Just the Facts, Ma'am - The Theotokos
Who: The Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”, “the one who gives birth to the one who is God”). The title Theotokos was decreed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 to counter the Nestorians who believed that Mary was only the mother of his human nature, and not his divine nature. Mary was affirmed as Theotokos because Jesus is both God and man. Theotokos is usually paraphrased as “Mother of God”, for whom this Feast honors.
What: A major Feast Day in honor of Mary’s divine motherhood to Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity. The earliest records of such a Feast Day were first celebrated in the East shortly after the Council, and they indicate it was around Christmas. By the 7th century, the Feast was on January 1, called the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Where: A universal Feast in the Western Church, and a Holy Day of Obligation some countries such as the United States
When: January 1 (restored), also called the Octave of Christmas (Day 8 of the 12 Days of Christmas).
Sometime in the 13th or 14th centuries, January 1 began to be celebrated as the Circumcision of our Lord. In 1914, the Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was proclaimed on October 11, and was celebrated that day universally until 1974, when Pope Paul VI removed the Feast of the Circumcision and restored the Feast of the Maternity, under the new title: Mary, the Mother of God on January 1.
Why: Paul VI wanted to restore the Marian emphasis to the Christmas season as it was observed in the more ancient Church. He wrote:
“In the revised arrangement of the Christmas season, we should all turn with one mind to the restored solemnity of the Mother of God. This feast was entered into the calendar in the liturgy of the city of Rome for the first day of January. 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." 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” (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, Feb. 2, 1974, no.5).
How: As a Marian Feast Day, the priest wears a white chasuble. Additionally, because the Octave of Christmas coincides with New Year's Day, a day of hope, the Church has also designated January 1 as an observance of the World Day of Peace.
Scriptural References: Isaiah 7:14, 9:1-6; Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-24; Galatians 4:4-7
Catechism: 495: Called in the Gospels "the Mother of Jesus," Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord." In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God".
O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed on the human race
the grace of eternal salvation,
grant, we pray,
that we may experience the intercession of her,
through whom we were found worthy
to receive the author of life,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.