The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen opened one of his New Year’s broadcasts with this greeting:
God love you! That is the way I shall conclude my broadcasts, and that is the way I shall begin them today. I want the first word on the air of this New Year to be God. It is God who makes us happy. It is Love, which makes old things new. It is you who count the years in terms of God’s abiding love. Combining all three we have “God love you,” which is but another way of saying, “Happy New Year.” —The Relevance of God
God is the author and the subject of every single day, and it is no coincidence that we devote to God the first day of the calendar year. You may scratch your head and say, “What do you mean?” January first is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. While God is mentioned, isn’t the New Year really about Mary?”
Any Marian feast is about her Son, and specifically, about our salvation. For example, the Mysteries of the Rosary—Mary’s Prayer—are, essentially, a meditation on God’s salvific acts, of which His Mother is central.
What is it about Mary that makes her so special? Surely, her complete and unreserved surrender to God’s will makes her special, but we can point to many saints who, as Mother Teresa said, gave themselves to God in “Total Surrender.”
Catholics, however, acknowledge Mary to be above all saints because of her Immaculate Conception—conceived without sin. Catholics also admit that Mary, like any human being, is saved by the grace of God, but unlike us, God graced Mary in an inimitable and extraordinary manner, making her the first to be redeemed. Mary’s soul was transfigured into the image of Christ in this life; thus, for us, she becomes a compass of sorts, pointing true north to Heaven: “to Christ through Mary.”
Integral to her purity of heart and unreserved assent to God’s will, Mary gave us Christ’s human nature, and, above all, this is why we give Mary our highest honor above every great saint who ever lived. God could have redeemed us in any manner but, as Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us, the most fitting way was to become Incarnate: God-made-man. Because God shared in our lives, utterly and truly, we know that God wants us to share in His Life, that is, to be transformed into the image of His Divine Son. The Incarnation is the transfiguration of humanity. Saint Athanasius said, “God became man that man may become god,” that is, full of grace—divinized. Or, as Saint Paul put it, “It is no longer I who live but Christ in me.”
At heart, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is about the Incarnation—about the human nature that she freely gave to her divine Son: “Let it be done to me according to Thy Will.” Christ is born of a woman, true man and true God, and this woman, Mary, is the Mother of God.
On January first, the Byzantine Rite and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite celebrate the Octave of the Nativity of our Lord, which is the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision. The Nativity of Christ is, of course, a Marian solemnity as well, for we never can view the baby’s birth apart from his mother. Noting Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day (the octave), the Church unequivocally claims Christ’s human nature, truly born of a woman, and at his circumcision, our Lord bled for the first time. We cannot help but wonder at the stirrings in Mary’s maternal heart, as she heard her newborn Son cry in pain and shed His blood on the octave of His birth and as she pondered the magnitude of God’s love expressed in such a tiny and vulnerable vessel.
God love you!
Patricia Sodano Ireland is Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Program Director of Online Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College.