Vincent Mastromatteo

Mass appreciation for January 1st

By  Vincent Mastromatteo, Youth Speak News
  • December 26, 2014

When it comes to celebrating New Year’s, going to Mass is often the last thing on peoples’ minds. I always wondered why Jan. 1 is a day of obligation, requiring Catholics to attend Mass at the start of the year.

I can understand Christmas day Mass of course, the celebration of our Saviour’s birth. But for most people, Jan. 1 is just a flip of the calendar page, albeit one signifying the start of a new year.

The cynic in me thought that the Church doesn’t want practising Catholics to stay up partying all night on New Year’s Eve. If you have to get up at 9 a.m. and head off to church, you can’t have much fun the night before.

There are the New Year’s vigil Masses available for Catholics to fulfill their obligation, but most people, especially youth, don’t normally associate a night of celebration with celebrating the Eucharist.

But I mistakenly thought that New Year’s Day had no real religious significance. And so I did a little research. says, “New Year’s Day was formerly the feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, then it changed to the Holy Name of Jesus, but now it is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.” It almost sounds like the Church didn’t know what to do with Jan. 1, so long as it could find an excuse to get the bleary-eyed faithful to attend Mass.

Despite my earlier skepticism however, I began to appreciate that the Jan. 1 Mass is called the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, celebrating Mary’s role as the Mother of Christ. The feast day’s roots go back to the seventh century. Historically, it also celebrated the eight days after Christ’s birth, including Christmas itself. As it says in Luke 2:21: “When the eighth day came and the Child was to be circumcised, they gave Him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before His conception.”

Another factor in my new attitude towards Mass on Jan. 1 is the notion of New Year’s Day as a day of hospitality. Note all the levees (open houses) run by community leaders and other figures of authority. The Mayor of Toronto, for example, tradition- ally holds a New Year’s levee at City Hall to welcome the public. In fact, it was in Canada that the levee became associated with New Year’s Day. According to Library and Archives Canada, fur traders had a tradition of paying their respects to the master of the fort on New Year’s Day. This custom was adopted later by government officials for their levees.

With that in mind, maybe Jan. 1 can be seen not only as a day to celebrate the solemnity of Mary, but also as an open house of sorts where church is open to visiting Catholics.

Although this feast day doesn’t seem as fun as Christmas, it’s the perfect way to start the New Year as Catholics. Perhaps with New Year’s resolutions, this feast can help us focus on what truly matters. Sure, improving our health, our finances and sleeping in are important, but improving our faith life deserves equal attention. Starting the year off with Mass can help accomplish that.

Happy New Year!

(Mastromatteo, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto.)

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