It's not often that we associate solemnity and circumcision with the new year, but as Catholics we should. This is because January 1st is set aside as the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, as well as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. You may have heard little about these events. However, for Catholics, these are not intended to be minor feast days.
The Solemnity of Mary honors her divine motherhood, and it is set aside on the octave (8th) day of the Christmas season, and thus it occurs on New Years Day. In some countries, this is a Holy Day of Obligation for Roman Catholics, unless it falls on a Saturday or Monday of that year. The feast occurs on the eighth day after Christmas because that is the traditional day when the birth of a new child was officially announced in Jewish families. This feast is considered especially important because it is a celebration of the fact that Mary is honored as the “Mother of God” Indeed, the titles “Mother of God” and “Solemnity of Mary” go hand in hand.
The feast of the circumcision of Christ goes dates back to early Christianity. The fixed date of January 1st to mark this event was proclaimed by Pope Pius V in 1570. In 1931, it was made a universal feast day of the entire Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI. It occurs eight days after Christmas, for similar reasons as the Solemnity of Mary. In accordance with Jewish tradition, a male child was ritually circumcised eight days after birth. While circumcision is a not a requirement in Catholicism, the feast marks the first time that the blood of Christ was shed, and thus it is a pivotal point in history. It was not only a demonstration of Christ's obedience to Biblical law, but it also demonstrated that he was fully human, and foreshadowed that one day he would shed his blood for us.
This year, Pope Francis marked these two significant events by celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 1, 2014. The Pope gave a homily titled: "Fraternity, Foundation and Pathway to Peace." The Pope noted: “The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before all creatures. The Mother of God. This is the first and most important title of Our Lady. It refers to a quality, a role which the faith of the Christian people, in its tender and genuine devotion to our heavenly Mother, has understood from the beginning. We recall that great moment in the history of the ancient Church, the Council of Ephesus, in which the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary was authoritatively defined”.
Just in time for the new year, the Illinois Family Institute's Laurie Higgins posted an update noting that Pope Francis had strongly defended traditional motherhood and traditional families over the Christmas season and New Years Day. She wrote: "Shocking news flash (NOT): UK Telegraph and Time Magazine report that lo and behold Roman Catholic Pope Francis upholds Roman Catholic doctrine, opposes same-sex "marriage" and adoption by homosexual couples." This statement referred to a Christmas sermon where Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta condemned adoption by same-sex couples. He noted that God's own son was raised by a man and a woman, and not by two men or two women. As it turns out, Bishop Scicluna met Pope Francis on December 12. The bishop said that Pope Francis was "shocked" to learn that Malta's proposed Civil Union bill allows gay adoption. He further noted to the Times of Malta: “We [Pope Francis and I] discussed many aspects… and when I raised the issue that’s worrying me as a bishop [the right for gay couples to adopt] he encouraged me to speak out."
However, those most shocked by this revelation might be Time Magazine. They named Pope Francis as their “Person of the Year” in December 2013, claiming the Pope had “changed the tone” of the Catholic Church on gay rights and had a more relaxed attitude to homosexuality. Unfortunately for Time, it seems they and the rest of the secular media are reading too much into the Pope's "Who am I to judge?" comment about gay Christians. While the Pope would never judge another individual because of their sexual orientation, he remains a staunch defender of traditional marriage and the right of children to be raised by both a mother and a father. As we marked the new year with the feasts of the Solemnity of Mary and Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, we are reminded that Jesus himself set this example.