The roots of the feast of Mary, Mother of God


Mary, the Mother of God – November 1, 2011
Numbers 6.22-27 | Psalm 67 | Galatians 4.4-7 | Luke 2.16-21

Ralph Himsl

December 26, 2011

I have a lament of sorts: with the investment that society has made in the formal education given me, supplemented by decades of experience, travel, mistakes, reading, study and dare I say it, thinking (?), it grieves me that I should know so little.

I see for example, the note in my Sunday Missal that on Jan. 1, we observe the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on this World Day of Prayer for Peace.

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.-Luke 2.19


'Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.'

Luke 2.19

The little I knew included the fact of the Solemnity of Mary but the "lament" spoke in low, subdued tones of dismay, "You don't know when or why this observance came about." The lament spoke the truth.

In this respect, I share an emotion with a dear friend. While on a social visit to his home, a mutual acquaintance asked him a question about something he felt he should have known.

Agitated, he leapt up from the group, berating himself as he dashed to his reference shelf muttering, "I can't bear not knowing!" I recognize that feeling.

Like him, I turned to a handy reference to make up for my lack on this subject. There I learned that Pope Paul VI in 1974 had determined that henceforth on Jan. 1 the Church would every year recognize a special reverence for Mary, the Mother of God and Queen of Peace.

Until that year, the Church commemorated the circumcision of the Christ child according to Jewish custom, as recorded in the Gospel reading for today.

Pope Paul's dedication of Jan. 1 to Mary and peace came from a conviction deep within his troubled being. The public had learned that his reflective nature made decision-making a worrisome experience for him.

But we saw nothing of that indecisiveness or worry during a trip he made to the United States in the fall of 1965. Those who saw his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on Oct. 4 of that year five decades ago, remember his vivid display of unabashed conviction - no waffling this time.


No pope had addressed the General Assembly before him, and he set the bar high for those who might follow. We delight in telling of his presence, his intensity, evident sincerity, forceful gestures and his simple words: "No more war, never again war. Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of people and of all mankind."

He spoke in French and we heard the words of the translator. No matter - his urgency shone through.

His deep respect for Mary as the mother of God, and his vigorous advocacy for peace come together in his encyclical of 1974. In that document Marialis Cultis, he dedicated the day to Mary the Mother of God.

This "celebration is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in the mystery of salvation . . . and for imploring God through the Queen of Peace the supreme gift of peace. For this reason then, we have instituted the World Day of Peace."

Bless the man and his memory.

(Ralph Himsl: