And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. ~Lk 2:19
Unlike other solemnities of the Blessed Virgin Mary (think of the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, and the Assumption), today’s celebration is in one sense fairly new. Before the liturgical changes ushered in by the Vatican II Council, the feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated on October 11, (not coincidentally the date St. John XXIII inaugurated the Vatican II Council), but even this feast was a relatively new addition to the calendar given that Pope Pius XI had added it to the universal calendar only in 1931. We have to go back, in fact, to at least the 8th century to find this celebration contained in the liturgical books of Rome. It is this celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary that St. Paul VI desired to restore for the universal calendar with today’s solemnity.
Because of the “newness” of this celebration, and the fact that it is seemingly buried amidst the festivities of Christmas and New Year’s Day, to a certain degree we don’t know what to do with the day. In fact, however, the Motherhood of Mary forms the basis of all the other mysteries of Mary’s life and is the root cause of our veneration of her. Echoing the dogmatic declaration of the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.), by celebrating Mary as the Mother of God, we are in fact professing the true identity of this mother’s child. The Son of Mary is the Son of God. At every birth there are always two persons present: mother and child. While in this case the Child’s birth is celebrated on the 25th of December, one day is insufficient to do adequate justice to such a momentous event; there are too many things to be celebrated. And so for eight days, the Christmas Octave, the Church celebrates Christmas a new – as if time were momentarily suspended to allow us to savor more deeply the sweetness of the moment. Finally, on the eighth day, always a reminder of the day of resurrection, we celebrate the Maternity of Mary, the circumcision and naming of Jesus, and the beginning of a new year. What an appropriate celebration, then, by which to inaugurate a new year, beseeching the Mother of God to protect us, to guide us, and to teach us the identity of her beloved Son.
Fr. Richard Hinkley