Christ Renews His Nativity in the Holy Mass
Alexandra Clark | The Daily Knight
Taken from The Incredible Catholic Mass, by Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F. (1625-1712). Chapter 5.
IN THAT day the mountains shall drop down sweetness, and the hills shall flow with milk.”
Thus, the holy Church throughout the world speaks of the sweet mystery of Our Saviour’s birth. And, indeed, on that day of days when the only-begotten Son of God, clothed in human Flesh, was born into this world, it may truly be said that the mountains dropped down sweetness and the hills flowed with milk and honey.
For He who is sweeter by far than milk and honey, who is Himself the plentiful source of all sweetness, by His entrance into the world made all things sweet; He brought true joy from Heaven; He brought peace to men of good will; He brought comfort to the afflicted, to the world the dawn of a new and brighter day. Oh, how great was the joy of the heavenly Father in that night when He beheld His well-beloved Son, begotten from all eternity, born of the pure Virgin, whom He vouchsafed to call by the endearing name of daughter!
How great the gladness of the Son of God when He beheld Himself clad in the vesture of our humanity, possessing now not only a Father in Heaven, but a Mother on earth besides! How great the satisfaction of the Holy Spirit on beholding Him whom He had united to the Father from all eternity in the closest bond of a perfect love now, by His operation, joined so intimately to human nature that the two natures, so infinitely distinct and diverse, were united together in the one person of the God-Man!
How great the sweetness which filled the soul of the Blessed Virgin when, gazing on her new-born Babe, she told herself that the Infant she held in her arms was not her Son alone, but also the Son of the Eternal Father, the Most High God! How great, moreover, was the happiness of those who were privileged to look upon the fairest of all the children of men and to hold Him in their embrace!
We read in the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino that it was revealed to him that, after the return of the Three Kings to their own country, crowds of pilgrims flocked from all parts of the land to Bethlehem to see the newly born King of the Jews, to feast their eyes on His wondrous beauty. He adds that they entreated the Mother of Jesus to permit them to take the lovely Infant in their arms, and press Him to their heart. This Our Blessed Lady graciously allowed them to do, noticing to her astonishment that the gentle Child lovingly caressed the good while He held Himself aloof from the evil. Although we rightly count those privileged persons happy, yet it must not be forgotten that we are even more privileged than they, since we may daily gaze with the eye of faith on that tender Infant and may share in the gladness attending His birth.
Listen to the words of Pope Leo I: “Our minds enlightened and our love enkindled by the record of the Evangelists and the utterances of the Prophets, we do not seem to regard the birth of Christ as an event of the past, but as one present to our sight. For we hear proclaimed to us what the Angel announced to the shepherds: “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy … this day is born to you a Saviour.” (Luke 2:10-11). Every day we may be present at this happy birth, every day our eyes may behold it, if we will but go to Mass.
For then it is in very deed renewed, and by it the work of our salvation is carried on. The same is told us in the revelations of the Abbess Hildegard: “At the moment when in the Mass the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the circumstances of His Incarnation and birth are mirrored before us as clearly as when these mysteries were accomplished by the Son of God when He was on earth.”
This testimony has been confirmed by the Church; she bears witness to the truth that the birth of Christ is renewed and represented afresh in the sight of Heaven, just as when it took place more than 1900 years ago. In what manner and by whose agency Christ is born in Holy Mass St. Jerome tells us in these words: “The priest calls Christ into being by his consecrated lips,” that is to say, Christ is born into the world at the bidding of the priest when his lips utter the words of Consecration.
Pope Gregory XV declares the same in the prayer he enjoins upon the priest to recite before saying Mass: “I am about to celebrate Holy Mass and to call into being the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Holy Church herself teaches us that the birth of Christ is effected anew after a spiritual manner in the Mass, for she places on the lips of the officiating priest the self-same song of praise which the Angels sang on Christmas morn: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” (Luke 2:14).
Let us, when these words sound in our ears, imagine ourselves listening to the Angel who thus spoke to the shepherds. “I bring you good tidings of great joy … for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord … You shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12). Suppose our Angel Guardian were to say to us: “Rejoice, my child, for now, in this Mass, thy Saviour will be born for thy salvation; thou wilt see Him with thine eyes under the form of the Sacred Host.” If our Guardian Angel does not say this to us, our faith tells it to us, and should we not rejoice on this account? And if we really believe this, we shall adore the divine Child at Holy Mass with the same reverence and affection as did those who were privileged to behold Him with their bodily eyes.
In the life of the Fathers, we read that a certain priest named Plegus, who habitually said Mass with great devotion, conceived a special desire to know in what manner Christ was present under the veil of bread and wine, not that he in any way doubted his Lord’s Real Presence there, but love prompted the wish to see Him with his bodily eyes. One day when he was saying Mass, immediately after the Elevation, this desire was so strong within him that he fell upon his knees and said:
“I beseech Thee, Almighty God, that Thou grant to me, unworthy as I am, to behold the bodily form of Jesus Christ in this Sacred Mystery, that as Simeon of old took Him in his arms, so I may see Him with my eyes, and touch Him with my hands.”
While he thus prayed, an Angel appeared at his side and said to him: “Behold, and see Christ here present in bodily form as when He was an Infant on His Mother’s knee.” Startled by these words, the priest raised his head, and there, lying upon the corporal, he saw the Son of God in the shape of a beautiful babe that looked at him smilingly and stretched out His tiny hands to be taken into his arms. But out of reverence, the priest ventured not to do this, until the Angel said: “This is Jesus, the Son of God, whom a few moments ago thou didst see under the form of bread; He is now present as He really is; fear not, but rise up, and take Him into thy arms, and let thy heart rejoice in God thy Saviour.” Encouraged by these reassuring words, he rose from his knees, lifted the Child in his trembling hands and caressed Him fondly. Then, gently laying Him again upon the corporal, he again knelt down and humbly prayed Him to resume His former shape in order that he might receive Him in Holy Communion and bring the Mass to an end. When after this prayer he again stood up, he saw the Blessed Sacrament once more in the form of the Consecrated Wafer and consumed it with singular devotion.
This instance has been given in order that we may know and believe that in Holy Mass Christ is not present to the imagination alone or in a purely spiritual manner, but really and truly, and in bodily form—the self-same Infant Christ to whom the Mother of God gave birth at Bethlehem, and whom the Three Kings came to adore. Here, as there, His countenance is concealed by “swaddling clothes,” that is, by the external shape of the Consecrated Host which we see with our eyes. But the Tender Child who lies hidden beneath those outward forms can only be perceived by the interior sight of faith, the faith that believes undoubtedly that Our Lord is in truth concealed beneath this lowly form.
The reasons why He thus conceals Himself from our view are many; the principal one is this, to give opportunity for the exercise of faith in so momentous a matter and to enable us to acquire merit every time we hear Mass. Numerous instances might be adduced in which Our Lord, for the confirmation of our faith in His personal presence, has permitted devout Christians—nay, more, Jews and unbelievers—to see Him in bodily shape.
We will give one. Albertus
Krantius relates at some length the efforts repeatedly made by the Emperor Charlemagne to convert the pagan Saxons to the Christian faith. Although he more than once completely subjugated them by force of arms, and compelled them to abjure their idolatrous practices, again and yet again, under the leadership of Wittekind, their chief, they fell away from their Christian profession. It was in the Lent of one year when, for the twelfth time, the Emperor entered their land at the head of a large force. Easter approached, and all the soldiers of the imperial army were ordered to prepare themselves for the reception of the Sacraments and for the devout celebration of the festival in their camp. At that time, Wittekind, the Saxon chieftain, went to the German intrenchments with the object of witnessing the Christian ceremonies.
In order to escape recognition, he disguised himself in the rags of a mendicant, and in this character, without any companion, he entered the camp and begged alms of the soldiers. Meanwhile, he carefully observed all that was going on and obtained all the information he could. He noticed how on Good Friday the Emperor and all the soldiers went about with a mournful mien, kept a strict fast and spent a considerable time in prayer; how on Holy Saturday they went to Confession and on Easter Day received Holy Communion.
While he was assisting at the Mass, at the moment of the Consecration, he distinctly saw in the hands of the priest a beautiful child of most engaging aspect, the sight of which filled him with a joy and happiness which he had never before felt. During the remainder of the Mass he could not take his eyes off the priest. His astonishment was still greater when, on the soldiers going up to receive Communion, he saw the priest give the same beautiful child to each communicant, by whom it was received, though not always in the same manner. For to some the child went with evident delight; from others He turned away, resisting with all His might and only going to them under compulsion. The Saxon chief did not know what to make of the unheard-of marvels which he witnessed.
At the conclusion of the Mass, he left the church and took his stand amid a swarm of beggars who solicited alms from the congregation as they passed out. The Emperor gave to each mendicant with his own royal hand, and as Wittekind extended his hand to receive the coin destined for him, one of the Emperor’s servants recognized him by the peculiar formation of one of his fingers. The man whispered to his royal master: “That is Wittekind, the Saxon leader; I know him by his crooked finger.” The emperor had the stranger brought to him in his tent and asked him why he, the Saxon chieftain, had come there disguised as a beggar. Wittekind was terribly afraid lest he should be taken for a spy and treated as such, so he told the truth to the Emperor. “Do not be angry with me,” he said; “I only did this in order to have a better opportunity of acquainting myself with the Christian worship.”
The Emperor then inquired what he had seen, and Wittekind replied: “I have beheld wonders greater than any I have ever before seen or heard of, wonders far beyond my comprehension.” He then told him what he had observed on Good Friday, on Holy Saturday and what he had witnessed at Mass that same morning, requesting that these mysteries might be explained to him. The Emperor was amazed to hear that God had granted to this obdurate heathen the grace to behold the divine Child in the Sacred Host, a grace He had given to but few Saints.
He then explained to the Saxon the reason why they were sorrowful on Good Friday, why they fasted, why they went to Confession and Communion; and so deeply was the heart of the heathen touched that he renounced his worship of idols, accepted the Christian faith, and when sufficiently instructed, received the Sacrament of Baptism. He took some priests back with him to his people, and by their ministry the dukedom of Saxony was gradually converted to Christ. This true story, which was the cause of the conversion of the Saxons, proves beyond a doubt that the Infant Christ is truly present in the Consecrated Host and has been seen in bodily shape not only by certain of the Faithful, but even by heathens. He conceals the ineffable beauty of His glorified Body from our sinful sight, but it is not hidden from the eyes of God the Father and all the company of Heaven; on the contrary, in every Mass it is displayed to them in such unspeakable loveliness that the Most Holy Trinity is glorified by it, while the blessed Mother of God, the Angels and Saints experience a joy and happiness that no words can adequately describe.
For as Christ is reported to have said to the Ven. Alanus, nothing contributes more towards magnifying God, rejoicing His Blessed Mother and causing the felicity of the Saints than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the holy Angels look upon this newborn Infant, they prostrate themselves before Him in lowly adoration. This is what St. Paul refers to when he says: “Let all the angels of God adore Him.” (Heb. 1:6).
In the night of the Nativity, God the Father brought His only-begotten Son for the first time into the world; but whenever Mass is said, He brings Him anew into the world, onto our altars, that He may sacrifice Himself for us, and impart to us the fruits of His birth. Then the Angels fall down and worship Him, as the Church says in the Preface: “The Angels praise, the Dominations adore and the Powers fear Thy majesty; the heavens also, and the heavenly hosts, and the blessed Seraphim glorify it in common exultation.” Thus, on the night when He was born, they sang: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to men of good will.” We too, together with the heavenly host, will praise and glorify the divine Child who comes anew from Heaven and takes upon Himself the form of an infant for our salvation and grants to all who assist at Mass an abundant share in the merits He has won for us.
Taken from The Incredible Catholic Mass, by Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F. (1625-1712). Chapter 5.