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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

Jan. 1 isn’t just New Year’s Day for Catholics. It is also the date when we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It is the most important feast during the Twelve Days of Christmas, which go from the feast of the Nativity on Dec. 25 to Epiphany on Jan. 5.

During the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Church celebrates many important feasts, including the feasts of St. Stephen, the first martyr (Dec. 26), whose martyrdom is recorded in Acts 6-7; St. John the Apostle (Dec. 27), who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, as well as three epistles; the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), the children who were slaughtered at the order of King Herod, when he was trying to kill the Christ Child; and the Holy Family (normally celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, which this year falls on Dec. 29).

None, however, is as important as the feast celebrated on the octave (eighth day) of Christmas, Jan. 1: the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In fact, the Church regards this feast as so important that it is a holy day of obligation. On this day, we are reminded of the role that the Blessed Virgin Mary played in the plan of our salvation. Christ’s birth was made possible by Mary’s fiat: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”

One of the earliest titles given by Christians to the Blessed Virgin was Theotokos – “The God-bearer.” We celebrate her as the Mother of God because, in bearing Christ, she bore the fullness of the Godhead within her.

The title “Mother of God” goes back to the third or fourth century, but the Greek term Theotokos (“The God-bearer”) was officially consecrated as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Ephesus in 431, thus becoming the first Marian dogma. At the end of the Council of Ephesus, crowds of people marched through the streets shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!”

This Catholic doctrine is based on the doctrine of Incarnation, as expressed by St. Paul: “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).

In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium” (“Light of the People”) calls Mary “Mother of God” 12 times.

On this day the Catholic Church also celebrates the World Day of Peace, a tradition established by Pope Paul VI and confirmed by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

— Sources: Catholic News Agency and Scott P. Richert

Pictured at top: A detail from the miraculous Panagia of Jerusalem icon, the icon written “without human hands”