01 January, 2013 (Tuesday) Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Num 6:22-27. The solemn priestly blessing, that God would protect us and be gracious to us, is especially apt at the beginning of a new year.
Gal 4:4-7. Through the Incarnation, the distance between God and mankind has been bridged. Now we can call God “Abba! Father!”
Lk 2:16-21. The visit of the shepherds on the first Christmas night. The closing verse, about Jesus’ circumcision eight days later, makes it an apt reading for the octave day of Christmas.
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First Reading: Book of Numbers 6:22-27
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Splendour in Simplicity
At the Council of Ephesus in 451, the mother of Jesus was solemnly proclaimed as “Mother of God” or “Theotokos” – as an additional statement of faith in the Godhead of her Son, Jesus Christ. Under that title she is still reverenced by most Christians around the world, and today’s feast gives us an opportunity to place our hopes and plans for the new-starting year under her motherly care.
The most common reaction of those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus was one of amazement. For example, at the Transfiguration, when his face shone like the sun, Peter was overcome with reverence and said, “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here.” Such reverence was deeply ingrained in Mary, our Mother in the faith, the first to believe in Christ. Many of the faithful think of her in the manner of the three Apostles gazing on the transfigured Christ. Too often we imagine her as a Christmas card Madonna, serene and seated against a golden background glistening with snow, with hovering angels. Such a figure is simply not true to her life. For the real Mary from Nazareth knew no triumph in her lifetime. No one has ever lived, suffered and died in such simplicity, sharing in the dignity of the poor.
We know this through a few short sayings in the gospels. In her own eyes, Mary was the handmaid, the lowly servant of the Lord, depending entirely on Providence and sustained by the goodness of God. The bishops at Vatican II told us that Mary stands out among the poor and the humble of the Lord, who confidently await salvation from God (Lum. Gent. 55). In the Church’s first four centuries, writers emphasised the faith of Mary at the Annunciation rather than her divine motherhood. The Virgin believed, and in her faith conceived, or as Augustine put it, “She conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving him in her womb.” Mary, who is also venerated as Mother of Good Counsel, can be our guide and counsellor in the area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of St John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ’s public life.
John is the only gospel to record the presence of Mary at Calvary, in the terse statement, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother” (Jn 19:25). When all the signs and wonders performed by Jesus seemed to many to have been a delusion, his Mother was still there to his last breath, still believing. Her faith in her Son did not need astounding miracles, but rested on childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as mother cease then, for in his dying hour Jesus gave it new life when he said to John, “Behold your Mother.” The mother of Jesus will henceforth be the mother of all his disciples, including you and me. At that moment Mary assumed a new role in the salvation for the human race, as spiritual mother to us all.