Everyone knows what January 1st is, right? It’s New Year’s Day, of course – the day the new year begins, the day after the parties, dancing, drinking, and revelry took place signaling that new year. It’s the day to start our resolutions and ponder our dreams. For many, it’s a day of football games and snack foods. If all of those things came to your mind when I mentioned January 1st, then you would be correct.
But, did the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God come to your mind? Perhaps or perhaps not. This important Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church can easily slip past us among the New Year festivities and their aftermath. Here are some things we should know and reflect upon concerning January 1st.
A solemnity is a liturgical celebration that is different from feast days and memorials. All three honor the Saints or special aspects of Jesus and Mary, but solemnities are the highest degree of celebration and are reserved for the most important mysteries of the Faith. Some solemnities are also holy days of obligation but these vary from country to country according to the standards set by the bishops’ conferences. In the United States, January 1 is a holy day of obligation.
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is celebrated on the Octave of Christmas. Octave comes from the Latin word for “eight,” and is the name for the ancient Church practice of celebrating Christmas for eight days. The tradition dates back to the Old Testament, when the Hebrew people observed many of their feasts for a period of eight days. In the past, there were several feasts that were celebrated with octaves; since Vatican Council II, only Easter and Christmas have octaves. The Church celebrates eight days, so that families could more fully take in the importance of these liturgical feasts. With Christmas bearing the importance that it does, it’s no wonder the Church allows us eight days of special contemplation, although traditionally the Christmas season ends with the Baptism of Jesus.
Mother of God, or in Greek Theotokos, is the highest title ever to be given to Mary. She was given this title during the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. The Council taught that Jesus’ humanity and divinity could not be separated, and therefore Mary rightly deserved the title Mother of God. Mary gave birth to baby Jesus, and so she truly is God’s mother, since Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is the oldest feast of Mary celebrated in the Catholic Church. Mary not only is Mother of God but she also is truly our mother. When she said yes to Gabriel at the Annunciation, she said yes to being Jesus’ mother, and at that same moment gave her yes to becoming our spiritual mother.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is our mother in the order of grace. “Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.”
The Catechism goes on to say, “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (CCC 968, 969)
Mary’s role as our mother began at the Annunciation and continues for all Eternity. Because she loves her Son so very much, she loves us tenderly as members of his Mystical Body.
So celebrate January 1st both as New Year’s Day, for indeed it is. A brand new year is definitely worth celebrating. But even more, so is the fact that the Virgin of Nazareth said yes to the Angel Gabriel and became the Mother of God and our Mother too.
An article by Marge Fenelon adapted by Fr. Tom