The day's religious roots run deep.
If someone asked you about the significance of the January 1, what would you say? The first thing that would probably come to your mind would be that it is New Year’s Day. And, you might possibly cite it as the biggest hangover day of the year. If you’re really up on your Catholic Faith, you would remember that the Church honors Mary as Mother of God on that day. You’d be correct about all three of these things, but did you know that there’s more to it?
Here are five things that you might not know about January 1:
1. January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. A solemnity is a liturgical celebration that is different from feast days and memorials. All three honor the Saints or special aspects of Jesus and Mary, but solemnities are the highest degree of celebration and are reserved for the most important mysteries of the Faith. Solemnities include Easter, Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception, the main titles of Jesus, and Saints that are of particular importance in salvation history. Solemnity masses have the same basic elements as Sunday ones, including all three readings, prayer of the faithful, the Creed, and Gloria. Some solemnities are also holy days of obligation but these vary from country to country according to the standards set by the bishops’ conferences. In the United States, January 1 is a holy day of obligation.
2. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is celebrated on the Octave of Christmas. Octave comes from the Latin word for “eight,” and is the name for the ancient Church practice of celebrating Christmas for eight days. The tradition dates back to the Old Testament, when the Hebrew people observed many of their feasts for a period of eight days. For example, the “Feast of Tabernacles” and the “Dedication of the Temple.” Later, the Roman Emperor Constantine added the celebration of the dedication of basilicas to this tradition. In the past, there were several feasts that were celebrated with octaves; since Vatican Council II, only Easter and Christmas have octaves.
The reason the Hebrews celebrated for eight days was that life was so hectic for them and families struggled under pressures and divisions caused by pagan traditions; the Church granted a period of eight days, so that families could more fully take in the importance of these liturgical feasts. With Christmas bearing the importance that it does, it’s no wonder the Church allows us eight days of special contemplation (although traditionally the Christmas season ends with the Baptism of Jesus, celebrated on January 11 this year).
3. Mother of God, or in Greek Theotokos, is the highest title ever to be given to Mary. She was given this title during the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. The Council taught that Jesus’ humanity and divinity could not be separated, and therefore Mary rightly deserved the title Mother of God. Mary brought Jesus into the world, and so she truly is God’s mother, since Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.
4. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is the oldest feast of Mary celebrated in the Catholic Church.
5. Mary not only is Mother of God but she also is truly your mother. When she said yes to Gabriel at the Annunciation, she said yes to being Jesus’ mother, and at that same moment gave her yes to becoming our spiritual mother.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is our mother in the order of grace.
“Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace."
"’This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix." (CCC 968, 969)
Mary’s role as our mother began at the Annunciation and continues for all Eternity. Because she loves her Son so very much, she loves us tenderly as members of his Mystical Body.