Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Liturgical Feast – January 1

The Octave of Christmas falls on New Year’s Day. Given the fact that the pagans used to celebrate this day through dissolute activities and superstition, the ancient Church helped believers begin the new year with a “new spirit” through the practice of days of fasting and penance. In 431, during the Council of Ephesus that concluded on 22 June, the dogma of faith regarding “Mary’s divine maternity” was declared. Thus, in 1931, on the Council’s 15th centenary, Pope Pius XI established the liturgical feast that we already find celebrated in the 7th century. It is a day laden with meaning and contains many messages: the Octave of Christmas recalls the day Jesus was circumcised and given His name, it is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and it is also the day on which the World Day of Peace is celebrated (established by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1968).
There truly are many messages to be received on this first day of the year. We are invited to learn from the Virgin Mary to “keep” the Word in our hearts, and to ask ourselves what the Lord Jesus wants to say to us as the days go by, knowing that God’s blessing always accompanies us, as the First Reading from Numbers reminds us.

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Lk. 2:16-21).

The birth of the Child in Bethlehem

Luke’s text does not recount anything striking. The unique and central event that he could have recounted has already taken place—the birth of the Child the angels had announced as Savior and Christ, the Lord (Lk. 2:11). We heard that Gospel during the Mass at Dawn on Christmas Day.

The Shepherds and the peripheries of the world

The first people the angels brought their tidings to were shepherds. They were the first who “went in haste” (Lk 2:16), running to the stable to “see this thing that has taken place” (Lk. 2:15). As we saw on Christmas, Jesus was not born in Jerusalem. Let us not forget that John the Baptist would later preach in the desert and the people went out to him, not to the temple in Jerusalem (Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent). Since the first to come were shepherds, we can see in them representatives of other excluded types: sinners, those who had to maintain a distance. These were the people towards whom Jesus would manifest particular attention to the point that Jesus would respond: “I have not come for the healthy, but for the sick; I have not come for the righteous, but for sinners” (cf. Mt. 9:13; consistent with 1 Sam. 16:1-13 and the call of King David who was with the sheep). The shepherds arrived at the stable, saw the Baby and “made known the message that had been told them” (Lk. 2:17).

A race and a celebration

As we think of the shepherds going in haste toward the stable, we can recall Mary’s “haste” (Lk. 1:39) to reach her cousin Elizabeth after the angel’s annunciation, and her exultant canticle, the Magnificat. The shepherds too, were “amazed” and they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2:20). We could almost say that the shepherds became angels, bearing to others the glad tidings they themselves had received, since they cannot keep it to themselves. The Apostle John would later write: “That which … we have heard … seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon … we proclaim also to you” (cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-3). These words echo and prolong the words of Psalm 18: “The heavens declare the glory of God…” (cf. Ps. 18).
Today, these joyful tidings have reached us too, through generations of “angels” who have handed it down from “one generation to another”. Whoever meets Jesus’ gaze (cf. Mt 4:12-23) and is attracted by His Love cannot but bring others to Him. A bearer of good news is completely involved even through his or her own life. Saint Francis of Assisi used to say: “Always preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words” (Franciscan Sources, 43), making it understood that words are extra. What counts is that our lives speak.

Mary, the Theotokos

Mary is the Mother of God because she is the Mother of Jesus, true God and true Man. Because of this, she more than anyone else can lead us to her Son, for no other like her knows who Jesus is, and no one knows how to relate with Him as well as she does. Mary is the Mother who, on hearing the shepherd’s words, understood immediately that the Child was not just “her Son”. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” Jesus would say one day (Lk. 8:19-21). She, who for nine months had borne Him in her womb, knew how to listen to everyone the Lord allowed her to meet: the shepherds, the magi, Simeon and Anna…because each of them would “reveal” something about Jesus’ identity and mission.


We fly to your protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from every danger,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.

(Ancient Marian Prayer)



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