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1 January 2017 (A) . Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. World Day for Peace

Martin McNamara MSC

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The greatness of Mary living with the mystery that was her Son

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)

First Reading (Numbers 6:22-27). They are to call down my name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them. This text is known as “The Priestly Benediction”, the blessing that the priests, the sons of Aaron, were to invoke on the people. In the Book of Numbers it is really without context, and as such holds good for any occasion. It is very artistically composed. In Hebrew each line, with God as subject, is progressively longer (with three, five, seven Hebrew words). Similar blessings are attested in the Bible (Ps 66[67], today’s Responsorial Psalm, 120[121]:7-8). The six verbs in the prayer bear witness to God’s gracious activity from various angles towards his people. Blessing here, and in the Bible is rich in meaning, basically stating the work of God as Creator for his people and outside of it, focussing on divine protection from all forms of evil. The face (or countenance) of God (both words are the same in Hebrew) is of frequent occurrence in the Hebrew Bible, especially the Psalms. To shine his face means being gracious and favourable; to hide his face the opposite, to withdraw his favour. To lift up his countenance (in a less literal rendering “to uncover his face”) means to have a favourable movement towards a person, here by bringing peace, in the fuller rich meaning of this Hebrew word shalom, wholeness of life on earth and in union with God. God’s name, to be called down on his people, means God himself, the source of all blessings.

            This is a suitable reading for today’s feast. God has blessed his people, has made his face shine on them in his Son Jesus and in Mary Mother of God. It is also an appropriate prayer for the world day of peace, to bring it peace, on this beginning of the year.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 66[67[). O God, be gracious and bless us.

Second Reading (Galatians 4:4-7). God sent his Son, born of a woman. This reading is accepted by scholars as one of Paul’s richest Christological statements. It may well have been a pre-Pauline piece of doctrine that Paul moulds for his own end. Paul has said a number of negative things in this letter about the Law of Moses, a kind of code word for the Mosaic dispensation replaced by Christ. Here Paul takes the Law as the divine dispensation in place before Christ’s coming, with no negative connotations. The change from the old dispensation came “when the appointed time had come”, the time of fulfilment in keeping with God’s plan. In preparation for this God had sent his prophets to his people Israel. In keeping with this, he now at “the appointed time” sent his Son, in the fullness of humanity, born of a woman, born under the Law of Moses then still in vogue. At this high point in the history of salvation the woman Mary, mother of the Redeemer, is central, hence her dignity. Jesus is born under the Law, and n keeping with this law will be circumcised on the eighth day and given the name Jesus. This makes this reading apt for this day, the octave of the feast of Nativity. The end of the reading gives the purpose of Jesus being born under the Law as a son, as a child of the Law. It was to bring in a new dispensation, to enable the salvation of those under the Law (Jews) and bring to others, and to all, the dignity of becoming children, sons and daughters of God. This they, we, become by the gift of the Holy Spirit in their hearts to make them aware that they are God’s children, and as such can call on God as father just as Jesus himself had done on earth, with the words “Abba Father”, Abba being the Aramaic word for father, a term used by Jesus himself. And as children believers are heirs by adoption to eternal life.  

Gospel (Luke 2:16-21). They found Mary and Joseph and the baby. When the eighth day came, they gave him the name Jesus. We are still in the Christmas atmosphere with this treading. We have the Holy Family which the shepherds find and are amazed at, and become messengers to others of the good news, which is a cause of great joy. We are presented with Mary pondering the mystery of the birth of her Son in her heart, as she will again at the Temple episode when she and Joseph failed to understand Jesus’ Jesus’ reply that he must be about his Father’s business (Luke 2:50-51). Mary had not yet come to a full understanding of the mystery and significance of her Son Jesus. Her greatness lay in her obedient acceptance of her place in the revelation of the mystery that was her son.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The greatness of Mary living with the mystery that was her Son

During the Christmas season attention has been centred on Jesus, on his birth and the joy of the occasion proclaimed by the angels. On this solemnity, the octave of Christmas, the Church devotes special attention to Mary, Jesus’ Mother, the Holy Mother of God. Mary herself proclaimed her humility. She magnified the Lord for he had looked with favour on the lowliness of his handmaid. Her cousin Elizabeth declared her blessed among women, blessed because she believed. The woman in the crowd declared blessed the womb that bore Jesus. She was blessed at the Annunciation and at the birth of the redeemer of the human race, who was born of a woman. She treasured in her heart what was told her about her Son, and the words spoken to her by her Son which she did not understand. She lived, rejoiced, suffered and rejoiced with the mystery that was her Son. She is the model of the true believer, a model for all believers.

(For reflections on the Sunday and Feast Day readings see Martin McNamara, Sunday Readings with Matthew: Interpretations and Reflections, Dublin, Veritas, 2016)