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Will the Real January 1st Please Stand Up. A Homily For New Years Day and the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

December 31, 2013

123113This feast day, of January 1, is a very complex tapestry, both culturally in liturgically. Perhaps we can use the second reading by St. Paul to the Galatians as a way to weave through some of the many details. We can look at it in three parts.

I. The Chronology of our celebration. The text from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians says, When the fullness of time had come…

Most people, both in the wider culture and in the Church are going about today saying, “Happy New Year!” And rightfully so, for it is the beginning of the new year. But most people think of New Years in almost wholly secular terms. Sadly, it is best known for rather loud parties and excessive drinking.

Yet it is a mistake to see New Years simply as a secular holiday. St. Paul reminds us, in speaking of “the fullness of time,” that all time belongs to God, and all the ages.

It is not simply 2014, it is 2014 Anno Domini (A.D). Even the most secular and unbelieving of people in the Western world locate their place in time in relation to Jesus Christ. It is 2014 years since the birth of Christ. Every time we write the date of the top of the letter, or a check, every time we see the date at the top of the newspaper or on our computer screen, that number, 2014, points back to Christ. He is the Lord of history. Jesus sets the date he is the clock we go by. All time belongs to him.

Jesus says in the book of RevelationI am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, The beginning and the end. He who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Revelation 22:13).

If it is true, that 2014 references the birth of Christ,  the question arises as to why Christmas Day is not also New Year’s Day. But this too makes a lot of sense, if we understand liturgical and spiritual sensibilities.

In the Church, and stretching back into Jewish times, it was customary to celebrate the high feasts of faith over the period of a week. In Christian tradition this came to be known as the “octave.”  Though we think of a week as seven days, it does not take long to consider that we celebrated Christmas last week on Wednesday. Now this week we celebrate New Year’s on Wednesday, and Wednesday to Wednesday inclusive is eight days.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014 is the eighth day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition the octave, is considered really as one long day of eight days. Therefore, Wednesday, January 1, 2014 completes Christmas Day; Christmas day is fulfilled. Or as St. Paul says, the fullness of time, in terms of Christmas day has come. And thus, the calendars flip from one year to the next. Now at the end of Christmas Day, our calendars go from 2013 to 2014 A.D.

The rest of the secular world has largely moved on, barely thinking of Christmas anymore. As I walk my neighborhood, the strange spectacle appears of Christmas trees already being set out at the curb to be picked up by the recycling truck. Yes, for many in our hurried world, Christmas is over. But we, in the Church, continue to celebrate the great Christmas feast and cycle. Having completed the octave, we move onto Epiphany week.

Thus, this New Year, we contemplate the “fullness of time.” The passage of another year, reminds us of the magnificent truth that, to God, all time: past present and future, is equally present. He holds all things together in himself. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And whenever he acts, he always acts in our time, out of the fullness of time. This is a very deep mystery, and we should in silence ponder the mystery that, for God all things ARE. He is not waiting for things to happen. For him, everything is accomplished. I will write more on this in tomorrow’s blog.

II. The Content of our celebration. St. Paul goes on to say, God sent forth his son born of a woman. And with this statement we are again reminded that we are still in the Christmas cycle.

We’ve already discussed the concept of the eighth day, of the octave. And while it is New Year’s Day, there is also a complex tapestry of religious meanings to this day as well.

And we’ve already seen, it is still Christmas day, the eighth day of the one long day that we call Christmas Day.

Historically, this is also be the day of Christ’s circumcision. And for a long period in Church history that was the name given to this feast day, “The Circumcision of the Lord.” As I wrote yesterday, I personally regret the loss of this feast, at least in terms of its title.

This is the day when Joseph and Mary brought Christ to be circumcised. In this, Jesus as man, but also as God, reverences the Covenant he has made with his people. There is a beautiful truth that God seeks relationship with his people. And in this covenant act of the circumcision is the moving truth that,  as The Letter to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers (Heb 2:11).

There is also here the first shedding of blood by Jesus. Also sign of his love for us.

Another truth about the content of this feast, is the most Holy Name of Jesus. For not only was a Jewish boy circumcised on the eighth day, but was also given his name, and all hear that name for the first time.

The name Jesus means “God saves.” And indeed, this most Holy Name of Jesus, when use in reverence has saving power. We are baptized in his Holy Name, along with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit. And all of our prayers conclude with his Holy Name. Scripture says of his great and holy name:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2: 9-11)

And yet another identity and content of this feast day is its current and formal title: The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. This title replaced the title of the Feast of the Circumcision back in 1970. However, it is the most ancient title for this feast day. Again, you can read more of this issue in yesterday’s blog post.

We note in the reading that Paul says that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father; he is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Jesus is God, and since Mary gives birth to Jesus, Mary is the Mother of God,  because Jesus is not two different persons.

Mary did not just give birth to part of Jesus, she gives birth to Jesus. And thus the title “Mother of God” speaks to us as much about Jesus as about Mary. It is a title that she has because of the Church’s insistence that Jesus cannot be divided up into two different people, and we cannot say Mary gives birth to one Jesus but not “the other.” There is only one Jesus, though he has two natures, human and divine.

And thus, on this feast of Christmas, on this eighth day of Christmas, we are reminded, and solemnly taught that Jesus is human, he is also divine;  and that in taking a human nature to himself from his mother Mary, he remains one person. God has sent forth his son born of woman

III. The Consolation of our celebration – St. Paul goes on to say, Born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in our hearts crying out Abba, Father! So you are no longer a slave,  but a son, and, if a son, also an heir through God.

Note Three things about this text:

A. Our Adoption. We have already noted how Jesus, on the eighth day is circumcised and enters into the Covenant,  into the Law. In the incarnation, he joins the human family, in the Covenant he joins our family of faith. He will fulfill the old Covenant, and inaugurate the new one. And by this New Covenant, by baptism into him, we become members of his Body and thereby become adopted as sons.

We become sons in the Son. When God the Father looks to his Son, loving his Son, he is also looking at us and loving us, for we are in Christ Jesus, members of his Body through baptism. God is now our Father, not in some allegorical sense, but in a very real sense. We are in Jesus, and therefore God really is our Father.

B. Our Acclamation. St. Paul says that the proof of our sonship is the movement of the Holy Spirit in us the cries out Abba! In Aramaic and Hebrew, Abba is the family term for father. It is not baby talk, like the word “Dada” in English. But just like most adults called their father “Dad” or some other close term,  rather than “father,” so it is that Abba is the family term for father. It would be a daring thing for us to call God “Dad” unless we were permitted to do so, and instructed to do so by Christ.

St. Paul speaks of this word as proof that we are sons. In so doing, he is emphasizing that it is not merely saying the word that he refers to. Even a parrot can be taught to say the word. Rather, St. Paul is referring to what the word represents; namely, an inner movement of the Holy Spirit wherein we experience a deep affection for God the Father. By our adoption, our baptism into Christ, by our reception of the Holy Spirit we love the Father! We develop a deep affection for Him and dread to offend him. Buy this gift of the Spirit, God is my Father whom I deeply love!

C. Our advancement. Notice that St. Paul then speaks of how we have moved from being a slave, to being a son, to being an heir. In Jesus, we are not just any Son, we are the only Son of the Father. And as Jesus has a kingdom from his Father, we too inherit it with him! As sons in the Son, we are heirs with Jesus to the Kingdom!  Jesus speaks of his disciples a one day reigning  with him: And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me (Lk 22:29). In Jesus, all Heaven will be ours and we will reign with Christ forever. This is not our doing, not our glory, it is Christ’s doing and his glory in which we share.

And thus we have a very rich tapestry on this New Year’s Day: this feast of the Octave of Christmas, this Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, This Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, this Feast of Mary the Mother of God. And also, we are given this Feast wherein the glory of Christ is held before us and we who are  members of his body, are told of the gifts that we receive by his Holy Incarnation, and his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Not a bad way to start the new year, reminded of God’s incredible love for us, of his rich blessings and promises.

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Comments (25)

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  1. Brian says:

    Msgr., We were wondering when Jan. 1 became a Holy Day of Obligation. I don’t recall it being one in the 60’s or 70’s when I was growing up. Then again, it could just be my memory. Thanks and Happy New Year!!

    • Thomas Gallagher says:

      January 1st was celebrated as the Octave of Christmas in the early centuries of the life of the Church, and it was only during the middle ages that it came to be celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision–the day Jesus was circumcised and given his name. The eastern Churches still celebrate it as Jesus’s “Naming Day.” (See Luke 2: 21.) It was a Holy Day of Obligation in the USA for decades, as the Feast of the Circumcision, until Pope Paul VI moved the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God from October 11 to January 1. Blessed John Paul II then moved the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus to January 3, and since circumcision and the naming of a child took place at the same time in the Judaism of Jesus’s time, we now celebrate January 1 simply as the Solemnity of Mary. The Revised Code of Canon Law of 1983 mandated 10 Holy Days of Obligation for the universal Church. But bishops’ conferences have had the authority–since long before Vatican II–to modify the calendar of Holy Days. The US bishops have moved the Feasts of Epiphany and Corpus Christi to the nearest Sunday, and dispensed us from the obligation to attend Mass on the feasts of St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul. This leaves us six Holy Days: Solemnity of Mary, Ascension Thursday, Assumption, All Saints, Immaculate Conception and Christmas. Some, but not all, dioceses in the US have also moved Ascension Thursday to the nearest Sunday, reducing the number of obligatory non-Sunday feasts to five.

      Why is all this complicated and abstruse stuff so important? Because the blogosphere is filled on this New Year’s Day, as it has been for several years now, with Traditionalists complaining that Vatican II “changed” the Holy Days of Obligation, thus proving that the Council was the work of the devil. But it is clear to any reasonable person that the Church’s celebration of January 1 has shifted over the centuries. Bishops’ conferences have been accustomed to shifting Holy Days around since long before Vatican II. It was Blessed John Paul II (a man far more acceptable to Traddies than Paul VI or Vatican II,) who shifted the Naming Day of Jesus away from January 1, thus removing the commemoration of Jesus’s circumcision away from that day. It is the Revised Code of Canon Law that tells us which days are to be celebrated as Holy Days. You can argue that the revision of the Code, done under the mandate of Vatican II, is itself the work of the devil. But then, dear Traddie, you have widened your attack from the Council to the Code, and of course you also attack Paul VI by implication. Where does the attack end? Come back, dear Traddies, to full loyalty to the visible Church, headed by the Holy Father and guided by bishops in Council as well as in their dioceses. You must do this if you really want to call yourselves Catholics.

      • Yes, the complexities of Jan 1 are deep. In my post of yesterday I argue for a biblically based chronology to be the foundation of “cleaning up” the Christmas cycle which right now is a jumble of things with shifting temporalities etc. I, like you, get irritated when traditionalists like to put this problem (and just about everything else) in the Vatican II file. The “problem” (really more of an irritation, to me) of the Christmas cycle is old and complicated and also influenced by the fact that Christmas was a relative late-comer to the liturgical calendar. I dealt with some of that yesterday.

      • Ben of the Bayou says:

        Dear Mr. Gallagher,

        Thank you for your full response. I wonder, thought, whether your diatribe against “Traddies” is in keeping with the Christian spirit of charity and justice. Please remember that the tag “Traditionalists” has a very wide application and that not all who love the Church’s sacred Tradition and traditions (even as our host here, the Reverend Monsignor), are full of complaints against this or that thing done by “Vatican II” nor do all believe that the Council is the “work of the devil.” These are very commonplace red-herrings that give your response a shrill and disdainful tone, unworthy of the joy of this feast or the Faith you seek to defend.

        May I offer two points of correction to the thoughts you share so freely? In the first place, Blessed John Paul II did not move the feast of the Most Holy Name. According to the rubrics of the 1962MR, that feast already fell on the Sunday after the Octave Day, unless that Sunday was Jan. 1st, 6th, or 7th, in which case it was assigned to January 2nd. What Blessed JP2 did was to stabilize the feast on a fixed day. No complaint from this “traddy.” However, it is incorrect to say, as you did, that JP2 “shifted the Naming Day…away from January 1.” Second, the issue of Holy Days of Obligation after the Council is a legitimate one, even if you do not agree. Indeed, I am fairly certain that Monsignor Pope has himself pointed out the confusion that has ensued over the new practice concerning them. However, what is at issue is not the obligation for this or that day. Rather, it is the confusion that results from the annual flux based on the practice of: [1] removing the obligation if the feast happens to fall on a Monday or Saturday, or [2] transferring formerly obligatory feastdays (e.g., Ascension THURSDAY) to the nearest Sunday. It seems to many thoughtful observers that this practice seems to make the whole concept of “obligatory” days of precept rather whimsical and arbitrary, an example of simply creating an extra (and sometimes perceived as onerous) obligation for the faithful. If, it is well argued, these days of obligation were “semper et ubique” observed as obligatory, for the good reasons that such feasts are obligatory in the first place, then there would result a greater sense of normalcy and permanence among the faithful. You may disagree with this line of thinking (though I would like to see good *reasons* for such a disagreement), but you may not disparage it with the straw-man argument of saying that people who make these complaints are mere malcontent “traddies” who have separated themselves from unity with the Church.

        Dear Mr. Gallagher, a very happy new year to you. May it bring you many graces and a kinder regard for “traddies.”

        In Dominio,

        Ben of the Bayou

        • Thomas Gallagher says:

          Dear Ben of the Bayou,

          You’re right to criticize me for being shrill, and I accept your kind wish that I become kinder in the New Year. We all need to be more kind and to accept fraternal correction. But I’ve struck a nerve, haven’t I, by lumping all Traddies together? This is ironic, since I’m a traditionalist myself, in the sense that I love Latin (and read it fluently, unlike many Traddies), love the older Liturgies of the Church (not merely the Tridentine one), love the Church Fathers and love the smells and bells of my childhood and youth. I think the wholesale abandonment by priests of the sense of the vertical in the Liturgy, of the sense that the Mass is an act of worship as well as fellowship, has been disastrous. But you understand how I’m using the term Traddy in this blog, don’t you? It’s somebody who thinks Liturgies are carved in stone and cannot evolve, who thinks Popes really cannot alter long-established practices, who sees Vatican II as flawed in a fundamental way, who thinks the whole direction of Catholicism since the 1950s has been skewed and perverted in some fundamental way. What binds Traditionalists of this sort together, whether they are Lefebvrists or not, is the belief that the essence of Faith and the essence of Catholic praxis consists in a Pharisaical obedience to rubrics–not merely the external rubrics of the Church’s ceremonies and rituals but the internal rubric of observance of the Law without allowing the Spirit to penetrate the heart and soul of the Observant person. Jesus criticized the Pharisees unsparingly. So too should we, with diatribes as needed. Remember that the diatribe is an Old Testament literary device.

          May the New Year bring graces to you, too, in nomine Domini.
          TG

  2. Anne Marie says:

    First Thank-you and Happy New Years Day!

    Second, I was wondering, did not also the Church also had added what became known as “World Day of Prayer for Peace” for January 1st each year?

  3. Charlie says:

    January 1st is one of the few Holy Days of Obligation we have in Canada. Christmas is the second and then there are the 52 Sundays of the year.Much confusion a few years ago when in Palm Desert.One priest friend of mine was adamant that it was not a day of obligation there while just up the road my second friend told his congregation it was a day of obligation.Much confusion.No across the board rule in the US?

    • John Paul says:

      Charlie,
      If you look at Thomas Gallagher’s response to Brian above he does explain the US Holy Days of Obligation. In the US there is an across the board Obligation to attend Mass for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. My understanding from the Vatican is they set the Days of Obligation and the Conferences of Bishops, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, can change the Days of Obligation. I hope I answered your question. Merry Christmas!

  4. FRANCES says:

    JESUS MARKS TIME 2014 YEARS AGO. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  5. Shel says:

    What fun to finally understand what the “Octave” is all about! Then there are the twelve days of Christmas, ending on the Epiphany. Msgr Pope, do you happen to know some cool stuff to tell us on that? Is it related to the Octave, or is it an event of an unrelated tradition?

  6. patty says:

    A little off subject, but this has been bothering me for years, and since we are addressing the naming of Jesus, I will proceed. Am I the only Catholic Christian who is bothered by the popular, cultural phrase OMG ? I have friends who habitually use the phrase. I try to set an example, OMGoodness, and a few have gotten the message. Am I being too scrupulous?

    • John Paul says:

      Patty,
      You are not the only one botheredby the phrase. The phrase or abbreviation OMG violates the Second Commandment (Thou Shall not use the Lord’s name in vain). It’s using the name of God in a nonchalant and disrespectful way. We’ve gone from God’s name being so reverent in Jewish tradition when they could not say or write YHWH, to the careless swaring of God’s name. I do believe there are other people who are bothered by the phrase, but they don’t embody fraternal correction, sometimes it’s a fear of correcting our friends on this issue, and the response we might get, but the truthis the truth. I hope that somewhat answersyour question. Merry Christmas!

    • Marianne says:

      No you are not being too scrupulous. I don’t like it either and think it is crude. Also, the other phrase that has something to do with ‘b-jesus. Exactly what is that supposed to mean.

    • Robbie J says:

      +1. I too, am bothered by the use of “omg” all the time. Watch any reality show (ugh!) and this is used over and over(and over) again. The holy name of God is to be treated with the utmost reverence, period.

  7. Cynthia BC says:

    A choral work based on today’s reading from Numbers:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BvD310d8OE

  8. John Paul says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    You provide a very interesting commentary and some food for thought for this Christmas Season, however, you have disregarded one detail, The Baptism of the Lord is celebrated the Sunday after the Epiphany, marking the end of the Christmas Season. I am curious on your opinion of where to put this feast, if you believe the Feast of the Holy Family should be placed on the Sunday after Epiphany. Again just curious as to your opinion on this matter. Thank you for writing these articles and serving the Church as a priest. God Bless, and Merry Christmas!

    • Yeah, I think the Old Calendar had it on the Monday after Holy Family. Some would argue that the feast is of such a caliber that it must be celebrated on a Sunday. If so, then fine, move it to the Sunday after Holy Family. Thus the pattern would be Epiphany (Jan 6) Holy Family the next Sunday after Epiphany, then Baptism of the Lord on the following Sunday.

  9. Marianne says:

    I can remember when January 1st was called The Feast of the Circumcision and January 1st always was a Holy Day of Obligation. What I don’t like is when some of the Holydays fall on a Monday, now they are no longer considered obligatory?

  10. Marianne says:

    Patty, I always cringe when people exclaim OMG. I was taught that this is taking the name of the Lord in vain. Unfortunately, this phrase is so common, I think most people don’t think about what they are saying, which still doesn’t make it okay. Seems like God’s name should be used more reverently than this.

  11. Robbie J says:

    I am happy to report that, here in my country, we still celebrate the octave of Christmas – Jesus circumcision, His naming, and Mary’s special role as Theotokos, mother of God. All this was explained to us in the homily at mass. Although not a day of obligation, our church was filled to capacity. Praise God!

  12. lisag says:

    I always wondered about the phrase, “fullness of time” and it’s use in the bible. I am not so sure I really get it, but I have a better understanding. It is God’s time. It has nothing to do with what was happening on earth. Right? I have tried to figure out why 2014 years ago on earth and all that was happening on it was the “fullness of time”. I wondered if God let things on go more would man have not have accepted Christ at all. Maybe the human race would have been too engulfed in sin and unable to think beyond it’s own self. I think that is where many people are now.

  13. Greg Martonik says:

    In the Byzantine Rite the circumcision of Our Lord is still celebrated on January 1st along with St Basil the Great. It
    is not a holy day of obligation for the east.The code of canon law of 1983 is not for the universal church. It is for the Latin Church. The Eastern Churches have their own canon law and holy days of obligation which generally different from the West. Holy days obligation are not changed around even if they fall on Sundays or during lent. Ascension Thursday is still Ascension Thursday and not Ascension Sunday, Christ is Born!

    • Thomas Gallagher says:

      The Codes of Canon Law for the Western (Latin Rite) and Eastern Churches have been fully integrated since 1991. Holy Days of Obligation in the Eastern Churches (united with Rome) are not different from those of the West. They are simply more numerous, in keeping with the long tradition in which bishops, and bishops’ conferences, promulgate their own lists of days for which there is a Mass obligation.

  14. Raymond Borkowski says:

    November 1, All saints Day is still a Holy Day of Obligation in USA At least in some Dioceses of the Northeast.