Solemnity Of Mary, Mother Of God
I guess the words that we spontaneously say today are “Happy New Year.” And I guess many people come to church today to begin this new year by celebrating Mass, just as millions of Japanese visit temples or shrines today.
When I was a child, January 1 was called the “Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus.” And, sure enough, today’s gospel still refers to that event: “When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception” (Lk 2:21). I wonder how many mothers in former times dreaded the question, “Mommy, what’s circumcision?” The answer was probably, “That’s when they gave the baby its name.” And, like the gospel passage said, that’s what they did: “They gave him the name Jesus.”
In 1960 Pope St John XXIII changed the liturgical name to “Octave of Christmas.”. An octave is an 8-day extension of a feast that helps us continue to profit from the celebration for a whole week. It was Pope St Paul VI who changed the title of this day’s celebration to the “Solemnity of the Mother of God.” On February 2, 1964, he issued a papal brief in which he speaks as follows:
The restored Solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God, placed on January 1 in conformity with the ancient … liturgy of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in the mystery of salvation.
It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (singing “Glory on high and Peace on earth”), and for imploring the supreme gift of peace from God, through the Queen of Peace. It is for this reason that, in the happy concurrence of the Octave of Christmas and the first day of the year, we have established the World Day of Peace.
So there you have it: the naming of Jesus on the octave day of Christmas, the first day of the year, and the World Day of Peace all coming together on this one day, now called the Solemnity of the Mother of God. “Mother of God” was the title given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in order to protect and proclaim the Church’s belief that Mary is the mother of Jesus, who is one Person, both God and man. As the second reading today reminded us, “When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons. The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries: Abba, Father.”
Just as we can now call God our “Father,” so we can call Mary our “Mother.” Jesus told us to do so when he said to his disciple at the foot of the cross: “Son, behold your Mother” just after telling Mary: “Mother, behold your son.”
But it all started much earlier than that for Mary. It began when she said “yes” to the angel’s announcement that she was to be the Mother of God’s Son. But this was such a profoundly unfathomable happening that she had to ponder it quietly and repeatedly over the years. Many things happen to us, too, and sometimes it’s difficult to see God at work for us in them. So we ruminate on them and try to find out how we are being led by God.
As you look back over the past year, think of the good things you experienced—the good friends you have, the favorable opportunities that came your way. But think also of the hard times—failures, lack of understanding, the times someone offended you or you offended others. In all these lights and shadows, the hand of God was there, guiding you to become a better person. You didn’t realize it at the time. In fact, you found it difficult to bear. You look back on it now with regret for the bad experiences and joy for the blessings that came your way through all the ups and downs of the past year, and like our Mother Mary we say, “Be it done to me according to your will,” and we ask her to teach us how to call God “Abba, Father.”
With the first reading I repeat, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”—a peace for the whole world on this World Day of Peace. And let’s look forward to the good things this year will bring.
Robert Chiesa, SJ