixtus IV introduced the Office of the Presentation, and in 1585 Pope Sixtus V extended the Feast of the Presentation to the whole Church.
Her betrothal to Joseph
The apocryphal writings to which we referred in the last paragraph state that Mary remained in the Temple after her presentation in order to be educated with other Jewish children. There she enjoyed ecstatic visions and daily visits of the holy angels.
When she was fourteen, the high priest wished to send her home for marriage. Mary reminded him of her vow of virginity, and in his embarrassment the high priest consulted the Lord. Then he called all the young men of the family of David, and promised Mary in marriage to him whose rod should sprout and become the resting place of the Holy Ghost in form of a dove. It was Joseph who was privileged in this extraordinary way.
We have already seen that St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Germanus of Constantinople, and pseudo-Gregory Nazianzen seem to adopt these legends. Besides, the emperor Justinian allowed a basilica to be built on the platform of the former Temple in memory of Our Lady's stay in the sanctuary; the church was called the New St. Mary's so as to distinguish it from the Church of the Nativity. It seems to be the modern mosque el-Aksa. 
On the other hand, the Church is silent as to Mary's stay in the Temple. St. Ambrose , describing Mary's life before the Annunciation, supposes expressly that she lived in the house of her parents. All the descriptions of the Jewish Temple which can claim any scientific value leave us in ignorance as to any localities in which young girls might have been educated. Joas's stay in the Temple till the age of seven does not favour the supposition that young girls were educated within the sacred precincts; for Joas was king, and was forced by circumstances to remain in the Temple (cf. IV Kings 11:3). What II Machabees 3:19, says about "the virgins also that were shut up" does not show that any of them were kept in the Temple buildings. If the prophetess Anna is said (Luke 2:37) not to have "departed from the temple, by fastings and prayer serving night and day", we do not suppose that she actually lived in one of he temple rooms.  As the house of Joachim and Anna was not far distant from the Temple, we may supposed that the holy child Mary was often allowed to visit the sacred buildings in order to satisfy her devotion.
Jewish maidens were considered marriageable at the age of twelve years and six months, though the actual age of the bride varied with circumstances. The marriage was preceded by the betrothal, after which the bride legally belonged to the bridegroom, though she did not live with him till about a year later, when the marriage used to be celebrated. All this agrees well with the language of the Evangelists. St. Luke (1:27) calls Mary "a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph"; St. Matthew (1:18) says, when as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost". As we know of no brother of Mary, we must suppose that she was an heiress, and was obliged by the law of Numbers 36:6 to marry a member of her tribe. The Law itself prohibited marriage within certain degrees of relationship, so that the marriage of even an heiress was left more or less to choice.
According to Jewish custom, the union between Joseph and Mary had to be arranged by the parents of St. Joseph. One might ask why Mary consented to her betrothal, though she was bound by her vow of virginity. As she had obeyed God's inspiration in making her vow, so she obeyed God's inspiration in becoming the affianced bride of Joseph. Besides, it would have been singular among the Jews to refuse betrothal or marriage; for all the Jewish maidens aspired after marriage as the accomplishment of a natural duty. Mary trusted the Divine guidance implicitly, and thus was certain that her vow would be kept even in her married state.
The Annunciation has been treated in a special article.
According to Luke 1:36, the angel Gabriel told Mary at the time of the annunciation, "behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren". Without doubting the truth of the angel's words, Mary determined at once to add to the pleasure of her pious relative.  Hence the Evangelist continues (1:39): "And Mary, rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth." Though Mary must have told Joseph of her intended visit, it is hard to determine whether he accompanied her; if the time of the journey happened to coincide with one of the festal seasons at which the Israelites had to go to the Temple, there would be little difficulty about companionship.
The place of Elizabeth's home has been variously located by different writers: it has been placed in Machaerus, over ten miles east of the Dead Sea, or in Hebron, or again in the ancient sacerdotal city of Jutta, about seven miles south of Hebron, or finally in Ain-Karim, the traditional St. John-in-the Mountain, nearly four miles west of Jerusalem.  But the first three places possess no traditional memorial of the birth or life of St. John; besides, Machaerus was not situated in the mountains of Juda; Hebron and Jutta belonged after the Babylonian captivity to Idumea, while Ain-Karim lies in the "hill country"  mentioned in the inspired text of St. Luke.
After her journey of about thirty hours, Mary "entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth" (Luke 1:40). According to tradition, Elizabeth lived at the time of the visitation not in her city home, but in her villa, about ten minutes distant from the city; formerly this place was marked by an upper and lower church. In 1861 the present small Church of the Visitation was erected on the ancient foundations.
"And it came to pass that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb." It was at this moment that God fulfilled the promise made by the angel to Zachary (Luke 1:15), "and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb"; in other words, the infant in Elizabeth's womb was cleansed from the stain of original sin. The fullness of the Holy Ghost in the infant overflowed, as it were, into the soul of his mother: "and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost" (Luke 1:41). Thus both child and mother were sanctified by the presence of Mary and the Word Incarnate ; filled as she was with the Holy Ghost, Elizabeth "cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord" (Luke 1:42-45). Leaving to commentators the full explanation of the preceding passage, we draw attention only to two points:
Elizabeth begins her greeting with the words with which the angel had finished his salutation, thus showing that both spoke in the same Holy Spirit;
Elizabeth is the first to call Mary by her most honourable title "Mother of God".
Mary's answer is the canticle of praise commonly called "Magnificat" from the first word of its Latin text; the "Magnificat" has been treated in a separate article.
The Evangelist closes his account of the Visitation with the words: "And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house" (Luke 1:56). Many see in this brief statement of the third gospel an implied hint that Mary remained in the house of Zachary till the birth of John the Baptist, while others deny such an implication. As the Feast of the Visitation was placed by the 43rd canon of the Council of Basle (A.D. 1441) on 2 July, the day following the Octave of the Feast of St. John Baptist, it has been inferred that Mary may have remained with Elizabeth until after the child's circumcision; but there is no further proof for this supposition. Though the visitation is so accurately described in the third Gospel, its feast does not appear to have been kept till the thirteenth century, when it was introduced through the influence of the Franciscans; in 1389 it was officially instituted by Urban VI.
Mary's pregnancy becomes known to Joseph
After her return from Elizabeth, Mary "was found with child, of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 1:18). As among the Jews, betrothal was a real marriage, the use of marriage after the time of espousals presented nothing unusual among them. Hence Mary's pregnancy could not astonish anyone except St. Joseph. As he did not know the mystery of the Incarnation, the situation must have been extremely painful both to him and to Mary. The Evangelist says: "Whereupon Joseph her husband being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately" (Matthew 1:19). Mary left the solution of the difficulty to God, and God informed the perplexed spouse in His own time of the true condition of Mary. While Joseph "thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21).
Not long after this revelation, Joseph concluded the ritual marriage contract with Mary. The Gospel simply says: "Joseph rising up from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife" (Matthew 1:24). While it is certain that between the betrothal and the marriage at least three months must have elapsed, during which Mary stayed with Elizabeth, it is impossible to determine the exact length of time between the two ceremonies. We do not know how long after the betrothal the angel announced to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation, nor do we know how long the doubt of Joseph lasted, before he was enlightened by the visit of the angel. From the age at which Hebrew maidens became marriageable, it is possible that Mary gave birth to her Son when she was about thirteen or fourteen years of age. No historical document tells us how old she actually was at the time of the Nativity.
The journey to Bethlehem
St. Luke (2:1-5) explains how Joseph and Mary journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem in obedience to a decree of Caesar Augustus which prescribed a general enrolment. The questions connected with this decree have been considered in the article BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY. There are various reasons why Mary should have accompanied Joseph on this journey; she may not wished to lose Joseph's protection during the critical time of her pregnancy, or she may have followed a special Divine inspiration impelling her to go in order to fulfil the prophecies concerning her Divine Son, or again she may have been compelled to go by the civil law either as an heiress or to settle the personal tax payable by women over twelve years of age. 
As the enrolment had brought a multitude of strangers to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph found no room in the caravansary and had to take lodging in a grotto which served as a shelter for animals. 
Mary gives birth to Our Lord
"And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered" (Luke 2:6); this language leaves it uncertain whether the birth of Our Lord took place immediately after Joseph and Mary had taken lodging in the grotto, or several days later. What is said about the shepherds "keeping the night watches over their flock" (Luke 2:8) shows that Christ was born in the night time.
After bringing forth her Son, Mary "wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger" (Luke 2:7), a sign that she did not suffer from the pain and weakness of childbirth. This inference agrees with the teaching of some of the principal Fathers and theologians: St. Ambrose , St. Gregory of Nyssa , St. John Damascene , the author of Christus patiens , St. Thomas , etc. It was not becoming that the mother of God should be subject to the punishment pronounced in Genesis 3:16, against Eve and her sinful daughters.
Shortly after the birth of the child, the shepherds, obedient to the angelic invitation, arrived in the grotto, "and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger" (Luke 2:16). We may suppose that the shepherds spread the glad tidings they had received during the night among their friends in Bethlehem, and that the Holy Family was received by one of its pious inhabitants into more suitable lodgings.
The Circumcision of Our Lord
"And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus" (Luke 2:21). The rite of circumcision was performed either in the synagogue or in the home of the Child; it is impossible to determine where Our Lord's Circumcision took place. At any rate, His Blessed Mother must have been present at the ceremony.
According to the law of Leviticus 12:2-8, the Jewish mother of a male child had to present herself forty days after his birth for legal purification; according to Exodus 13:2, and Numbers 18:15, the first born son had to be presented on the same occasion. Whatever reasons Mary and the Infant might have for claiming an exemption, they complied with the law. But, instead of offering a lamb, they presented the sacrifice of the poor, consisting of a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons. In II Corinthians 8:9, St. Paul informs the Corinthians that Jesus Christ "being rich. . .became poor, for your sakes, that through his poverty you might be rich". Even more acceptable to God than Mary's poverty was the readiness with which she surrendered her Divine Son to the good pleasure of His Heavenly Father.
After the ceremonial rites had been complied with, holy Simeon took the Child in his arms, and thanked God for the fulfilment of his promises; he drew attention to the universality of the salvation that was to come through Messianic redemption "prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:31 sq.). Mary and Joseph now began
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