Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 8th Day of Christmas - The Solemnity Of Mary, Mother Of God

Madonna With Child by Bellini Jacopo
   Today, the Eighth Day of Christmas, is known out in The World as New Year’s Day; in the Church it is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the final day in the Octave of Christmas.  The secular observance celebrates no more than another turning of a calendar page, but in the Church we look at time with an eye on eternity: the Nativity of Christ turns around all of human history (which is why we eventually adopted the BC/AD arrangement with its mirror-image numbering of years, placing the Nativity at the center of time).  Jesus’s mother, Mary, plays an essential part in that unique and astonishing event.
     We must start with the fact that Mary was fully human; as Charles Dickens says in the opening lines of A Christmas Carol, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”  Just as Marley’s death is an essential element in Dickens’ tale, the Incarnation’s meaning for mankind is directly connected to the Blessed Mother’s humanity, because if Christ isn’t born of a human woman, He’s not fully human himself, in which case how can He die and redeem humankind? Mary is the guarantor that Jesus, while He truly is God, is truly one of us.
     Both truly God, and truly one of us . . . it’s hard for us to reconcile both of those things in our finite minds, but both must be true if Christianity is true.  At the same time, the title “Mother of God” is alarming: some people claim that it seems to say that a mortal woman has brought God into existence, but we don’t really think that even about ordinary mothers and their ordinary human babies.  Mothers and Fathers are agents in a larger process, and the soul, of course, comes from God.  The original Greek term Theotokos, literally “God-bearer”, while a little less difficult, still challenges us. It tells us that, just as the original Arc of the Covenant carried Manna from Heaven, along with Tablets of the Decalogue and Aaron’s staff, Mary carried the Second Person of the Trinity in her womb, and so she is called the Arc of the New Covenant (see Revelation 11:19-12:1). 
     But the first Arc was merely a container, it contributed nothing to its contents; even before anyone knew anything of genetics, however, it would have been obvious that, in some way, Jesus’s fleshly body owed something, at least, to his mother.  In his face, the color of his eyes, the shape of his nose, or some other physical feature, the familial relationship would be manifest. Through the Motherhood of Mary Jesus, that is to say God, takes on our humanity in an utterly tangible, direct and personal way.
     The Motherhood of Mary, like the Incarnation itself, is a mystery.  It is something that we can really understand (although never fully understand) through experience.  As the last day in the Octave of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God it invites us to start looking not only at the Child lying in the manger, but to start looking further at what that Child means for us as men and women.

            O God,
            Who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
            Bestowed on the Human race the grace of eternal salvation,
            Grant, we pray, that we may experience the intercession of her,
            Through whom we were found worthy to receive the author of life,
            Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.
            Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the HolySpirit,
            One God, for ever and ever.