January 1, 2017
New Year’s Day 2017
by Larry Rice
There’s always lots of talk at the end of each year about how horrible it is that Christmas has become a big secular marketing event. But the truth is, the Catholic faith has a long, venerable tradition of co-opting secular holiday, feasts, and seasons, and making them our own. The date of Christmas was chosen, in part, to override the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. The Solemnity of All Saints is a Christian counter to the pagan or druidic observance of Samhain. St. Valentine’s Day superseded the Roman Lupercalia.
It seems odd, then, that we haven’t had better success with a Christian celebration for the New Year. It’s a time that is ripe for introspection and personal renewal, out with the old year, and in with the new. Apart from the parties and champagne, it’s already a date with spiritual significance.
Perhaps the problem is that the Church’s New Year, liturgically speaking, arrives on the first Sunday of Advent and is almost entirely overshadowed by Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The fact is, that January 1 is what we Catholics call a holy day of obligation—a feast day on which we’re obligated to go to Mass. It’s the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. This coming year, since the 1st of January falls on a Sunday, the feast and the obligation transfer to Sunday as well.
Perhaps we can make the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God more relevant to the New Year by seeing in Mary a model for renewed Christian life: in her openness to the Holy Spirit, her radical assent to God’s will for her life, her patience through suffering, and her willingness to bring the Savior into the world. Those are all qualities that would make any of us better people in the New Year.