Happy Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Blessed New Year.
Numbers 6:22-27; Ps 67:2-6, 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
A lot of events surrounded the birth of Jesus Christ. He didn’t just drop out of the sky without any preparation. Mary and Joseph were both of King David’s lineage. Jesus’ birth and mission were announced some 600 years before his coming. Joseph had to make preparation to register for the Roman tax in Bethlehem. Mary and some women were preparing clothes, for baby Jesus and traveling things to Bethlehem.
Then there was the birth, the visit of the shepherds, circumcision, presentation of Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple and the purification of Mary according to Jewish law. Then came the visit of the Wise Men from the East and the flight into Egypt. We think about these events in about a two-week period. Then we move to ordinary time until we begin our Lenten preparation for Easter. Easter is the central celebration of our freedom from sin and incorporation into the kingdom of God.
These celebrations have to be arranged around the ancient calendar date of the Jewish Passover, its freedom from Egypt. In the Roman Empire, Emperor Aurelian established December 25 in 274 to celebrate the Syrian sun god of Emesa during the winter solstice. With the freedom of religious worship established by emperor Constantine, the church leadership didn’t want new Christians celebrating that “New Years” type of thing and placed the birth of the true Son of God, Jesus Christ on that day. Christ’s birth was already being celebrated in Rome by 336 AD.
In the last 50 years, January 1 has had a few different themes depending on the time available before Easter. The Second Vatican Council, 1963-65, first reformed the liturgy. It focused on Praying for World Peace after World War I and II. Recently that theme prayer was changed to focus on the most important human person in the earthly life of Jesus, the one woman who said yes to God’s salvation plans for us, Mary, conceived by the overshadowing of God the Holy Spirit. A human man had nothing to do with that conception. Yet a good, law abiding, Jewish male was necessary to protect and provide for Jesus and Mary. One male and one female, with complimentary sexual parts, was necessary to create human life on earth from the beginning and that is still so.
This 8th day after Christmas we celebrate the one human woman who most participated in God’s plan for humanity. She is “The most Powerful Woman in the World,” as the article in National Geographic called her in its 11/25/ 2015 issue. By the merits of Jesus on the cross, Mary of Nazareth received the singular grace of being free from the “original sin” of Adam and Eve. Jesus is the New Adam. Mary is the new Eve.
Primary feast of Mary
As church theologians and clergy prayed and thought about this mystery, this primary feast of Mary emerged in different countries on different dates. The Byzantine church celebrated the second most important person in a primary person’s life, for example (Jesus Christ) 12/25, the day after the main person, 12/26th. Western European countries celebrated Mary’s feast on different days. The recent liturgical reform of the Roman church, brought Mary’s feast closer to Christmas, its octave.
In the encyclical by Pope Paul VI (1974), he wrote:
This celebration, January 1, in conformity with the ancient liturgy in Rome, is meant to commemorate the part Mary played in the mystery of salvation. It is means also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the ‘holy Mother … through whom we were found worthy … to receive the Author of Life.’ It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewed adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.
We see that Jesus has been using his earthly mother as his most important “press agent.” She has been sent from heaven with many messages since the first century. Michael O’Neill is Mary’s big data numbers cruncher on “miraclehunter.com.” He has codified every known apparition of Mary back to 40 A.D. Since the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church started a strict vetting process for miracles like the 2,000 sightings of the Virgin Mary since 40 A.D. To be worthy of belief and church support, apparitions must be deemed miraculous with a high degree of certainty and in line with church belief and found to have had a positive impact.
I am holding all of your, your families, parishes, work and our country in my prayers on this New Years and throughout the coming year.
Be safe and very blessed with Christ’s healing joy,
+ Fr. Bob Hilz
(@2017 Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR)