When it comes to celebrations, the Catholic Church knows what it is doing. Its entire calendar centers upon these celebrations, helping us, as time-bound beings, to call to mind the centrality of our faith in our everyday lives. Although its year begins and ends on a different schedule than the secular calendar, this difference is purposeful, meant to help us to see how the liturgy can enrich our everyday lives, making the supernatural part of the natural.
This is especially true of today’s feast: the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. Today’s high holy day is not only a solemnity and holy day of obligation in its own right, it is also placed at the end of the Christmas Octave—the eight days that the Church celebrates the birth of its Savior, Jesus the Christ. And it falls on the first day of the secular New Year.
But what is this celebration of?
In our excitement over the Christ child and the New Year (and saying good riddance to the old), it seems out of place to celebrate this feast of the “Theotokos”—the God Bearer. It seems like a burden, an obligation that is placed on us when it already seems that we go to Mass a lot in the two weeks following Christmas. And in this year, when for many of us there is no ‘obligation’ to attend mass during this year of pandemic, these questions are highlighted.
All this brings us to think—why? Why has the Church made this seemingly obscure feast day one of obligation? In other words, what is so important about this feast day that ALL Catholics are asked to celebrate it? The Church does nothing by accident—why is it calling our attention to this celebration, and why is this celebration on the first day of the New Year?
The beauty of this particular quandary is that there are actually many good reasons. This feast at the end of the Christmas Octave reminds us that the birth of our Savior would not have been possible without his Mother’s yes. It calls to mind the incredible mystery that our God truly humbled himself to become man, making a human girl the Mother of God.
At the beginning of the New Year, this feast reminds us that Mary is our Mother as well—given to us by her Son, and that as our Mother she cares for our new beginnings, even those like the new calendar year. Through this celebration, the Church invites us to ask Mary into our lives, inviting her into the details as we would invite our own mothers. It asks us to do this as a community, at Mass, so that we can ask her to care not just for our own particular needs, but also those of our human family. It places the entire Church in Mary’s care at the beginning of each year, helping us to unite the supernatural and the natural together on this day in a way that will hopefully carry throughout the year.
As we enter this New Year, let us remember this celebration, calling Mary to our aid in this New Year. If you haven’t had a chance to find your Marian title for the year yet, please use our generator to find yours and pray with it throughout this year!