Among the gods of the Roman Empire was Janus, god of doors, gates and passageways. As god of these, it is reasonable that he was also the god of transitions, of beginnings and ends. He was portrayed as having two faces, each one looking in the opposite direction: one looking to the past and another to the future. Oftentimes Janus also held a key in his hand, signifying his authority over doors and transitions. It should be no surprise that the word in Latin for a door is ianua, taken from the name of the god. The Romans also named the first month of the year Mensis Ianuarius, or the month of Janus. The shadow of Janus still hovers over us whenever we being a new year, especially on January 1st, when we open a door to transition into a new year.
On January 1st, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. This Feast at the very beginning of the calendar year reminds us of the central role the Virgin Mary plays in the story of salvation by her “yes” to the Archangel Gabriel. Saint Paul summarizes salvation writing in his letter to the Galatians that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman… so that we might receive adoption as sons.” From Mary, the divine person of Jesus took human flesh. The saving flesh of Jesus Christ that was nailed to the cross and rose on the third day was given to him by the willing consent of Mary to participate in the Father’s plan of salvation. She provided the flesh for the Messiah, the flesh and blood that has brought salvation to the world.
The Blessed Mother is the gate through which the author of salvation entered into his creation so that we could be reconciled to God the Father. Saint John Vianney, Patron of Priests, wrote that “we cannot go into a house without speaking to the doorkeeper. Well, the Holy Virgin is the doorkeeper of Heaven.” The Franciscan Saint Bonaventure said that Mary is called “the Gate of Heaven because no one can enter that blessed Kingdom without passing through her.” The Virgin Mary is the new gate that opens the doors to eternal life by allowing her Son to enter into the world. The Church has displaced Janus with the Mother of God because the door she opens is one that can never be shut again.
Also on January 1st, the liturgy begins with the ancient blessing of God over the Israelites: The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace. As this particular year ends, one that has brought hardship and anxiety to all, we the faithful need every blessing possible. As the door into 2021 opens, we stand weary of what is to come, but at the same time hopeful that with Jesus we will have the strength and conviction to persevere.