Why are the solemnity of Mary and the World Day of Peace celebrated on the same day?

Pope Francis New Year Pope Francis' Angelus message on Jan. 1, 2023, marked the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. An estimated 40,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the event. The feast day coincides with the World Day of Peace. | Credit: Vatican Media

Jan. 1 marks more than the start of a new year — it is also the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace.

The two celebrations are connected because, as St. Paul VI wrote in 1974, Mary is the queen of peace.

“In the revised ordering of the Christmas period it seems to us that the attention of all should be directed towards the restored solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God,” he wrote in his encyclical Marialis Cultus. “This celebration, placed on Jan. 1 in conformity with the ancient indication of the liturgy of the city of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation.”

He added: “It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf. Lk 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.

“It is for this reason that, in the happy concurrence of the Octave of Christmas and the first day of the year, we have instituted the World Day of Peace.”

The solemnity of Mary as the Mother of God concludes the octave of Christmas, or the eight days following Christ’s birth. While her title as “Mother of God” dates back to the third or fourth century, the Greek term “Theotokos” (“The God-bearer”) first became Catholic doctrine at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

This year, the solemnity falls on a Monday and is not a holy day of obligation in the U.S. The solemnity is abrogated whenever the feast falls on a Sunday or Monday.

At the same time, the Catholic Church also recognizes Jan. 1 as the World Day of Peace, a tradition first celebrated by St. Paul VI in 1968.

“We address ourself to all men of goodwill to exhort them to celebrate ‘The Day of Peace,’ throughout the world, on the first day of the year, Jan. 1, 1968,” he declared at the time. “It is our desire that then, every year, this commemoration be repeated as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and outlines the path of human life in time, that peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come.”

This day, he stressed, not only belongs to Catholics but also to all people of peace.

“It would hope to have the adherence of all the true friends of peace, as if it were their own initiative, to be expressed in a free manner, congenial to the particular character of those who are aware of how beautiful and how important is the harmony of all voices in the world for the exaltation of this primary good, which is peace, in the varied concert of modern humanity,” he said.

This celebration, he added, does not detract from the solemnity of Mary.

“Such an observance must not change the liturgical calendar, which reserves New Year’s Day for veneration of the divine motherhood of Mary and the most holy name of Jesus,” he urged. “Indeed, those holy and loving religious remembrances must shed their light of goodness, wisdom, and hope upon the prayer for, the meditation upon, and the fostering of the great and yearned-for gift of peace, of which the world has so much need.”

This article was originally published on Jan. 1, 2023, and was updated Dec. 28, 2023.

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