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January 1: Why is Mary Called Mother of God?

Jan 01, 2013 By Gretchen Filz

On the very first day of every new year, January 1st, the Church appropriately honors the Blessed Virgin Mary with a Marian feast day and a Holy Day of Obligation.  And the title by which she is honored on this day is also the first Marian dogma defined by the Church: Mary, the Mother of God.  Today we celebrate the Motherhood of Mary as the vessel through whom the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, took on a human nature.  This feast day also appropriately falls on the 8th day after the Nativity of Our Lord, or on the final day of the Octave of Christmas.

Many non-Catholics have a problem with Mary being called the Mother of God.  But we must remember, especially on this feast day, that Mary's title as Mother of God is not only an ancient one officially given to her by the early Church, but also that the title says more about Jesus than it does about Mary.  In fact, this title of Mary was given precisely in order to reinforce the teaching on Christ's nature handed down from the Apostles---that Jesus was truly God and truly man---in the face of a heresy that threatened it.

Mary was called the Mother of God from very early in the Church's history.  One of her earliest titles in the liturgy is Theotokos which translates "God-Bearer".  From this title she began to be called "Mother of God".  Among those who objected to this title was Nestorius, whose false ideas on the nature of Christ is labeled Nestorianism.  Nestorius claimed instead that Jesus was born of Mary as human and not as Divine, thereby doctrinally dividing the nature of Christ.  St. Cyril defended the title by affirming with the Church fathers that Mary did indeed give birth to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who is called Jesus, who is simultaneously and completely both God and man from his birth. The Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) was called to settle the dispute between Nestorius and St. Cyril.  The council rightly affirmed St. Cyril and declared Nestorius a heretic.

Thus the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God was established at the Council of Ephesus. From the decree: "If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema."  The decrees of the Council were then approved by Pope Sixtus III.

So there you go.  The universal Church declared once for all that Mary is indeed the Mother of God, and this title was established to protect the true doctrine of Christ's nature from every heresy that denies it.  Don't let anyone shame you for a belief in this true title of Mary that is handed down with the authority of the Church founded by Christ.

 ***

Now that we have defended the use of the title we can glean from its depth of theological wisdom. In the Holy Father's homily on this feast day last year he notes at least five ways that the title of Mary as Mother of God bears special significance for Christians:

1) "Mary is the mother and model of the Church, who receives the divine Word in faith and offers herself to God as the 'good soil' in which he can continue to accomplish his mystery of salvation."

2) "The Church also participates in the mystery of divine motherhood, through preaching, which sows the seed of the Gospel throughout the world, and through the sacraments, which communicate grace and divine life to men. The Church exercises her motherhood especially in the sacrament of Baptism, when she generates God’s children from water and the Holy Spirit."

3) "Like Mary, the Church is the mediator of God’s blessing for the world: she receives it in receiving Jesus and she transmits it in bearing Jesus."

4) "The mystery of her divine motherhood that we celebrate today contains in superabundant measure the gift of grace that all human motherhood bears within it, so much so that the fruitfulness of the womb has always been associated with God’s blessing."

5) "The Mother of God is the first of the blessed, and it is she who bears the blessing; she is the woman who received Jesus into herself and brought him forth for the whole human family. In the words of the liturgy: 'without losing the glory of virginity, [she] brought forth into the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ our Lord'."

 

Today give special honor to Mary as Mother of God, and don't forget to go to Mass!

Comments

June
June says
Jan 1 2019 8:26PM
Wasn't January 1st the Feast of the Circumsium many years ago? I think from before the Vatican Council in the 60s. I don't understand why it was changed,if I am remembering correctly.
Hi June, yes, the feast of the circumcision of Jesus was traditionally celebrated on January 1st, eight days after the birth of Christ.
Rev Mr Paul Stackle
Rev Mr Paul Stackle says
Dec 31 2018 10:41AM
When I would be teaching Baptism classes and was talking about Jesus and his Father, I came to the idea that if Jesus was the Son of Mary then she must also be the Mother of God. When I said that to the couples I myself was all of sudden aware that it must be true. Thanks for clearing this up for me. Rev. Mr Paul Stackle
Alvin J Wolf Jr
Alvin J Wolf Jr says
Dec 31 2018 9:49AM
Mary is the picture of serenity. A subdivision of serenity is sadness. Yes, an arrow pierced her heart at the cross, but she knew her son and the goodness of God. St. John and, no doubt others, cared for Mary, because they came to know. Now, we know. The relative silence of Mary in scripture speaks volumes. What better way to care for the Queen of heaven and earth than through willingly accepted obscurity? In the order of grace, what other person can claim to be full of grace. To honor Mary is to honor God's plan. Mary, pray for us, God's children.
Fr. amos
Fr. amos says
Feb 26 2016 7:13AM
Thanks for a nice work and it was quite helpful.
Wonderful Gretchen! If Our Lady did not say "yes" to God there would have been no salvation for all. Thank you for your blog and welcome to the Catholic faith. I too am a recent "returnee." After 15 years of atheism The more I tried to prove that God does not exist, the more I saw his presence and power. And the more I fell in love with our Lady!
Christiana Archibong
Christiana Archibong says
Jan 5 2013 11:20AM
I enjoy your work,keep it up!
joy johnston
joy johnston says
Jan 1 2013 1:48PM
love your work...you make my faith stronger...May God bless you and your ministry
Maria Del Carmen T. Garcia
Maria Del Carmen T. Garcia says
Jan 1 2013 1:37PM
Thank you for the information. I like learning about God our Lord.
Sheena Albert
Sheena Albert says
Jan 1 2013 1:16PM
Hi Gretchen! I really enjoyed reading this blog; it has inspired me to read more about our Catholic Faith.
Excellent! And thank you. That's what it's all about!

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Commentary by

Gretchen Filz Gretchen Filz

Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at GetFed.com, she is also editor of the MorningOffering.com daily devotional email and author at GoodCatholic.com. She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.

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