The great Jesuit theologian Father John Anthony Hardon (1914-2000) related that one Christmas, at the moment of the consecration of the bread during Midnight Mass, the mystery of the Incarnation—Jesus taking flesh and living with us as one of us—struck him with special profundity when he thought to himself: “I am holding in my hands the same Jesus that Our Blessed Lady held in her pure hands in the stable of Bethlehem.”
Such a precious insight can only but help all of us to focus more intently on Mary’s undeniable and essential role in that incredible, unrepeatable action: the Logos (Word)—the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity—becoming flesh and pitching His tent among us. Mary accepted that Word…embraced that Word…loved that Word…and learned from that Word. And this Real Presence of Christ enjoyed by His sinless Mother and chaste foster-father Saint Joseph is effected and continued today—and will be until Jesus comes again—by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which would not exist without the Incarnation.
Without Mary there is no Christmas.
It is no audacious exaggeration to claim that, along with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Mary, His Mother and ours, is largely responsible for our long-awaited reconciliation to the Godhead. She gave her consent to the Almighty by way of the famous fiat uttered in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel. History was changed dramatically at that significant event known as the Annunciation, which promptly prepared the groundwork for the glorious Death and Resurrection of the Messiah thirty-three years later when the members of sinful mankind would be granted, through no merit of their own, the golden opportunity to enter one day into Paradise in order to be united to God for all eternity, thanks to the selfless suffering and death of Christ and the wholehearted, free cooperation of His Ever-Virgin Mother.
Jesus made that far-off “dream” of Everlasting Life for His friends possible. And Blessed Mary played her important and singular part.
So close and perduring was the link between Jesus and Mary, from whose immaculate body Christ came, that we can proclaim with Saint Augustine, Caro Iesu, Caro Mariae—”the Flesh of Jesus is the Flesh of Mary.”
We can imagine Mary’s astonishing humility on that Christmas night. She did not consider herself worthy to participate in such a universe-changing event but she trusted in her benevolent Creator, knowing that He would supply the needed graces for her to do what was required.
The many days and years after Jesus’ Birth showed the Madonna to be a real and solicitous mother. Our Blessed Lady nourished Jesus with her milk, bathed Him and instructed Him in the Jewish laws and rituals. She formed Him spiritually and emotionally, contributing to the development of His human nature that was joined to His divine nature.
And as unique as the Virgin is in salvation history, the joy of intimacy with her Divine Son is not hers alone. All persons are able to know the Lord Jesus and surrender to Him and His all-wise plan, thereby ensuring a profound level of closeness with Him.
How can this happen? We must learn from Mary. The secret, which thankfully is not a well-kept one though it is difficult to apply, is captured in one word: submission. Our Lady’s stellar proximity to Jesus was dependent on her willingness to yield to Him and all that He demanded. No one can attempt to imitate Mary by approaching Christ without at least a share in her remarkable desire to surrender to Him without reserve.
It is the august Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist in great measure that shapes us in the way of submission. To eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the God-Man, which were known, adored and loved with so much fervor by the Maiden of Nazareth, is to increase in that conformity to Christ that leads us to authentic surrender to the Lord. We cannot hope to yield to Him if we fail to avail ourselves as often as we can of the indescribable strength that comes to us from the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Frequent and worthy reception of the Most Holy Eucharist ushers us into a depth of submission that we never thought possible. Then, we experience more forcefully the connection to Christ that the obedient Mary enjoyed—a valuable and life-giving bond that is evident for all to see, like the one shining in that rustic stable over two millennia ago.
Once we admire the burning love that Our Lady had for Our Lord, we are persuaded to ask Christ for the same. He will gladly grant it to those who wish for it.
A sincere “Mary Christmas” to all.
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan, is an official of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.