Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Happy New Year! May you be blessed with health and goodness throughout the coming year. I hope you all had a beautiful Christmas with family and friends. I also hope you were able to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas during this past week. This year, because December 25 and January 1 fall on a Sunday, the Christmas season is a bit shorter – just two full weeks between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.
From Christmas Day to New Year’s Day is one of the Octaves which occur during the liturgical year. Usually we think of seven-day weeks (Sunday to Saturday), but for Christians, we think in terms of eight days because an eight-day period begins and ends on the same day of the week. As one writer put it: “Christmastime is a season to live with one foot in eternity.”
So, today – January 1st – is the Octave of Christmas. It’s also known by several other names, especially the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The gospel for Mass on this day is short, but it gives us several reasons to continue our rejoicing. And it also gives us the reasons for the many different titles that the first of January has had over the years.
The gospel is a continuation of the story begun at Christmas. Today we hear that the shepherds did what the angels told them to do. They went in haste to Bethlehem and found Joseph and Mary with the newborn Jesus.
We are told that Mary treasured what was said about her child – as any proud new mother would! The shepherds, for their part, went forth from the stable to proclaim what they had seen, and shared the message of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Then, eight days after his birth, according to Jewish custom, Jesus was circumcised and given his name.
Thus, today is also the World Day of Prayer for Peace, first established by Pope St. Paul VI in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam conflict. Fifty-six years later, it is still a relevant and, indeed, necessary moment for us to continue our efforts by praying and working for peace. The war in Ukraine continues unabated and we know that the citizens of Ukraine are suffering terribly at this time. May they know our support and love.
In some Christian churches, today is the feast of the Circumcision, but for Roman Catholics, this is a day on which we celebrate Mary as the Mother of God, one of the most ancient of Marian feasts.
The precise title “Mother of God” goes back at least to the third or fourth century. The Greek form Theotokos (God-bearer), became the foundation of the Church’s teaching about the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus in 431 insisted that the early Fathers of the Church were right in calling Mary Theotokos. At the end of one particular session of the Council, crowds of people marched through the street shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!” When the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, they devoted an entire chapter to Mary’s role in the Church and referred to her as Mother of God a dozen times.
Theologians such as Blessed John Duns Scotus, the great medieval Franciscan thinker, also insist that Mary’s motherhood of Jesus is an important element in God’s creative plan. God’s “first” thought in creating was Jesus. Jesus, the incarnate Word, is the one who could give God perfect love and worship on behalf of all creation. As Jesus was “first” in God’s mind, Mary was “second” insofar as she was chosen from all eternity to be his mother.
What we believe and say about Mary as the mother of God comes to us from the Gospels. She consented to God’s invitation conveyed by the angel Gabriel. Elizabeth proclaimed: “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary’s role as mother of God places her in a unique position in God’s redemptive plan.
So, New Year’s Day has a lot more to it than just fireworks and champagne, parades and football games! For Christians it brings us face to face with an ancient belief which says that God’s child is now Mary’s child, which makes Mary the mother of God. Mary is also our mother who leads us to her Son through her obedience and discipleship.
A Happy and Healthy New Year to you all!
Fr. Tim Shreenan, O.F.M.Pastor