e celebrate the Motherhood of Mary on January 1 and it is also the World Day of Peace. Celebrating two major themes in one might seem awkward. But a closer look at the possible relation of these two themes can give us valuable insights.
The mystery of motherhood is the mystery of bringing forth and nurturing new life. As Mother of the Church, Mary's role in bringing forth new life within the Church is always directed to the Church's role in bringing forth new life in the world. Never before in the entire history of the human race has life been so threatened with nuclear destruction and growing disregard for all life. Today, to give and to nurture life, means first and foremost to make way for peace.
Closely related to the mystery of Mary's motherhood of the Church, devotion to Our Lady of Peace recalls the struggle and suffering of new life. We can gain strength and courage from the awareness of Mary, our Mother, truly involved with us in our efforts for peace.
n the last part of the 5th Century, after the Council of Ephesus (431) the feast of the Mother of God, appeared in many places. Although its date varied, Rome celebrated the feast on January 1, eight days (octave) after Christmas. This feast celebrated Mary being the Mother of God. It was not until the middle of the 7th century that this feast appeared in the West.
Even though the New Testament uses a variety of images in its reflection on Mary, that of 'mother' is most fundamental. The historical fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus established her unique relationship to her Son, a relationship that serves as the basis for all other reflections about her. That simple fact is declared throughout the New Testament: Jesus did not drop down from heaven; he was born of a woman. Paul gives that fundamental belief in his Letter to the Galatians: (first letter written): 'But when the completion of the time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . (Galatians 4:4).
The title Mother of God had a fiercely fought history. No one ever doubted that she was mother of Jesus, that she gave birth to Jesus of Nazareth, that she was the mother of the one who died on the cross during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. But since some in the early days of Christianity doubted the Divinity of the Son, they doubted also her claim to that title Mother of God. Mother of Jesus - Yes: Mother of God - No.
At times, a given issue comes to a head. Then an Ecumenical Council (General Council), a meeting of bishops representing the entire Church is called together; which proposes carefully phrased doctrines, statements to be believed by the entire Church.
In 431 a Council was called at Ephesus because Nestorius, the Patriarch (Church leader) of Constantinople and some of his followers refused to call Mary the Mother of God. He taught that there were two separate persons in Christ, one divine, the other human. He held that Mary is not the Mother of God, but of the man Jesus Christ. His heresy was strongly opposed by Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who condemned Nestorius. The Council declared at its first meeting that Mary was the Mother of God. That evening crowds of Ephesians were jubilant and chanting, 'Praised be the Theotokos (Creek, God-bearer), Long live Cyril,' accompanied Cyril and the bishops to their hostels.
Council of Vatican II, 1962: 21st Ecumental Council
'At the message of the angel, the Virgin Mary received the word of God in her heart and in her body, and gave life to the world. Hence she is acknowledged and honoured as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer'
(The Constitution on the Church, Chapter 8, No 53)
Song of Acceptance
My soul trembles in the presence of the loving Creator and my spirit prepares itself to walk hand in hand with the God who saves Israel because I have been accepted by God as a simple helpmate. Yes, forever in the life of humankind people will sing of this loving encounter; through remembering this moment, the faithful will know all things are possible in God. Holy is the place within me where God lives. God's tender fingers reach out from age to age to touch the softened inner spaces of those who open their souls in hope. I have experienced the creative power of God's embracing arms and I know the cleansing fire of unconditional love.
(Miryam of Nazareth, Ann Johnson)
The Motherhood of Mary
From the homily during Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica, 1 January, 1979, by Pope John Paul II.
e see Mary then - as in so many pictures and sculptures - with the Child in her arms, with the Child at her breast. The Mother, who gave birth and fed the Son of God. The Mother of Christ. There is no image that is better known and that speaks in a more simple way of the mystery of the Lord's birth than that of the Mother with Jesus in her arms. Is not this image, perhaps, the source of our extraordinary confidence? Is it not just this image that allows us to live in the circle of all the mysteries of our faith, and, while contemplating them as'divine'to consider them at the same time so'human?' But there is yet another image of the Mother with her Son in her arms. It is in this basilica: it is 'La Pieta': Mary with Jesus taken from the Cross: with Jesus who died before her eyes on Mount Golgotha, and who after death returns to those arms on which he was offered as Saviour of the world at Bethlehem.
Therefore I say: 'Mother, you know what it means to clasp in your arms the dead body of your Son, of him to whom you gave birth, spare all Mothers on this earth the death of their children, the torments, the slavery, the destruction of war, the persecutions, the concentration camps, the prisons! Keep for them the joy of birth, of sustenance, of the development of man and of his life. In the name of this life, in the name of the birth of the Lord, implore with us peace and justice in the world! Mother of Peace, in all the beauty and majesty of your motherhood, which the Church exalts and the world admires, we pray to you: be with us at every moment. Let this New Year be a year of peace, in virtue of the birth and the death of your Son!' Amen'