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Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Devotion to Mary probably began in the third century AD. The four gospels, written in the late first century, treat of her in very different ways. In Matthew the focus is on Joseph, who is named as the legal father of Jesus and protector of the family. Mark only mentions her in passing. Luke gives details of her call to be mother of the Messiah, her visit to Elizabeth, the nativity of Jesus, his circumcision and presentation, and finally the separate story of  him in the temple. John places Mary at the wedding in Cana, as Jesus’ ministry begins, and at the cross as he fulfils his mission and gives her as mother to the Beloved Disciple. Yet from all these different accounts we can build a brief but clear picture of Mary’s life. It was a very ordinary one as a Jewish wife and mother, perhaps most clearly seen in the temple story (Luke 2:41-52) where Joseph and Mary are the anxious parents of a missing child and seem to have very little idea of his real identity. However, this is the upbringing God chose for his son.

Reflection on the role of Mary would have developed from this time. At the Council of Ephesus in 431, this came to fruition in the title given to Mary. She was named as “Theotokos” or “God Bearer”, as Jesus was God Incarnate, having two natures - divine and human - in the same person. The Orthodox Church, particularly in its icons, always thinks of Mary in connection with her son. This approach brings a healthy theology of Mary and her role to the story of salvation. The feast we celebrate today dates from early in the history of the church, though in the seventh century it was overshadowed by the feasts of the Annunciation and Assumption, and 1 January became the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas. Later on, in about the thirteenth century, it became the Feast of The Circumcision of Jesus, which occurred on the eighth day after his birth. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) Pope Paul VI, in 1974, brought back the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, replacing the Feast of the Circumcision.

We also celebrate the International Day of Peace today and we pray that Mary, Mother of the Church, will inspire us all to help bring peace to a very troubled world.