To reverence Mary as a person with agency: Today we invite you to explore Mary as Theotokos–God-Bearer; engage with our communal struggle for a brand new day in our church; and embody the suffering and beauty in the world through Liz Vice’s “Mary’s Lullaby” and Patricia Brintle’s “Madonna, Child and Hope”.
YHWH said to Moses,
“Tell Aaron and his heirs,
‘This is how you will bless the Israelites.
Say to them,
May YHWH bless you and keep you!
May YHWH face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
May YHWH look kindly upon you and give you peace!
Thus will they invoke my name over the Israelites,
and I will bless them!’”
Response: May God, who is merciful, bless us.
God, show us kindness and bless us,
and make Your face smile on us!
For then the earth will acknowledge Your ways
and all the nations will know of Your power to save.
R: May God, who is merciful, bless us.
Let the nations shout and sing for joy,
since You dispense true justice to the world;
On earth You rule the nations.
R: May God, who is merciful, bless us.
Let the nations praise You, O God,
let all the peoples praise You!
May God bless us,
and let God be feared to the very ends of the earth.
R: May God, who is merciful, bless us.
When the designated time had come,
God had sent forth the Only Begotten
— born of a woman, born under the Law —
to deliver from the Law
those who were subjected to it,
so that we might receive our status as adopted heirs.
The proof that you are children of God
is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts
the Spirit of the Child who calls out “Abba!”
You are no longer slaves, but daughters and sons!
And if you are daughters and sons,
you are also heirs, by God’s design.
The shepherds hurried
and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger;
once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child.
All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.
Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.
The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.
When the eighth day arrived for the child’s circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him
before he was conceived.
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
Today is a day of many names—the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, the Octave of Christmas, New Year’s Day, and the World Day of Peace.
Mary, the Theotokos, God-Bearer, reveals to us God’s love of creation and the gritty tenderness of that steadfast care. She holds past, present and future cradled in her arms. She is possibility incarnate, the Queen of Peace, a human being that bears the divine—she guides us towards the birthing of a truly inclusive theology and church.
When we meet the shepherds, care is in the air. They are tending to their sheep, a foreshadowing of Mary’s care for Jesus, an earthly representation of God’s watchfulness over us. The good news angels tell the shepherds is that “there is born to you this day a Savior.” This Savior is of the world, “born to” the greater family on this earth, born to those whom society may least expect—ordinary people, the forgotten, the invisible. The shepherds, eager to see this promise in the flesh, head out to meet the baby. They are the family greeting new life at the hospital. They challenge two-dimensional understandings of family, broadening the reach of the holy embrace. The shepherds ask us: what does family look like?
Amidst the energy and excitement, Mary, the new mom, is in a completely different headspace—she ‘preserves’ and ‘ponders’. She enacts the key virtues of transformational leadership, which always begins from a place of observation and contemplation. There is power and wisdom in not rushing to declare but taking in, literally embodying, God’s promise. Mary’s action-in-inaction is a practice of rootedness. She is the only woman present, the backbone of this iconic scripture scene—composed, steady, taking in the longview.
In Standing in the Shoes my Mother Made: A Womanist Theology (2011), Diana Hayes reflects on the beautiful and complex ways that her mother nurtured her, preparing her to traverse the world and challenge the status quo. Hayes follows the lead of her mother and the spirit of womanist theology, drawing upon the inter-generational wisdom of Black women to dream of a church (and a world) that truly embodies life-giving renewal, solidarity, and honoring all of God’s diverse creation. As a site for deep theological reflection, memories of her mother call her to look back in order to look forward.
Hayes lifts up who Mary is to Black Catholics—a woman of agency and wisdom, building capacity, modeling solidarity. She writes:
Hers (Mary’s) was not a yes to being used merely as a passive, empty vessel, but a yes to empowerment, challenging the status quo by her ability to recover those who doubted and denied her and to nurture and bring forth her Son as a woman of faith and conviction. The image of Mary and the infant Jesus is an image of strength and courage, of a mother’s determination to bring forth this child regardless of the circumstances and conditions opposing her, a situation in which many black women have often found themselves. (110-111)
All Catholics have much to gain from this powerful portrait of Mary. The Theotokos knows. Her struggles and joys mirror those of Black women and they have a deep effect on the entire world. Our liberation and humanity, after all, are tied up with one another. Hayes addresses the invisibility of Black Catholics in this global church and this sinful exclusion of siblings in Christ. While we may be currently “reaping the sad harvest of seeds sown long before us,” on this new day, this first day, we have the opportunity to plant the seeds of peace and justice. We have the opportunity to take on the challenge of the Theotokos and give birth to a new way of being church.
In conversation with the on-the-ground realities of liturgy and what it means to be a global church still very much weighed down by colonialism, white supremacy and the legacy of slavery, Hayes breaks open the possibility of right relationship and embracing church as one family in Christ. Her vision of unity lifts up and celebrates the holy diversities within this family—language, culture, ritual practice—while acknowledging the very real institutionalized obstacles that have led to a white washing of American Catholicism.
Our faith teaches us that human beings are fundamentally social and this principle of CST (the call to community and participation) invites us to dream of a church that centers an expansive and inclusive understanding of family, one that looks more like the early models of church than our segregated Sunday mornings. We are called to lift up and learn from Black women and all who have served as the backbones in our communities, all whose gifts have been suppressed and silenced, pushed to the margins. As Mary teaches us, this is where God is born.
The struggle is communal, not individual, and can be won only if experiences are shared, stories are told, songs are sung, histories reclaimed and restored, a new language emerges that speaks words of peace and unity, that recalls both the pain and the joy of our different heritages and leads us into a brand new day. (19-20).
In Hayes’ words, I recognize a need for trust so that when stories, songs and histories are shared, they are received with the care and attention they deserve. Being good stewards of the wisdom others have to offer is a way of honoring human dignity. It says, “Thank you for sharing this truth with me. I believe you and I am with you. How can I support?” Both Hayes and this principal of CST call us to full participation in the work of church renewal. No one is exempt. Everyone is essential. It requires learning and unlearning but it is the heart of our identity as Christians and as Catholics.
The Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is also known as the Octave of Christmas. As Sr. Joan Chittister explains, the Octave functions as “the aura of a feast, so important, so impacting, that the power of its presence in the human soul lingers far after the feast itself…an octave that says to the deepest part of us, “Don’t overlook what you have just seen. Think again. Think about it always.” (The Liturgical Year: A Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, 92) Baked within this feast, our tradition calls us to preserve and ponder just like Mary. If we are to continue to draw from a holistic portrait of Mary, however, then we must also be saying ‘yes to empowerment’.
The 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart embraces this dance between contemplation and action: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God.”
Liz Vice is a musician and storyteller. She draws from the traditions of soul and gospel and that of the prophetic as she witnesses to suffering and beauty in the world, calling her listeners to be co-conspirators in working for justice. Vice is open about her spiritual life and reflects on the practice of saying ‘yes’ to God, even when the path is not so clear.
In 2018, she and her friends Paul Zach, Orlando Palmer, and Isaac Wardell updated the lyrics to the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land”. They began on the eve of the anniversary of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA and the track was released in March 2021. In this powerful and haunting performance, Vice speaks past into the present, shining light on our current moment and the histories that need to be acknowledged in order for us to move forward in justice and healing.
I invite you to also dwell with her breathtaking performance of Mary’s Lullaby. Use this recording as an entry point into prayer with Mary the Mother of God. Be with her as she cherishes her beautiful black-haired boy. Behold the child born unto you.
Since 2008, the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty has worked to challenge the status quo in order to truly honor the dignity of all people. The Coalition magnifies the voices and truth of those living in poverty. It focuses on five principles: affordable housing, nutritious food, health care, education and a living wage. Several times a year, the Coalition gathers on the steps of the state house, disrupting the physical landscape of our capital to fight for legislation that centers the needs of those in the most vulnerable situations. The spirit of family in this community of activists and organizers is tangible. Guided by an intentional interfaith ethic, the Coalition recognizes the importance of difference while simultaneously affirming the responsibility within each of us to be lovers of and caregivers for our greater human family.