The census to be taken up in Palestine, the consequent journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the great crowds that occupied all available space in the town were the circumstances foreseen and ordained by Divine Providence to bring the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph to the stable in which, "While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, Your Almighty Word, O Lord, came from heaven, from Your royal throne" (Introit or Entrance Antiphon (Chant) of Sunday within Octave of Christmas).
The Holy Night
"And Mary brought forth her first-born Son and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." All is silent around the stable; Mary and Joseph are the only representatives of mankind to pay homage to God made man, by their faith and loving acceptance of the hardships and privations of poverty, freely chosen by the Lord of heaven and earth for Himself. Out on the plains, shepherds are watching their flocks. "And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of God shone round about them, and they feared exceedingly." The shepherds need not fear; the meaning of the wonderful things they behold is heavenly joy and peace to be offered to the world, for "Behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be to all the people; for there has been born to you today in the town of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." A sign is given them by which they will recognize this newborn Saviour. "You will find an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." A multitude of heavenly spirits now appears above them high up in the air, singing words and melodies such as the world had never heard before, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men of good will." Having delivered their message, the angels return to heaven and the shepherds are again alone in the fields. But their mind is made up at once, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. So they went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning this child." . . . "And they returned glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen." All people that heard the story marvelled, and "Mary kept in mind all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:1-20).
The Mother of God
Mary now beholds for the first time Him, whom she had conceived of the Holy Spirit; even His Infant features radiate the brightness of Eternal Light and the image of the Father's substance. Like a ray of light, He has entered this world without injury to His blessed Mother's virginity. He, the mighty God, who has given to nature its laws, can also suspend them. Mary is now truly the Mother of God, the Virgin Mother of Christ. Holy Church has at all times believed this truth and vigorously asserted it against those who would deny it. Thus, she speaks at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431: "If any one deny that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God, let him be anathema." And the Second Council of Nicea in 787 repeats, "We believe that Mary is really and truly the Mother of God, because she bore one of the persons of the Most Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, according to the flesh." Let us rejoice and give thanks, for Mary the Mother of God is also our Mother.
The Mystery Perpetuated
The events of that holy night have passed into history; yet they live on, not only in commemoration, but in sacramental reality. The stable of Bethlehem in that silent holy night became the first Catholic church, harbouring the real presence of the God-Man; since then, other Bethlehems have arisen, other mangers have been prepared, and the same Almighty Word of God, the first-born Son of the Virgin Mary, hidden beneath the species of bread and wine, comes down from heaven, from His royal throne. The mystery of this holy night has a still greater significance for us. Bethlehem means "house of bread," and in the truest sense of the word, a Catholic church is a Bethlehem, a house of bread, in which He who is the true bread of life gives Himself to the faithful in Holy Communion. If prayerful reflection upon this mystery should arouse in us the desire to have been present at Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds to adore the Infant in the manger, this desire, enlightened by faith, will take us to the altar; here we have the stable and the manger, here the permanent holy night. The flickering light of the sanctuary lamp takes the place of the stars that twinkled their delight on the shepherds and the stable, the splendour of the liturgy at the solemn celebration of the sacred mysteries may well remind us of the brightness of God, that shone round about the shepherds, and those jubilant melodies sung by the angels.
Reception Given to Jesus
The story of the birth of our Blessed Saviour illustrates the truth of Saint John's statement that Jesus came into His own and His own did not receive Him. The rest of the life of Jesus and the history of the Church down to our day, furnishes further evidence of this truth. The vast majority of those whom He came to save do not know Him; His teaching is not accepted, His Eucharistic presence not known or ignored. How much coldness and indifference is not shown to this mystery even by many of the members of the Church. Should we not endeavour to make up for this lack of faith and love by an ardent devotion to the Blessed Eucharist? How much more reason than the psalmist do we have to say with him, "I will compass Your altar, O Lord, that I may hear the voice of praise and tell of all Your wondrous works. I have loved the beauty of Your house, O Lord, and the place where Your glory dwells." (Psalm 25:6-8 in the Vulgate. It is Psalm 26:6-8 in the Hebrew.) And when we leave the Eucharistic presence let us take with us the remembrance of our Emmanuel and like the shepherds praise and glorify God, giving testimony to the world around us of the peace and happiness that is found with Jesus.
The Eucharistic presence of Our Lord is inseparable from the priesthood. The priest, through the words of the consecration, brings down upon the altar the Son of the Eternal Father; in this fact, there lies a wonderful similarity between the mission of the blessed Mother and the office of the priest. Mary cannot but be eager to see the number of priests increased so that the mystery of Bethlehem may be perpetuated and spread throughout the world, that glory be given to God in the highest and men may find peace in Jesus, the Prince of peace. Catholic parents with a grateful appreciation of this mystery will feel proud to give their sons to the service of the altar, and also to pray and work for an increase of priestly vocations.
The mystery of the Rosary leads us to Bethlehem of Judah and thence to the Bethlehems of the Catholic Church, scattered all over the world. He who lay in the manger as an Infant is present in the Blessed Eucharist as our High Priest, victim, bread of life. O come, let us adore Him, love Him the more, the less He is loved in the world. And let us not forget to pray for an increase of priestly vocations for the service of our Eucharistic Emmanuel. All this will console and delight our blessed Mother and be a source of untold blessings for the world.
- from , by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.