Theotokos?!: A Convert’s Guide to the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Attention! Christmas is NOT over! January 1, we celebrate the second most significant feast of the Christmas season: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. New to this feast/season/faith? Come along with this convert as she explains the ins and outs of this celebration of Our Lady as the Mother of God.

T — Theotokos: This Greek word means ”God-bearer” or “God-birther” and has been used as a title of honor for the Blessed Virgin Mary since the earliest centuries of the Church. It is this title that is translated into Latin in liturgy and prayers as Mater Dei (Mother of God). Whenever we proclaim Mary the Mother of God, we are proclaiming that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. Every Catholic doctrine pertaining to Mary is meant to instill a greater and deeper love for her Son in the hearts of the faithful. Mary is our model of perfect discipleship. All who claim Jesus as their Lord and Beloved are called to imitate Mary by being a Theotokos. We are called to bear Christ — our God Incarnate — into the world in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

H — Heresy: In 431, the Church convened the first Council of Ephesus. The primary topic of contention at this council was how to understand the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, advocated that the two natures were intrinsically separate and that Mary could not be called the Theotokos because she is the mother of his human nature alone. Nestorius also railed against popular devotional phrases such as “God in swaddling bands” and “the sufferings of God,” which he felt annihilated the division between Christ’s humanity and divinity. Nestorius’ ideas were condemned as heresy (a false teaching contrary to the revealed truths of the Church). Catholics believe that Mary is the mother of Christ’s divinity and humanity because he is both fully human and fully divine and that these two natures are brought together as one.

E — Eastern Churches: Eastern Catholic and Orthodox communities have an ancient tradition of depicting Mary as the Theotokos in icons and other sacred art. Check out these images of Mary, Mother of God. Print out your favorite one and hang it on your fridge as a daily reminder to be like Mary, the first disciple of Jesus.

O — Obligation: Every Catholic is obligated to attend Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. So, before you head out to ring in the New Year with friends and family, attend a vigil Mass on New Year’s Eve. Make this year one that begins with prayer, the Eucharist, and celebrating with the ones you love.

T — “the sum and synthesis of every blessing:” In his 2012 homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Benedict XVI declared that ”peace is the sum and synthesis of every blessing.” Not only is January 1 a holy day that celebrates the divinity of Christ and Our Lady’s role in our salvation, it is also the World Day of Peace. Say a prayer for peace and justice for all people and nations on this holy day. Come up with a list of three concrete things you can do to increase peace and justice in your family, community, or world this year. Put your list next to your image of the Theotokos. Ask Mary to help you bear the Prince of Peace into the world in your own way.

O — Octave: This solemnity concludes the Octave of Christmas. (Which means if you haven’t sent your Christmas cards yet, they’re technically not late … if you send them today. Woohoo!) Take a moment to look at a nativity scene set up at your local parish, in your home, or even in a neighbor’s yard. The humble young mother kneeling beside the manger (who, I can’t help but add, was neither fair-skinned nor blond as most nativity scenes would have us believe) is the Mother of God. God chose as his mother someone simple, humble, trusting, loving, brave, and strong. Which of those characteristics will you pray to attain in the New Year?

K — Kids: There are so many fun ways to celebrate this holy day with the little people you know. The ladies over at Catholic Cuisine always have creative ideas about things to make and eat to honor Our Lady (just in case your holiday hasn’t included enough making or eating thus far). Also, check out the Domestic Church for coloring pages, games, and other great ideas. If you don’t have little ones in your family, why not host an impromptu gathering of friends, neighbors, or folks from your young adult group at church to celebrate?

O — Omnipotent: “All-powerful.” God, who is omnipotent, who could have come into this world as flesh and blood in any way He deemed fit — chose to have a mother. God chose to be born. God chose to be vulnerable. God chose to be held and changed and nursed by Mary. This year, celebrate this solemnity by honoring the mothers in your life. What about a corsage to wear to Mass? Or a donation made in her name to a charity that helps mothers in crisis?

S — Start the New Year Right: What will 2013 bring? In many ways, that’s up to us. If we, like Mary, have the courage, patience, faith, and love to bear Jesus into this world, it can be a year of radical transformation and healing and justice. It all starts January 1. It all starts with us … with you and me. God is with us. God is for us. God dwells within us just as God dwelled within Mary. May we bear him into the world anew.

How do you celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God? How do you plan to be a Theotokos in this New Year? Which image of Mary, Mother of God is your favorite? What are your three peace and justice actions? I’d love to hear about it!