Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Blessed Virgin. This should strike us as slightly odd, given that, in nearly every other case, the Church celebrates a saint on the day of their exaltation to heavenly glory, not on the day of their birth. Other than Our Lord, there is only one other saint honored in this way - St. John the Baptist, the Lord's precursor. These two are singled out not only because of their virtues, but because of their unique and irreplaceable role in salvation history.
I recall, nearly four years ago, wandering through the streets of Jerusalem. My sister-in-law, who accompanied me to Israel, had taken the day off, exhausted from my dragging her all around the city the previous day, so I was alone. Somewhere just off the Via Dolorosa,
probably a stone's throw from the Dome of the Rock, I passed a stone archway which led down a dark stairwell. A squat, bearded Arab, gesturing erratically, summoned me to the archway, and I descended with him down an unlit and uneven stairwell. When we reached the bottom, I found myself in a damp basement, a rocky, dirt floor surrounded by four roughly-hewn stone walls, lit by a lone candle in the far corner. The man pointed around the room, and somehow managed to communicate (with only minimal English) that the place I was standing was the very spot in which the Blessed Virgin had entered the world, two millenia ago. I nodded in genuine appreciation, handed him the smallest coin in my possession, and ascended the stairs again. When I passed under the arch again, I noticed for the first time a set of words, barely visible, engraved above it, 'Birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary.'