Wednesday, December 23, 2009
O Magnum Mysterium
The Adoration of the Kings and Christ on the Cross, attributed to Benedetto Bonfigli (about 1465-75).
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.
There has been a lot of preparation for all kinds of activities and the next few days will be busy for most. Some, however, have no one in this world to share the Christmas celebration. These, especially, are most beloved by God; they share in the loneliness and solitude that our Lady and St. Joseph must have felt the night Jesus was born. "No room at the inn", the Gospel writers tell us. No room for the Son of God, His most Holy Mother and His valiant and obedient Guardian. No room.
And so, the God of Gods, the Lord of Lords, the Son of the Eternal Father is born where animals were kept. The simple animals of the stable witness the miraculous birth. They even, in some traditions, keep the Baby Jesus warm. They represent all of creation; the very creation this Child, as Second Person of the Trinity, created.
Only they are privileged, with the Holy Virgin and St. Joseph, to be present at this most wondrous event.
The angels, shepherds and in this image, the Magi, will come to adore the new-born King. But in the silence of the night, the Word came to us. Silently. In solitude.
The solitude and poverty of the Crib will repeat itself at the Cross. Mary, Mother of God, is there also, with a few faithful women, and St. John, the Beloved Disciple (perhaps like St. Joseph?). Jesus wears a simple covering for modesty; like the swaddling cloths. The wood of the Cross replaces the wood of the manger. Instead of angels and shepherds, the cursing, accusing and taunting voices of the soldiers, the thieves and some of those who wanted His death surround Him not with "Gloria in excelsis Deo" but words of hatred and violence.
The Cross and the Crib are two sides of the same mystery: the great and boundless Love of God that shows itself in suffering, poverty, and contempt. "O Magnum Mysterium" is an ancient term for the Christmas mystery, but it is also a description of the Paschal Mystery. It is good to keep them together; otherwise, we are either mindless of the sufferings of the Lord and of others, or we are dragged down into despair by human suffering and anguish.
The words of this beautiful song are:
O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in præsepio.
Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Christum, Alleluia!
O great mystery
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord
lying in their manger.
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Our prayers and remembrances to you all; whether you are immersed in family activities, visiting friends and relatives, or are alone these days. God loves you so much He comes as an innocent Child, so vulnerable that He would frighten no one or make them feel anything but devotion (as one does before a new born child). And shown at first, to the animals. Never feel that you are ever alone.