The commemoration of the Birth or Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated in Christendom since at least the sixth century. The earliest document commemorating this feast in fact comes from the sixth century. St Romanus, the great ecclesiastical lyrist of the Greek Church, composed for it a hymn which is a poetical sketch of the apocryphal Gospel of St. James (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10712b.htm).
To us, the people of the Maltese islands, the 8th of September does not merely remind us of the birth of the Virgin. The eight day of September is special and reasonably so. It was on September 8, 1565, that the Ottoman forces of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Turkish Empire, left our islands after having besieged them for the period of about three months. It was on the 18th of May that the galleys of the Muslim Ottoman forces had been seen on the Maltese horizon and for the period that elapsed between their arrival and their departure, the Maltese and the Knights of St John went through a hellish nightmare that was to catch the attention of the French philosopher and writer Voltaire who remarked that “nothing is as well-known as the Siege of Malta””, because it marked the welcome beginning of the decline of the Ottoman powers in the Mediterranean.
It was also on the 8th of September that the Armistice of Cassibile was made public, between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allies during World War II. It was signed at a conference of generals from both sides in an Allied military camp at Cassibile in Sicily, which had recently been occupied by the Allies.
Considering the fact that our forebears have always had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is therefore no co-incidence that the 8th of September is a special day and a very dear one for all of us. If the 15th of August, the Solemnity of the Assumption into Heaven of the Virgin Mary known as Santa Marija is the greatest Marian feast of all, the 8th of September is most probably the dearest one in our collective memory, or at least, the one that instils in us still a sense of religious patriotism. So much for those who hold that Religio et Patria is but an adage that should be relegated to the pages of our history book, the commemoration of the Birth of the Virgin makes us aware that we have an identity we should be proud of and pass on to the future generations.
And in order to show that the day is still special and meaningful, one should keep in mind that the Maltese Episcopal Conference has made a petition to the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments asking for the 8th of September to be changed from the liturgical grade of ‘feast’ to a ‘solemnity’. The Congregation answered favourably and from this September 2019, il-festa tal-Bambina or tal-Vitorja will be celebrated as a Solemnity.
From the columns of our website, we would like to wish il-festa t-tajba to the communities of Senglea, Naxxar, Mellieħa and Xagħra. And since the Solemnity has a strong patriotic aspect to it, we would like to wish il-festa t-tajba tal-Vitorja to all the people of Malta and Gozo.