TEXT: Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God, January 1, 2024

January 1, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God                                     

January 1, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we end our eight-day celebration of Christmas Day

         –even as we begin a new calendar year.

Eight days ago, we celebrated Christ entering the world

         –a day that changed everything.

Today, we face the fact that as Christians who have been changed,

         we have to enter the world and take the Lord with us.

As today’s second reading tells us, we have

         “the Spirit of the Son in our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

                  So, you are no longer a slave but a son.”

This is an important ending and an important beginning,

         and we commemorate it by celebrating the feast of Mary, Mother of God.

The Church’s official recognition of this title of Mary dates back to the year 351

         to the second ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Ephesus,

                  and one of the earliest and most important heresies about Christ:

                           about who he was when he was born;

                                    about the meaning of Christmas.

The heresy was called Nestorianism

         because its leading proponent was Nestorius,

                  Patriarch, or Bishop, of Constantinople.

Nestorius and his followers maintained that in Christ there were two persons,

         God the Son and the man Jesus.

God the Son entered into Jesus’ body after His birth

         and left before His death on the cross.

Of course, this means that Jesus wasn’t truly both God and man,

         so, His actual birth meant very little.

And, of course, the council of Ephesus rejected this,

         teaching that Christ Jesus is both fully God and fully man:

                  He is, as we read on Christmas Day,

                           the eternal Word who became flesh, the Incarnate Word of


This is why on this, the last day of the eight days of Christmas,

         we celebrate this feast.

But why is it called “Mary, Mother of God”

         and not “Jesus, fully God and fully man”?

Part of what really upset people back in 351

         was that the heresy took on a very concrete meaning

                  for everyday average Christians:

                           Very simply put, it degraded Mary,

                                    who was loved very deeply by the early Christians

                                    —especially the Christians in Ephesus,

                                             where the Council was held

                                             and where Mary lived

                                                      after the Ascension of Jesus.

Part of the way Nestorius explained his heretical teaching

         was to emphatically teach that it was wrong to call Mary

                  “Theotokos”, or “Mother of God”,

because, he said, Mary was not the Mother of God,

         only the mother of the man, Jesus.

                  –If God the Son entered Jesus’ body only after Jesus’ birth,

                           Mary couldn’t be His—God’s— Mom.

So, part of the council’s decree on the divinity and humanity of Jesus

         was to emphatically proclaim her “Theotokos” (“Mother of God”).

Mary is the mother of human and divine Jesus.

Of course, the divine God the Son existed before she was pregnant

         —He existed co-eternally with the Father and created everything,

                  including Mary herself.  

But God the Son entered Mary’s womb when He took flesh

         and she bore Him, the one person, in both His human and divine nature,

                  in her womb for nine months and

                           and gave Him birth into the world.

The people were scandalized because they knew how important Mary was

         and always had been.

After all, she was the first to believe, the first disciple.

But not only was she the first to believe,

         but without her faith in what the angel of God revealed,

                  there would be no Jesus.

As St. Paul tells us today,

         “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son,

                  born of a woman, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Mary was necessary for Christ to come into the world,

and she was the first to choose to believe and serve Christ.

She was the first to express complete openness to God the Father and His Son

                  –“let it be done” (to me as you say)…YES!

And Mary’s absolute and absolutely humble “yes”

         is the source of her motherhood of God;

         it was absolutely necessary in order for the Word

                           to become flesh and dwell among us.

And so, her “yes”, her motherhood, was absolutely necessary

         for our salvation to come to us.

So, we see Mary’s importance to us today:

-She reveals her son to the world and teaches us to say “yes” to Jesus.

-She is the sign of humility necessary for God to enter into the world and into us.

-She is a sign of the special role that women have in the salvation of the world, especially by the tremendous expression of an openness to God and to love, particularly in the gift and dignity of  motherhood.

-She is also a sign that our choices are critical: Everyone makes important choices in God’s plan for the salvation of the world–we say “yes” or “no” to God every day, in large and small ways.

-We remember that she has said “yes” to God her son, and through Him, “yes” to us; she consented to be our mother–

 In today’s second reading we read,

“God sent His son,

so that you might receive adoption as sons…

you are no longer a slave, but a son.”

In Christ, we are sons of God, and also sons of Mary.

In its providentially inspired wisdom, the Church has seen fit to celebrate

         eight days of Christmas,

         treating each day as if it were the birthday of the Lord–

                  a day so great that it cannot be celebrated in only one day.

As a result, the eighth day from December 25th is always today, January 1st,

so that every year, we begin the celebration of the new year

         by ending our celebration of the Lord’s birth.

It is as if we extend the Feast eight days specifically to bless the new year.

And that makes sense:

         Christmas is a new beginning for all the world, but especially for mankind.

                  –on this day, God the Son united Himself perfectly and completely

                           to the human race.

And so, on this feast of the condemnation of Nestorianism,

         we have the proclamation of a new beginning for all mankind.

But this feast cannot be celebrated without the one who made it possible:

         the one who said “yes” to God the Son

                  and accepted Him as both her divine and human son.

And so, we celebrate her motherhood today

         —her motherhood of the God and man, Jesus,

                  and through Him, her motherhood of all mankind.

As we begin this new year, let’s make a resolution:

         Let’s entrust ourselves to our Blessed Mother

so that she may show us how to bring Christ into the world through our lives, by both our actions and our prayers;

         that she might help us to grow in faith in her son, God made man,

                  and to lead others to that same faith;

         that she might help us to be humble

                  so that we can see and admit to ourselves and to God

                           the many ways we say “no” to Him;

         and that in all of this, she might teach us and help us always

                  to say “yes” to her son, who is God, Jesus.

                           –saying “yes” to Him in everything we do this year.

Let us go to our Mother who loves us and will surely care for us

         as tenderly as she cared for her Lord and God, her son Jesus

                  –as she joyfully held Him and laid Him in the manger in Bethlehem

                  –as she stood in sorrow at the foot of His cross on Calvary

                  –as she worshipped before Him in His glory at His resurrection

                           and, even now, in heaven

                  –and as she has gazed upon His face in peace all these years.

Let us turn to His Mother and our mother, and pray now and throughout this year

         “Holy Mary, Mother of God,

                  pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”