Mary, Mother of God
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.
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.