1 Jan 2015

Christmastide 2014 - Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Theotokas; Mater Dei) - 1st January 2015

O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation, grant, we pray, that we may experience the intercession of her, through whom we were found worthy to receive the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

On this the January 1st, the Octave Day of Christmas, the Church once more celebrates the role of Mary in the mystery of Christmas under her most ancient title Theotokos (Mater Dei, God-bearer, Mother of God.). "The transcendent omnipotence of divinity is entrusted to the gentle intimacy of maternity, even to a certain unassuming and gentle young woman. It’s not, of course, that Mary was the source of God as such (the opposite is the case). The meaning of “Mother of God” is that the person to whom she gave birth in human flesh, whom she nursed and raised, was and is God".

As Dame Catherine reminds use over at iBenedictines:
Like January itself, named for the old pagan god Janus, it is a feast that looks two ways: back into the history of the Chosen People, forward into eternity. Mary herself is the hinge between the Old and New Covenants: she gives us Jesus Christ to be our Saviour, and we ourselves, by virtue of our baptism, are part of the great chain of being centred on Him. But an octave means eight days celebrated as one, with the eighth day a symbol of perfection, the point at which we go beyond time and enter eternity. So today is Christmas Day just as much as 25 December, but also our launch-pad into eternity.

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
Glenstal Abbey
Rev. Martin Browne OSB
1st January 2015

We Catholics celebrate Mary a lot…. The calendar has numerous feasts and commemorations of her…. We celebrate her Conception on the 8th of December, her earthly birthday on the 8th of September, her presentation in the Temple on the 21st of November, and her heavenly birthday on the 15th of August. We celebrate feasts of Mary in parallel with some feasts of Jesus too – such as her Immaculate Heart on the day after the feast of his Sacred Heart; her Sorrows on the day after the feast of the Exaltation of his Cross. We celebrate her on every Saturday throughout the year. And, of course, we celebrate her in many of the Feasts of the Lord too, because of the part she played in those mysteries of Christ: including Christmas, the Presentation of the Lord, the Annunciation, Easter and Pentecost. And then there are the countless titles under which she is honoured throughout the world – Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Lourdes …of Fatima …of Knock …of Walsingham ….of Guadalupe. There is even a statue of Our Lady of Limerick in the Dominican church in the city! And then there are all the other titles which the Church gives her: ‘Queen of Heaven’, ‘Seat of Wisdom’, ‘Daughter of Zion’, ‘Help of Christians’, ‘Mother of the Church’, ‘Refuge of Sinners’, and so on, including Pope Francis’s favourite, ‘Untier of Knots’.

We monks sing a short song in Mary’s honour at the very end of the day’s prayers every single evening. Depending on the time of the year, we address her as the ‘Kindly Mother of the Redeemer’; ‘Queen of the Heavens’; ‘Queen of Heaven’; ‘Queen and Mother of Mercy’ and ‘Holy Mother of God.’ Every time Pope Francis leaves Rome, he goes first to the Basilica of Mary Major, to pray before an icon of Mary, ‘Health of the People of Rome’. He visits it again on his return, sometimes on his way back from the airport, even before he returns to the Vatican. Mary is big in the Catholic landscape….

All of these titles and devotions can seem a bit exotic to some people’s taste. Some over-rational minds find it all a bit much. It looks to them as if we simply cannot say or celebrate anything about Jesus without somehow dragging Mary in it too. Or that we don’t understand the uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, and life and ministry of Jesus, or the unique saving power of his Passion, Death and Resurrection well enough, and so feel the need for mediators and third parties… Some write off Marian devotion completely as superstition or emotion and as a sign that we don’t really take the Gospel seriously.

They are wrong! In fact they couldn’t be more wrong! It is because we take the Incarnation seriously that we honour Mary! Mary is the proof and guarantee that God, in Jesus, became truly human. Mary was not a surrogate or a mere incubator, to use language which has become current in our ‘brave new world’…. Jesus was physically her true son, the fruit of her womb, with all the wonderful and sometimes messy consequences which that entails. A spirit doesn’t have a mother. A human being does…. A projection doesn’t feed at the breast. A baby does….. There is no more serious way of getting in touch with the reality of what God in Jesus did at the Incarnation than to reflect on and honour the bodily maternal role of Mary. She is the mother of Jesus. But she is more. For, because Jesus truly is whom we say he is – God – so is Mary the God-bearer, the Theotokos. She is the MOTHER OF GOD. Out of the many hundreds of titles of honour for Mary, that is the one under which we honour her today, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. What could show more clearly that God in Jesus truly became one of us than the fact that he had a human mother?

As we heard in the Second Reading: ‘When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.’ And so, on this octave Day of Christmas, as we contemplate the crib scene, it is a good day to let our attention dwell on Mary. To savour the truth about Mary is to savour the truth about Jesus. He took on our nature, so that he could redeem our nature. And by her ‘yes’, she made it possible. Of her the Word took flesh, and so we honour her as the Holy Mother of God. Some early Christians had difficulty getting their heads around this idea – largely because they had difficulty getting their heads around the idea that Jesus was true God and true man. But one of the earliest Councils of the Church, the Council of Ephesus, pronounced definitively on the question in 431. Jesus is true God and true man, and so Mary is truly Mother of God. As a medieval lyric sings:
Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect DayMary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic VineMary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living BreadMary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing FloodMary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s LordMary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s RestMary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Of all the celebrations in honour of Mary that I listed at the start, the feast of her motherhood, on the first day of the year, is by far the oldest. Over the centuries, the naming and circumcision of Jesus was given more emphasis. This is understandable, given that today’s Gospel tells us that the naming and circumcision took place ‘after eight days had passed’. However, since Vatican II, New Year’s Day has happily once again become the feast of Mary’s motherhood. I say ‘happily’ because the feast of Mary as Mother of God is not only the oldest celebration in honour of Mary. In a real sense, it is the greatest one. All of her other titles, and all of her privileges – including dogmas the Church teaches about her, such as her Immaculate Conception, her virginity and her Assumption – only make sense because Mary is the Mother of God. Were she not God’s mother, would she have been preserved free from the stain of sin from the moment of her conception? Were she not God’s mother, would she have been saved from physical decay and assumed bodily into heaven? Of course not! It is because she is Mother of God that she enjoys these privileges. And more significantly for us, it is because she is Mother of God that we can claim her as Mother of the Church and our Mother too. Rightly we sang at the beginning of this Mass:
Salve sancta Parens….Hail holy Mother, Child-Bearer, who have brought forth the King who rules heaven and earth for ever.
As we continue our celebration of the Word made Flesh, we honour her and praise her, for giving the world its Saviour. And just as we praise her, so too do we turn to her and ask for her prayer. The song we sing after Compline on weeknights throughout much of the year, the oldest song in honour of Mary, expresses this:
Sub tuum præsidium confugimus….We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
So let us not be bashful about expressing our love and devotion for the Holy Mother of God! Drawing close to her, we draw close Jesus – Emmanuel, the God who comes to save us. She is the glory of Jerusalem. She is the joy of Israel. She is the highest honour of our race.
You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all, to make the broken whole.
You heard his call, and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open a door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in love’s last mystery,
And bring me to the One you bore for me

Other homily's on the Solemnity:

Pope Francis - Homily for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
Pope Francis opens 2015 with calls for peace, loyalty to the Church, and devotion to Mary
Pope Francis - Pope at Angelus: fix your gaze on Mary the Mother of God

Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.

Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.

Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty may reach every man and woman.

Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church,
whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.

Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us.
Amen. Alleluia!
Evangelii Gaudium, 288
Reflections on the feast day and what it means:

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