The New Year will surely be brought in with much fanfare the world over. The faithful will drive enthusiastically to church in their year’s best outfits to pray for a worthy year ahead. No doubt, it is the beginning of the civil year, but since Time belongs to God, we ought to honour it. Moreover, there is a Christian facet to it: it is the first day of the Gregorian calendar, called so as it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, way back in the year 1582, as a modification of, and replacement for, the Julian calendar whose algorithm had miscalculated the date of Easter.

Although the Gregorian calendar is now used in most parts of the world, some churches not affiliated to Rome still follow the Julian. Ukraine is a case in point. Only some days ago, in a bid to distance itself from the Russian Orthodox Church, Zelenksky’s country fell in line with the Church in the West and celebrated Christmas on 25 December, instead of 6 January.

Some of our faithful, however, may be unaware that 1 January is the Octave of Christmas, which, this year, has fallen on a Sunday. The first day of the civil year is also dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in celebration of her unique privilege and title as Mother of God. Accordingly, the readings dwell on the Mother of Jesus and on the Holy Name of Jesus.[1] The Feast highlights Mary’s role in the economy of Salvation and helps us place our problems and concerns under her mantle. To complete the picture, the Catholic Church also celebrates the World Day of Peace[2] on the first day of the first month of the year.

Today’s First Reading is from the Book of Numbers (6: 22-27), one of the five books (Pentateuch) dictated by God to Moses. Called so because it begins by listing the numbers of a census of the Hebrew people, the Book represents a march of God’s people across the desert wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. In the course of this march, the people gathered experiences that eventually impacted their future. God asked Moses to address Aaron because his brother was a worshipper of a Canaanite god and had helped the Israelites to build a Canaanite idol to worship. God’s command and Moses’ blessing here are a promise of peace for Israel, which was to be fully realised with the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The mystery of the Incarnation was a fulfilment of a long wait; it was a manifestation of God’s benevolence and love for His supreme creation, humankind. His Son has liberated us from the old law and from sin; we have also secured His blessings, the highest one for Christians being the privilege to be called God’s children (rather than creatures). Of course, none of this would be possible without the Blessed Virgin Mary’s willing collaboration; she is thus, very naturally, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth.

That is why St Paul in the Second Reading (Gal 4: 4-7) says: “God sent forth His Son born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” His words highlight the human side of the Son of God; that He became man first to save the Chosen People; that He was formed by the religion of his ancestors (to us, the Old Testament); and that in time He perfected the law, whereby all men and women of goodwill would be saved.

Finally, in the Gospel according to St Luke (2: 16-21), we see that the poor shepherds were the first ones to receive the Good News of Salvation. They met Mary and Joseph, with the Babe lying in a manger; they soon understood the magnificent Hymn of the Angels, Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, and became the first proclaimers of the Word made Flesh; and in Him, they were adopted as children of God.

That at the end of the Octave Jesus was circumcised and given His Holy Name, as preannounced by the Angel Gabriel to Mary, justifies the celebration of His Holy Name concurrently with Mary’s title as Mother of God; it also explains why 1 January was, way back from the 13th century, observed as Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, with a Marian orientation predating it. This feast day was cancelled by Pope John XXIII’s General Roman Calendar of 1960 and simply called “Octave of the Nativity”.

Like Mary, we too need to keep all these things, ponder them in our hearts, and be ever more faithful to Holy Scripture and Tradition. The Blessed Virgin understood the full import of her Son’s words only after the Resurrection and Pentecost. We too ought to bide our time and, meanwhile, put His Holy Name upon our world, pray for God’s blessing, and discern our vocation. Above all, we ought to eschew sin, cease to be slaves of the world, and happily be sons and heirs by God’s grace.


[1] At other times, or say, when the Second Sunday of Christmas does not coincide with 1 January, there is a different set of readings. The feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was first granted, on the petition of King José I of Portugal, to the dioceses of Portugal and to Brazil and Algeria, in 1751. By 1914, the feast was established in Portugal for celebration on 11 October and was extended to the entire Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1931. The 1969 Revision of the liturgical year changed it to 1 January.

[2] Pope Paul VI established it in 1967, inspired by Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) and with reference to his own Populorum Progressio (1967).