“Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, facing the east; but it was closed. He said to me: ‘This gate is to remain closed; it is not to be opened for anyone to enter by it; since the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it, it shall remain closed'” (Ezekiel 44)… Who is this gate, if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when he was brought forth in the virginal birth, and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity (quando virginali fusus est partu, et genitalia virginitatis claustra non solvit)…. There is a gate of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, that through which the One born of the Virgin came forth without the loss of genital intactness (per quam sine dispendio claustrorum genitalium virginis partus exivit).
– St. Ambrose, De institutione virginum.
It has been the Church’s consistent Tradition that Our Lady gave birth to Jesus in a “miraculous manner,” in full understanding of the dogmatic teaching that Mary was virginal before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ (Pope Martin I, First Lateran Council, 649). Mary’s virginity during the birth (virginitas in partu) has been explained by the Fathers of the Church with the following analogy: As light passes through glass without harming the glass, so too Jesus passed through the womb of Mary in a miraculous manner without any harm to Mary’s physical virginity.
The miraculous birth of Jesus was the near unanimous teaching of the Fathers, and was specifically defended by St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as the medieval theological tradition. The Magisterium of the Church also refers to the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 1943, and Lumen Gentium 57) acknowledging that the birth of Our Lord “did not diminish Mary’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” This is also confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499.
Without question the miraculous birth of Jesus represents the Traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, as well as the only proper and logical understanding of the dogmatic definition of Mary’s virginity during the birth of Christ. Moreover, it follows that Mary would give birth to Jesus without the pains of labor, since pain in giving birth was a punishment due to sin, a punishment and effect from which Mary was preserved in virtue of her Immaculate Conception. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, as well as St. Augustine, St. Thomas and theological tradition, likewise confirm Mary’s giving birth to Jesus without pain.
These truths are also verified in the mystical tradition of the Church. We here present the combined mystical accounts of St. Elizabeth of Schoenau, St. Bridget of Sweden, Bl. Mother Agreda, and Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich on the mystical birth of Jesus Christ. – Ed.
After reciting some prayers together with Mary, St. Joseph filled the manger with straw and moss and placed a cloth over it. Then he withdrew to the entrance of the cave. Looking back, he saw the holy Mother of God praying on her knees, surrounded by flames of dazzling supernatural light. Filled with reverent fear, he threw himself down on the ground and was soon rapt in an ecstatic sleep.
Mary was kneeling, with her eyes raised to Heaven and her hands joined on her breast. Her countenance emitted rays of light, like the sun incarnadined, and shone in indescribable earnestness and majesty, all inflamed with burning love of God. Her body became so spiritualized with the beauty of Heaven that she seemed no more a human and earthly creature.
Toward midnight a channel of brilliant light came down from the highest heaven and terminated in sparkling fire at the Blessed Virgin. In it was an extraordinary movement of celestial glories which took on the forms of choirs of angels.
Then, in the twinkling of an eye, the infant God was born, glorious and transfigured as on Mount Tabor.
There the God-Man lay, naked, utterly clean and pure. And from Him radiated such marvelous light and splendor that the sun could not be compared to it. The angels could be heard gently singing canticles of wonderful sweetness.
When the holy Mother of God perceived that she had been delivered—for her child came forth without any pain or injury to her—she immediately bowed her head, placed a cloth over His tiny body, and adored Him with the greatest respect and reverence, saying:
“Welcome, my God, and my Lord, and my Son!”
Then the divine Child suspended the effects of His transfiguration and assumed the appearance of one capable of suffering. The Babe now moved, shivered with cold, and stretching forth His little arms, cried out.
Bending down, Mary tenderly clasped Him to her heart and with great joy warmed Him against her cheek and breast, while thousands of angels knelt and adored their incarnate Creator.
Nearly an hour after the birth, Mary called St. Joseph. Awakening and coming near, he perceived his Savior in her arms and at once prostrated himself on the ground with the deepest devotion and humility. Only at her bidding did he rise. And with touching joy and gratitude he kissed the Babe’s feet, and held the little Jesus in his arms, pressing Him to his heart, while tears of happiness moistened his cheeks.
Then, sitting on the ground, Mary laid her Son in her lap, and while St. Joseph handed her the linens, she began carefully and lovingly to wrap the divine Child in swaddling clothes, drawing them tight on His small body.
Next she and Joseph gently placed the Infant in the manger.
At this point an ox from the neighboring fields entered the cave with the ass. They both approached the crib, knelt down before it, and breathed over it, as if to warm the Baby.
Mary and Joseph were so affected by this act that they could not restrain their tears.
For a long time they remained on their knees beside the crib, adoring the Christ Child and praising and thanking God. Later St. Joseph took some blankets and made a resting place for Mary beside the manger.
The Adoration of the Shepherds
At the Holy Hour of the Nativity of the Savior, an extraordinary wave of rejoicing was manifest in Nature in many parts of the world. Many animals leaped with exultation. Flowers raised their faded stems. Plants and trees took on new life and gave forth sweet scents. A number of new springs flowed abundantly.
The thrilling and consoling news of the birth of the Messiah was immediately announced by the holy angels to a small number of chosen souls. The Archangel Michael brought it to the patriarchs and prophets in Limbo, as well as to St. Ann and St. Joachim, and they all rejoiced together. Another angel informed St. Elizabeth and her baby St. John, who clearly expressed his joy by waving his little arms. His mother at once sent one of her servants to Bethlehem with some money and linen for Mary. The mystery of the Savior’s birth was revealed to the holy old priest Simeon and to Anna, Mary’s former teacher, in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Orient each of the three Magi was enlightened by angels concerning the Incarnation of the Redeemer of mankind, which they had long expected, and perceiving the mystic star, they set out on their pilgrimage to the Crib of the newborn King of kings. All good men everywhere felt a new supernatural joy at this time, and many of them believed that the Savior had at last come into the world.
But of all the human race those who merited to be the first to see the Christ Child were the poor, humble, and devout shepherds of Bethlehem. During this holy night, three of their leaders, while watching over their flocks in the fields about a mile from the grotto of the Nativity, noticed with amazement a strange, luminous cloud hovering above the hill in which the cave and manger were located. And as they were staring up at the sky, all of a sudden a bright light came down toward them, bathing them in its celestial radiance. Then within the light they perceived the splendid Archangel Gabriel in human form, and at first these simple men were filled with intense fear, until Gabriel said to them reassuringly:
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. For there has been born to you today in the town of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
While he was speaking, the radiance around him became still brighter, revealing seven other great angels of extraordinary beauty and then a whole multitude of the heavenly host, all praising God and chanting in sweet harmony, to a soft and joyful melody:
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth Peace to Men of Good Will!”
After singing this lovely canticle, the angels went to two other groups of shepherds at some distance and brought them the same wonderful news. And these good men said to one another eagerly:
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us!”
But first they thoughtfully set about collecting suitable presents.
Only toward dawn did they find the grotto-stable and knock timidly at its entrance. St. Joseph very obligingly opened the door and welcomed them. They told him what the angels had announced to them during the night, and they said that they had come to offer their gifts and veneration to the divine Child. At the same time they gave St. Joseph a number of young goats and chickens, which he accepted with humble gratitude and placed in a side room off the stable.
Then he led the shepherds into the grotto, where the Blessed Mother of God was sitting on the ground beside the crib in which the beautiful Babe of Bethlehem was lying. And as they gazed down at the tiny Jesus, He looked up at them, and from His radiant little face and eyes a mystical current of divine love streamed forth and touched the sincere hearts of those poor but fortunate men, changing and renewing them spiritually and filling them with a new grace and understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Redemption. “And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning this Child.” Still holding their shepherd’s staffs in their hands, they very humbly knelt down before the Infant Jesus and prostrated themselves on the ground, weeping tears of joy as they adored their God. For a long time they were so deeply moved with supernatural happiness that they could not say a word. Finally they began to sing together the words and melody which the angel had taught them.
Meanwhile the lovely Mother of God modestly observed all that they did and felt, for she also saw into their inmost hearts. And when they had finished singing their beautiful hymn, she spoke to them, urging them to persevere in the love and service of the Lord. They stayed in the cave from dawn until noon, when Mary graciously gave them something to eat. As they were about to leave, she allowed each of them in turn to hold the divine Babe for a moment, and each one, as he reverently gave the Child back to her, wept tears of sweet joy and gratitude. Then they left, filled with heavenly consolation and understanding, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them.”
“But Mary kept in mind all these words, pondering them in her heart.”
“And all who heard marveled at the things, told them by the shepherds.” The following day the latter returned with their wives and children, bringing gifts of eggs and honey and cloth. The men helped St. Joseph to make the grotto somewhat more habitable, and some devout women who had known him as a boy in Bethlehem brought firewood and did some cooking and washing for the Holy Family.
Once during these happy days after the Nativity, while Mary and Joseph were alone, absorbed in contemplating the Christ Child, their donkey came into the stable and suddenly knelt down on its forelegs and bowed its head to the ground before the Babe in the crib.
Most of the time the loving Mother of God held her divine Son in her arms. Whenever she took Him up, she first made three genuflections and humbly kissed the ground before kneeling at the crib and touching the tiny Jesus. And when she thought that she should nurse Him, she first asked His permission. All her angels remained present and visible to her until the Flight into Egypt, and on rare occasions she gave her Baby into the hands of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. She would not sleep except when the Lord Himself commanded her to do so. With her angels and with St. Joseph, she often composed and sang beautiful hymns in honor of the holy Child. And she often gave her good husband the intense pleasure of hearing her refer to Jesus as “our Son.”
Many times in caressing her beloved Son, she humbly kissed His feet, and she always asked His consent before kissing His sacred face. And often He returned her affection by putting His little arms around her neck.
At such times Mary said to Him:
“O my Love, sweet Life of my soul, who art Thou, and who am I? What return shall I make for the great things which Thou hast done to me?”
Speaking of the Nativity the Mother of God Said to St. Bridget of Sweden:
“And when I gave birth to Him, I brought Him forth without pain, just as I had also conceived Him with such great joy of soul and body that in my rapture my feet did not feel the ground on which they were standing. And as He had filled my soul with happiness on entering my body, so did He again come forth in such a way that my whole body and soul exulted with indescribable joy and in such a way that my virginity was not impaired.
How overwhelmed I was when I perceived and gazed at His beauty, and when I realized that I was not worthy of such a Son. And then, too, when I looked at the places where the nails would be driven into His hands and feet, how my eyes filled with tears and how my heart was torn with grief. And when my Son saw the tears in my eyes, He was sad unto death.
But then, when I contemplated the power of His Divinity, I regained confidence, for I knew that it was His will and that it would be for the good, and I made my whole will conform to His.
Thus my happiness was ever mixed with sorrow.”
And to Bl. Mother Mary of Agreda She Said:
“Who would be so hardened as not to be moved to tenderness at the sight of their God become man, humiliated in poverty, despised, unknown, entering the world in a cave, lying on a manger surrounded by brute animals, protected only by a poverty-stricken Mother, and cast off by the foolish arrogance of the world? Who will dare to love the vanity and pride which was openly scorned and condemned by the Creator of Heaven and earth in His actions? No one should despise the humility, poverty and indigence which the Lord loved and chose for Himself as the very means of teaching the Way of Eternal Life. Few there are who stop to consider this truth and this example, and as a result of this rank ingratitude only the few reap the fruit of these great mysteries.”
The late Raphael Brown was a well known author and secular Franciscan who wrote and translated many Catholic and Franciscan Works. The above article is an excerpt from his book, The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics, Tan, 1991.