By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. MARGARET PARISH
January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary
January 1st of every year in the liturgical calendar of celebrations in the Catholic Church is always the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Many Catholics have grown up thinking that it is just a natural thing to dedicate the start of a new calendar year to the Virgin Mary. But, this is not the reason why January 1st is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There is another reason altogether why the first day of the year has been assigned as a feast to the Virgin Mary.
January 1st is always the octave of Christmas, that is, it is the eighth day after December 25th. The octave of major feasts was always important to the early Christians. The early Church, as we still do today, continued to celebrate major feasts for at least eight days. The two clearest examples of this would be Christmas and Easter. For one, it is a way to emphasize that the celebration is not just one day out of the year. From the first centuries of the Church, major celebrations have always been celebrated for several days. But, more importantly, there was a symbolic and theological reason for the eight day celebration.
If we remember the story of Creation, Genesis tells us that God created the entire universe in seven days. This was the “first creation.” However, the sin of Adam and Eve caused this creation to become flawed. In other words, their sin managed to tar the Creation that God had brought into being. When Jesus rose from the dead, his triumph over sin and death had, in effect, brought about a New Creation. This was seen as the “eighth day.” Of course, when we speak of the eighth day, we are speaking in symbolic terms because there is still only seven days in the span of a week. The eighth day simply represents the moment when God restored His Creation. In the life of the Church, the eighth day remains a very important celebration which is why the Church’s liturgical calendar assigns the eighth day after major feasts as a type of secondary feast that brings greater attention to the first.
In the case of Christmas, the eighth day after the Nativity of Christ just happens to fall on January 1st. On this day, the Catholic Church again honors the Virgin Mary as Mother of God. This very title of hers and the fact that this is the octave of Christmas leads us to realize two important aspects of the Virgin Mary.
First, Mary is celebrated as the “New Eve.” In the story of Creation, Eve was tempted by the serpent. Adam was also tempted and by the fall of both, humanity has suffered the consequences. All of that changed, though, when God prepared the Virgin Mary to become the Mother of His Son. When the Archangel Gabriel came to Mary with the announcement that she would have a son by the power of the Holy Spirit, she helped to reverse what Adam and Eve had done. Adam and Eve abused the free will that they were given and chose the option in which they could replace God. This is why the Virgin Mary is often depicted as standing on the head of a serpent. The Virgin Mary crushed the serpent’s head because she used her free will to choose to become God’s instrument and cooperated with the grace of God that was given to her. This was the initial intention that God had in the first place. For this, we celebrate the Virgin Mary for her willingness to be faithful to who God intended her to be. This is the same vocation that each of us have been given.
Second, when the Church addresses Mary as the Mother of God, we are not saying that she is greater than God contrary to what some may think regarding this belief. Sadly, this is also an error that many Catholics may have inadvertently promoted whenever we may speak of the Virgin Mary.
We will never fully comprehend the role of the Virgin Mother unless we first comprehend who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God, that is, he is the second Divine Person in the Blessed Trinity. At a certain point in history, the Son came down to earth and was incarnate as a human being through the Virgin Mary. For this reason, we believe that Jesus is fully God just as much as he is fully human. But, since the Virgin Mary gave birth to the human infant through which the Son of God became incarnate, we can rightfully say that she is the Mother of God because the son she bore is the eternal God who has always existed.
However, the Virgin Mary is still not greater than God nor is she herself a “goddess” or even a “fourth person” in the Blessed Trinity. Mary did not bring the Trinity into existence. The Trinity, as the eternal God, has always existed. Therefore, Mary also remains a servant of God as much as we are.
In this new year, let us keep the mystery of Christmas forever in our hearts never forgetting that we are a new creation in Christ. Recognizing this great blessing, we can ring in the New Year knowing how blessed we are.