THE FEAST OF CHRISTMAS
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.–JOHN I. 14.
Today the Church calls to our minds the threefold birth of our Lord: His birth of the Father before all ages, His birth from the Blessed Virgin Mary twenty centuries ago, and His birth through grace in the souls of the just. But the central thought of this day’s feast is the temporal birth of our Lord in the stable at Bethlehem.
I. The Gospel Narratives of the Conception and Birth of Christ. l. The Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was the chosen Mother of God. Mary consented, and thereupon the Mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished (Luke i. 26-38). 2. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to be enrolled. There Christ was born in a stable. Angels announced His birth to the Shepherds (Luke ii. 1-20).
II, “Who was conceived of the Holy Ghost.” 1. The meaning of these words of the Creed: Christ’s conception was miraculous; a Divine Person took human flesh in a manner transcending the order of nature. 2. All three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity were authors of this mystery, since all external works of the Godhead are common to the three Divine Persons; but it is especially attributed to the Holy Ghost because it is a work of love. 3. The body of our Lord was formed from the flesh and blood of the Blessed Virgin, who is therefore truly the Mother of God. 4. The soul of Christ was filled with all grace from the moment of His conception. 5. The Divinity was united to Christ’s body and soul from the first instant of conception, and hence Christ is the Son of God by nature, and not by adoption.
III. “Born of the Virgin Mary.” 1. The birth of Christ was miraculous, since He was born of a virgin. 2. The virgin birth was foretold in prophecy: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Is. vii. 14); it was prefigured in many types of the Old Testament, e.g. in the gate of the sanctuary which Ezechiel saw closed (Ezech. xliv. 2); in the bush which Moses saw burn without being consumed (Exod. iii. 2), etc. 3. Comparison between Mary and Eve: Eve brought malediction on the human race, Mary brought Christ to us; Eve bore children in sorrow, Mary brought forth the Son of God in joy, etc.
CONCLUSION. How we should profit by the birth of Christ:
I. We should adore this mystery through faith, since it transcends our understanding. 2. We should meditate on this feast with gladness, because it establishes peace between God and man (Luke ii. 14), because in it all the nations of the earth are blessed (Gen. xxii. 18), because through it the goodness of God shines forth with incomparable splendor.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I
ARTICLE III OF THE CREED
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.
INCARNATION OF THE SON OF GOD
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost. From what has been said in the preceding Article, the faithful are given to understand that in delivering us from the relentless tyranny of Satan, God has conferred a singular and invaluable blessing on the human race; but if we place before our eyes the economy of redemption, in it the goodness and beneficence of God shine forth with incomparable splendor and magnificence.
The pastor, then, will enter on the exposition of this third Article by developing the grandeur of this mystery, which the Sacred Scriptures very frequently propose to our consideration as the principal source of our eternal salvation. Its meaning he will teach to be, that we believe and confess that the same Jesus Christ, our only Lord, the Son of God, when He assumed human flesh for us in the womb of the Virgin, was not conceived like other men, from the seed of man, but in a manner transcending the order of nature, that is, by the power of the Holy Ghost;(1) so that the same person, remaining God as He was from eternity, became man,(2) what He was not before. That such is the meaning of these words is clear from the confession of the Holy Council of Constantinople, which says: “who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and WAS MADE MAN.” The same truth we also find unfolded by St. John the Evangelist, who imbibed from the bosom of the Saviour Himself the knowledge of this most profound mystery. When he had thus declared the nature of the divine Word: ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he concludes,” And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (3)
Thus, “the Word,” which is a person of the divine nature, assumed human nature in such a manner that the person of both natures is one and the same: and hence this admirable union preserved the actions and properties of both natures; and, as we read in St. Leo, that great pontiff, ” the lowliness of the inferior was not consumed in the glory of the superior, nor did the assumption of the inferior diminish the glory of the superior.”(4)
THE WORK NOT OF ONE, BUT OF THE THREE PERSONS OF
As an explanation of the words in which this Article is expressed is not to be omitted, the pastor will teach that when we say that the Son of God was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, we do not mean that this Person alone of the Holy Trinity accomplished the mystery of the incarnation. Although the Son alone assumed human nature, yet all the Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, were authors of this mystery. It is a principle of Christian faith that whatever God does extrinsically is common to the three Persons, and that one neither does more than nor acts without another. But that one emanates from another cannot be common to all, for the Son is begotten of the Father only, the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son; but whatever proceeds from them extrinsically is the work of the three Persons without difference of any sort, and of this latter description is the incarnation of the Son of God.
WHY SPECIALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE HOLY GHOST
Of those things, however, that are common to all, the Sacred Scriptures often attribute some to one person, some to another. Thus, to the Father they attribute power over all things; to the Son, wisdom; to the Holy Ghost, love; and hence, as the mystery of the Incarnation manifests the singular and boundless love of God towards us, it is therefore in some sort peculiarly attributed to the Holy Ghost.
IN WHAT NATURAL AND IN WHAT SUPERNATURAL
In this mystery, we perceive that some things were done which transcend the order of nature, some by the power of nature. Thus, in believing that the body of Christ was formed from the most pure blood of his Virgin Mother we acknowledge the operation of human nature, this being a law common to the formation of all human bodies. But what surpasses the order of nature and human comprehension is, that as soon as the Blessed Virgin assented to the announcement of the angel in these words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word,”(5) the most sacred body of Christ was immediately formed, and to it was united a rational soul; and thus in the same instant of time, He was perfect God and perfect man. That this was the astonishing and admirable work of the Holy Ghost cannot be doubted.
THE DIVINITY UNITED TO THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST
Again (and this should overwhelm us with astonishment), as soon as the soul of Christ was united to His body, the Divinity became united to both; and thus at the same time His body was formed and animated, and the Divinity united to body and soul.
THE VIRGIN TRULY MOTHER OF GOD AND MAN
Hence, at the same instant He was perfect God and perfect man, and the most Holy Virgin, having at the same moment conceived God and man, is truly and properly called Mother of God and man. This the Angel signified to her when he said: “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High.”(6) The event verified the prophecy of Isaias: ” Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.”(7) Elizabeth also, when, filled with the Holy Ghost, she understood the conception of the Son of God, declared the same truth in these words: ” Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”(8)
THE SOUL OF CHRIST REPLENISHED FROM HIS CONCEPTION WITH ALL GRACE
But as the body of Christ was formed of the pure blood of the immaculate Virgin without the aid of man, as we have already said, and by the sole operation of the Holy Ghost, so also, at the moment of His conception, His soul was replenished with an overflowing fulness of the Spirit of God, and a superabundance of all graces; for God gave not to Him, as to others adorned with graces and holiness, His Spirit by measure, as St. John testifies,(9) but poured into His soul the plenitude of all graces so abundantly that ” of his fulness we all have received.” (10)
CHRIST THE SON OF GOD BY NATURE, NOT BY ADOPTION
Although possessing that Spirit by which holy men attain the adoption of sons of God, He cannot, however, be called the adopted Son of God; for being the Son of God by nature, the grace, or name of adoption, can on no account be deemed applicable to Him.
HOW WE ARE TO REAP FRUIT UNTO SALVATION FROM THE BELIEF OF THIS ARTICLE
These truths comprise the substance of what appeared to us to demand explanation regarding the admirable mystery of the conception. To reap from them abundant fruit for salvation the faithful should particularly recall, and frequently reflect, that it is God who assumed human flesh, but that the manner of its assumption transcends the limits of our comprehension, not to say of our powers of expression; and finally, that He vouchsafed to become man in order that we mortals may be regenerated children of God. When to these subjects they shall have given mature consideration, let them, in the humility of faith, believe and adore all the mysteries contained in this Article, and not indulge a curious inquisitiveness by investigating and scrutinizing them–an attempt scarcely ever unattended with danger.
CHRIST BORN OF A VIRGIN
Born of the Virgin Mary. These words comprise another part of this Article of the Creed, in the exposition of which the pastor should exercise considerable diligence; because the faithful are bound to believe that Christ our Lord was not only conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, but was also “born of the Virgin Mary.” The words of the Angel who first announced the happy tidings to the world declare with what transports of joy and emotions of delight the belief of this mystery should be meditated by us. “Behold,” says he, ” I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people.”(11) The song chanted by the heavenly host clearly conveys the same sentiments. “Glory,” say they, ” to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”(l2) Then began the fulfillment of the splendid promise made by Almighty God to Abraham,–that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed;(13) for Mary, whom we truly proclaim and venerate as Mother of God, because she brought forth Him who is at once God and man, was descended from King David.(14) But as the conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of the man-God presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.
THE MANNER OF HIS BIRTH
Besides–a circumstance wonderful beyond expression or conception–He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity; and as He afterwards went forth from the sepulcher while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut,(15) or (not to depart from natural events which we witness every day) as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the substance of glass, so after a like but more incomprehensible manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity, which, being immaculate and perpetual, forms the just theme of our eulogy. This was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the conception and birth of the Son so favored the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity and yet preserve inviolate her perpetual virginity.
CHRIST COMPARED TO ADAM, MARY TO EVE
The Apostle sometimes calls Jesus Christ the second Adam, and institutes a comparison between Him and the first Adam; for as in the first all men die, so in the second all are made alive:(16) and as in the natural order Adam was the father of the human race, so in the supernatural order Christ is the author of grace and of glory. The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent. Eve brought malediction and death on mankind;(17) and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of the divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race.(18) From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.”(19) Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.
TYPES AND FIGURES OF HIS CONCEPTION AND NATIVITY
The mysteries of this admirable conception and nativity being, therefore, so great and so numerous, it accorded with the views of Divine Providence to signify them by many types and prophesies. Hence the holy Fathers understood many things which we meet in the Sacred Scriptures to relate to them, particularly that gate of the Sanctuary which Ezechiel saw closed;(20) the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which became a great mountain and filled the universe;(21) the rod of Aaron, which alone budded of all the rods of the princes of Israel;(22) and the bush which Moses saw burn without being consumed (23) The holy Evangelist describes in detail the history of the birth of Christ;(24) but, as the pastor can easily recur to the Sacred Volume, it is unnecessary for us to say more on the subject.
1. Matt. i. 20.
2. John i. 14.
3. John i. i, 14.
4. Serm. i. de Nat.
5. Luke i. 38.
6. Luke i. 31, 32.
7. Is. vii. 14.
8. Luke i. 43.
9. John iii. 34.
10. John i. 16.
11. Luke ii. 10.
12. Luke ii. 14.
13. Gen. xxii. 18.
14. Matt i. I, 6.
15. John xx. 19.
16. I Cor. xv. 21, 22.
17. Eccl. xxv. 33.
18. Eph. i. 3.
19. Gen. iii. 16,
20. Ezech. xliv. 2.
21. Dan. ii. 35.
22. Num. xvii. 8.
23. Exod. iii. 2.
24. Luke ii.