Our New Year’s Journey with Mary

Workshop of Giovanni Bellini, The Circumcision, ca. 1500, London, The National Gallery

The ancient Church placed the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus a week after Christmas, on January 1. This was consistent with the framing of the liturgical calendar by the remembrance of the life and ministry of Jesus. In recent times the Church, still mindful of the Circumcision, has changed the New Year’s feast to a celebration of Mary: “On the octave of the Nativity of the Lord and the day of his Circumcision, the Solemnity of Holy Mary, the Mother of God, whom the Fathers at the Council of Ephesus acclaimed Theotokos, since from her the Word took on flesh and the Son of God dwelt among us, the Prince of Peace, to whom the Name above every other name has been given” (Roman Martyrology, Jan. 1). So we remember Mary, the God-bearing Mother of the Prince of Peace. Professor Anne Carpenter of Saint Mary’s Theology and Religious Studies Department, offers a meditation on Mary, who, for all the world meek and powerless, bravely said yes to God and opened the door to world peace. Surely there is no surer intercessor and model for each of us in that path to peace than Mary.

Our New Year’s Journey with Mary


Professor Anne Carpenter

When I think about Our Lady, the first thing I remember about her is her fiat, her “let it be,” her Yes. I imagine her in the dark of her room – I always picture this event in the dead of night because the mystics of the Church say that God is a brilliant darkness – and I imagine Mary whispering her agreement to the angel Gabriel. I think she said it softly. Softly because many of the most wonderful and daring things in the world are soft. And what a world-shifting moment this is! Such simple words, and they are enough to change everything. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a whole prayer to Mary about this moment. He begs her to say Yes, trembling in that breath between when she listened and when she spoke: “Answer quickly, O Virgin.” Her words are simple, a simple action, but they require a tenacity that sometimes frightens me. I do not know if I can be that fierce.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Mary’s life was transfigured in that moment, in her Yes in the brilliant dark, and it reveals the presence of God in a fearsome light. Surrendering deep and human things for God seems so hard, and even if she wasn’t thinking of all that at the time, Mary still agreed. This is why God loves her so much: when she acted, she threw everything she had into the action, even her own flesh. I don’t imagine that she really understood what she was doing – what teenager would? – but that makes her more daring.

When next we meet Mary, she is visiting Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. She goes to be with someone who needs help, which is always where God goes too. In fact, she brings God with her to Elizabeth. That is, she brings Jesus with her in her very womb. I always imagine that Mary went alone, though this probably isn’t true. I imagine her alone because I am trying to find some way to understand her solitude: it is lonely when you do something people don’t understand. So I imagine Mary walking fearless and alone on an open road under a starry sky.

Raphael, The Visitation, ca. 1517, Madrid, The Prado

Mary is powerful because she isn’t powerful. This is a Christian mystery. All she has is her Yes, and even that is given to her. But she offers everything and she moves quickly to where God needs to be, and in her everything she offers God. God has made this possible to her because she made room for God’s infinite possibility. Saint Irenaeus says, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by Mary.” She trusted that God can do anything and everything. Mary in some way grasps that God’s entrance into the world always upsets world order, always challenges. God’s entrance into her life upset every expectation, after all, and challenged her profoundly. But here in the Gospel of Luke, she’s singing and she’s happy because she knows that God never does anything without making it new and wonderful again. So she sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

Virgin Orans, 12th century, Kiev, Santa Sophia Cathedral

Images from Wikimedia Commons


One thought on “Our New Year’s Journey with Mary

  1. JB says:

    Love the phrase: “Mary is powerful because she isn’t powerful”. A feminine view of leadership that is based on knowing that serving is empowering in itself.


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