Historically, the Roman Church used to celebrate two other important events on this day: the circumcision and naming of Jesus. In respect for this traditional celebration that spanned almost 400 years, I’d like to take a look at the importance of these two events.
First, we have the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Jewish Law, every male child had to be circumcised and named on the eighth day after his birth. Why, then, would we remember this moment in the life of our Incarnate Lord? Precisely because this event marks the first shedding of the precious Blood of Christ. It is the Blood of Christ that would ultimately win for us our redemption as Christ died on the cross. Here, at the start of his life on Earth, the first drop of that precious blood signifies for us the beginning of atonement for our sins. It is a foreshadowing of the harrowing event of the cross, which will complete the shedding of Christ’s atoning Blood.
The Precious Blood of Christ of course points us to the Eucharist. We receive that atoning Blood into our own bodies, where it mingles with our own blood and becomes part of us. We experience in an incipient way the enduring presence of the soul of Christ within the members of his body. We, the Church, are enlivened and nourished by the Blood of Christ. This Blood wipes away venial sins and conforms us to our Redeemer, making him present once again in the world.
Then we have the naming of Jesus. Our names are important to us. They get our attention when called. They mark our possessions. They are announced when we receive a prize or an honor. Our names are something unique to us, and form a part of our identity. And that is why the meaning of Jesus’ name is significant.
The angel Gabriel indeed gives the instruction to Mary in chapter one of Luke’s Gospel to name the child Jesus. In the Hebrew, the name Yeshua means “God saves.” This would be the name by which he was known. Since people didn’t have last names back then, he would have been named “Jesus of Nazareth.”
As we are still in the Christmas season, the Advent readings from the prophet Isaiah should still be fresh on our mind. We are all familiar with the verse from Isaiah: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel.” We are also reminded of this verse in Matthew’s gospel, in the context of Joseph’s dream about the birth of Jesus. In the Hebrew, Emmanuel means “God-with-us.” So what gives? Did the prophet get the prophesy wrong? Not exactly.
The verse from Isaiah says, “He shall be called Emmanuel.” This could mean that his name will be Emmanuel, but it could also mean that people will call him Emmanuel. As in, a nickname. We all know someone with a nickname; perhaps you have one yourself. And you know you can’t give yourself a nickname. Others have to give it to you. Like it or not, it is a name given to you based on some attribute you have or something you have done.
And so our Lord is appropriately called by his given name, Jesus, and by his nickname, Emmanuel. His names testify to the fact that God saves and God is with us.
And that brings us to today. The title of Mary, Mother of God. A name is significant, and so we should consider the name of Mary.
As we know, Mary goes by many names: Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, Mother of Mercy, Our Lady Help of Christians, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima. You may even have a favorite name for our Lady. She holds a very special place of honor in the Catholic Church and among Eastern Christians. She has been honored by Christians since the very first century, probably even before her Assumption into Heaven.
Yet, in 21st century Texas, we often hear the question, “Why do you Catholics honor Mary?” And since it may be insufficient to recall centuries of tradition, I offer you this very simple analogy.
Let’s say you had a very special guest over at your home. Let’s say Jesus Christ himself became flesh again, and he came to your house. And let’s say he stayed for dinner. He would have sat in a particular chair. What would you do with that chair after Jesus left? You would put it in an honorable place in your home, maybe put a picture of Jesus on it, maybe flowers or a candle, and you certainly wouldn’t let anyone else sit on it. It would be a special and holy place within your home. This is the place where Jesus himself sat!
Well, it’s like that with Mary. Mary is the first earthly throne of our King and our Lord. It was her womb that became Jesus’ special holy place from the Annunciation to Christmas. We honor Mary as Mother of God because she was privileged to be the pure vessel thru whom God entered our world. If we would give a certain amount of honor to a chair in our house, how much more do we honor this person, Mary, the Mother of God.
Yes, we dare to call her Mother of God. It is a peculiar thing to call her by this title, because, if God had no beginning, how could he have a mother? We call her by this name simply because of what we believe about Jesus Christ. Jesus was true God and true man. Yet he was one person. And if this person was born of the Virgin Mary, then the true God was born of the Virgin Mary. Thus, Mary is indeed the Mother of God. We declare this title every time we say the Hail Mary. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
We ask the mother of God to pray for us. And she does, gladly and fervently. She prays for the whole Church, especially those who ask for her prayers. And this is her role because of her relationship to us. Mary is indeed “Mother of the Church.” What mother wouldn’t pray for her children when they asked her to?
As I said in my homily on the Holy Family, the Church is one big family. We share the same Father, Our Father in Heaven. We share a brother, Jesus Christ, who took on our human nature. And this family would not be complete without a mother. God knew we would need a mother, and so he created his own mother, immaculately conceived, and full of grace. And when his time on earth was finished, he gave his mother to us.
We read in John’s gospel:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
This is the moment when Jesus gave Mary to us as our Mother. What more blessed gift could he give us as he died on the cross? A mother to comfort us in sorrow, to intercede for us, and to call us to virtue and purity.
As we call upon the name of Mary in our prayers each day, we remember that she always points us to her son, Jesus. Mary is a powerful intercessor and a tender mother to us. We honor her today as Mother of God, and we rest under her loving, watchful gaze.
 Isaiah 7:14