Dear Friends in Christ,
Eight days ago we celebrated the Birth of Jesus Christ, and we read in the Gospel of St Luke that “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.” (Luke 2.21) Today is, therefore, the Eighth Day or Octave of the Birth of the Lord Jesus, and so we commemorate the naming and circumcision of Christ on this day. In fact, for many centuries this liturgical celebration was called “The Circumcision of the Lord and the Octave of the Nativity,” and it is still called that in the Christian East among both Catholics and Orthodox.
In 1969, however, the name and focus of this feast was changed to its present title of “Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.” This change restored the name of the celebration as it had been observed in Rome since at least the seventh century, and in 1974, Blessed Pope Paul VI explained the reason for the change in an encyclical letter called Marialis Cultus. Pope Paul wrote that “this celebration, assigned to January 1 in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the holy Mother … through whom we were found worthy to receive the author of life. It is likewise a fitting occasion of renewed adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels, and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. For this reason … we have instituted the World Day of Peace.”
So, now we have four titles for one day in the liturgical calendar: the Octave of the Nativity; the Circumcision of the Lord; the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God; and the World Day of Peace. Each of these titles reveals a different facet of one mystery of faith, and each is worthy of our meditation. The Word became flesh in the womb of a Virgin who was free to choose another path for herself but who surrendered her life in the obedience of faith to the Father’s eternal plan of salvation, and Mary’s act of faith made her both Mother and Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for this feast, the Church directs our attention to the heart of this mystery:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, and to praise, bless, and glorify your name on the Solemnity of the Motherhood of the Blessed ever-Virgin Mary. For by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit she conceived your Only Begotten Son, and without losing the glory of virginity, brought forth into the world the eternal Light, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him the Angels praise your majesty, Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you. Heaven and the Virtues of heaven and the blessed Seraphim worship together with exultation. May our voices, we pray, join with theirs in humble praise, as we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy!