Details are important. In the former translation used for Mass the prophetic text referring to Holy Mary who, as a virgin, would bear a child, omitted the first word, Behold, and so the phrase dryly ran, “The virgin will be with child and bear a son.” The omission, you say, is a trifle and one should not quibble about such things. In general I’d agree, but that single word (now restored in the newer version) conveys both the imperative to take notice and the wonder over something that’s marvelous to tell. Thus it is that the Latin text begins with the word Ecce! and now we, even in our language, and made to stand up and take notice about what’s being said. “Behold! The Virgin will be with child and bear a Son.” Saint Matthew here is quoting Isaiah of the Old Testament showing how he foretold the marvel of the virgin-mother bearing the infant Christ in Her womb. (Observant hearers will note that this text is used today on the Fourth Sunday of Advent for the Communion Chant.)
One may ponder why it was that God should have willed a virgin-mother for Himself in order to come into the world, and why Mary was at the time of His conception only betrothed (a true legal act) to Joseph but not yet married to him. One may speculate that had our Lady conceived before the betrothal She may have been thought–abhorrent even to mention it–a sinner. Had She conceived our Lord after her marriage, Her Son may have been thought the natural offspring of Joseph. By divine providence, however, it was in this intermediate state of betrothal (our “engagement” bears only a pale semblance to it) that the Son of God was united to humanity and had legal, though not physical, sonship through Joseph’s public commitment to Mary. Thus the wonder: Ecce, behold! Just as Christ unites divinity and humanity in Himself, so Mary unites in Herself both virginity and motherhood.
When some non-Catholic Christians postulate that Holy Mary, after the birth of Christ, may have had other children (basing this presumption on a misunderstanding of those called in the New Testament the “brethren” of Jesus), they bear both Her and God an insult. One must try to imagine what it means to be the Mother of God! Is it thinkable that after donating Herself body and soul to God for the purposes of God to become man that She would have borne ordinary human children? Should someone hold to a notion false as this, he would be thinking too little of Christ the infinite God, forming a down-sized concept of Him whose miraculous conception and nativity would be quite ordinary.
And the birth of Christ from Mary was as wondrous as His conception: God passing through the Virgin in some unknown miraculous manner, analogous to light shining through a glass. She placed Her newborn in a manger and–Ecce!–the mother adored Her literally adorable child. Nothing before or since has equaled the noumena (far beyond mere ‘phenomena’) of the mysteries set before us in the Christmas story.
You will need to spend some quiet moments before the creche this Christmas and let your eyes pass from Virgin to Child and back again to imagine the interior conversation of souls that must have taken place on Christmas. Saint Joseph could scarcely have been less in awe over the sight of his spouse and the child given over to his care. Mary and Joseph certainly knew as much as the shepherds: “a Savior has been born to you.” The word savior conjures up a mighty warrior, a deliverer from enemy forces. This baby was indeed such a savior. Mary knew the more precise sense of this word. He would “save His people from their sins.” Mysteries thus abound and become more complex the longer we dwell on the scene at Bethlehem.
Would that we could re-engage the wonderment of our childhood–often dissipated on holiday frivolities–and focus them on the Incarnate Son of God born of the Virgin Mother. We would not thus be regressing to our youth but advancing towards the maturity of a deeper faith and a greater comprehension of divine things, having become “like little children to enter the kingdom of God.”
Christmas is not for kids, but for child-like souls who see the divine light of the Infant Christ and His reflection shining upon the face of Mary–that brightness ‘round yon Virgin Mother and Child.’ The liturgy of the Church speaks of all this as a magnum mysterium, a great mystery. We need to get into that spirit which alone can make sense of all the fuss we make in celebrating Christmas. Ecce!
Monday, December 21, 2015
Fr. Eduard Perrone: The meaning of the biblical Ecce! ("Behold!") in the Incarnation narrative
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [Temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, December 20, 2015):