The reforms of the liturgical calendar after Vatican II were an attempt to prune things back and keep Christ at the center of things. When it comes to January 1, however, things at first seem to be almost as crowded as ever. The liturgy here celebrates 3 different feasts all on the same day.
Today is the eighth day of Jesus’ earthly existence, and so it would have been an important day as a Jewish baby boy, the traditional day of his circumcision. In the old calendar, today was celebrated as the Octave of Christmas, just like there is for Easter, and the feast of the circumcision. It would also have been the day when the Christ-child was named, and this aspect was celebrated on the Sunday following.
In the current calendar, we have the first of January as the Solemnity of Mary as the Holy Mother of God. This is one of the most ancient titles of the Blessed Virgin, and it says something very important about Jesus and about us. For Mary to be the Mother of God, her child, Jesus, must be God. This was the focus of many of the fights that the leaders in the early Church had about who Jesus was. Some thought it impossible that God would take on a body – become flesh. That the Church stuck to this teaching means that not only is Jesus’s body a worthy vessel for God, but so are our own. There is an ancient saying, Christ became human so that humans could become divine. But at a deeper level it means that the every human, even those that society has cast aside, is worthy of divinity. Any action that makes a human person disposable is therefore a denial of this core teaching of Christianity.
Perhaps that is why today is also the World Day of Peace. War, if anything, is destructive of human beings. And so today we should commit ourselves once again to working for a just world in which war would be unthinkable.
Finally, today is New Year’s Day. While this may not seem like a religious feast, it is. The first reading for today is a blessing on the new year, and I encourage you all to bless your homes and each other with this ancient blessing from the book of Deuteronomy:
The Lord bless and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Parents bless your children. Spouses, bless each other.
And from our publishing house to your home – a blessed 2020!
May peace reign.
-–Glenn Byer, author of Mass Appeal series, Via Lucis, and Like Spokes on a Wheel