The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

Practice During Christmas—Our Offerings to the Christ Child

Nativity Mural - Bethlehem

The time has now come for the faithful soul to reap the fruit of the efforts she made during the penitential weeks of Advent to prepare a dwelling-place for the Son of God, Who desires to be born within her. The Nuptials of the Lamb are come, and His Spouse hath prepared herself (Apoc. 19: 7). Now the Spouse is the Church; the Spouse is also every faithful soul. Our Lord gives His whole Self to the whole flock, and to each sheep of the flock with as much love as though He loved but that one. What garments shall we put on, to go and meet the Bridegroom? Where shall we find the pearls and jewels wherewith to deck our soul for this happy meeting? Our Holy Mother the Church will tell us all this in Her Liturgy. Our best plan for spending Christmas is, undoubtedly, to keep close to Her, and do what She does; for She is most dear to God, and being our Mother, we ought to obey Her injunctions.

But, before we speak of the mystical Coming of the Incarnate Word into our souls; before we tell the secrets of that sublime familiarity between the Creator and the creature; let us, first, learn from the Church the duties which human nature and each of our souls owes to the Divine Infant, Whom the Heavens have at length given to us as the refreshing Dew we asked them to rain down upon our earth. During Advent, we united with the Saints of the Old Law in praying for the coming of the Messias, Our Redeemer; now that He is come, let us consider what is the homage we must pay Him.

The Church offers to the Infant-God, during this holy Season, the tribute of Her profound adoration, the enthusiasm of Her exceeding joy, the return of Her unbounded gratitude, and the fondness of Her intense love. These offerings—adoration, joy, gratitude, and love—must be also those of every Christian to his Jesus, his Emmanuel, the Babe of Bethlehem. The prayers of the Liturgy will express all four sentiments in a way that no other devotions could do. But, the better to appropriate to ourselves these admirable formulas of the Church, let us understand thoroughly the nature of each of these four sentiments.

The first of our duties at Our Savior's Crib is Adoration—Religion's first act; but there is something in the Mystery of Our Lord's Birth which seems to make this duty doubly necessary. In Heaven the Angels veil their faces, and prostrate themselves before the throne of God; the 24 Elders are forever casting their crowns before the throne (Apoc. 4: 10) of the Lamb; what, then, shall we do—we who are sinners—now that this same great God shows Himself to us, humbled for our sakes, and stripped of all His glory? Now that the duties of the creature to his Creator are fulfilled by the Creator Himself? Now that the eternal God bows down not only before the Sovereign Majesty of the Godhead, but even before sinful man, His creature?

Let us endeavor to make, by our profound adoration, some return to the God Who thus humbles Himself for us; let us thus give Him back some little of that whereof He has deprived Himself out of love for us, and in obedience to the will of His Father. It is incumbent on us to emulate, as far as possible, the sentiments of the Angels in Heaven, and never to approach the Divine Infant without bringing with us the incense of our soul's adoration, the protestation of our own extreme unworthiness, and lastly, the homage of our whole being. All this is due to the infinite Majesty of the Babe of Bethlehem, Who is the more worthy of every tribute we can pay Him, because He has made Himself so little for our sakes. Unhappy we, if the apparent weakness of the Divine Child, or the familiarity wherewith He is ready to caress us, should make us negligent in this our first duty, or forget what He is, and what we are!

The example of His Blessed Mother will teach us to be thus humble. Mary was humble in the presence of Her God, even before She became His Mother; but, once His Mother, She comported Herself before Him Who was Her God and Her Child with greater humility than ever. We too, poor sinners, sinners so long and so often, we must adore with all the power of our soul Him Who has come down so low: we must study to find out how by our self-humiliation to make him amends for this Crib, these swathing-bands, this eclipse of His glory. And yet all our humiliations will never bring us so low as that we shall be on a level with His lowliness. No; only God could reach the humiliations of God.

But our Mother, the Church, does not only offer to the Infant God the tribute of Her profound adoration. The mystery of Emmanuel, that is, of God with us, is to Her a source of singular joy. Look at Her sublime Canticles for this Holy Season, and you will find the two sentiments admirably blended—Her deep reverence for Her God, and Her glad joy at His Birth. Joy! did not the very Angels come down and urge Her to it? She therefore studies to imitate the elated Shepherds, Who ran for joy to Bethlehem (Luke 2: 16), and the glad Magi, who were will-nigh out of themselves with delight when, on quitting Jerusalem, the star again appeared and led them to the Cave where the Child was (Matt. 2: 10). Joy at Christmas is a Christian instinct, which originated those many Carols, which, like so many other beautiful traditions of the ages of Faith, are unfortunately dying out or changing to empty secularisms.

Come, then, faithful Children of the Church, let us take our share in Her joy! This is not the season for sighing or for weeping. For unto us a Child is born! (Is. 9: 6) He for Whom we have been so long waiting is come; and He is come to dwell among us (John 1: 14). Great, indeed, and long was our suspense; so much the more let us love our possessing Him. The day will too soon come when this Child, now born to us, will be the Man of Sorrows (Is. 53: 3), and then we will compassionate Him; but at present we must rejoice and be glad at His coming and sing round His Crib with the Angels. Heaven sends us a present of its own joy: we need joy, and 40 days are not too many for us to get it well into our hearts. The Scripture tells us that a secure mind is like a continual feast (Prov. 15: 15); and a secure mind can only be where there is peace; now it is Peace which these blessed days bring to the earth; Peace, say the Angels, to men of good will!

Intimately and inseparably united with this exquisite mystic joy is the sentiment of gratitude. Gratitude is indeed due to Him Who, neither deterred by our unworthiness nor restrained by the infinite respect which becomes His sovereign Majesty, deigned to be born of His own creature, and have a stable for His birthplace. Oh, how vehemently must He not have desired to advance the work of salvation, to remove everything which could make us afraid of approaching Him, and to encourage us, by His own example, to return, by the path of humility, to the Heaven we had strayed from by pride!

Gratefully, therefore, let us receive the precious gift—this Divine Babe, our Deliverer. He is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, that Father Who hath so loved the world as to give His only Son (John 3: 16). He, the Son, unreservedly ratifies His Father's will, and comes to offer Himself because it is His own will (Is. 53: 7). How, as the Apostle expresses it, hath not the Father with Him given us all things? (Rom. 8: 32) O gift inestimable! How shall we be able to repay it by suitable gratitude, we who are so poor as not to know how to appreciate it? God alone, and the Divine Infant in His Crib, know the value of the mystery of Bethlehem, which is given to us.

Shall our debt, then, never be paid? Not so; we can pay it by love, which, though finite, gives itself without measure, and may grow forever in intensity. For this reason, the Church, after She has offered Her adorations and hymns and gratitude, to Her Infant Savior, gives Him also Her most tender Love. She says to Him: "How beautiful art Thou, My Beloved One, and how comely! (Cant. 1: 15) How sweet to Me is thy rising, O Divine Sun of Justice! How My heart glows in the warmth of Thy beams! Nay, dearest Jesus, the means Thou usest for gaining Me over to Thyself are irresistible—the feebleness and humility of a Child!" Thus do all Her words end in love; and Her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving, when She expresses them in Her canticles, are transformed into love.

Christians, let us imitate our Mother, and give our hearts to our Savior. The Shepherds offer Him their simple gifts, the Magi bring Him their rich presents, and no one must appear before the Divine Infant without something worthy of His acceptance. Know, then, that nothing will please Him, but that which He came to seek—our love. It was for this that He came down from Heaven. Hard indeed is that heart which can say, He shall not have my love!

These, then, are the duties we owe to our Divine Master in this His first Coming, which, as St. Bernard says, is in the flesh and in weakness, and is for the salvation, not for the judgment, of the world.

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