One of the more perceptible divisions between Catholics and Protestant Christians arises from our attitude toward Mary, the mother of the mortal body of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, some Protestants derisively refer to the Church -- and note en passant that "the Church," with a capital C, is always the Catholic Church, regardless of who's talking about what -- as "the cult of Mary." The implication is that Catholics place Mary, a mortal human, on the plane of divinity on which only God, in His three Persons, should stand.
That is not the case, has never been the case, and will never be the case. Mary is a saint, specially revered for her role in Jesus's birth, maturation, and ministry, but human, not divine. We venerate her as the supreme example of womanhood and motherhood: who accepted the extraordinary burden of Christ's Incarnation and Nativity; who raised the Christ Child to His maturity; who knew from the first that her Son would ultimately be tortured to death for proclaiming His New Covenant; and who accepted it all with a single simple sentence:
Tradition among the Jews of Judea was that eight days after the birth of a male infant, he was to be taken to the nearest temple for circumcision: the rite that set the Jews apart from the other peoples of the West. That rite was considered the formal admission of the infant into the Jewish people. Mary, a devout young woman, of whom the Protoevangelion of St. James says "the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her," would no more have thought to withhold the infant Jesus from that rite than she would have thought to throw Him off a cliff.
For centuries January 1, the eighth day of the Christmas Octave, was celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision. In recent times, the emphasis has been shifted from the rite to Mary herself: the young woman who risked condemnation and execution by bringing forth a child out of wedlock, who understood that neither she nor her Son would be accepted by her people, who knew beforehand of all the sorrows and tragedies He would experience, but nevertheless dedicated herself wholly and unstintingly to the role of Mother of the Redeemer of Mankind.
The Church recognizes many saints...at times, too many, which is why one can still go into certain shops and encounter displays labeled "Mr. Christopher Medals: 50% Off." Inasmuch as the designation is bestowed by human beings, there's always a chance that it could be inaccurate...with this one beautiful exception.
Mary is not divine. Yet according to Church teaching, she stands above all the other human saints, nearer to God than any other mortal has ever come or ever will. She is the Queen of Heaven, the Great Intercessor whose requests for clemency and grace for mortal men her Son does not refuse.
No, Mary is not divine. Catholics do not worship her. Yet in her piety, her devotion, and her unfailing dedication to her divine Son and His mission, she provides us with a wholly human focus for God's Plan: an example we can attempt to emulate. It is fitting that she be honored with a day of her own.
Happy New Year. May God bless and keep you all.