Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
January 1, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Tonight/today we celebrate what is usually called
the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
It is very fitting that we do so
as we come to the close of the Octave of Christmas,
as well as the beginning of a New Year,
since the Blessed Mother is a big part of both:
she’s right at the center of the events of Christmas,
and she should be right at the center of events
in the New Year, at least for Catholics.
But to celebrate this feast properly
I’d like us to focus tonight on alternative title of this feast
used in many official sources:
the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
The mystery we celebrate is that Mary is both Mother and Virgin,
and how these together give her a unique relationship with God and us.
For centuries January 1, used to be celebrated as
the “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord,”
and still is in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass
—the Traditional Latin Mass.
But in 1974 Pope Paul VI changed it
saying that he wanted to re-emphasize Mary’s role
in the mystery of the birth of the Lord and our salvation.
While the whole Church was pleased to have this new feast of Mary,
I can only imagine that there were sighs of relief
in the rectories of the world:
the Circumcision is NOT the easiest mystery to preach about.
…. And yet, I’m going to try to now, for a moment,
because I think there’s something in the old feast
that helps us understand the new feast.
Circumcision, as a Jewish ritual, dates back to Abraham,
the father of the Jewish faith.
It was demanded of him and all his male descendants as a sign
that they had accepted the covenant with God
—what we would come to call the Old Covenant.
Essentially, it was symbolic of sacrifice to the Lord.
You see, ancient peoples understood blood to be the source of life,
or at least to be symbolic of the person’s life
—after all, without blood you die.
So blood sacrifice
—whether the sacrifice of a Passover lamb, or the circumcisions of males—
became a symbol in Jewish law,
of giving one’s very life to God—one’s whole being.
And this is what it meant to enter the covenant:
God gave himself to you, and you gave yourself to God.
So we see how in Jesus’ circumcision he is symbolically offered to his Father,
and enters into the new Covenant as man.
Now, of course, as God, Jesus doesn’t need to do this:
He is in a perfect and eternal Covenant with His Father.
But as man He must do this: standing in for all mankind,
He must continuously give Himself to the Father,
in loving obedience giving Himself even unto death.
This self-gift, this self-sacrifice, of His entire life,
is brought to fulfillment on the Cross,
His ultimate and perfect “yes” to the Father.
But it, begins, at least symbolically and ritually, at His circumcision.
Now, what does this have to do with the Virgin Mother?
Think of this: she is a mere mortal human being
–yes, the greatest mere human being ever to walk the earth,
but still a mere creature.
As the Psalms say:
“O LORD, what is man that you …think of him?
Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”
And yet Mary becomes the Mother of the Eternal Most High God.
It’s sort of mind boggling, but true.
What a testimony not only to the dignity of this woman
but to the dignity of mankind in general,
that we have the capacity and dignity to receive our Creator.
But it also says something specific about
the dignity of women, and motherhood.
Because the Eternal Son of God does not just come to mankind,
but comes to us in the womb, body and life of His mother.
What a magnificent quality of women, the capacity for motherhood,
to receive and bear and to nurse and raise her Creator and Savior.
But this motherhood is not something passive:
it requires a total active commitment to the task at hand.
This is true for any mother,
but for the Blessed Mother it’s true in an even more profound way:
just on a natural level we can imagine the huge responsibility
she would feel and fulfill in raising the Savior of the world.
So that her “yes” to the angel Gabriel was a “yes”
to give her whole life over to God and to his will,
so that she would be open, available and immediately responsive
to whatever he asked of her:
“let it be done to me according to your word.”
And here we find the correlation to the Circumcision:
because in her “yes” to the angel,
and her acceptance of the tiny baby in her womb,
she sacrificed herself, gave herself,
her whole life, literally bodily and spiritually,
In a certain way we see this self-gift, this sacrifice, to our creator
every time a mother says “yes” to the gift of a child in her womb.
But Mary’s “yes” takes this natural “yes” to the creator,
and magnifies it with her pure and grace-filled “yes”
to be the mother of the creator himself.
But in Mary this dignity and mystery of self-sacrifice,
takes on an even richer meaning.
Because it is a dogma of the Church,
revealed in Scripture and held constantly in the Sacred Tradition,
that the Mother of God is also the Ever–Virgin Mother.
And by this we believe, dogmatically,
that Mary was and is a virgin, as we say,
ante-partu, in partu, and post-partu:
that is, before the birth of Jesus,
during His birth,
and after His birth,
Now, some say that somehow this demeans her marriage to St. Joseph,
or says that there’s something wrong with marriage, or marital relations.
Not at all.
The thing is, just as motherhood is a self-gift to God and to the child,
the marital act is an expression of total self-gift to one’s spouse.
But for those who consecrate themselves to virginity for the love of the kingdom,
they also give themselves completely:
a consecrated virgin gives herself, body and soul,
not to a human spouse but to God.
It’s truly a sacrificial gift, a total self-gift.
And one never offers God a sacrifice or a gift that is not good,
Scripture is very clear on this.
Which means the sacrifices involved in virginity,
including the giving up of marital relations,
is the offering up of a good thing.
So, “normal” brides—all those but Mary–are not demeaned by Mary’s virginity,
but rather the opposite is true:
consecrated virginity shows the dignity and worth of bodily self-gift:
if it is good to offer one’s body up to God as a gift,
what a beautiful and holy thing it is to give to one’s spouse.
And her Marriage to St. Joseph is also not demeaned:
St. Joseph joins her in giving himself to God completely in virginity,
so that together they are even more perfectly united in marriage
by their unique mutual total self-gift to God.
And their union with God, especially with their baby Jesus, God the Son,
makes them closer and more intimate with each other
than any other mere physical act could begin to do or express
—as good as it might be.
But something else is revealed here as well:
her virginal self-gift to God makes possible
her unique vocation as Mother of God:
only by giving herself to God completely
can she then become Mother of His Son.
And through the union of Virginal and Maternal self-gift in Mary
we see the self-gift of God himself enter the world,
as the human Baby Jesus.
Again, this self-sacrifice of Jesus is symbolized by his Circumcision,
but it began in His incarnation in his mother’s womb,
was revealed at Christmas,
and completed on the Cross.
But notice what precedes it: Mary’s virginal and maternal sacrifice
at the Annunciation and Christmas.
And notice what accompanies it in its completion:
Mary standing at the foot of the Cross,
sharing in his sacrifice, as Simeon once prophesied she would:
“and a sword will pierce your own heart as well.”
So that in the Cross, Mary’s own sacrifice, her self-gift to God, is perfected
by being united to the sacrificial life and death of her Divine Son.
But remember that the Cross is a sort of 2-pronged sacrifice for Christ:
He gave Himself to the Father, but for us,
and so, in way, we can say
he gave himself both to the Father and to us.
And then remember what happened as he did this:
on the Cross, He took Mary’s Virginal-Maternal gift of herself to God
and looks down and gives that gift to us:
“woman behold your son…son behold your mother.”
So that as Virgin Mother of God, she becomes Virgin Mother of the Church,
and Virgin Mother of each one of us.
Like her Son, she gives herself to God, and to us.
Personally, I’m delighted we celebrate this day
as the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
But lest we forget, this virginal motherhood has no meaning at all without Christ
and His self-gift, His sacrifice,
manifested in the Incarnation, Christmas and the Cross
—and in His Circumcision.
But, in the light of His Sacrifice,
the Virginal-Maternal self-gift of Mary is lifted up into the glory of heaven,
and reveals the dignity of
humanity, womanhood, motherhood and virginity.
And becomes a font of blessing for all of us, her children in Christ Jesus.