"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
January 1, 2012: Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
Synopsis: The first reading is called the Priestly Blessing or the “Aaronic” Blessing because the Lord God entrusted it to Aaron and his sons. It’s one of oldest texts in the Bible. Only the Levitical priests, or those descended from Aaron could recite the blessing. It is significant in light of this Sunday’s solemnity in that it highlights how Mary received the ultimate blessing as the “God-bearer” (Theotokos).
This beautiful blessing is echoed in the responsorial psalm. The second reading reiterates the same point: God’s only-begotten Son was born of a woman thus making her the Mother of God. But Paul goes on to explain its importance for us. By taking on human flesh, Jesus, the Son of God delivers us, the sons of Adam, from bondage to sin thus enabling us to become God’s children by adoption. But Mary had a crucial role to play in our deliverance. In a favorite image of the Church Fathers, Mary, the New Eve, untied the ‘knot’ of sin which bound humanity by her humble acceptance of God’s will in her life.
This week’s gospel concludes with the formal naming of our Lord on the eighth day after his birth and is meant to highlight the fact that Mary was not just the mother of Jesus the man, but of God incarnate. “Jesus” (Aramaic: Yeshua) was a fairly common name for Jewish males. The name means “Yahweh saves” or “God saves.” Thus Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also the Mother of God.
Key verse: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Jesus means in Hebrew: ‘God saves.’ At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission. What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” [no. 430; 487]
Benedict XVI: “To usher in the New Year, the Church places before us a text from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. She offers this word as a word of encouragement to help us enter with confidence into a future whose ways we cannot know. How well this single, brief text, the New Year’s gift that the Church bestows on us, reveals the whole struggle of being a Christian today.” [Co-workers of the Truth]
Life application: Mary is not only the mother of Jesus and Mother of God, she is our Mother too in the order of grace. The Son of God became man to save us from the bondage of sin in order to free us to live not as slaves to the world, but as children of God. As Eve was the natural mother of the human race (Gen. 3:20) so Mary is the spiritual mother of those born “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). As a New Year begins, let us resolve to think and act as true children of God with Mary as our Mother.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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