Christmas Day, which marks the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is the first day of the eight-day celebration that we call the “Octave of Christmas.”1 The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is the 8th and final day of this Octave.2 It is the oldest Marian Feast Day in the Catholic Church, and on this day we celebrate the motherhood of Mary. Along with Christmas Day, it is one of two Holy Days of Obligation that we observe in Canada.3
Of all the titles with which we honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, the greatest is Theotokos, or “Mother of God.” Although we often hear Mary referred to as the mother of Jesus in the Gospels, it was Elizabeth, Mary’s relative and the mother of John the Baptist, who (even before the birth of Jesus) acclaimed Mary as ‘the mother of my Lord’ (Lk 1:43). But what exactly does this title mean?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Jesus, who Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit and who truly became her biological Son, was at the same time the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. The Church therefore confesses that because Mary is truly the mother of Jesus, she is also the “Mother of God” (Theo-tokos).4 Though Jesus had an earthly mother, He did not have an earthly father; His only Father was God. We read in the Catechism, “[Jesus] was never estranged from the Father because of the human nature which he assumed. … He is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures.”5
By being obedient to the will of God, Mary became the cause of her own salvation as well as that of the whole human race.6 Her role thus far exceeds that of simply being the earthly mother of our Lord; her spiritual motherhood extends to each one of us.7 We can count on her loving care and protection in every circumstance of our lives. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”8 Each day, therefore, let us pray to her with confidence in faith and love as we repeat the familiar words,
“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Amen.
– Sharon van der Sloot
“What a joy to remember that she [Mary] is our Mother! Since she loves us and knows our weakness, what have we to fear?” – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
1The practice of celebrating important occasions over the course of 8 days (called an Octave) dates back to Old Testament times; for example, the celebration of the “Feast of Tabernacles” (Lev 23:36) and the “Dedication of the Temple” (2 Chron 7:9). Today, the Church celebrates two feasts with Octaves: Easter (which is our most prominent Catholic celebration) and Christmas.
2Solemnities are the most important celebrations in the liturgical calendar – more important than Feast Days or Memorials – and the designation of January 1st as a Solemnity highlights the significance of Mary’s role in Jesus’ life, as well as the fact that His nature is both human and Divine.
3 The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), the Feast of the Ascension, and the Feast of the Holy Body & Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) are also Holy Days of Obligation in Canada. However, these feast days are transferred to the following Sunday if they fall on a weekday, while the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between Jan. 2nd and Jan. 8th.
4 Cf. CCC, 495.
5 Ibid., 503.
6 Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), 56; promulgated by Pope Paul VI, 21 November 1964.
7 Cf. CCC, 501.
8 Quotes, “Mary, Mother of God”; available from http://whitelilyoftrinity.com/saints_quotes_mary.html; Internet; accessed 29 December 2012.