All About Mary

Solemnity of Mary's Maternity, Origins

Q: What about the Solemnity of Mary? Is it the circumcision of Jesus?

A: Before 1969 the feast celebrated on January 1, was the circumcision of Jesus. The origins of the feast of Mary's maternity are obscure. Major feasts of Mary were celebrated from the fifth century on: Jerusalem on August 15 (~428), church at Gethsemani (~458), Armenian Church. More specifically, from around 500, a "Day of the Theotokos" was celebrated in the Eastern Church either before or after Christmas. This celebration evolved subsequently to a Marian feast on December 26 (Byzantine) and January 16 (Coptic).

The Gregorian and Roman calendars marked the octave day of Christmas with a strong Marian emphasis (~600). There were Marian celebrations also in Advent (Fourth Sunday and/or December 18). The initiative for a feast of Mary's Divine Maternity as such started much later in Portugal, and led in 1751 to a decree by Benedict XIV allowing for Portugal to celebrate Mary's Divine Maternity on the first Sunday of May. The feast was extended to other countries and to religious congregations, and by 1914, had shifted to October 11. Mary's Divine Maternity became a universal feast in 1931. Liturgical reform initiated by Vatican II placed it on January 1 (1969).

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