Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holy Mary, Mother of God - 1 January

On January 1st, the Church celebrates Mary under the title "Mother of God." This title is the English translation of the Greek term Θεοτόκος [Theotokos]. 

copy of Mary with Child, 
Frondenberg Altar, c. 1400
gift from our Sister Parish in Germany
Click image for details
Here is an article by Laura Bertone from the 21 December 2012 edition of Catholic San Francisco explaining this ancient solemnity of Mary:
January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, one of the oldest feasts in the liturgical calendar and is a holy day of obligation for Catholics ...
Catholics are required to attend Mass on Jan. 1 and the liturgy will celebrate Mary’s role as the mother of God. The day is also World Day for Peace in the Catholic Church.
A celebration commemorating Mary as the mother of God has been on the Catholic Church calendar for more than 1,500 years and is the oldest feast for Mary – celebrated long before feasts such as the Immaculate Conception or Assumption became part of the liturgical year. The feast began to be celebrated following the debates concerning Christ’s divinity. Once the church decreed that Christ was fully God and fully human, and these natures were united in Jesus Christ, Mary’s role as the “theotokos” (God-bearer) as well as the human mother of God, was confirmed and celebrated.

Day devoted to Mary and peace  Around the 16th century, the feast of Mary on Jan. 1 was replaced in the Roman Church with the feast of the circumcision of Christ. Like all Jews, eight days after his birth Jesus underwent circumcision, marking him as a member of the people of God and part of the covenant between God and Abraham. On that day he also would have been named. However, in 1974 after the Second Vatican Council and the reformation of the liturgical calendar, Jan. 1 once again became the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and was declared World Day of Peace by Pope Paul VI. 
“The purpose of the celebration is to honor the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation and at the same time to sing the praises of the unique dignity thus coming to “the Holy Mother...through whom we have been given the gift of the Author of life,” said Pope Paul VI (“Marialis Cultus,” Feb. 2, 1974, No. 5). “This same solemnity also offers an excellent opportunity to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace, as we once again hear the good tidings of great joy and pray to God, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, for the priceless gift of peace.”
The solemnity falls on New Year’s Day because it is the octave of Christmas and the church celebrates the maternity of Mary eight days after celebrating the birth of Jesus.
In this country, as decided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jan. 1 is a holy day of obligation. When Jan. 1 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday, the solemnity is celebrated on the Sunday. ...
Bertone is interim director of worship for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
From December 21, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.
On icons, it is customary to label those who appear. Mary is almost always labelled as Maria Theotokos. This Russian icon below (modern style Kazanskaya Bogomater) is a typical example. 
Here you see MP on the left side top, and Θς on the right side top. Maria Theotokos - Mary, Mother of God.

No one captures the uniqueness of Mary, the Mother of God, more eloquently than Blessed John Henry Newman when he wrote to an Anglican friend. After a brief pertinent quote from the Council of Ephesus, allow me to quote Bl. Newman at some length:

If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, “The Word was made flesh”] let him be anathema.
                                                                                     -The Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431

It is then an integral portion of the Faith fixed by Ecumenical Council, a portion of it which you hold as well as I, that the Blessed Virgin is Theotocos, Deipara, or Mother of God; and this word, when thus used, carries with it no admixture of rhetoric, no taint of extravagant affection,—it has nothing else but a well-weighed, grave, dogmatic sense, which corresponds and is adequate to its sound. It intends to express that God is her Son, as truly as any one of us is the son of his own mother.

If this be so, what can be said of any creature whatever, which may not be said of her? what can be said too much, so that it does not compromise the attributes of the Creator? He indeed might have created a being more perfect, more admirable, than she is; He might have endued that being, so created, with a richer grant of grace, of power, of blessedness: but in one respect she surpasses all even possible creations, viz., that she is Mother of her Creator. It is this awful title, which both illustrates and connects together the two prerogatives of Mary, on which I have been lately enlarging, her sanctity and her greatness. It is the issue of her sanctity; it is the origin of her greatness.

What dignity can be too great to attribute to her who is as closely bound up, as intimately one, with the Eternal Word, as a mother is with a son? What outfit of sanctity, what fulness and redundance of grace, what exuberance of merits must have been hers, when once we admit the supposition, which the Fathers justify, that her Maker really did regard those merits, and take them into account, when He condescended "not to abhor the Virgin's womb"?

Is it surprising then that on the one hand she should be immaculate in her Conception? or on the other that she should be honoured with an Assumption, and exalted as a queen with a crown of twelve stars, with the rulers of day and night to do her service? Men sometimes wonder that we call her Mother of life, of mercy, of salvation; what are all these titles compared to that one name, Mother of God?
-Bl. John Henry Newman

Here are some recommended Marian practices for the new year; details can easily be found on-line:

1. Read and meditate on the Biblical passages mentioning Mary. Look for the Bible on the US Catholic Bishops' website ( then search for "Mary" in Matthew, Mark and Luke and for "woman" in John's Gospel.

2. Get in the habit of praying the Angelus. It is prayed when the church bells ring; the Regina Coeli is used in Easter time.  Pope Paul VI reminded the Church to return to this Incarnational prayer.

3. Sing or recite the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos. The Akathist Hymn is a long, Byzantine collection of praises to Mary.  It is often prayed during Lent by Byzantine Rite Catholics and by our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Faith. The Akathist Hymn might be a good thing to do on Saturdays, since this day is dedicated to Mary in Roman Catholic tradition.

4. Display an icon or statue of Mary in your home and workplace. Say a short prayer when you pass by.

5. Check out a book about Mary from the parish library.

6. Pray the Rosary with particular attention to the Mysteries. Once in a while, offer the Rosary for a big issue like an end to war, an end to abortion, or for peace between Christians and Muslims. (interestingly, Mary is mentioned in the Qur'an more often than in the Bible, and many Muslims honor her too. nb: Christians do not accept all that is written in the Qur'an about her.)  Expand your view of Mary's intercessory role so that it is not always just a personal favor from Mary, but one that recognizes her immense role in Salvation History.