Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
New Year’s Greetings on this Festival Day. Many enjoy the day as the beginning of a New Year. But January 1st is also a Feast Day of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God as celebrated within Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and other church bodies. January 1st also marks the date of the Circumcision of Christ within many church bodies. Today we enjoy a special guest post by Fr. Carlton Kelley of St. Andrew’s Church.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a robust Christianity without the inclusion of Mary, Mother of our Lord as part of the church’s liturgical observances. These practices vary widely among the ecumenical family of churches but this variety, despite other significant theological differences in the Christian family, attests to the importance of Mary, Mother of God – as the Orthodox name her.
Our knowledge of Mary comes from the composite picture painted of her in the four canonical Gospels. What emerges is a portrait of a young woman “full of grace and truth” who is called by God to a difficult vocation countermanding, as God does, all the traditions of her time concerning marriage and purity. We know that Mary and Joseph loved their son and, in so doing, were careful to teach him the ways of God. Jesus’ ministry cannot be imagined without the nurture his parents gave him but, most especially, Mary.
We have the marvelous story of Mary and Joseph assuming, as was the custom of the time, that Jesus was with friends or relatives while traveling home from their Passover observance in Jerusalem. They discovered he was not, and like any good parents of any age, began to worry and search for him frantically. They found him where he needed to be – in his father’s house, listening and learning from the rabbis. That is precisely the place Mary and Joseph had taught him to be!
Mary is with Jesus at his first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. While she may not have fully understood his intentions, her simple directions to the servants are words to us: “Do what he tells you.”
Mary is with Jesus during his final hours on the Cross and underwent the torments of any mother watching her son die so horribly and shamefully. This brought to the church’s attention the awful reality of the prophecy that “a sword shall pierce your own soul also.” This is a way of highlighting the common humanity of mother and son and our common salvific destiny.
It seems that from almost the earliest days of the church Mary was given a place of honor surpassing that of any other saint. It is as if the church acted on an instinct planted by the Holy Spirit to honor this woman who literally made salvation possible; “she who bore him in her womb.” As Jesus was recognized as Son of God and “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” Mary was given the appropriate title Mother of God. This is how she is most lovingly known by millions of Christians for she is, literally, Mother of God, Mother of Jesus and Mother of countless Christians.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there are 6 major, 6 minor and 6 optional feasts of our Lady. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, there are 4 major and 4 minor feasts. In the Oriental Orthodox Churches, there are 6 major and 4 minor feasts and she is additionally commemorated every month. In the Anglican Communion, there are 9 feasts of Mary and in Lutheranism, there are 4.
Of particular interest to those who follow Ecclesiastical Sewing are the colors associated with Mary. She is generally seen wearing a dark blue inner garment, a practice said to have dated from the 5th century in Byzantium as this was the color of the reigning empress. Blue is associated with royalty, peace, and nature. In iconography, blue represents transcendence, mystery, and the divine. The color of Mary’s outer garment is red which is the color of earth and blood. This combination of colors depicts how Mary carried divinity within her humanity. Her blue garment of divinity is Jesus within her. The red garment is her humanity from which Christ took his human nature.
All feasts of Mary, as indeed are all feasts of all the worthies of the faith, are feasts which point to our Lord Jesus Christ and his work “for us and for our salvation.” There should be no question that Mary is worshipped displacing God from the status which alone belongs to the Holy One. Yet, the Orthodox have 3 different categories of honor when referring to divine realities. God the Holy Trinity is, of course, given the highest honor; Mary occupies a category all her own; and all the other saints, despite their relative importance or holiness, share one category of worthiness.
Mary is our prime example of created humanity at our finest. She is humble but brave, courageous but modest, truthful and kind, upright and vulnerable and unafraid to follow the leadings of God come what may. May this be so for all of us. May we say like this faithful daughter of Israel “Be it unto me according to your word.”
Guest author Fr. Carlton Kelley
The photo shows the beautiful Marian Frontal created for Fr. Kelley’s church in Pennsylvania. Ecclesiastical Sewing would like to thank Fr. Kelley for the honor of creating the above frontal for use in his now-former church and we look forward to serving him in his new parish.