The Catholic Church teaches four dogmas about the Blessed Virgin Mary: that she is Mother of God (Theotokos, in Greek); that she was always a virgin; that she was conceived without the stain of original sin; and that after her earthly life she was assumed body and soul into heaven. The earliest of these to be formally defined as church teaching is that Mary is Mother of God. It was done at the Council of Ephesus, in 431. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that Mary preexists the Holy Trinity, or that God takes his being from her. But it insists that Jesus Christ, God and man, is one person, and that Mary gave birth to all of him; she couldn’t just give birth to him as a human, since he had no existence just as a person. It’s as much about the unity of Jesus as one person as it is about Mary herself.
Before 1969, January, the octave day of Christmas, was known as the Feast of the Circumcision,because it was on the eighth day after his birth that Jesus was circumcised. The gospel for the day was just the verse telling of the circumcision. But in the liturgical revisions of 1969, it was designated as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Pope Paul VI had also designated it as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. The readings of the Mass reflect the history of the day.
The first reading — Numbers 6:22-27 — may seem out of place at first glance, but the priestly blessing concludes by invoking peace on the people, which is apt for the World Day of Prayer for Peace. The full blessing also seems appropriate for the beginning of the new year in the secular calendar of most of the world. It reminds us that God is the creator and giver of all good gifts. In the responsorial psalm — Ps. 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 — we ask his blessing for ourselves and for the world.
The second reading — Galatians 4:4-7 — while not mentioning Mary’s name, speaks of Jesus’ being born of her. His birth into our humanity makes it possible for him to bring us into his status: we become adopted children of God. Mary’s son had to be God to save us.
Finally, the gospel —Luke 2:16-22 — unites the themes. The shepherds report what they have heard and seen: Mary’s son, Jesus, is the Savior, and his birth brings peace to the world from God. On the eighth day after his birth, he is circumcised, under the Law, and given the name assigned to him by the angel at the Annunciation — a name which means, “The Lord saves,” which is what he does.
We should have Aaron and the priests as models, as we pray for God’s blessings, especially peace, for the world. We should be like the shepherds and praise and glorify God for all that he has revealed to us of his saving activity. We should imitate Mary, reflecting in our hearts on all God has said and done; and may this bring us a happy year 2016.