January 1, Mary’s Divine Maternity
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman (Gal 4:4)
With Today’s liturgy, the Church completes her celebration of the of the feast day of Christmas. The Christmas feast for Catholics and many other Christians lasts for eight days and culminates with today’s beautiful feast in honor of Mary as Mother of God. For the world around us, Christmas ended on December 25, but not for the Catholic faithful. The Octave is only complete when we have honored the Mother of Christ our Lord and God. She is most integral to this whole mystery of God’s descent into our humanity and our history.
How rich with meaning is this celebration of the Octave of Christmas. But today the Church brings it all to a marvelous culmination with our joyful confession of faith that the child born on Christmas is in truth both the Eternal Son of God and the true Son of Mary. Mary is the ultimate confirmation that God has truly become flesh and dwells among us. Thus, our faith in the Incarnation is professed today and always in the way the whole Church honors Mary, declaring her to be the true Mother of God. This honor paid to Mary could only be true if two conditions are met: first that Jesus is truly God, a Divine Person existing eternally as God; and second that without ceasing to be true divinity, He truly became the human son of Mary. Thus Mary is by those two facts the blessed mother of the Divine Person who took flesh in her womb, which makes her the true Mother of God, since He is her true son and the Son of God in one person.
By honoring Mary today the Church not only proclaims again the truth and glory of the Incarnation, but pays special tribute to Mary for her most intimate role in this greatest of God’s gifts to the human race. Thus the Church acknowledges our great debt to her whose faith opened the way for the Eternal Son to become a member of our race. Indeed, we can see in this plan of God the greatest honor ever paid to woman in the fact that this blessed woman was given by God an essential role in the restoration of the human race. She is in truth the New Eve who bears the New Adam by the Power of the Holy Spirit, and thus she makes the essential contribution of woman to the salvation that comes through her Son alone. The Church’s honor of Mary is a recognition of the supreme dignity of the woman shown in God’s plan of creation and redemption.
We can say, then, that Mary, by virtue of her mission in God’s plan of creation and redemption is the highest of all crested persons, higher even than the angels. No angel has been in such a close relationship to the Son of God. And while Jesus Himself is the pinnacle of our humanity by the hypostatic union, He is not a created person like Mary but the uncreated Divine Person who is the Eternal Son, the 2nd Person in the Divine Trinity of Persons. Mary, however, is a created person, a human person who is raised above the angelic creation by her special graces. This belief is the Church’s highest tribute to the dignity of woman, to the freedom and glory of woman and bestowed not by man but by God.
At the same time, by its feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary the Church again directs our attention to the true purpose of the Incarnation God became a true man, the Son of Mary, for one great purpose, to save us from eternal loss and enable us to be transformed into a true child of God. This is the great ontological exchange of Christmas; God receives our human nature from Mary, and we receive a share in the divine nature through God and Mary’s Son.
This dynamism or purpose of the Incarnation is seen also indirectly in the prayer for peace among men that the Church directs to God in a special way on this first day of the new year. Peace, with God and through God with other men, is a fruit of the Incarnation and of the great exchange involved in this mystery, and it is this peace and salvation which the Church prays today may be extended to all mankind.
But what exactly is this Peace on earth, proclaimed by the Angels at Christmas to the Shepherds, and known to Mary, which the Church prays for today? It is above all the peace that the Church prays for at each Mass just after the Lord’s prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ,” we say, “ you said to your Apostles, I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your Kingdom, where you live forever and ever. Amen”
This is the peace, rooted in genuine unity with God and neighbor, that the Church prays for today on the first day of the new year, because this peace rooted in unity is something itself definitely new in this world. Notice in this prayer that the peace we pray for is specified as the peace which Christ says is His peace. Jesus elsewhere states that he is not referring to the peace which the world offers and fails to deliver, but it is His peace which He alone can give us.
In the Mass prayer for peace, we see what Christ’s peace is precisely when we ask God, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church. Only then do we ask God to grant us His peace and unity, which is based upon the unity of faith of the Church, and thus is proper to His Kingdom. Sin is what destroys this Peace we pray for, the peace of the Kingdom alone. Indeed, it is the faith of the Church that enables our sins to be “overlooked” by God, that is, forgiven, no longer held against us. The term for describing all this is “salvation,” and thus salvation becomes synonymous with this peace for which we pray. It is, to be precise, that peace which derives from the overcoming of sin and from the new life of Charity which is rooted in the faith of the Church.
This new peace, then, is quite different from what the world means by peace. The world thinks it can have peace together with sin, without repentance and without overcoming sin. This worldly peace is simply the temporary absence of violence because sin is always waiting in the wings to destroy it.
The peace that Christ offers, on the other hand, that peace for which the Church prays is much more than the absence of violence, but includes a genuine unity of persons sharing one faith and redeemed by the same grace. Where there is no truth held in common, there is no real possibility for either unity or peace. That is why we look to the “faith of Your Church.” as the source of this peace, and ask God to overcome our sins which destroy the peace which is also unity.
When we pray for this peace, then, we should trust that God wants to give us this gift, because God wants us to experience the fruits of salvation. Mary knew this peace as she held the Christ Child in her arms and held the stricken Son beneath the Cross. It is the peace of a mother with the deepest faith. Peace is a fruit of salivation, and no one knew this peace more than she who was most wonderfully saved and became an instrument of God for the salvation of numberless sons and daughters.
Finally, there is no greater thing we can bring and offer to God in worship than a genuine peace and unity which are the fruits of the salvation Christ brings to the world. This is the fruit that God wants us, above all else, to bring to the altar, a genuine peace and unity in the Church and the world, and this is the reason why the Church must come together to worship on the Sabbath. How can we collectively bring this gift to God, if we are not present as the Body of Christ, linked to each other in the peace and unity which He makes possible for us.
This is what the Church together with the Mother of God especially prays for on every January 1st, that the whole family of man may one day come to know this greatest peace and together with Mary make an offering of this peace to God along with the Prince of Peace who makes it possible, thus offering the fruits of His salvation back to God.