Mary’s Motherhood

The readings for Sunday, January 1, 2017, Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God, Cycle A, are
Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; and Luke 2:16-21.

This feast day celebrates Mary’s motherhood of Jesus. He is not only the son of Mary but “the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from the true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial (of the same substance) with the Father.” How can we call the eternal Son of God the son of Mary? Because the Son God united to himself human flesh originating from the body of Mary. Mary’s body provided for the Son of God the human nature which makes him also the son of Mary. The human nature and the divine nature are united in the One Person, so that Mary can rightly be called “Mother of God.”

Those who want to deny this title to Mary, must deny not only the authoritative teaching of the Church in creeds and councils, but must deny Scripture itself. It was not the Catholic Church that “invented” the title “Mother of God” for Mary. We first encounter this title in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke’s story of the Visitation, he attributes to Elizabeth these words, “How is it that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” Luke, through Elizabeth, is proclaiming  Mary “Mother of God.” The General Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. solemnly defined and proclaimed Mary with this title.

A feast day honoring Mary as Mother of God was first celebrated in the eastern churches before it migrated to the West. We do not know when this feast began to be celebrated in Rome, but it was sometime before the year 600 A.D. In the thirteenth century the feast of the motherhood of Mary was replaced by a celebration of the circumcision and naming of Jesus.  In 1570 Pius V expanded this celebration into a universal feast day. In 1974 Paul VI removed from the liturgical calendar the celebration of the circumcision and naming of Jesus on January 1, and replaced it on the same date with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. There it remains today.
It seems appropriate to dedicate the first day of the year to Mary, Mother of God, because she is also our mother. Her motherhood of all Christians is based on John 19:26-27. At the foot of the cross stand the mother of Jesus and the disciple called “the Beloved Disciple.” To them Jesus makes his last will and testament. He speaks first to his mother referring to the Beloved Disciple, “Woman, behold your son!” The Beloved Disciple represents all those whom Jesus loves. Then he speaks to the Beloved Disciple, “Son, behold your mother!”  John adds these words, “From that hour the disciple took her to his own,” as we do and as Christians have done since the foundation of the Church in Luke’s Acts of Apostles. There we read these words of the author.  “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with Mary, the mother of Jesus….” Mary was at the center of the first Christian Community as they awaited the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, breathing the first breath of life into the Church.

Although the feast of the circumcision of Jesus was abrogated by Pope Paul VI in 1974, the gospel reading for that feast is retained in part for the feast of Mary’s Solemnity. More important is what precedes the notice of Jesus’ circumcision and naming.  After a brief reference to the visit of the shepherds and their report of the angelic army and their song, Luke writes, “Mary retained (remembered) all these things, pondering (reflecting on) them in her heart.”  Luke will write similar  words about Mary once more after she and Joseph returned to Jerusalem to find their “lost” twelve year old son. From a human point of view, one could say that Jesus was acting out his independence as children that age tend to do. When Mary gently scolded him for causing such anxiety to his parents, Jesus gave a mysterious answer, “Did you not know that I have to be engaged in the business of my Father?” Luke adds, “They did not understand the saying he spoke to them,” and “His mother kept all these things in her heart.” With this in mind, it is difficult to rule out the influence of Mary, directly or indirectly, on the composition of Luke’s Gospel, even though it was written seven or eight decades after the events.

The second reading for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. He writes, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman….” To which we could respond, “That’s not so unusual!” However it is unusual if we consider who it was whom God sent. Despite being Son of God, Paul here proclaims that Jesus was also truly human.