It is fitting to begin by wishing everyone here a Merry Christmas, and if my saying that seems strange to you, I sincerely pray that most people in their catechesis learned that the Christmas season traditionally lasts 12 days (ending on the Feast of the Epiphany, for which the traditional date is January 6th). The more modern reforms to the Roman liturgical calendar mean that in many countries of the world, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday closest to January 6th, meaning that Epiphany as a liturgical event could fall anywhere between January 2nd and January 8th. The Christmas Season now does not end until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and this year Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, which means that Epiphany Sunday will fall on the very latest day on the calendar that it can fall, and as a result the Church allows for the Baptism of the Lord to fall the next day, January 9th. In most years that isn’t the case, and we also experience the Baptism of the Lord on a Sunday. If you never got those Christmas cards in the mail, don’t sweat it, this year you have another week!
There are two significant things to be remembered about today on the liturgical calendar. The first is that today is what is called the Octave Day of Christmas. The Nativity of the Lord is such an important feast that the liturgical action surrounding it lasts for eight days. Easter is also an Octave. Those of you who pray the Liturgy of the Hours have seen this the most acutely this week, especially during Evening Prayer or Vespers, because you might have noticed that until today, Evening Prayer has been virtually the same all week as it was on Christmas Day itself. This is because we have been celebrating the Feast of the Nativity all week long, even as we have had other important feasts, such as the feast of Saint Stephen on Monday, the feast of Saint John the Evangelist the following day, or the feast of the Holy Family, or the Memorial of St. Thomas Beckett. Today is the octave day, or the Eighth Day of the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.
The second important reality about today on the liturgical calendar is that in addition to being the octave day of Christmas, it is also the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. Today marks the third time in the last month that Our Lady has been honored with a feast of the Church. The first of those was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, the second was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, and the third is this day, when we honor Our Lady as the Mother of God. It was the Council of Ephesus in 431 which formally defined this title for the Blessed Mother, that she is the Mother of God, or Theotokos in Greek (if you have ever spent any time around many of our Eastern Brethren, you quickly pick up on the fact that they use that word Theotokos when referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary a great deal). Contrary to what some people might erroneously believe, councils of the Church do not “invent” sacred doctrine and dogma out of thin air. For a Church Council to formally define something so significant, it already has to be something that is believed widely enough by people in the Church that the bishops of the world come to believe that the idea needs to be formally defined, so when the Council of Ephesus declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary was indeed the Mother of God, by then the underlying doctrine was already widely believed and accepted by a great many Christians.
Knowing that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God is more than a mere statement of a dogmatic truth, it is an acknowledgement of an even more important truth of our faith, and that is that Mary’s Son, Jesus Christ, is both fully human and fully divine. Acknowledging Mary as the Mother of God, which we do every time we pray the “Hail Mary,” is an acknowledgement that Jesus is God, and to deny that Mary is the Mother of God is to deny, at least implicitly, that Jesus Christ is God.
That Christ was, in the words of St. Paul “born of woman, born under the law” (cf. Gal. 4:4) and that he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” for our sakes but that one day “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” (cf. Phil 2:5-11) is, in sum total, what Christmas is really all about. The Second Person of the Trinity emptied himself, took the form of a slave, and “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”