About the Feast

Mother of God is Mary's highest title and the source of all her other titles and roles in the Church. From all eternity, God chose the Virgin of Nazareth to be the Mother of His Son. With her "fiat" at the Annunciation, she became the Theotokos, the Mother of God (CCC no. 495). At Calvary, God, in the person of Christ, gave His Mother to all mankind as our spiritual Mother, so that through her we might come to Him, as through her He came to us.

In A.D. 431, the third general council of the Church at Ephesus (the Council of Ephesus) defined as Catholic dogma that the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos); the Council also reasserted the teaching of the truth that there is but one divine person in Christ.

In 1931, in honor of the fifteenth centennial of the Council of Ephesus, Pope Pius XI declared the Feast of the Maternity of Mary to the whole Church. The original date for this feast was October 11; it was later moved to January 1, a date associated with honoring Mary since the fifth century in Rome. The feast became known as the Feast of the Circumcision, because Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth. The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, as the feast is now called, is a holy day of obligation and, like all solemnities, has a special liturgy.

Celebrating the Feast

This feast blends celebrations for the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year with the end of mankind's waiting for the Redeemer and the dawning of the New Covenant of God. It is celebrated with many popular devotionals.

In some countries, besides attending Mass in the morning, families spend the minutes near midnight saying the Rosary or other prayers. In some places, the church bells ring out at midnight to "ring out the old year and ring in the new", telling everyone who can hear that it is a joyous occasion.

A New Year's Eve gathering of families could re-create this custom for modem times with a night of snacks, singing, games, and videos, culminating in a joyous ringing of hand bells, jingle bells, and other bells at midnight, ending with a Rosary. It may be possible to find a church with a midnight Mass.

Many North American families continue a custom brought from the "Old Country" of blessing the family on January 1. The father makes the Sign of the Cross on the foreheads of his wife, children, and other relatives living in the home, saying: May God bless you and keep you safe in the coming year.

In an exuberant Ukrainian tradition, children toss handfuls of wheat (gently!) at their parents, while wishing them a healthy and blessed new year. The wheat symbolizes new life in Christ. Some cultures give gifts, especially to children, on January 1 rather than on Christmas Day or Epiphany. This custom was maintained in Scotland and France after Spanish-speaking countries and Italy moved to gift-giving on Epiphany (January 6).

A special family dinner, perhaps with the same guests as at Christmas or the guests who were not able to join you at Christmas, is a good way to celebrate this feast. The father, grandfather, or oldest male present can give a family blessing before he blesses the food at the beginning of the meal. Each person can then share what he is thankful for in the past year and what he looks forward to in the coming year.