WHEN we reach the mystery of the Nativity of our Blessed Lord, it is but natural that He should Him self become so engrossing a figure in the picture which we try to draw for ourselves, that with our weak powers of attention we have little of it to bestow on any one else. Nevertheless it belongs to Christian contemplation to endeavour to take in the whole of God's dealings in these great mysteries, and on this account when we are specially drawing out for ourselves those dealings with our Blessed Lady or with St. Joseph, it is necessary to fix our eyes on them more exclusively. In truth, they can never be separated from Him. Mary especially is a part of Him, and it is more true to say that we contemplate Him altogether incompletely when we omit her, than to say that any attention paid to her history takes away our minds from Him. Without her, we should miss the most beautiful part of His work, the part most dear to Himself. We shall find, then,-that there are certain features in what has come down to us of those dealings which are greatly worthy of notice, and which furnish us with great occasions for glorifying God. Here again we must make use of theological reasoning rather than of any direct statements of the Sacred Text, which is as short here as elsewhere, and which in the narrative of the Nativity and of many of the earlier incidents of the Infancy may be considered as being comparatively silent about our Lady in particular, for the very reason that she was herself the chief informant of the Evangelists in this part of their work.
Nothing is said on the subject in the New Testament, but it seems a matter of Christian reason to be sure that while our Lord was in the womb of His Blessed Mother she was free from all the inconveniences and sufferings which are now the lot of all mothers during that time, and which it is reasonable to consider as a part of the consequences of original sin. It is hard to conceive it possible that our Lord could have been a burthen and an occasion of misery to His Mother at such a time. It is an extension of the same truth to see that the actual childbearing of our Blessed Lady was free from all pain and trouble of every kind. She required no assistance or nursing, her Son was born in a marvellous and preter natural manner, she was able to wrap Him herself in the clothes she had provided for Him, and to discharge, with immense joy and delight, all the offices which are usually the mother's part in such cases. At the actual Birth of our Lord no one was present but herself and the holy angels, but as soon as all was over, and when the Child was in His Mother's arms and at her holy breast, the blessed Joseph was able to pour forth his thankful adoration to Him of Whom as father he was to undertake the charge.
The Church believes that a further privilege was conferred on our Blessed Lady at the moment of her childbearing, of which it would have been out of place for the Gospels to make specific mention, especially as we have in them probably no account of the Nativity which does not come from Mary herself. But there is solid foundation in Scripture for the truth of which we speak, inasmuch as it is said in the prophecy of Isaias, that the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and the words seem to imply that she is to be a Virgin both in her conception and in her bearing. This truth is confirmed by the universal tradition of the Church, and is very dear indeed to the Catholic mind. Our Lord worked a marvellous miracle for this purpose, preserving in some hidden way the perfect integrity of His Mother both in His Conception and in the act of His coming forth from her sacred womb. This privilege was due to the honour of this Blessed Mother, to the perfect purity of her soul, to her consecration of herself by vow to God, to her faithful abandonment of the guard of her promised Virginity to the custody of God in her Annunciation, to the special glory of her Virgin Maternity, to the majesty of our Lord her Son, and to the great dignity she was to hold in His Kingdom, and also to the commission in trusted to her to raise in the world the standard of perfect integrity and continence for the example of others and for the immense benefit of the whole human race. The manner in which this integrity was preserved is hidden from us, nor need we inquire curiously into such a matter, especially as we have other miracles of our Lord which may be considered as figures of this, as when He left the Holy Sepulchre without breaking the stone or the seals set by the Jews, or entered the room in which the disciples were assembled through the closed door. Our Blessed Lady must have been conscious of the working of the miracle, and it must have filled her heart with joy and thankfulness.
The devout woman who is mentioned in the Gospels as having lifted up her voice out of the crowd to praise the Mother of our Lord, is reported to have declared her to be blessed on two accounts, because her womb had born the Son of the Eternal Father, and because her breasts had suckled the Lord Christ, as the Church sings. When our Lord had been wrapped in His swathing bands, our Lady gave Him to suck from her pure bosom, and this must have been an occasion of new joy and gratitude to her. It implied that, all through the time of His Infancy and Childhood she was to minister to Him in the way of ordinary mothers to their children, only without the weariness and fatigue and exhaustion and other sufferings which may be incidental in such relations. These are the delights and choicest pleasures of all good Christian mothers, who would think it one of the greatest degradations possible to allow others to perform these duties for them, except in cases of absolute necessity, as if they were not fit by their worldliness and frivolity to be the mothers of Christian children. The whole of these services as Mother 'were discharged by our Lady with the utmost joy and faithfulness, and must have been to her occasions of immense grace in reward for that faithfulness, and the love and purity of intention with which they were performed by her. Thus day after day she mounted higher and higher in the Kingdom of grace, not only by the special graces which she may have received from time to time from the immense bounty of God, and by the continual communications which passed between her soul and the Heart of her Blessed Son, but also by the exercise of the simplest duties of a mother, which can be blest by God for the sanctification of all who in such cases discharge them with devotion and pure intention, as St. Paul implies. 1
Another point which belongs to this contemplation is that our Lady now began to converse with those who came to visit and honour the new-born King of the world, such as the shepherds, and those who may have come after them on hearing what they had to say. It is indeed very possible that the first visitants of the Crib in the cave, the holy angels sent from Heaven by the Father to adore His Son in His Human Nature, may have made themselves manifest to our Blessed Lady before their departure to announce the glad tidings to the shepherds. In this case our Lady's converse as the Mother of the holy Child would have begun with them. When the time came for the shepherds to approach, it would be her place to receive them and show her Son to them, not with the foolish pride which may be found in some mothers who are ready to boast of the beauty or other external qualities of their babes, but with the serious and grave joy of the Mother of the Redeemer. No doubt she understood and took in all the circumstances of the Nativity, which had been so carefully chosen and arranged by our Lord and which revealed to her what those conditions were which He especially loved—poverty, obscurity, humiliation, pain, discomfort, homelessness, and the like. In all these things she could read the lesson which He was beginning so early to teach to the world, a lesson which had its peculiar character from the office of our Lord as Saviour and Redeemer, as well as of Teacher as to the dangers of all those things which the world usually clings to and desires. This was the beginning of His teaching, and there fore of the drinking in of that teaching on the part of His Blessed Mother, who formed with St. Joseph the whole company of His disciples at this time.
It is now that we find for the first time the words concerning our Blessed Lady which are once more repeated at a later period of the Infancy. " Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart." In a narrative which is so short, and in which every word seems to have been measured and weighed before it was inserted, it cannot be thought that a statement of this kind would be twice repeated, unless it were meant that we should gather from it some important truth, at least with regard to the characteristic grace and office of this Blessed Mother. It was now for the first time that our Lord manifested Himself to the outer world. Before this He had been the treasure of His Mother and St. Joseph alone, hidden from all beside, except in so far as He had shown His power in the case of the blessed child who was to be His Precursor. The manifestations of Himself by our Blessed Lord, therefore, as far as they had been made at all, had been internal and spiritual, but now, as soon as He was born into the world, He entered on a new phase of existence in this respect, because His presence was now visible and tangible, and, however silent and apparently helpless, capable of receiving homage and honour, and of dealing with men externally and visibly. As has been said, the circumstances of the Providential arrangement of His Life in the world, the persons called around Him, the manner of their conduct towards Him, the course of events which affected Him, and the like, were now all subject of devout contemplation, as they were, in their way and degree, manifestations of His will and choice, and of the place and position which He chose to occupy in the eyes of men. The most marvellous of histories, therefore, was now beginning, and it was fitting that it should have, if not its historian, at least some intelligent heart and mind that could watch it and appreciate it, and learn from its study what God wished to be gathered from it.
This was the office of our Blessed Lady, and it seems to be this that is meant when we are reminded that she made it her practice to keep all these things in her heart. And it seems reasonable to think, as will be drawn out more fully hereafter, that this habit which she contracted during the first days of the Holy Infancy, was continued during the remainder of her life, and that she was always contemplating, with devout and eager attention, the events connected with our Lord as they passed before her, much as we may suppose the holy Angels in Heaven now contemplate, and have always contemplated, the marvellous order of the government of God over the world. There are always in the Church a certain number of souls who are thus occupied, and while they give continual glory and thanks to God for His wonders, in a manner which to some extent gives back to Him His due in this respect, they are also in many ways the supports and mainstays of the Militant Church, either guiding it by their wise counsels, or, far more, bringing down on its rulers blessings and light by their prayers.
Thus we find that the Nativity of our Lord was a point of time at which it is reasonable to suppose that our Blessed Lady received some great advance in the graces bestowed upon her, for the reason, in the first place, that it was a great point in advance in the unfolding of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and in the second place, that it was a point at which she entered in some respects into new relations with Him, involving new duties, and requiring new supplies of Divine power. It was the occasion to her of the reception, from the love and magnificent gratitude of her Son, of the grace which is commemorated by the Church when she sings post partum Virgo inviolata, and begs her intercession on this ground also. It was the occasion of the beginning of a number of new and most loving services on her part to Him, recompensed by a continual stream of the most tender manifestations of affection and gratitude on His part to her. It was the occasion of the beginning of her dealings with others as the nursing Mother of the great King, Whom they came to honour. And it was also the beginning of that watchful and thoughtful study of the course of Providence in His regard, which was in an especial way the office and the characteristic of this Blessed Mother, an office to her discharge of which we owe many things indeed in the history as far as we are able to understand it, but probably far more of which we do not suspect our obligation to her.
We have thus in our Blessed Lady, in this mystery of the Nativity, a twofold grace which has lasted on, after having been first made to rest on her head, for the benefit of the children of the Church. For in the silence of the cave, when our Lord came forth from her sacred womb, she received, as has been said, the miraculous gift by which her spot less virginity was preserved for ever, after the birth of her Son as well as before, and this gift, thus shrined in Mary, has made her the Mother of thou sands of virgins, who have followed her in her devotion to this most beautiful virtue, whether as consecrated to the service of the altar and the ministration of the sacraments, and of the word of God, or in the simple dedication of religious life, or of personal continence in the world. The Church has thus received blessings which cannot be counted, of all of which Mary is the Queen. And in the second place, it was now that began in the Church, in the person of the same glorious Mother, the holy habit of contemplation of the doings of God through His Incarnate Son. Thus was laid the foundation of the fabric of Christian thought and theology, the treasures of ascetic lore and spiritual wisdom were first accumulated in the heart of the Blessed Mother.
Our Blessed Lady, then, was the first to see, in the manifestations of Himself by our Lord in the crib, the exercise of His office of Redeemer and of Teacher. She was the first to understand how it was that His infinite compassion and mercifulness made Him choose to take on Himself all the sufferings and miseries of our human condition, sin only excepted, not in order that He might know them, for He knew them before by His Divine knowledge, and by the imparted knowledge stored up in His Sacred Humanity, but that He might know them in that way which could most perfectly make Him sympathize with us under them, that is, in the way of personal experience. Thus she could see in this condescension of His, now first manifested to the world, the intensity and the tenderness of His mercy. She, too, was the first to understand that He took on Himself the same penalties of our mortal condition, for the other purpose of expiating for the offences against God which indulgence in the good things of this world, which He now rejected, had so often caused, and for the brood of evils which they had generated for the souls of men. And she, too, was the first student in the school which He now opened, as our Teacher by example, of the manner in which these things were to be used by us in order to please God, and walk securely and meritoriously on the path to Heaven. She was the first to understand His preference for the poor and simple and lowly, when He called the shepherds, first of all mankind, to do Him homage in His cradle, and made them almost the companions of the angels, in the blessings which He lavished on them in return for their humble worship, and their lowly offerings.
1 i Tim. ii. 15.