Mother of God Solemnity, a Defence

Mary, Mother of God

Introduction

On January 1st, All United States’ Catholics are obligated to attend Mass for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. In other countries, this feast is known as a solemnity. I used to joke about the United States Council of Bishops making it a holy day of obligation. I thought it was to prevent Catholics from partying and drinking too much. In reality, the choice of January 1st has historical precedent. In this post, I will define solemnity and Holy day of Obligation. Next, this post will describe the importance of Mary, Mother of God and why the Church chose January 1st.

Solemnity

The Catholic encyclopedia defines solemnity as a feast that deserves extra attention. Solemnities occur because either they are important for the entire faithful or they celebrate a local saint. A lot of parishes take their name from saints. Thus the feast day of that saint becomes a solemnity for them. The Church considers Mary, Mother of God to be so important to the faithful. Thus, The Church also celebrates it as a solemnity. In the United States, the solemnity of Mother of God is also a Holy Day of Obligation. In fact, all Holy Days of Obligation are solemnities, but not all solemnities are Holy Days of Obligations. There are ten Holy Days of Obligation.

Holy Days of Obligation

Canon 1246 states that Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation. In addition to Sunday, The Church gives ten other days. These include: the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God, Her Immaculate Conception, Her Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints 1. Canon 1246 gives power to Bishops to abolish certain holy days of obligation with prior approval. This explains why Catholics celebrate Mother of God in the United States.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Why January 1st?

The Catholic Church celebrates this solemnity on January 1st. In the Byzantine Church, the celebration of the second person always occurs after the primary person 2. For the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the primary person would be Jesus. The Church celebrates Jesus on December 25th. Thus, any celebration of Mary’s motherhood would occur after December 25th2. Different locations celebrated the Solemnity of Mother of God on various different dates. The Coptic Catholic Church celebrated on January 16th 2. The Catholic Church in France celebrated on January 18th2. The Roman Church celebrated on January 1st2. The Roman church chose this date because they wanted to replace the pagan feast of the God Janus 2.

In the fifth century, disputes arose about the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The major question centered on whether Jesus inherited two natures. Mary contributed to his human nature and God contributed to his divine nature. The Council of Ephesus met to debate and decide this issue. They declared Jesus had one nature that was fully human and divine and thus Mary was the Mother of God. The Solemnity was extended to the entire Latin Church in 1931, the fifteenth century of the Council of Ephesus 1. When choosing a date, The Church went with the ancient practice of Rome. Pope Paul VI explains,

This celebration is assigned to January 1st in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome2.

So we Catholics celebrate Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. We should understand The Church is not trying to prevent late night parties. Rather, The Church deems it important and desires to honor the Roman traditional date.

Celebrating the solemnity today

So what can we as Catholics today learn from celebrating Mary, Mother of God. First of all, we remember Mary’s yes to God. When we remember her yes, we are strengthened to make our own yes to God. We remember Mary’s humanity. We can acknowledge that Christ was fully divine and fully human. One must understand Christ’s nature to understand the incarnation and our own salvation.. Last, when attending Mass on the New Year, we make a conscious effort to put God first before starting a New Year. So this New Year, don’t sleep off a hangover, spend some time with your spiritual mother by attending the solemnity of Mary Mother of God.


  1. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/holy_days_of_obligation.htm 
  2. https://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/S/solemnityofmary.asp 

Putting Christ back in Chrismas

Top picture is a Christmas landscape with snow, trees, Christmas decorations. Bottom picture is a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger

Introduction

When we think of Christmas Eve, we typically think of family gatherings, gift giving, and a nice meal. If we have young children or are young children, we might prepare for St. Nick to visit. We rarely make time for or appreciate the real reason for the season, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, the son of God came down in the form of a baby. He was born in a dirty manger. Have we really stopped in the midst of the busy holiday season to ask why? What is the significance of the incarnation for Christian theology? Also, why does it continue to be important for us today?

Significance for Christianity

I touched on this in my last blog post, 6 Reasons to Believe in Christianity. I believe that the incarnation is one of the top reasons to believe in Christianity.

Redeemed Humanity

In the incarnation, God took on humanity’s nature. This action restored the grace that humanity had at the garden of Eden. When Christ destroyed death for one, he destroyed death for all. St. Paul puts it this way,

“For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

Jesus’ victory over death applies to all humanity as a gift. How one accepts this gift is a point of contention between Protestants and Catholics. This topic of soteriology is too broad for this post.

Reveals God the Father

Not only does the incarnation ensure our salvation, but it also reveals who God is to all. Jesus reveals that God is not some mystical guy in the sky. Rather, God is a real tangible person. St. Athanasius argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1 Jesus puts it this way,

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9b

Jesus confirms that through him God the father reveals his true nature.

Made Eye Witness Accounts Possible

Lastly, the incarnation made eyewitness accounts possible. Jesus was a real historical person. The twelve disciples claimed to have seen the resurrection. Yet they also knew Jesus Christ as a human being. All of the disciples died rather than recant that Jesus was the son of God. It is easy to die for believing something someone told you. Muslim martyrs do this all the time. It is harder to die for a claim known to be false. The disciples knew Jesus. Thus, if the disciples had any doubts about his claims, they would’ve had a harder time dying for the cause.

Significance Now

The above are great reasons to believe in Christianity, but what if you are already Christian? Why is it important to recognize the incarnation now? What does it have left to teach us?

First, it teaches that we can have a relationship with the divine. The Bible puts it this way,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Jesus understands where we are coming from since he has also been tested in a similar way. I once presented the above reason to a Muslim. She was quick to object. She said if God created us wouldn’t he know us. I must admit she had stumped me. Yet I’ve come to realize that knowing and experiencing are two different things. I can know that fire causes pain when touched. Yet I cannot sympathize until I experience being burned myself. I want my God to not just know humanity, but to experience humanity.

Second, it shows that God is not afraid of our mess. Sometimes we can think that we are unlovable or unworthy. The incarnation teaches that if God can enter the mess of a stable, he can enter the mess of our hearts.

Third, it teaches the importance of all life. God entrance into humanity took the form of a vulnerable child, who society did not welcome. Thus, Christians should welcome the poor, the lonely, the immigrant, and the unwanted. The incarnation teaches us the importance of accepting and protecting all human life.

Conclusion

Christmas is the celebration of love, and joy that stems from the coming of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus didn’t come as a warrior king ready to do battle. Rather, he entered this world as a newborn baby. The incarnation is significant. It serves as the foundation for salvation theology. It reminds us to love and welcome the outsider. Lastly, it teaches us that God embraces our mess. Christmas is a time when you gather around your family for a nice meal and presents. Yet please also don’t forget to acknowledge Christ’s birth.

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]

Six Reasons to Believe in Christianity

Why Christianity, My Journey From an Atheist to a Believer

Introduction

I remember when I first became a Christian. The topic of religion made me very excited. I wanted to talk about Jesus with everyone I met. One Christmas, I gave my family all Christian themed gifts. I listened to the pastor’s sermons online. Over the years I have mellowed out. My life is no longer a walking billboard for Christianity. As a Catholic, I still very much practice Christianity. So when wrestling with the fundamental questions about life, why did I chose Christianity?

Matthew 21:12-13

Before I began, I want to start with scripture, Matthew 21:12-13.

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]”

Jesus flipping over tables

Here Jesus displays genuine anger. Jesus is taking action. He is overturning tables and kicking out the money changers. We don’t normally think about this image of Jesus. Rather, we depict Jesus as a peaceful lamb. Sometimes we assume he is passive and meek. Yet, just like he did with the money changers, Jesus wants to disrupt our lives. He wants to set us apart.

This relates to my own journey. I had to address the question, “was I going to let Jesus disrupt my life.” I do not regret my decision. Below are 6 reasons I chose to become a Christian and follow Christ.

1. Higher purpose

I first began to open up to any religion when I needed to discover a higher purpose. I failed molecular genetics. Thus, I realized that I could no longer rely on success to dictate my purpose. I was a perfectionist. A book, Lethal Harvest, showed me the dangers of living for yourself. In the book, one character, an atheist, loses his life in pursuit of his work. I did not want my work to represent my value as a person. So I began to search for a purpose beyond myself. Philosophically speaking, the lowly cannot rise to a higher level. Instead, that which is higher must come down and raise the lowly. In other words, in order to have a purpose that transcends yourself, you need a divine being. I am not saying unbelievers have no purpose, but rather any purpose they have is self-made. This realization does not point me to Christianity, but it does point me to a belief system.

2. Familiarity

Upon realizing that I needed to adopt a belief system, I took to the internet and researched. I found the Unitarian Universalist church. In this church, all belief systems were correct. As a member, you could join different study groups. These groups covered various different belief systems. I chose to join the Christian study group due to my familiarity with Christianity. I grew up Catholic and grew up learning the basic stories in the Bible. The group got together to “study” the Bible. In reality, we really just questioned the Bible for an hour. One notable exchange occurred when discussing the nativity narratives. We debated about whether an angel visited Joseph. Some people purposed that Mary had drugged him and disguised herself as an angel. Despite the ridiculous theology, this group got me to open up the Bible for myself. They showed me, Christian love when I was in the hospital. Thus I felt comfortable with them. Yet as I continued to read the Bible for myself, I could no longer pretend that Jesus was just a good moral teacher.

4. Accepting the Incarnation

One of the key beliefs of orthodox Christianity is the incarnation. This belief implies that Jesus is fully human and fully God. I first came to this realization by reading John 14:6.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In this passage, Jesus is not saying he is one way to the Father. Rather, Jesus is saying he is the only way. I asked my pastor to share his thoughts. He could only reply that the Bible misquoted Jesus in John 14:6. My logic would not allow for this response. Either the Bible contains the truth or it does not. My pastor implied that the gospel of John was untrue. Since I believe in the integrity of the whole bible; I left the Unitarian faith.

On The Incarnation

I continued to wrestle with the concept of the incarnation. In graduate school, I read St. Athanasius On The Incarnation. This work affected my view on the Incarnation. Athanasius says that God made us in his image and that we had the Word in us at the beginning of creation.1 However, we lost the Word when the fall occurred.1 The fall corrupted humanity. In order to restore our incorruptible nature, Christ needed to assume a human body.1 By redeeming one body, he elevates all bodies1. Athanasius also purposes that Christ, the word of God, came down so that we would know about God.1 He argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1

Athanasius’ work helped me. I understood why the incarnation is important for our salvation. The concept of the Incarnation is a unique aspect of Christianity. The only other religion that believes in an incarnation is Hinduism. Yet in Hinduism the deity, Vishnu does not take on the physical nature of the people and animals.2 Thus, unlike Christ, Vishnu cannot restore our incorruptibility.2 Hence, Vishnu must incarnate himself multiple times to “save” humanity.2 In my opinion, I would rather God restore me completely than be trapped in an endless cycle.

5. Christian Rock Music

During my conversion period, I was exposed to Christian rock and Metal music. The songs had themes of never giving up and fighting a spiritual battle. While in the hospital, these songs gave me hope. Two songs, in particular, come to mind: Belief by The Letter Black and On The Front Lines by Light Up the Darkness.

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Both songs paint pictures of overcoming pain through belief and faith. Sarah, from The Letter Black, sings, “I am not afraid anymore of what I don’t know.” Likewise, Light Up the Darkness sings,

“I’m not defeated

I will stand tall

My armor is fitted

I will not fear

You held my hand

You led me here

You can defeat the enemy”

These messages of hope would influence me to choose Christianity over other religions.

6. The Holy Spirit

I remember the first time I surrendered to Christ publicly. The pastor had asked if we were ready to stop striving. Something in me broke. I could not stop crying as I walked to the ground of this one thousand person church. After being prayed over I felt a lightness that I had never felt before. Over the course of the week, I noticed that I no longer doubted God’s existence. I now know that I had a radical encounter with the Holy Spirit. This encounter has led me to continue in my Christian Catholic faith

Conclusion

When confronted with an existential crisis, I began as a logical assessment. This led me to Christianity. Yet, I also needed to have a radical encounter with the divine. I believe there are logical reasons to believe in Christianity. Yet, one must also allow God to show himself. I hope that my own journey encourages you to explore religion itself and discover what is true.

 

 

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]
2. [https://www.comparativereligion.com/avatars.html]

In Defense of the Immaculate Conception

Statue of Mary, white stone looking upward with prayer hands, green trees in background

Introduction

On December 8th, Catholics celebrate The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The church requires all Catholics to believe in the four Marian Doctrines. The four Marin doctrines are The Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and The Assumption. People often misunderstand these four Marian doctrines of the Church. Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of elevating Mary beyond what scripture allows. In honor of Mary’s feast-day, I will attempt to defend her immaculate conception.

Immaculate Conception

We must first define the concept of the Immaculate Conception. This belief states that Mary was born without original sin. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they separated themselves from God. This fallen state is passed on to future generations and is known as original sin. Mary did not suffer from this separation and thus she was able to live a holy life.

Logic

The Bible does not explicitly mention the Immaculate Conception. It also does not say that Mary was free from sin. However. logic can help us arrive at this conclusion. We know that God’s grace destroys sin. That sin cannot exist in God’s presence. If that is true, then if Mary is carrying the son of God in her womb, the sin in her would need to be destroyed. We also know that Jesus’ death on the cross makes us holy and redeems us. We know that this saving act is not stuck in time. Rather, Jesus’ salvific act exists outside of time. If this were not true, then Jesus could not save future humanity. Similarly, Jesus’ saving act could be applied in anticipation of the cross. Mary receives the benefit of salvation before the Cross occurs. She receives it from Jesus, not by her effort, but by God choosing her. She, in essence, is the first disciple. Most Protestants argue that this logic while sound contradicts Roman 3:23. I will address the Bible next.

Biblical argument

Old Testament

First I want to look at a pattern established in The Old Testament. When a wife was barren, she would go to the temple and pray for a child. Often she would receive instructions from God that she would need to follow. She would normally dedicate her child to God. One such example occurs in Judges 13:2-5. In this passage, an angel of the Lord tells an unnamed woman that her child will be dedicated to God from the womb. He tells her that she must not drink wine nor eat anything unclean. This woman had to be ritualistically pure in order to dedicate her son to God. How pure must the Virgin Mary be in order to have the son of God? Well, if Luke 1:28 is an indication, then Mary was sinless.

Luke 1:28

The bible implies the Immaculate conception in Luke 1:28.

Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

The Greek word for full of Grace is kecharitōmene. The thing one has to understand about biblical Greek is that every verb has a tense, an object, a voice, and a mood 1. When one looks up the meaning of the word in the Bible, it will not address the tense, object, voice, or mood. For example, in English, a dictionary will give you the tense, whether it be present, past or future. Biblical Greek does not work that way. When you look up a passage in a concordance, you get the definition of the root word. In Luke 1:28 the root word for “full of Grace” is charitoō. Strong’s Greek to English dictionary defines, charitoō as ‘to grace’. In Luke 1:28 the verb tense is written in the perfect past participle tense. Verb tenses in Greek work differently than the tenses in English. The past tense in English refers to an action that was done in the past. In biblical Greek, the tense refers to the type of action 1. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action with ongoing effects 1. Thus in Luke 1:28 the verses are actually saying something like, “greetings Mary, who was graced and is being filled with grace.” If God fills a person with grace continuously then sin cannot exist in that person (Ephesians 2:5,8)2.

Romans 3:23

Some people point to Romans 3:23 as the reason to not believe in the Immaculate Conception. St. Paul writes that “all have sinned…” People argue that by saying all have sinned, there is no room for Mary to be sin free. However, let’s compare this to Romans 5:12. Here Paul writes, “Death spread to all men because “all have sinned.” This ‘all’ that Paul is using cannot be taken literally. To do so would contradict the Bible. In Hebrews 11:5-6, the Bible states, “Enoch pleased God and was taken by God.” If he was taken by God then he did not die. Therefore death did not spread to all men. Thus, we must acknowledge that Paul uses ‘all’ as an exaggeration and not literal fact. If Paul is consistent then the same applies to the all used in Romans 3:23. Like Enoch is an exception for death to all, Mary is the exception for all have sinned.

Conclusion

The argument for the Immaculate Conception has a strong biblical base. Mary was the first disciple. She was the first person to be saved by Christ and the first person to say yes to him. For these reasons, she holds a high place of honor in Catholic Spirituality. I desire to go from grace to grace as she did. The sacraments enable me to be in a state of grace. Thus I can strive to say yes as she did.


  1. http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/verbs1.htm 
  2. Nick Hardesty, “In Defense of The Immaculate Conception: Part 3,” Catholic Stand (December 15th, 2014): http://www.catholicstand.com/defense-immaculate-conception-part-3/ 

Three Ways to Restore Joy This Christmas

Introduction

I remember December as a kid. It felt like a time of peace, love, and joy. A time for watching holiday classics and eating cookies. The anticipation of gift giving filled me with joy. Now as an adult I know about all the work that made the magic happen. I know how hectic the holidays can be for people. I believe the west has lost sight of the true joy and wonder of the holidays. Let us restore joy by forgoing the commercialized Christmas.

3 ways to restore joy this Christmas

1. Embrace Advent

Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and in that remembering, we look forward to the second coming of Christ1. The proper attitude is anticipatory joy1. High liturgical churches emphasize advent. You don’t have to be a member to adopt this attitude. Traditionally a person will give up something. Instead, a person will do a spiritual reading and prayer. A lot of different Advent devotionals exist. I like and use Reedemed online.

Some people may object that waiting until December 25th takes away from the fun of the holiday. If we spend December fasting and doing good works while everyone else is partying then when we miss out. This leads me to my second point.

2. Embrace the 12 days of Christmas

We have all heard the silly song, The 12 Days of Christmas. What we think of as a silly song actually teaches truths about how we are to celebrate Christmas. Church tradition tells us that Christmas is not just one day, but a whole season. Over the years the numbering has gotten off, but the twelve days run from December 25th until January 6th. Some European children receive their gifts from the three wise men on Epiphany Sunday. Rather than enjoying all things Christmas for one day, you can enjoy it for twelve.

3. Nix Santa and embrace Saint Nick

I know this is controversial for some parents. They worry that their kid will be left out or spoil it for other kids. I grew up with Santa and don’t regret it. Santa is not bad. However, inventing a lie to capitalize on childlike wonder is not necessary when the original story is full of the miraculous. His first miracle was to heal a woman of a withered hand.

As Nicholas was growing up, he regularly went to study and learn with his teacher. One day as he was on his way he came upon a woman with a withered hand. Stopping, he approached her, laid his hand on her, prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross. The hand miraculously became whole. 2

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children. He models the values of love and generosity. In some cultures, St. Nicholas brings candy and sweets on December 6th, his feast day 2. We can honor St. Nicholas by baking cookies and sweets on his feast day. We can also give to the poor.

Conclusion

The holidays don’t have to be hectic. We can have wonder, peace, and joy. However, we must be intentional in how we celebrate. We must set aside time to pray, and love others. The commercialized world will tell you that you most do and buy everything. However, the reality is that we are to love those closest to us. By loving others, we restore joy to the holiday season.


  1. Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar 
  2. From St. Nicholas Center, where there is more information about the saint, customs from around the world, stories and activities for children, recipes, crafts, and much more to help families, churches and schools learn about and celebrate St. Nicholas. Used by permission.