Sunday Sermon for January 1, 2022, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Readings: Num 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21
Today is the octave day of Christmas, so beyond being the octave, three other events are celebrated today. The first is the Divine Maternity of Mary, that is, the truth that our Blessed Lady is the Mother of God. Second, the circumcision of Jesus which, according to Jewish law, took place on the eighth day after the birth of a male child. Thirdly, the naming of the Child Jesus, an event that was united with the circumcision.
If we take these in order as they are listed above, Mary is the Mother of God because Jesus is God from all eternity. He is the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity and, as God, He cannot change. Therefore, He is a Divine Person from all eternity and, when He received His human nature from His mother, there was no change in His Person.
To try to explain this more clearly, a person is defined as a living being with a mind and a free will. God, Who is uncreated, is three Persons. Angels are persons, and human beings are persons. There are no other persons in creation. In human persons composed of body and soul, the soul is the principle of life and the soul and the mind and the free will are the faculties of our soul. Also, our personality resides in our soul. God and the angels are pure spirits which means they do not have bodies, but it also means they do not have souls. The three Persons of God share one mind and one will; the angels each have a mind and a free will; but only human persons have souls endowed with these faculties.
All this is said because when Jesus assumed a human nature, He assumed a human body and as human soul, but because He was already a Person, He did not take a human personality to Himself. He has a human mind and a human will, but He is a Divine Person. This means He has a divine mind and a divine will as well as a human mind and a human will, but He is only one Person. Since He is a Divine Person from all eternity and, therefore, incapable of changing, He remained a Divine Person in our Lady’s womb. When our Lady gave birth to the Savior of the world, the Person to Whom she gave birth was the second Person of the Trinity; He was God. Therefore, she is the Mother of God.
The most fascinating event about this feast is the circumcision of our Lord. We recall that this goes back to the covenant God made with Abraham. It was through circumcision that a male was incorporated into the covenant. There are two aspects of this that make it so fascinating. First, Jesus is God with Whom Abraham made the covenant. Now, He is being incorporated into the covenant. Secondly, Jesus is the New Covenant. God did not make a covenant with Jesus; rather, Jesus is the Covenant into Whom we are incorporated at Baptism.
In obedience to all of the precepts of the Law, our Lady and St. Joseph made sure our Lord was circumcised on the eighth day and that the required offering was made for the redemption on the fortieth day. The circumcision not only demonstrates that our Lord had a true human nature, but in His humanity, He was truly a member of the Hebrew people. This would be essential for the recognition of our Lord as the Messiah and also as the New Covenant promised to the Jews and the Gentiles alike.
Our Lord was formally given a Name on the day of His circumcision. Notice that the naming of the Child was inextricably linked with entrance into the covenant. This is actually true for us as well. We are formally named at the moment of our baptism. The uniting of the name with incorporation into the covenant shows the relationship to God. For the Jewish people, this meant the child was part of the People of God; the name expressed this reality. For us, it shows we are children of God. In other words, our name is not merely a title given for our human existence; in baptism the name puts us in relationship with God as Father.
The Name Jesus, Joshua in Hebrew, means “savior.” The Angel told both our Lady and St. Joseph that Jesus would save the people from their sins. The Name given on the day of entrance into the covenant signifies what the person would be. Recall the intrigue of the people regarding the naming of St. John the Baptist and the people wondering what this child would be. John means “God is gracious.” Regarding our Lord’s Name, many people in Israel were given this name because of Joshua, the protégé of Moses who led the people into the Promised Land. Regarding our Lord, the Name means exactly what it says.
When Epiphany comes, we will celebrate three mysteries that reveal our Lord’s divinity. Today we celebrate three mysteries that, while pointing to His divinity, reveal the true humanity of our Lord. He was truly born from a woman, He had real flesh that was circumcised, and He was given a human Name that expresses the reason He took a human nature to Himself. He is God, He is our Savior, and He is born in the fullness of His Person from our Blessed Mother. Truly, a glorious solemnity for our Lady, for our Lord, and for us who are members of His Body and spiritual children of our Blessed Lady!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.