O blessed and happy night, on which our Saviour was born in a manger in Bethlehem! As darkness falls and quiet envelops the world, we gather at the manger to pay homage to the Infant King, who we see lying amidst shepherds and kings, between sheep and oxen, and between St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother of God. What a happy and glorious sight for the soul!
At times it can be difficult to consider how best to ‘place’ oneself into that scene. Indeed, it appears so peaceful and perfectly holy, that it almost seems rude to interrupt. Yet Christ calls us to His throne of wood and straw this night, so that we might pay Him the proper homage due to the King of Heaven and earth. How then ought one to best respond to this invitation from the newborn King?
In his meditation for the O Antiphon for the 22nd of December, Dom Gueranger sheds some light upon how best to enter the scene, by providing a deep and moving insight into the love of Mary. “The journey is almost over, and thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with thee on the way. She adores thy divine Majesty; she gives thanks to thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon thee, and yet she fears it. For how will she be able to render thee those services which are due to thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures? How will she dare to raise thee up in her arms, and press thee to her heart, and feed thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand in which, being born of her, thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections—the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a Creature for her God? But thou supportest her, O thou the Desired of Nations! for thou, too, longest for that happy Birth, which is to give the earth its Savior, and to men that Corner-Stone which will unite them all into one family.”
With these words, the holy abbot reveals something of the mystery and beauty of the union of the Holy Family, particularly the bond between mother and Son. For Mary is not an august queen, who ‘bears’ patiently yet unwillingly, the petitions, prayers and approaches which we make. Nor is she a protective mother, who wishes that her Son be free from the eager, yet also hesitant, souls gathered around the manger.
No indeed - she is the mother of God and mother of all, overflowing with heavenly joy and purest love. So full is her heart of that divine joy that she cannot keep it to herself, and desires, no even longs to be able to draw others into such a joy. In this moment of the birth of Christ, we are able to understand somewhat of the immense depths of love which Mary has not only for her Son, but also for us, her children. Her love for God is so alive and so perfect, that it contains no hint of selfishness. An earthly mother might be protective over the first precious minutes with her child, yet Mary cannot wish for this. So divinely joyous is this moment that she longs to share the joy with all, to bring souls to the realisation of such beatitude, and thus, ultimately, to bring all to God.
If we place ourselves in the scene at the manger, through meditating upon this moment, we can see her love in action. For the crowd of souls who come before the King are not turned away, but are instead welcomed in. In fact, more than this, Mary sees her children gathered to pay homage to Christ, and eagerly beckons us in. If possible, her joy grows at this moment, when seeing those devout souls at the manger, for she is able to bring others to know and love her Son.
She is neither sombre nor sorrowful. Her heart knows only one thing – all-encompassing love of God, which manifests itself in the homage and care she proffers to her Son, and the natural eagerness with which she longs and draws souls to Him. Is there a moment more tender or more profound, than to witness the deep union of souls between our Mother and her Son? It seems as if the world should stop, when we contemplate the tender gaze which Mary imparts to her Son: which He imparts to her, and the longing they have, together, to draw all humanity into that union.
So often, the focus is on Mary at the foot of the cross, yet during this Christmas time, let the focus be upon this quiet, pure and profound scene. It is an image of perfection: the perfection of love shown by God in sending His Son to earth to save sinful man: the perfection of love which Christ has for His Mother: the perfect love she has for her Son: and the love which they have for all mankind, longing, even at that moment, for the cross, so that salvation might be wrought, and sin conquered.
This the is the image before us this night, and it is one which can only be properly understood in the quiet of one’s heart. Just as Dom Gueranger recalls the “unceasing converse” which Mary had with Christ in her heart on her journey, we too are called to enter into an internal conversation with the Christ child and His Mother. Presenting ourselves at the foot of the manger, let us first watch and see the purest love Mary has for her Child, the infinite love He has for His mother and for us; then let us respond to the smiling summons of our Mother, who calls us to adore Him who has come to bring life and salvation to all. She whose love of God is not tainted with any affection to sin or concupiscence, longs for Him only, and to bring all to Him this Christmas night.
Mary, our sweetest Mother, lead thy children in the paths of thy Son!