Under the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars
MARY, MOTHER OF GOD – JANUARY 1
Today as we begin a new year the Church celebrates the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. This was formerly the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord and of the conferring on him of the name ‘Jesus’. This is reflected in the last verse of the Gospel today from Luke. In either case we are still celebrating Christmas under another aspect – the coming into the world of the one whose very name means ‘Saviour’, son of God and son of Mary..Liturgically the least important aspect of the feast is the fact that it is New Year Day – though that is what is most prominent in peoples` minds. It is also appropriately a day when we pray earnestly for world peace – something which is so necessary at the present time, when we think of the bloodshed taking place in Syria and other places.
The great significance accorded to the name of a person or thing by the Jews is underlined in the choice of First Reading from the Old Testament. The passage chosen is the beautiful one from the Book of Numbers. It is a priestly blessing for peace invoking the great name of the Lord three times in blessing on the people. It also links up with the holy name of Jesus by which we are saved.
From earliest times Mary has been honoured as the Mother of God. She is the ‘Theotokos’ .That`s a Greek word meaning ‘God-bearer’. `God-bearer` is more precise than Mother of God, because of course she is only the mother of Christ in his human nature.
This title arose during the theological disputes with Bishop Nestorious in the fourth century. Nestorious objected to this title being bestowed on Mary and so he was indirectly denying that the word or logos , the second person of the Blessed Trinity, had become flesh in the man Jesus Christ. Because if there is only one person involved and that person is God, Mary is the Mother of God in that sense. Mary was proclaimed Theotokos at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. It was a popular decision with the ordinary people who acclaimed it widely. This was one of the reasons why Cardinal Newman attached so much importance to the opinion of the laity and on consulting them in matters of doctrine; while their Bishop was deviating from the true doctrine , the ordinary people remained orthodox. He also saw that it protects the doctrine of the Incarnation, because if you have a firm faith in the divinity of Christ, then you will also accept this great privilege of Mary.
I read today that John Cleese is coming to Perth soon. Entertainment figures and celebrities, (interchangeable terms) are now routinely canvassed for their opinions on religion. Surprise, surprise their opinions on the subject are invariably negative , condescending and mocking. Small minds usually resort to mocking concepts that are beyond their comprehension. But it would be far better for them to stay with the day job. We do not have to take our theology from teenage American pop stars or aging British comedians. Cleese is quoted as saying that Jesus is no more son of God than the rest of us. Ironically for Cleese , not only is Jesus the son of God, but he has enabled us also to become children of God. One of the consequences of the Incarnation which was greatly emphasized in the early church , is that through grace we are deified – we become like God, we become God. The Carmelite Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross , uses this idea also in his mysticism, saying that people who are united with God become like God, God and the soul become indistinguishable. And of course this is a characteristic of authentic love in human experience also – two people become one.
St. Paul in the passage we heard from his Letter to the Galatians, sums up the Christian tradition:
“When the appointed time came, God sent His Son, born or a woman (i.e. of Mary), born a subject of the Law to redeem those who were subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” (Gal.)-
The gospel for today’s feast is almost identical with that of the Mass at Dawn on Christmas Day. The only difference is that it begins at one verse later and ends with an additional verse (Luke. Ch1, v21), “When the eighth day came and the Child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.”
The Church is very conscious of the key role Mary played in the mystery of our salvation. Its true that she does not get great ‘coverage’ in the scriptures, but neither should we expect her to at that early stage. As I mentioned already, St. Paul only alludes to her (born of a woman), and Luke is restrained in his references to her. He is content to draw attention to the bare facts of her involvement in God’s plan.
But as we look back over centuries of Christian tradition, we see how God has ‘exalted the lowly’. Each member of the church can now take refuge in the powerful intercession of Mary. She is at the centre of the mystery of the incarnation and from it all her influence stems. She pondered long and deeply on God’s relationship with his people as revealed in the Covenant of the Old Law. She could only marvel at the role that she, the humble virgin, had been accorded. All the great messianic prophecies had now come gloriously to life in her. But Mary’s keen spiritual intuition would have enabled her to see that this was no mere individual exaltation. She was chosen for a purpose – to transmit life through the Saviour to the people of the New Covenant. Indeed because Mary is the Mother of God she is also Mother of the Church as Pope Paul VI proclaimed many years ago.
Rightly then we pray in the venerable words of Christian tradition.
“ We fly to your protection, O holy Mother of God”. Or in the even more ancient and well-loved Ave Maria,
“Holy Mary, Mother of God , pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”
Tadgh Tierney ocd (Morley)