29 December 2021
by Fr Konrad Löwenstein
In St Luke’s account of the Nativity, the Blessed Virgin “meditated all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19). The Latin word “conferens” suggests a drawing of comparisons between the human and the divine: between a mother giving birth to a child in the poorest and meanest of conditions and the Nativity of God, as declared by an Archangel, announced by a multitude of angels and heralded by a star; as preceded by the conception of St John the Baptist, who leapt for joy in the womb of his mother, St Elizabeth, as foretold to St Zachariah. The signs of Divine intervention include the nature of the birth and the presence of ministering angels.
The conception and birth of Our Lord did not affect the virginal integrity of His Holy Mother, who remained a virgin perpetually: before, during, and after her delivery. Eve, the mother of death, gave birth in pain as punishment for her sin; no pain afflicted the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Life, who gave birth in joy, exempt as she was from all stain of original sin.
At the moment of birth
Our Lady revealed to St Bridget:
“He went forth from my closed virginal womb with unspeakable joy and exaltation… I brought him forth… kneeling alone in prayer in the stable. For with such exaltation and gladness of soul did I bear Him, that I felt no trouble nor any pain, but straightaway I wrapped Him in the clean clothing which I had long before prepared.”
An angel also revealed to St Bridget:
“Moreover when the Son of God was conceived, He entered, with His Divinity, into the whole body of the Virgin, so when He was born, with His humanity and His Godhead, He was poured forth from her body, just as the fullest sweetness emerges from the heart of a rose, while the glory of virginity stayed in His Mother.”
Where did Our Blessed Lord lie at His birth? Barradius asserts that, in His divine humility, He lay on the ground. According to a tradition, related by Ribadaneira, upon seeing Christ, the Blessed Virgin was struck with wonder at God made man and prostrated herself on the ground before Him, greeting Him with the deepest reverence and joy of heart with the words: “Thou art come to me, who has longed for Thee, my God! my Lord! my Son!” — not doubting at all that she was understood by Him, Infant as He was, and so she adored Him, kissing His feet as her God, His hands as her lord, His face as her Son. Others are of the opinion that He was placed by angels in the arms of His Blessed Mother; others still, including St Bridget and Fr Cornelius a Lapide, hold that the Divine Infant raised Himself up through His own power into the arms of His most sweet Virgin Mother.
The presence of angels
On the presence of ministering angels, Fr Cornelius a Lapide properly remarks:
“If the stars of the morning praised God and all the heavenly beings (that is the Angels) rejoiced at the creation of the world as Job says (38:7), how much greater joy did they express at the moment of the Incarnation and Nativity of the Word? Indeed, St Paul states (Heb 1:6): ‘When [the Father] brings forth His firstborn into the world, He says: And let all the angels of God worship Him.'”
And we may readily imagine hosts of angels in adoration, not only in the sky above the shepherds, but in the very stable of Bethlehem, permeated by a new divine light.
As also commented by Fr Cornelius a Lapide, “All the angels accompanied Christ, their Lord and God, to earth, as the royal household accompany a king wherever he travels.” They were filled with wonder at the sight of God, Who could not be measured, reduced to conceivable dimensions in an immense light, and venerated Him and adored Him. And so the stable in Bethlehem was transformed into a heaven, replete with angels, cherubim and seraphim, who, leaving paradise, had come down to adore their God made man, a marvel until that time unimaginable and almost beyond belief for the angels. This was the supreme and gracious work of divine power, wisdom, justice and clemency, beyond all understanding of men and angels. And so Our Lady, in her maidenly modesty, her spirit of silent recollection, her heavenly prudence, her strong faith and hope, contemplated all these things, both human and divine, drawing comparisons between the signs of deepest lowliness which she saw and what she knew of God’s Supreme Majesty: between the stable and heaven; between the crib and the throne of the Most High; between the beasts and the seraphim: between the babe in swaddling clothes and Him who was “wrapped in light as with a garment” (Ps 104); seeing in all these things such a wondrous harmony as to confirm her faith that this was the only begotten Son of God Who was born of her; Who would, in the course of time, unfold and bring to consummation the mysteries in the Redemption of the world.
The heart of humanity
And just as the Revelation of God as an Infant Child arouses wonder in the angels, so it raises the hearts of mankind and, above all, of Our Blessed Lady herself, to adore the Godhead; as the Church sings in the Preface of the Nativity:
“Because, by the mystery of the Incarnate Word, a new effulgence of Thy glory shone upon the eyes of our soul, so that, when we came to know God visibly, we were enraptured by a yearning for things invisible.”
And so Our Blessed Lady, the angels and all mankind rejoice together; and we thank God for coming to earth out of love for us, so that we too might love Him as an Infant Child, as our God, our Redeemer, and our Infinite Good.