The Birth of Our Lord, As Described by
Our Blessed Lady
Taken From “The Mystical City of God”
by Venerable Mary of Agreda
Our travelers arrived at the town of Bethlehem at four o’clock, a Saturday. As it was at the time of the winter solstice, the sun was already sinking and the night was falling. They entered the town, and wandered through many streets in search of a lodging-house or inn for staying over night. They knocked at the doors of their acquaintances and nearer family relations; but They were admitted nowhere and in many places they were met with harsh words and insults. The most modest Queen followed Her spouse through the crowds of people, while he went from house to house and from door to door. Although She knew that the hearts and the houses of men were to be closed to Them, and although to expose Her state at Her age to the public gaze was more painful to Her modesty than their failure to procure a night-lodging, She nevertheless wished to obey Saint Joseph and suffer this indignity and unmerited shame. While wandering through the streets they passed the Office of the Public Registry and They inscribed their names and paid the fiscal tribute in order to comply with the edict and not be obliged to return. They continued their search, betaking themselves to other houses. But having already applied at more than fifty different places, They found themselves rejected and sent away from them all.
It was nine o’clock at night when the most faithful Joseph, full of bitter and heart rending sorrow, returned to his most Prudent Spouse and said: “My Sweetest Lady, my heart is broken with sorrow at the thought of not only being able to shelter Thee as Thou deservest and as I desire, but in not being able to offer Thee even any kind of protection from the weather, or a place of rest, a thing rarely or never denied to the most poor and despised in the world. No doubt Heaven in thus allowing the hearts of men to be so unmoved as to refuse us a night-lodging, conceals some mystery. I now remember, Lady, that outside the city walls there is a cave, which serves as a shelter for the shepherds and their flocks. Let us seek it out; perhaps it is unoccupied, and we may there expect some assistance from Heaven, since we receive none from men on earth.” The most prudent Virgin answered: “My spouse and My master, let not thy kindest heart be afflicted because the ardent wishes which the love of Thy Lord excites in thee cannot be fulfilled. Since I bear Him in My womb, let us, I beseech thee, give thanks for having disposed events in this way. The place of which thou speakest shall be most satisfactory to me. Let thy tears of sorrow be turned to tears of joy, and let us lovingly embrace poverty, which is the inestimable and precious treasure of My Most Holy Son. He came from Heaven in order to seek it, let us then afford Him an occasion to practice it in the joy of Our Souls; certainly I cannot be better delighted than to see thee procure it for me. Let us go gladly wherever the Lord shall guide us.” The holy Angels accompanied the Heavenly pair , brilliantly lighting up the way, and when they arrived at the city gate they saw that the cave was forsaken and unoccupied.
The palace which the Supreme King of Kings and the Lord of Lords had chosen for entertaining His Eternal and Incarnate Son in this World was a most poor and insignificant hut or cave, to which Most Holy Mary and Joseph betook themselves after they had been denied all hospitality and the most ordinary kindness by their fellow-men, as I have described in the foregoing chapter. This place was held in such contempt that though the town of Bethlehem was full of strangers in want of night-shelter, none would demean or degrade himself so far as to make use of it for a lodging; for there was none who deemed it suitable or desirable for such a purpose, except the Teachers of humility and poverty, Christ Our Savior and his Purest Mother. On this account the wisdom of the Eternal Father had reserved it for Them, consecrating it in all its bareness, loneliness and poverty as the “First Temple of Light” [Malachy 4, 2, Ps. Ill, 4] and as the house of the True Sun of Justice, which was to arise for the upright of heart from the resplendent Aurora Mary, turning the night of sin into the daylight of grace.
Most Holy Mary and Saint Joseph entered the lodging thus provided for them and by the effulgence of the ten thousand Angels of their guard they could easily ascertain its poverty and loneliness, which they esteemed as favors and welcomed with tears of consolation and joy. Without delay the two Holy Travelers fell on Their knees and praised the Lord, giving Him thanks for His benefit, which they knew had been provided by His wisdom for His own hidden designs. Of this mystery the Heavenly Princess Mary had a better insight; for as soon as She sanctified the interior of the cave by Her sacred footsteps She felt a fullness of joy which entirely elevated and vivified Her. She besought the Lord to bless with a liberal hand all the inhabitants of the neighboring city, because by rejecting Her they had given occasion to the vast favors, which She awaited in this neglected cavern. It was formed entirely of the bare and coarse rocks, without any natural beauty or artificial adornment; a place intended merely for the shelter of animals; yet the Eternal Father had selected it for the shelter and dwelling-place of His Own Son.
The Angelic spirits, who like a celestial militia guarded their Queen and Mistress, formed themselves into cohorts in the manner of court guards in a royal palace. They showed themselves in their visible forms also to Saint Joseph; for on this occasion it was befitting that he should enjoy such a favor, on the one hand in order to assuage his sorrow by allowing him to behold this poor lodging thus beautified and adorned by their celestial presence, and on the other, in order to enliven and encourage him for the events which the Lord intended to bring about during that night, and in this forsaken place. The great Queen and Empress, who was already informed of the mystery to be transacted here, set about cleaning with Her Own hands the cave, which was so soon to serve as a royal throne and sacred mercy-seat; for neither did She want to miss this occasion for exercising Her humility, nor would She deprive Her Only-begotten Son of the worship and reverence implied by this preparation and cleansing of His temple.
Saint Joseph, mindful of the majesty of his Heavenly Spouse [which, it seemed to him, She was forgetting in Her ardent longing for humiliation], besought Her not to deprive Him of this work, which he considered as his alone; and he hastened to set about cleaning the floor and the corners of the cave, although the humble Queen continued to assist him therein. As the holy Angels were then present in visible forms, they were [according to our mode of speaking] abashed at such eagerness for humiliation, and they speedily emulated with each other to join in this work; or rather, in order to say it more succinctly, in the shortest time possible they had cleansed and set in order that cave, filling it with holy fragrance. Saint Joseph started a fire with the material which he had brought for that purpose. As it was very cold, they sat at the fire in order to get warm. They partook of the food which they had brought, and they ate this, their frugal supper, with incomparable joy of their souls. The Queen of Heaven was so absorbed and taken up with the thought of the impending mystery of Her Divine delivery, that She would not have partaken of food if She had not been urged there to by obedience to Her spouse.
After their supper they gave thanks to the Lord as was their custom. Having spent a short time in this prayer and conferring about the mysteries of the Incarnate Word, the Most Prudent Virgin felt the approach of the Most Blessed Birth. She requested Her spouse Saint Joseph to betake himself to rest and sleep as the night was already far advanced. The man of God yielded to the request of his Spouse and urged Her to do the same; and for this purpose he arranged and prepared a sort of couch with articles of wear in their possession, making use of a crib or manger , that had been left by the shepherds for their animals. Leaving Most Holy Mary in the portion of the cave thus furnished, Saint Joseph retired to a corner of the entrance, where he began to pray. He was immediately visited by the Divine Spirit and felt a most sweet and extraordinary influence, by which he was wrapt and elevated into an ecstasy. In it was shown him all that passed during that night in this blessed cave; for he did not return to consciousness until his Heavenly Spouse called him. Such was the sleep which Saint Joseph enjoyed in that night, more exalted and blessed than that of Adam in paradise [Gen. 21, 2].
The Queen of all creatures was called from Her resting place by a loud voice of the Most High, which strongly and sweetly raised Her above all created things and caused Her to feel new effects of Divine power; for this was one of the most singular and admirable ecstasies of Her Most Holy Life. Immediately also She was filled with new enlightenment and Divine influences, such as I have described in other places, until She reached the clear vision of the Divinity. The veil fell and She saw intuitively the Godhead Itself in such glory and plenitude of insight, as all the capacity of men and Angels could not describe or fully understand. All the knowledge of the Divinity and humanity of Her Most Holy Son, which She had ever received in former visions was renewed and, moreover, other secrets in the inexhaustible archives of the bosom of God were revealed to Her. I have not ideas or words sufficient and adequate for expressing what I have been allowed to see of these Sacraments by the Divine Light; and their abundance and multiplicity convince me of the poverty and want of proper expression in created language.
The Most High announced to His Virgin Mother, that the time of His coming into the World had arrived and what would be the manner in which this was now to be fulfilled and executed. The Most Prudent Lady perceived in this vision the purpose and exalted scope of these wonderful Mysteries and Sacraments, as well in so far as related to the Lord Himself as also in so far as they concerned creatures, for whose benefit they had been primarily decreed. She prostrated Herself before the throne of His Divinity and gave Him glory, magnificence, thanks and praise for Herself and for all creatures, such as was befitting the ineffable mercy and condescension of His Divine Love. At the same time She asked of the Divine Majesty new light and grace in order to be able worthily to undertake the service and worship and the rearing up of the Word made Flesh, whom She was to bear in Her arms and nourish with Her virginal milk. This petition the Heavenly Mother brought forward with the profoundest humility, as one who understood the greatness of this new sacrament. She held Herself unworthy of the office of rearing up and conversing as a Mother with a God Incarnate of which even the highest Seraphim are incapable. Prudently and humbly did the Mother of Wisdom ponder and weigh this matter. And because She humbled Herself to the dust and acknowledged Her nothingness in the presence of the Almighty, therefore His Majesty raised Her up and confirmed anew upon Her the title of Mother of God. He commanded Her to exercise this office and ministry of a legitimate and true Mother of Himself; that She should treat Him as the Son of the Eternal Father and at the same time the Son of Her womb. All this could be easily entrusted to such a Mother, in whom was contained an excellence that words cannot express.
The Most Holy Mary remained in this ecstasy and beatific vision for over an hour immediately preceding Her Divine delivery. At the moment when She issued from it and regained the use of Her senses She felt and saw that the Body of the Infant God began to move in Her virginal womb; how. releasing and freeing Himself from the place which in the course of nature He had occupied for nine months. He now prepared to issue forth from that sacred bridal chamber. This movement not only did not cause any pain or hardship, as happens with the other daughters of Adam and Eve in their childbirths; but filled Her with incomparable joy and delight. causing in Her Soul and in Her Virginal Body such exalted and Divine effects that they exceed all thoughts of men. Her body became so spiritualized with the beauty of Heaven that She seemed no more a human and earthly creature. Her countenance emitted rays of light, like a sun incarnadined, and shone in indescribable earnestness and majesty, all inflamed with fervent love. She was kneeling in the manger. Her eyes raised to Heaven, Her hands joined and folded at Her breast, Her soul wrapped in the Divinity and She Herself was entirely deified. In this position, and at the end of the Heavenly rapture, the Most Exalted Lady gave to the World The Only-begotten of the Father and Her Own, Our Savior Jesus, True God and man, at the hour of midnight, on a Sunday, in the year of the creation of the world five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine , which is the date given in the Roman Church, and which date has been manifested to me as the true and certain one.
At the end of the beatific rapture and vision of the Mother ever Virgin, which I have described above, was born the Sun of Justice, the Only-begotten of the Eternal Father and of Mary most pure, beautiful, refulgent and immaculate, leaving Her untouched in Her virginal integrity and purity and making Her more Godlike and forever sacred; for He did not divide, but penetrated the virginal chamber as the rays of the sun penetrate the crystal shrine, lighting it up in prismatic beauty.
The Infant God therefore was brought forth from the virginal chamber unencumbered by any corporeal or material substance foreign to Himself. But He came forth glorious and transfigured for the Divine and Infinite Wisdom decreed and ordained that the Glory of His Most Holy Soul should in His birth overflow and communicate itself to His body, participating in the gifts of glory in the same way as happened afterwards in His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in the presence of the Apostles [Matth. 17, 2]. This miracle was not necessary in order to penetrate the virginal enclosure and to leave unimpaired the virginal integrity; for without this Transfiguration God could have brought this about by other miracles. Thus say the holy doctors, who see no other miracle in this Birth than that the Child was born without impairing the virginity of the Mother. It was the will of God that the Most Blessed Virgin should look upon the body of Her Son, the God-Man, for this first time in a glorified state for two reasons. The one was in order that by this Divine Vision the Most Prudent Mother should conceive the highest reverence for the Majesty of Him whom She was to treat as her Son, the True God-Man. Although She was already informed of His two-fold nature, the Lord nevertheless ordained that by ocular demonstration She be filled with new graces, corresponding to the greatness of Her Most Holy Son, which was thus manifested to Her in a visible manner. The second reason was to reward by this wonder the fidelity and holiness of the Divine Mother; for Her most pure and chaste eyes, that had turned away from all earthly things for love of Her Most Holy Son, were to see Him at His very Birth in this glory and thus be rejoiced and rewarded for Her loyalty and beautiful love.
The sacred evangelist Luke tells us that the Mother Virgin, having brought forth Her first begotten Son, wrapped Him in swathing clothes and placed Him in a manger. He does not say that She received Him in Her arms from Her virginal womb; for this did not pertain to the purpose of his narrative. But the two sovereign princes, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, were the assistants of the Virgin on this occasion. They stood by at proper distance in human corporeal forms at the moment when the Incarnate Word, penetrating the virginal chamber by Divine power, issued forth to the light, and they received Him in their hands with ineffable reverence.
In the same manner as a priest exhibits the Sacred Host to the people for adoration, so these two celestial ministers presented to the Divine Mother Her Glorious and Refulgent Son. All this happened in a short space of time. In the same moment in which the Holy Angels thus presented the Divine Child to His Mother, both Son and Mother looked upon each other, and in this look, She wounded with love the Sweet Infant and was at the same time exalted and transformed in Him. From the arms of the Holy Princes the Prince of All the Heavens spoke to His Holy Mother: “Mother, become like unto Me, since on this day, for the human existence, which Thou hast today given Me, I will give Thee another more exalted existence in grace, assimilating Thy existence as a mere creature to the likeness of Me, who am God and Man.” The Most Prudent Mother answered: “Trahe me post Te, curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum” [Cant. 1, 3]. Raise me, elevate Me, Lord, and I will run after Thee in the odor of Thy ointments. In the same way many of the hidden mysteries of the Canticles were fulfilled; and other sayings which passed between the Infant God and the Virgin Mother had been recorded in that book of songs, as for instance: “My Beloved to Me, and I to Him, and His desire is toward Me” [Cant. 2, 16]. “Behold Thou art beautiful, my friend, and Thy eyes are dove’s eyes. Behold, My beloved, for Thou art beautiful;” and many other sacramental words which to mention would unduly prolong this chapter.
The words, which Most Holy Mary heard from the mouth of Her Most Holy Son, served to make Her understand at the same time the interior acts of His Holiest Soul united with the Divinity; in order that by imitating them She might become like unto Him. This was one of the greatest blessings, which the Most Faithful and Fortunate Mother received at the hands of her Son, the True God and man, not only because it was continued from that day on through all Her life, but because it furnished Her the means of copying His Own Divine life as faithfully as was possible to a mere creature. At the same time the Heavenly Lady perceived and felt the presence of the Most Holy Trinity, and She heard the voice of the Eternal Father saying: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am greatly pleased and delighted,” [Matth. 17, 5]. The Most Prudent Mother made entirely Godlike in the overflow of so many sacraments, answered: “Eternal Father and Exalted God, Lord and Creator of the Universe, give Me anew Thy permission and benediction to receive in My arms the Desired of Nations [Agg. 2, 8]; and teach Me to fulfill as Thy unworthy Mother and lowly slave, Thy Holy Will.” Immediately She heard a voice which said: “Receive Thy Only begotten Son, imitate Him and rear Him; and remember, that Thou must sacrifice Him when I shall demand it of Thee.” The Divine Mother answered: “Behold the creature of Thy hands, adorn Me with Thy grace so that Thy Son and My God receive Me for His slave; and if Thou wilt come to My aid with Thy Omnipotence, I shall be faithful in His service; and do Thou count it no presumption in Thy insignificant creature, that She bear in Her arms and nourish at Her breast Her Own Lord and Creator.”
After this interchange of Words, so full of mysteries, the Divine Child suspended the miracle of His Transfiguration, or rather He inaugurated the other miracle, that of suspending the effects of glory in His Most Holy Body, confining them solely to His Soul; and He now assumed the appearance of one capable of suffering. In this form the Most Pure Mother now saw Him and, still remaining in a kneeling position and adoring Him with profound humility and reverence, She received Him in Her arms from the hands of the Holy Angels. And when She saw Him in Her arms, She spoke to Him and said: “My sweetest Love and light of My eyes and being of My Soul, Thou hast arrived in good hour into this World as the Sun of Justice [Malach. 4, 2], in order to disperse the darkness of sin and death! True God of the True God, save Thy servants and let all flesh see Him, who shall draw upon it salvation [Is. 9, 2]. Receive Me Thy servant as Thy slave and supply My deficiency, in order that I may properly serve Thee. Make Me, My Son, such as Thou desirest Me to be in Thy service.” Then the Most Prudent Mother turned toward the Eternal Father to offer up to Him His Only begotten, saying: “Exalted Creator of all the Universe, here is the altar and the sacrifice acceptable in Thy eyes [Malachy 3, 4,]. From this hour on, O Lord, look upon the human race with mercy; and inasmuch as we have deserved Thy anger; it is now time that Thou be appeased in Thy Son and Mine. Let Thy justice now come to rest, and let Thy mercy be exalted; for on this account the Word has clothed Itself in the semblance of sinful flesh [Rom. 8, 3], and became a Brother of mortals and sinners [Philip 2, 7]. In this title I recognize them as brothers and I intercede for them from my inmost soul. Thou, Lord, hast made me the Mother of Thy Only begotten without My merit, since this dignity is above all merit of a creature; but I partly owe to men the occasion of this incomparable good fortune; since it is on their account that I am the Mother of the Word made man and Redeemer of them all. I will not deny them My love, or remit My care and watchfulness for their salvation. Receive, Eternal God, My wishes and petitions for that which is according to Thy pleasure and good will.”
The Mother of mercy turned also toward all mortals and addressed them, saying: “Be consoled ye afflicted and rejoice ye disconsolate. be raised up ye fallen, come to rest ye uneasy. Let the just be gladdened and the Saints be rejoiced; let the Heavenly spirits break out in new jubilee, let the Prophets ahd Patriarchs of limbo draw new hope, and let all the generations praise and magnify The Lord, Who renews His wonders. Come, come ye poor; approach ye little ones, without fear, for in My arms I bear the Lion made a Lamb, the Almighty, become weak, the Invincible subdued. Come to draw life, hasten to obtain salvation, approach to gain eternal rest, since I have all this for all, and it will be given to you freely and communicated to you without envy. Do not be slow and heavy of heart, ye sons of men; and Thou, O Sweetest Joy of My Soul, give Me permission to receive from Thee that kiss desired by all creatures.” Therewith the Most Blessed Mother applied Her most chaste and heavenly lips in order to receive the loving caresses of the Divine Child, Who on His part, as Her True Son, had desired them from Her.
Holding Him in Her arms, She thus served as the altar and the sanctuary, where the ten thousand Angels adored in visible human forms Their Creator Incarnate. And as the Most Blessed Trinity assisted in an especial manner at the Birth of the Word, Heaven was as it were emptied of its inhabitants, for the Whole Heavenly Court had betaken itself to that Blessed Cave of Bethlehem and was adoring the Creator in His garb and habit of a Pilgrim [Phil. 2, 7]. And in their concert of praise the Holy Angels intoned the new canticle: “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” [Luke 2, 14]. In sweetest and sonorous harmony they repeated it, transfixed in wonder at the new miracles then being fulfilled and at the unspeakable prudence, grace, humility and beauty of that tender Maiden of fifteen years, who had become the worthy Trustee and Minister of such vast and magnificent sacraments.
It was now time to call Saint Joseph, the faithful spouse of the most discreet and attentive Lady.
As I have said above he was wrapped in ecstasy, in which he was informed by Divine Revelation of all the Mysteries of this Sacred Birth during this night. But it was becoming that he should see, and, before all other mortals, should in his corporeal faculties and senses be present and experience, adore and reverence the Word Made Flesh; for he of all others had been chosen to act as the faithful warden of this Great Sacrament. At the desire of his Heavenly Spouse he issued from his ecstasy and, on being restored to consciousness, the first sight of his eyes was the Divine Child in the arms of the Virgin Mother reclining against Her sacred countenance and breast. There he adored Him in profoundest humility and in tears of joy. He kissed his feet in great joy and admiration, which no doubt would have taken away and destroyed life in him, if Divine power had not preserved it; and he certainly would have lost all the use of his senses, if the occasion had permitted. When Saint Joseph had begun to adore the Child, the Most Prudent Mother asked leave of Her Son to arise [for until then She had remained on Her knees] and, while Saint Joseph handed Her the wrappings and swaddling-clothes, which She had brought, She clothed Him with incomparable reverence, devotion and tenderness. Having thus swathed and clothed Him, His Mother, with Heavenly wisdom, laid Him in the crib, as related by Saint Luke [Luke 2, 7]. For this purpose She had arranged some straw and hay upon a stone in order to prepare for the God-Man His first resting-place upon earth next to that which He had found in Her arms. According to Divine ordainment an ox from the neighboring fields ran up in great haste and, entering the cave, joined the beast of burden brought by the Queen. The Blessed Mother commanded them, with what show of reverence was possible to them to acknowledge and adore Their Creator. The humble animals obeyed their Mistress and prostrated themselves before the Child, warming Him with their breath and rendering Him the service refused by men. And thus the God made man was placed between two animals, wrapped in swaddling-clothes and wonderfully fulfilling the prophecy, that “the ox knoweth His owner, and the ass His master’s crib; but Israel hath not known Me, and My people hath not understood.” [Is. 13.]
The Mystical City of God could truly be called the autobiography of Venerable Mary of Agreda this account of her life in the 17th century.