The following comes from a December 19 story in Catholic San Francisco.

January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, one of the oldest feasts in the liturgical calendar and is a holy day of obligation for Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Catholics are required to attend Mass on Jan. 1 and the liturgy will celebrate Mary’s role as the mother of God. The day is also World Day for Peace in the Catholic Church.

A celebration commemorating Mary as the mother of God has been on the Catholic Church calendar for more than 1,500 years and is the oldest feast for Mary – celebrated long before feasts such as the Immaculate Conception or Assumption became part of the liturgical year. The feast began to be celebrated following the debates concerning Christ’s divinity. Once the church decreed that Christ was fully God and fully human, and these natures were united in Jesus Christ, Mary’s role as the “theotokos” (God-bearer) as well as the human mother of God, was confirmed and celebrated.

Day devoted to Mary and peace
Around the 16th century, the feast of Mary on Jan. 1 was replaced in the Roman Church with the feast of the circumcision of Christ. Like all Jews, eight days after his birth Jesus underwent circumcision, marking him as a member of the people of God and part of the covenant between God and Abraham. On that day he also would have been named. However, in 1974 after the Second Vatican Council and the reformation of the liturgical calendar, Jan. 1 once again became the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and was declared World Day of Peace by Pope Paul VI.

“The purpose of the celebration is to honor the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation and at the same time to sing the praises of the unique dignity thus coming to “the Holy Mother…through whom we have been given the gift of the Author of life,” said Pope Paul VI (“Marialis Cultus,” Feb. 2, 1974, No. 5). “This same solemnity also offers an excellent opportunity to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace, as we once again hear the good tidings of great joy and pray to God, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, for the priceless gift of peace.”

The solemnity falls on New Year’s Day because it is the octave of Christmas and the church celebrates the maternity of Mary eight days after celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In this country, as decided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jan. 1 is a holy day of obligation. When Jan. 1 falls on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday, the solemnity is celebrated on the Sunday. Often, in the past, if Jan. 1 was on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, the San Francisco archbishop dispensed the obligation to attend Mass although the solemnity was still celebrated at Mass.

Obligation a duty and responsibility
This year, we are keeping the day as obligatory for all the faithful to attend Mass, and in particular to pray for peace. Many people object to the word “obligation” and say they do not like to be “required” or “forced” to attend an “extra” Mass. However, if instead it is thought of as a “duty” as Catholics to mark a special day and a “responsibility” as people of faith to celebrate the nature of Christ, the Queenship of Mary and the importance of peace, it is not so burdensome.

In addition to attending Mass, canon law asks that on Sundays and holy days of obligation the faithful “… abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body” (Canon 1247). So we are asked to pray, celebrate Eucharist together, and truly take a holiday (holy day) to relax and worship.

On Jan. 1, 2013, the archdiocese will be able to gather, celebrate the maternity of Mary, a week of celebrating Christmas, and pray for the peace our world so desperately needs.

To read original story, click here.