Mary, Mother of God

Homily for January 1st

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Happy New Year! As we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we turn our attention today to his mother Mary, but we continue to focus on Jesus as well. We give various titles to Jesus such as Savior, Christ, Messiah, Lord, Son of Man, and each of these titles expresses an aspect of our understanding of Jesus. In the same way we give many titles to Our Lady – there is a long list of them in the Litany of Our Lady of Loreto – and the title we celebrate today, “Mother of God,” and the title “Blessed Virgin,” are the two oldest titles given to Our Lady. In one sense, the title Mother of God says more about Jesus than it does about Our Lady. That is why I said we continue to focus on Jesus today also. What does the title Mother of God say about Jesus? It means that the humanity and divinity of Jesus are united in Jesus. There is not a separate human Jesus and a separate divine Jesus, there is one Jesus with a human nature and a divine nature, true God and true man, and because there is one Jesus we say Mary is Mother of God. There was a misunderstanding about this very issue in the fifth century that led to hundreds of bishops meeting in 431 AD during the Council of Ephesus which clarified that it is indeed correct and proper to give the title Mother of God to Our Lady because there is one Jesus with a human nature and a divine nature. Even before that clarification, the title Mother of God had been used by the faithful when describing Our Lady. Following the clarification by the Council of Ephesus that it is right and proper to title Our Lady as Mother of God, many churches were dedicated to Our Lady, and in 432 AD, the year after the Council of Ephesus, the construction of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome was begun which is first in importance in the world as a Marian shrine for pilgrims.

Mother of God! Some would like to know if there is anything in Sacred Scripture, in the Bible, to support the title Mother of God and the clarification by the bishops in the Council of Ephesus. Yes, just as for so many of our Catholic beliefs, there are statements in Scripture that give us the background. We could begin with the second reading today, an excerpt of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, one of his earliest letters, written only about two decades after Jesus and even before the Gospels were written. In today’s excerpt we heard, “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (Gal 4:4) God the Father sent his Son Jesus into the world and Jesus was born of a woman. This statement from St. Paul supports the title Mother of God, “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Another helpful statement in Scripture supporting the title Mother of God is in Luke’s Gospel when Mary visits Elizabeth and Elizabeth cries out, “How does it happen that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) Elizabeth proclaims Mary to be the “Mother of my Lord.” This is indeed very close to Mother of God. She became Mother of God because God had specially prepared her to be the perfect dwelling place for Jesus to grow for the nine months before he was born. We call this special preparation of Our Lady to be the perfect mother of Jesus her Immaculate Conception which we celebrated on December 8th. She is indeed “our tainted nature’s solitary boast” as the poet Wordsworth wrote. We thank Our Lady for becoming the Mother of God. We are very happy to venerate Our Lady especially today as Mother of God because we know of her love for us as she comes again and again to help us in places such as Lourdes and Fatima, and we love her in return. Of course a very good way to show our love for Our Lady in return is to pray the Rosary which would be a beautiful gift to give to Our Lady every day.

We read the excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Galatians today because Paul wrote, “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” What about today’s Gospel? (Luke 2:16-21) Why do we have this particular Gospel excerpt today about the shepherds visiting Jesus, Mary and Joseph? Of course it refers to Our Lady but I think the reason is because the excerpt concludes by telling us what happened eight days after the visit of the shepherds when Jesus was born, the octave of his birth, which is today. It tells us on that, today, Jesus was circumcised and given the name Jesus (Luke 2:21). Jesus is the name given him by the angel Gabriel. It is a divine name, not a name to be used disrespectfully in a blasphemous way. It is good to recall the sacredness of the name Jesus and the sacredness of the titles given him, including the title Christ.

So we know why we have today’s second reading, and the Gospel we have today. But what connection does the first reading have with today? (Num 6:24-27) It gives us the words of the blessings priests used in the temple in Jerusalem as they blessed people at the conclusion of liturgies:

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace (Num 6:24-26)

There are three parts to the blessing, each part longer than the previous, reminding us of our blessing in the name of the Trinity. The Church chose this reading for us today with this blessing because as we begin this New Year we ask God’s blessing on the New Year, and the words of blessing which priests invoked upon their people in the temple echo our prayers to God today that God bless our New Year. The excerpt of that reading concludes by God saying this is the way the priests are to invoke his name on the Israelites and he will bless them (Num 6:27). In other words, when the priests bless the people, it is God who gives the blessing. God honors the blessing given by his priests. For us today this means that when you are blessed by a Catholic priest you are blessed by Jesus because Catholic priests share in the priesthood of Jesus. Every Mass concludes with the blessing of a priest and if anyone leaves Mass early, apart from reminding us of Judas who left the Last Supper early, that person misses out on the blessing of the priest which is the blessing of Jesus.

As we begin this New Year, we venerate Mary the Mother of God, who was specially prepared by God to be the perfect sinless mother for Jesus while he grew in her womb for the nine months before he was born, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” It is indeed correct to call her Mother of God because there is one Jesus with a human nature and a divine nature. We ask God to bless our year ahead in the words which God himself asked priests to use in the temple:

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace (Num 6:24-26)

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2017

This homily was delivered in a parish in Pennsylvania.

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