While many Southern Californians watch the Rose Parade or Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day, Catholics commemorate the Solemnity of Mary, a central feast day in the liturgical calendar.
The Catholic Church reserves solemnities for the commemoration of the most momentous events in the lives of Jesus and the saints, and we celebrate them with special liturgies full of song, incense and ceremony. While every Sunday is considered a solemnity, only a select number of days are universally recognized as such by the Church.
Because Catholics rightfully begin the first day of each year by recognizing Mary’s title and her immense importance, we start off the New Year in exactly the right way, says Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Orange, canon lawyer, and co-founder and spiritual director of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests.
“We entrust our lives to Mary and renew our commitment to her as we commemorate the Solemnity of Mary,” Doktorczyk says. “We cannot separate humanity from divinity in Christ, so for Mary to be called Mother of God is the highest title. It acknowledges that she is the mother of the whole Jesus.”
In Mary we see a woman who was totally humble and open to do the Lord’s will. We also recognize that her unique identity as Jesus’s mother means she is a powerful intercessor. “She wants to pray and intercede for us,” he says. “She wants to drape her mantle around us and protect us. She is the one that the devil cannot stand, largely because of her humility.”
The celebration of Mary the Mother of God can be traced to the year 431, when the Council of Ephesus declared her the ‘God-bearer,’ of Jesus Christ. In 1931, her feast day was declared to be October 11, but Pope Pius VI moved the Solemnity of Mary to January 1 after Vatican II.
“The purpose of the celebration is to honor the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation and at the same time to sing the praises of the unique dignity thus coming to the Holy Mother…through whom we have been given the gift of the Author of life,” according to Pope Pius VI in the 1974 “Marialis Cultus.”
“This same solemnity also offers an excellent opportunity to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace, as we once again hear the good tidings of great joy and pray to God, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, for the priceless gift of peace.”
Fittingly, the World Day of Peace also falls on January 1. “It is quite fitting that the Holy Father gives a speech to the Church and to the world each year on the World Day of Peace,” Doktorczyk says. In 2018, Pope Francis titles his speech “Migrants and Refugees: Men and Women in Search of Peace.”
To commemorate the Solemnity of Mary, Doktorczyk recommends that individuals attend Mass and families come together to pray the Rosary as they ponder Mary’s importance in one’s life and in the life of Christ.