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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.  --Luke 2:19

One thing I love about the Catholic Church is the making sacred of even secular holidays. New Year's Day is also the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. New Year's Eve, for me, has come to be not about going to a great party, but about going to church. At the Vigil Mass last evening, I had the special surprise of hearing that it was being said for my Great Aunt Rosie, who died in November. For some reason, there was no one to do the music for the Mass, so Father J. had us sing a verse of "Immaculate Mary" at the beginning and another at the end. The quiet that settled in the moments usually filled with instruments and song seemed appropriate. What filled the silence was joy.

It's still the Christmas season in the Catholic Church, and we heard for this Feast Day the story of the shepherds coming to witness the birth of the Messiah and how Mary was silent in awe and wonder, how she cherished the words said about her Holy Son, tucking them into the deepest recesses of her heart.

Catholics celebrate Jesus' birth and sacrifice on the cross at every Mass. The Mass makes present the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in a unique way. Christmas, in fact, comes from Christ-Mass. Christmas is a Holy Day inaugurated by the Catholic Church, a fact that many Protestants don't realize. When I was a Protestant, I didn't either. The Mass truly is the place to experience such holy mysteries together.

I wondered last evening at the brevity of our priest's homily, which was short even for him. But then I consider that there aren't many words beyond the Gospel that are needed. Mary herself simply contemplated all that had transpired. Her focus was on the meaning of the birth of her son and the great work of God. Being the Virgin Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, must have given her endless food for meditation. All Christians are called to birth him in our hearts and take him out into the world. Mary is our exemplar of discipleship. It's interesting to note that in the days of the Protestant Reformation, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all acknowledged and honored Mary as the Holy Mother of God.

I think Father J.'s short homily reflected his humility, in imitation of Mary's. Homilies and sermons are certainly an important part of the Mass, but the point is not to wow us all with brilliant words, though sometimes he does. In a similar way, the Mass does not exist to entertain us, musically or otherwise. Going to church isn't about one's spiritual "experience". It isn't about giving one a rush of ecstatic feeling or a profound revelation, although that can and does at times happen. Father J. let it be all about Jesus, just like Mary did.

Here is my reason for writing this today; this is my plea: Catholics, come home. Whatever the reason you left, grace awaits you. If you are not a Christian, I invite you. And if you are a non-Catholic Christian, I invite you too and challenge you to do some homework. Research the origins of the Church. Learn about the sacraments, all 7 of them, not just the 2 that Martin Luther left intact. Seek the historical evidence regarding what Christian worship really looked like in the early centuries of the Church, and what the members of the early Church actually believed. Because I can tell you, worship looked like the Catholic Mass, and the followers of Christ believed in his Real Presence, in the transubstantiation of the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Communion into the body and blood of Jesus.

We are all--Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike--Christian brothers and sisters. But we shouldn't be separated. Catholic literally means universal. One Church for all people. That's why Jesus came, and that's why he gave us Mary, his very own mother, as Mother of the Church.