Our Blessed LadyWith the beginning of each new year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. As Blessed Pope Paul VI explained in his 1974 apostolic exhortation on the right devotion to Mary, one reason for placing this celebration of Mary at the beginning of the year is to recognize her singular role in salvation history. For January 1 is both the beginning of the new year and the completion of the octave (eight day celebration) of Christmas.

And so we begin each new year by honoring what the great American evangelist Archbishop Fulton Sheen called “the world’s first love.” Although Mary was created, she reflects the primordial love of God. For, from all eternity, God loves humanity, and this love came to its fulfillment when the Son of God came among us as Jesus Christ. And, as Fulton Sheen pointed out in his book entitled The World’s First Love, “In choosing a mother [the Son] would choose a social position, a language, a home town, an environment, an epoch, a destiny. His mother was not as our mothers are, whom we accept as a fact determined in history and which we cannot change.

Our Lord was born of a mother chosen by Him before He was born.” Archbishop Sheen did not mention it, but in selecting the mother of Jesus, God was also selecting the very genetic code that the Incarnate Word would have in human nature. Thus, in making Mary His mother, the Son of God chose exactly how He would come to earth and begin the time of grace. It is thus fitting to complete the octave of Christmas and begin the new year by honoring her who brought the author of salvation into the world.

Blessed Paul VI also said that celebrating Mary as the Mother of God on January 1 would begin each new year with a woman who unites all peoples together from every time and place. For in a world that is torn by strife and division amidst nations, cultures and faiths, surely a maternal figure like Mary can bring about common goals and desires and thus a peace among nations. We should note, for example, that Muslims honor Mary along with Christians. In India as well, apparently Marian shrines are increasing even among non-Christians. For the idea of a loving mother of all people is a most natural one; and in these volatile times, Mary like all mothers brings hope for a more charitable, just and forgiving world.