In the liturgy, as renewed after the Second Vatican Council, there are only two octaves left, for the two main solemnities of the liturgical year, that is, Christmas and Easter. Which means that these two solemnities continue to be celebrated for eight days: it is as if on each day of the octave it were Christmas or Easter. In the liturgy of an octave you can find texts which say that “today” that mystery has been accomplished: for instance, if you check your missal, you will see that one of the entrance antiphons of this Mass precisely begins by saying: “Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lod is born for us…” Even the gospel takes up again the story of the shepherds. It is the same gospel as at the Mass at Christmas dawn. But today’s selection adds a verse, to let us know what happened on the eighth day: “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The events we specifically commemorate today are the circumcision of the Lord, according to the law, and the conferral of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Why should we celebrate Christmas and Easter for eight days? Is just a day not enough? The mysteries we celebrate on these solemnities are so rich, so profound that one day is not enough. We are invited to contemplate with calm these mysteries, so that we may discover the riches hidden in them. So, today we are still considering the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation: as John says in his gospel and we repeat three time a day in the Angelus, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us;” as we say in the Creed, “by the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
The wording of the Creed reminds us of a character not marginal at all, the Virgin Mary, of whom the Word of God took his flesh. Of course, the Son of God would have become man in a different way; but he chose to become one of us thanks to Mary, through her, in her, from her. The Blessed Virgin is a figure indissolubly linked to the mystery of the incarnation. On this point, we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘God sent forth his Son,’ but to prepare a body for him, he wanted the free cooperation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee…” (#488); “Called in the gospels ‘the mother of Jesus,’ Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth … as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Θεοτόκος, Theotokos)” (#495).
That is why the liturgy celebrates today the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is no distraction of our attention from the mystery we are contemplating; it is one of the aspects, not the least, of that mystery. Indeed, it helps us to grasp the true identity of the Child born of her. If we simply called Mary “the mother of Jesus,” his Son could be a great man, a prophet, even the Messiah, but nothing more. Instead we call Mary “the Mother of God,” thus confessing that her Son is the Son of God as well, God himself. Invoking Mary as the Theotokos is a profession of faith in the divinity of Jesus: if Mary is the Mother of God, it means that Jesus is God. Through Mary we are led to the core of the mystery of the incarnation.
It is wonderful to start a new year with the light emanating from the Incarnate Word and under the patronage of the Holy Mother of God. Let us turn to her, to ask for her protection. Of her we had the Son of God; with him may she give us plenty of blessings.