While the start of the liturgical New Year is actually Advent, the Church does give us a wonderful gift at the start of a new secular year, the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.
Commemorated on January 1, the final day of the octave of Christmas (the eight days between December 25 and January 1 that are liturgically celebrated as Christmas) gives us a chance to reflect on an important mystery in the life of the Church, namely that God Himself chose to be born of a woman, that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.
On Christmas it is easy to focus on the humanity of Jesus. We hear the story of how He was born of a virgin after the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. We hear how angels sang praises to a real, human person. How shepherds came and worshiped a real, human person, and we will hear how wise men came and paid homage to a real, human person. However, we know that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.
The octave of Christmas gives us a wonderful chance to pause and reflect on the two natures of Christ. On Christmas Day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, a real, human baby, born to a real, human mother. January 1, we celebrate the divinity of Jesus by acknowledging His mother as the Mother of God.
To say that Mary is the Mother of God is to say that the son she bore is in fact God. However, we know that Mary isn't God. So it means that the son she bore also has humanity, is also human.
When we celebrate this solemnity then, we in an important way, remember that at Christmas a really human and really divine savior was born. However, we also remember and celebrate that it was not just because of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was born, but because of the yes of His mother that we have been given our savior.
The collect for Mary, the Holy Mother of God asks: "O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation, grant, we pray, that we may experience the intercession of her, through whom we were found worthy to receive the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son…."
As the octave of Christmas closes and the New Year starts, we are given this chance to remember that it is through a divinely human Jesus that we are saved and that He was born into this world because His mother said yes and in saying yes our savior was born.
The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God gives us a chance to reflect on the important role of Mary in bringing God to earth, but it also gives us a chance to reflect on the role we each have in bringing Jesus, the Son of God, to the whole world. At the start of this New Year, perhaps we can all resolve to make a little more of an effort to share the fully divine and fully human Jesus with the world around us.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.