Solemnity of the Mary, Mother of God
January 1, 2012
The Christian New Year is celebrated on January 1, one week after the celebration of the birth of Jesus. January 1 has been given several different names that reveal something of the nature of the feast. First of all, the Christian New Year is within the Octave of Christmas [i.e. 8 days after the birth of Jesus.] Before the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council [1962-1965] the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus or the Naming of Jesus [Holy Name of Jesus] was celebrated on this date to commemorate the Gospel account of Jesus’ circumcision according to the ritual prescriptions of the Mosaic law, thus becoming officially a member of the people of the covenant: "At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus" [Lk 2:21-24].
Following the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council, January 1 has now been known as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of the Lord, and it has also been designated as the World Day of Prayer for Peace.
The atmosphere of revelry attached to New Year's Eve hardly leaves anyone with the energy, desire or willingness to consider New Year's Day as a religious feast? Let us consider some of the biblical foundations for the various meanings attached to the Christian New Year.
Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus
In antiquity and in the Scriptures, it is a common belief that the name is not just a label but part of the personality of the one who bears it. The name carries will and power. The name conjures up the person; there is a desire to know the name and even a reluctance to give it in the Scriptures. "Yeshua" refers to the Savior and was one of the Christian ways of naming and identifying Jesus. The Greek christos translates the Hebrew mashiah, "anointed one"; by this name Christians confessed their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. In the New Testament, the name, person and work of God are inseparably linked to those of Jesus Christ. True disciples of Jesus are to pray in his name [John 14:13-14]. In John 2:23 believing in the name of Jesus is believing in him as the Christ, the Son of God [3:18]. The name of Jesus has power only where there is faith and obedience [Mark 9:38-39]. Believing in the holy name of Jesus leads to confession of the name [Hebrews 13:15]. Calling on this name is salvation.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Lord
The second person who is celebrated and honored on the Christian New Year is the mother of Jesus. This young woman of Jewish descent took upon herself the full responsibility of the word yes to a mysterious visitor at the Annunciation. By her response, she broke out of the cultural and religious boundaries of her time, manifesting great courage and faith. She literally brought heaven down to earth. Mary of Nazareth lived the memory of events and their meaning- always showing the ability to interpret the whole thread of her life through repeatedly calling to mind words and events.
"Mary" comes from the Hebrew "Miriam" whose etymology is probably from the Egyptian word meaning "beloved". She is the disciple par excellence who introduces us to the goodness and humanity of God. Her womanhood is not in itself a sign of salvation but it is significant for the manner and way in which salvation happens. There is salvation in no other name but that of the man Jesus, but through this woman, Mary, we have humanity's assent to salvation. Only in this way can we speak of a feminine realization of God's salvation.
Today we celebrate the Mary, Mother of God who is a model for every believer. I cannot help but recall the powerful words of Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright of Durham, England during the 2008 Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Bishop Wright, one of the papally-appointed fraternal delegates to the Synod spoke of the four great moments of Mary’s life with four words: Fiat, Magnificat, Conservabat and Stabat. Through her “fiat,” Mary gave assent to God’s Word with her mind. Through her “magnificat,” the Virgin Daughter of Nazareth reveals her strength and courage. In her heart, Mary meditated on and kept God’s Word: “conservabat.” Her fidelity to the end is described by the word “stabat” as she stood at the foot of the Cross and waited patiently in her soul for the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy and experienced the new, unexpected and perhaps unwelcome, but yet saving revelation.
God calls each one of us through scripture in complete love and grace, and the response of the obedient mind is “fiat:” let it be to me according to your word. We, too, celebrate, with our strength, the relevance of the word to new personal and especially political situations: “magnificat.” Then we ponder in the heart what we have seen and heard: “conservabat.” But Scripture tells us that Mary, too, had to learn hard things: she wanted to control her son, but could not. Her soul is pierced with the sword, as she stands “stabat” at the foot of the cross. We too must wait patiently, letting the written Word tell us things that may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but which are yet salvific. We read humbly, trusting God and waiting to see his purpose unfold. Mary is a model and paradigm of belief for Christians.
World Day of Prayer for Peace
The most recent "theme" attached to the Christian New Year has been the "World Day of Prayer for Peace". The World Day of Peace is an observance launched by the Church under Pope Paul VI in 1967. Christians are invited to begin a New Year praying for peace. The Message of Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the forty-fourth World Day of Peace was made public several weeks ago and has as its theme: "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace." In this year’s papal message, Pope Benedict XVI highlights the importance of young people in the quest for justice and peace, but he says the fundamental question that must be asked to educate them is "who is man?" The Pope encourages all types of educators -- from families to politicians to media professionals -- to understand the beings they are educating. The Pontiff's statement speaks of educating in freedom, and educating in justice, and finally of educating in peace.
"Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused," he warned. He explained that authentic freedom is "not the absence of constraint or the supremacy of free will, it is not the absolutism of the self. When man believes himself to be absolute, to depend on nothing and no one, to be able to do anything he wants, he ends up contradicting the truth of his own being and forfeiting his freedom."
Benedict XVI's message pointed out again the errors of relativism, one of the main messages of his pontificate. This philosophy recognizes "nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires," he said, and thus "sooner or later, every person is in fact condemned to doubting the goodness of his or her own life and the relationships of which it consists, the validity of his or her commitment to build with others something in common."
In taking up the theme of peace, Benedict writes: "Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all, and no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice, according to one’s particular areas of competence and responsibility. To the young, who have such a strong attachment to ideals, I extend a particular invitation to be patient and persevering in seeking justice and peace, in cultivating the taste for what is just and true, even when it involves sacrifice and swimming against the tide."
The Holy Father concluded with this appeal: "All you men and women throughout the world, who take to heart the cause of peace: peace is not a blessing already attained, but rather a goal to which each and all of us must aspire. Let us look with greater hope to the future; let us encourage one another on our journey; let us work together to give our world a more humane and fraternal face; and let us feel a common responsibility towards present and future generations, especially in the task of training them to be people of peace and builders of peace.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2008 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B is now available in book form. You can order your copy of “Words Made Flesh: Volume 2, Year B” from the website of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Publications Service.