2:11: "And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother,
and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered
him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
"Majesty made itself small so that those who held it could endure it." --
St. Ephraem the Syrian, Doctor
Devotion to the
Infant Jesus is another aspect of honoring Christ's Incarnation. It is to
marvel at His having humbled Himself by taking on a human nature, subjecting
Himself to all that flesh is heir to (minus the effects of original sin,
of course), even subjecting Himself to the earthly authority of Mary and
Joseph. Recognized even in the Virgin's womb by St. John the Baptist and
his mother, after His Nativity, the Child Jesus was adored first by the shepherds
and then by the Magi, and has been revered by Saints ever since. Many of
the heroes and heroines of our Faith had a special devotion to the Child
Jesus, some even having been blessed by visions of Him as a boy. St. Christopher,
St. Anthony of Padua, St.
Teresa of Avila, St. Rose of Lima, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (whose
religious name is "St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy
Face"), St. Francis of Assisi with his creche, and, of course, Our Lady and
St. Joseph, are particularly associated with
the Divine Child and many are pictured with Jesus as a child in art.
St. John Chrysostom
(ca. A.D. 347-407), in the 6th and 7th homilies of his "Homilies on the Gospel
of Matthew," describes devotion to the Divine Child as he writes of the Magi
honoring the newborn King:
And why did they
at all worship one who was in swaddling clothes? For if He had been a grown
man, one might say, that in expectation of the succor they should receive
from Him, they cast themselves into a danger which they foresaw; a thing
however to the utmost degree unreasonable, that the Persian, the barbarian,
and one that had nothing in common with the nation of the Jews, should be
willing to depart from his home, to give up country, and kindred, and friends,
and that they should subject themselves to another kingdom.
But if this be foolish, what follows is much more foolish. Of what nature
then is this? That after they had entered on so long a journey, and worshipped,
and thrown all into confusion, they went away immediately. And what sign
at all of royalty did they behold, when they saw a shed, and a manger, and
a child in swaddling clothes, and a poor mother? And to whom moreover did
they offer their gifts, and for what intent? Was it then usual and customary,
thus to pay court to the kings that were born in every place? and did they
always keep going about the whole world, worshipping them who they knew should
become kings out of a low and mean estate, before they ascended the royal
throne? Nay, this no one can say.
And for what purpose did they worship Him at all? If for the sake of things
present, then what did they expect to receive from an infant, and a mother
of mean condition?...
...Shame upon Marcion, shame upon Paul of Samosata, for refusing to see what
those wise men saw, the forefathers of the Church; for I am not ashamed so
to call them. Let Marcion be ashamed, beholding God worshipped in the flesh.
Let Paul be ashamed, beholding Him worshipped as not being merely a man.
As to His being in the flesh, that first is signified by the swaddling clothes
and the manger; as to their not worshipping Him as a mere man, they declare
it, by offering Him, at that unripe age, such gifts as were meet to be offered
to God. And together with them let the Jews also be ashamed, seeing themselves
anticipated by barbarians and magi, whilst they submit not so much as to
come after them. For indeed what happened then was a type of the things to
come, and from the very beginning it was shown that the Gentiles would anticipate
...Let us then also follow the magi, let us separate ourselves from our barbarian
customs, and make our distance therefrom great, that we may see Christ, since
they too, had they not been far from their own country, would have missed
seeing Him. Let us depart from the things of earth. For so the wise men,
while they were in Persia, saw but the star, but after they had departed
from Persia, they beheld the Sun of Righteousness. Or rather, they would
not have seen so much as the star, unless they had readily risen up from
thence. Let us then also rise up; though all men be troubled, let us run
to the house of the young Child; though kings, though nations, though tyrants
interrupt this our path, let not our desire pass away. For so shall we thoroughly
repel all the dangers that beset us. Since these too, except they had seen
the young Child, would not have escaped their danger from the king. Before
seeing the young Child, fears and dangers and troubles pressed upon them
from every side; but after the adoration, it is calm and security; and no
longer a star but an angel receives them, having become priests from the
act of adoration; for we see that they offered gifts also. Do thou therefore
likewise leave the Jewish people, the troubled city, the blood-thirsty tyrant,
the pomp of the world, and hasten to Bethlehem, where is the house of the
spiritual Bread. For though thou be a shepherd, and come hither, thou wilt
behold the young Child in an inn: though thou be a king, and approach not
here, thy purple robe will profit thee nothing; though thou be one of the
wise men, this will be no hindrance to thee; only let thy coming be to honor
and adore, not to spurn the Son of God; only do this with trembling and
From the Feast
of Christmas to Candlemas, the Church
recalls the Divine Childhood. After Christmas itself, there are the
Feast of the Circumcision on 1 January,
the Feast of His Holy Name, the
Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January ("Three
Kings Day," when we recall the Magi's adoration), the
Feast of the Holy Family, and
the Presentation (Candlemas)
on 2 February. Indeed, the entire month of January is dedicated to His
Holy Name and His Holy Childhood.
Depictions of the Child Jesus (outside of Nativity
scenes or His being held by Our Lady, etc.) usually show Him holding
up His right Hand in blessing. In His left Hand, He often holds a globe
(symbolizing the world, and sometimes topped by a Cross), a book, a bird,
or grapes (symbolizing the Eucharist). The Divine Child is worshipped in
different countries in different ways: to Italian-speaking people, He is
"Il Santo Bambino"; to the Spanish-speaking, He is "El Santo Niño";
to the Germans, He is "Christkindel." And there are particular devotions
to the Christ Child due to an apparition or a miraculous image, such as is
the case with the Infant of Prague, El Santo Niño de Atocha, and the
Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli in Rome.
The Infant of Prague
In Prague, Czech
Republic, there is a statue of the Christ Child known as the "Infant of Prague."
The statue is Spanish in origin, having ended up in its present country when
it was taken there as a wedding gift given to a Spanish woman upon her marriage
to a Czech nobleman. It passed down through that family, and was eventually
given to the Disalced Carmelites there.
In 1628, the Carmelites had to escape the area when the Saxons, and then
the Swedes, attacked. Father Cyril a Matre Dei returned to Prague in 1638
and found the statue lying in what was left of the church, its arms broken.
He placed it back in the oratory for veneration and, while praying near it
one day, heard the voice of the Infant Jesus say to Him, "Have pity on Me
and I will have pity on you. Give Me My hands and I will give you peace.
The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you". In that war-torn era,
the priest didn't have the money to carry out that wish, so prayed for guidance.
He heard the Child Jesus again, "Place Me near the entrance of the sacristy
and you will receive aid." And so it happened. Within a few days, a rich
man came by and offered to repair the statue.
The statue became known for its association with the miraculous, including
healings and, especially, for the protection of the church through so many
wars that followed. Many benefits are said to come to those who worship Christ
under His title of the "Infant of Prague." There are prayers and novenas
(see below) to Him under this name.
The statue is around 18½ inches tall and made of wax, possibly with
a wooden inner core. The Christ Child holds a globe surmounted by a Cross
-- symbolizing His Kingship. His right hand is raised in a blessing, his
first two fingers extended to signify His two natures. The statue was not
originally dressed (see picture at right to see statue in its original state),
but was first crowned by Bernard Ignatius in 1651, and was solemnly coronated
by the Bishop of Prague in 1655. Now it is always seen not only crowned (see
above), but dressed in regal, priestly robes (the statue has over 85 different
robes, including one sent by Empress Mary Theresa). Since 1788, sometimes
two rings adorn the statue's fingers, gifts from a noble family in gratitude
for the cure of their daughter.
The statue can be seen in the Church of St. Mary the Victorious and St. Anthony
of Padua, (in the care of the Discalced Carmelites), Karmelitska 9, 118 00
Praha 1, Czech Republic. Replicas can be bought at many different Catholic
gift shops, and the image of the Infant of Prague is often represented
two-dimensionally in paintings and on Holy Cards.
A famous copy of this icon can be seen on the Island of Cebu
in the Philippines, and the story of its presence there is very interesting.
The great Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan gave a copy of the statue
of the Infant of Prague to Cebu's king Rajah Humabon's wife, after she converted
and took the name Queen Juana upon her baptism in 1521. Magellan's chaplain,
Padre Pedro de Valderrama, converted many of the island's natives -- a move
which led to a skirmish between the old and new Christians, and natives from
the island of Mactan. The Christian Cebu side lost, Magellan was killed,
and his crew later returned to Spain.
In 1565, the Spanish Captain, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, went to Cebu accompanied
by Augustinian Missionaries. They were attacked and, of course, defended
themselves. Among the ruins of the battle's aftermath, they found the statue
of the Holy Infant (El Santo Niño) that Magellan had given to Queen
Juana years earlier. A shrine was built to house the statue, and it later
became the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. The Holy Infant is especially
dear to the Filippino people to this day, and in the first month of the year,
there are in His honor great parades, celebrations, a Feast on the third
Sunday of January, and even a special dance (sinulog). Devotion to the Holy
Child, though, is year-round in the Philippines, and no Filippino home is
without an image of El Santo Niño.
in Affliction" to the Infant of Prague
O Dearest Jesus tenderly loving us, Thy greatest joy is to dwell among men,
and to bestow Thy blessing upon us! Though I am not worthy that Thou shouldst
behold me with love, I feel myself drawn to Thee, O dear Infant Jesus, because
Thou dost gladly pardon me and exercise Thy almighty power over me. So many,
who turned with confidence to Thee, have recieved graces and had their petitions
granted. Behold me, in spirit I kneel before Thy miraculous image on Thy
altar in Prague, and lay open my heart to Thee, with its prayers, petitions
and hopes. My greatest need in particular -- (mention your intentions
here) -- I enclose it in Thy loving Heart.
Govern me, and do with me and mine, according to Thy holy will, for I know
that in Thy Divine wisdom and love Thou wilt ordain everything for the best.
Almighty, gracious Infant Jesus, do not withdraw Thy hand from us, but protect
and bless us forever. I pray Thee, sweetest Infant, in the name of Thy Blessed
Mother Mary who cared for Thee with such tenderness, and by the great reverence
with which Saint Joseph carried Thee in his arms, comfort me and make me
happy that I may bless and thank Thee forever from all my heart Amen.
Act of Thanksgiving to the Infant Jesus
O most gracious Infant Jesus, prostate before Thee, I offer Thee most fervent
thanks for the blessings Thou hast bestowed upon me. I shall incessantly
praise Thine ineffable mercy and confess that Thou alone art my God, my helper,
and my protector. Henceforth, my entire confidence shall be placed in Thee,
everywhere will I proclaim Thy mercy and generosity, so that Thy great love
and great deeds which Thou preformest may be acknowledged by all. May devotion
to Thy holy infancy extend more and more in the hearts of all Christians,
and may all who experience Thy assistance persevere in returning unceasing
gratitude to Thy most holy Infancy to which be praise and glory for all eternity
Novena to the Infant of Prague
Say once an nour for nine hours on one single day
O Jesus, Who has said ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find,
knock and it shall be opened to you, through the intercession of Mary, Thy
Most Holy Mother, I knock, I seek and I ask that my prayer may be granted.
(Mention your intentions here)
O Jesus, Who has said all that you ask of the Father in My Name, He will
will grant you, through the intercession of Mary, Thy Most Holy Mother, I
humbly and urgently ask Thy Father in Thy Name, that my prayer be granted.
(Mention your intentions here)
O Jesus, Who has said "Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but My word shall
not pass", through the intercession of Mary, Thy Most Holy Mother, I feel
confident that my prayer will be granted.
(Mention your intentions here)
El Santo Niño de Atocha
In Mexico, the
Holy Child is known under various titles, the most famous of which is El
Santo Niño de Atocha. In the Mexican State of Zacatecas are two towns
with two shrines: the more famous Fresnillo, home of the "Blue Santo Niño,"
and Plateros, where the "Pink Santo Niño" is found. The statues of
the Infant are dressed in the attire of a
pilgrim: brimmed hat, cape, and a scallop shell
-- the pilgrim's badge indicating pilgrimage to Compostela where the relics
of St. James the Greater can be found. He carries a basket of food, and a
pilgrim's staff to which are fasted a gourd (to hold water) and wheat.
The devotion originated in Atocha, Spain when the Moors invaded and took
many Christians as prisoners. The Christians were disallowed visitors and
began to fear for their very lives as they lacked food and anyone to bring
them some. After praying intensely for relief, the Christ Child appeared
dressed in the attire described above and bearing a basket of food and a
containter of water, neither of which were depleted until they were no longer
El Santo Niño de Atocha is most often invoked for healing, especially
of children. Pilgrims to his shrines leave children's shoes, a custom born
in the folk tale that the Child wears out His own as He goes about at night
secretly visiting sick children in order to heal them.
Prayer to El
Niño de Atocha
All-knowing Child of Atocha, protector of all men, protection of invalids,
divine doctor of any illness. Most Powerful Child, I greet Thee, I praise
Thee on this day and I offer Thee these three Our Fathers, and Hail Marys,
with a Glory be to the Father in memory of the journey that Thou hast made
incarnate in the most pure womb of Thy most beloved Mother from the holy
city of Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
For the petitions that I make today, I ask Thee to grant my request, for
which I submit these deeds in unison with the choir of Cherabim and Seraphim,
adorned with the most perfect wisdom, because, precious Child of Atocha,
happy in sending my supplication, I know that I will not be disapointed by
Thee and I will obtain a good death in order to accompany Thee in the glory
of Bethlehem. Amen.
Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli
The Church of Santa
Maria di Ara Coeli on the Capitoline Hill in Rome is built on the ruins of
ruins of a temple to Juno Moneta, on the steps of which the Roman Senate
used to meet (and where, by the way, Roman coins used to be minted, hence
our word "money"). According to legend, the earliest extant text of which
derives from the late 4th century, Emperor Augustus, consulted the Tiburtine
Sibyl -- the sibyl who prophecied from the town
of Tibur (the modern town of Tivoli) -- after he learned he was to be honored
as a god. The Sibyl prophesied that "the King of the Ages" would soon come,
and as she did, the Emperor had a vision of the Virgin standing on an altar,
surrounded by a bright halo and holding the Infant. A voice said: "This is
the altar of the Son of God." An altar to this future King was raised on
the pagan site and became known as the "Altar of Heaven" (Ara Coeli). And
of course, Our Lord was born during Augustus's reign.
In the 6th century, a church was built over the site. Over the ages, it was
enlarged, first housing Byzantine monks, then the Benedictines, and then
the Franciscans, who still tend the place today.
Inside this church is housed a statue of the Baby Jesus carved in the 15th
century by a Franciscan friar in Jerusalem, from an olive wood tree that
is said to have grown in the Garden of Gethsemani. It is said that the friar
ran out of paint when he was making it, and so angels came and finished it
while he slept. It is also said that when it was being transported from the
Holy Land to Rome, it fell overboard when the ship that was carrying it was
caught in a storm -- only to wash up on the shores of Livorno, at the feet
of the Franciscan who was awaiting its arrival.
Down through the centuries, the statue became associated with many miraculous
cures, and it was often carried to the bedsides of those who were sick or
dying (this used to be effected by transporting the image in a golden carriage
dedicated by the people of Rome just for this purpose; now a less ornate
carriage is used). Letters and prayer requests are sent from all over the
world to the church of Santa Maria di Ara Coeli to be placed near the statue
as a sign of prayer.
The statue is kept in the sacristy (a copy sits in a private chapel on the
premises), but on Christmas Eve, it is brought out and unveiled at the sound
of the Gloria, processed to a nativity scene, placed in Mary's lap, and kept
there until the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January). On that day, the statue
is taken to the top of the staircase outside the church so that Romans might
blow it kisses as the zampognari and pifferai (bagpipers and flautists) play,
and then returned to its private chapel. Nowadays, all of these purposes
are served by use of a second copy, as the original was stolen in February
Prayer to the
In my difficulties: help me
From the enemies of my soul: save me
In my errors: enlighten me
In my doubts and pains: comfort me
In my solitudes: be with me
In my infirmities: invigorate me
When others despise me: encourage me
In temptations: defend me
In difficult hours: strengthen me
With your Sacred Heart: love me
With your immense power: protect me
And, into your arms,
when I die: receive me.
A Corollary Devotion:
As Jesus is adored
in His Divine Childhood, Mary is venerated in her childhood. The contemplation
of the infancy of the woman chosen by God at the beginning of time (Genesis
3:15) to bring forth the Savior is an ancient practice; the Church even
celebrates her nativity on 8 September -- one of only three birthdays so
honored, the other two being those of Jesus and His Precursor (St. John the
Baptist). All of these were born without the stain of original sin -- with
St. John having been filled with the Holy Ghost while in his mother's womb
(Luke 1:13-17, 44) -- though only Jesus and Mary were conceived filled
Most of what we know of Our Lady's childhood is known through apocryphal
sources: the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary,
translated from the Hebrew by St. Jerome (A.D. 340-420) from a manuscript
whose date and origin is unknown to us, and the
Protoevangelium of St. James, written
around A.D. 125. From these works, we learn of her parents, SS. Anne (Feast:
26 July) and Joachim (Feast: 16 August), and it is with them, especially
with her mother, that the young Mary is usually depicted. We learn, too,
of Mary's miraculous conception, her having been dedicated to the Temple,
etc., and the ancients knowing these stories, too, built churches in honor
of Mary and her parents very early on in Jerusalem.
In A.D. 1007, in the city of Milan, the chuch "Santa Maria Fulcorina" was
dedicated to the "Mystery of the Nativity
of Mary" and eventually became the cathedral church of Milan. The present-day
cathedral was built (picture at right), and was later consecrated by St.
Charles Borromeo in A.D. 1572 and dedicated to "Mariae Nascenti" -- "The
Nativity of Mary." This city, then, became one of the centers of devotion
to the Child Mary.
One hundred and sixty-three years later, a wax image of Mary as a baby ("Maria
Bambina") was made by Sister Isabella Chiara Fornari, superior of the Poor
Clares in Todi, Italy. It was taken to Milan, ended up in the hands of the
Capuchin Sisters there, and was passed down through their Order until it
was given to a priest who then gave it, in A.D. 1876, to the Milanese Motherhouse
of the Sisters of Charity, in whose hands it remains today. As time passed,
the image of Maria Bambina image became rather decrepit and discolored. It's
"skin" took on a grayed yellow cast, so it was kept out of sight only to
be brought out on the Feast of Mary's Nativity. Then, on that Feast in 1884,
Sister Josephine Woinovich, suffering horrible pain and bedridden due to
paralysis in her feet and arms, asked that the image be brought to her bedside
so she could better pray to Mary for her intercession. Her wish was granted,
and her request inspired the Mother General to take Maria Bambina around
to the other sick sisters. One of these sisters was miraculously cured, and
two more sisters were cured in the next few months.
In January of the next year, the image itself was "healed" in a sense; without
human help, the yellow-gray cast of the "skin" was replaced by the natural
hues of flesh that remain today. Devotion to Mary spread through these miracles,
and on 31 May, 1904 the image was solemnly coronated by Cardinal Ferrari.
Couples began to venerate the image when they were trying to conceive a child,
and it became a custom to give newlyweds a small wax image of Maria Bambina
on their wedding day. You can see Maria Bambina at the Motherhouse of the
Sisters of Charity, Via Santa Sofia 13, Milan, Italy.
Prayer to Maria
Hail, Infant Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou
forever, and blessed are thy holy parents Joachim and Anne, of whom thou
wast miraculously born. Mother of God, intercede for us.
We fly to thy patronage, holy and amiable Child Mary, despise not our prayers
in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, glorious and blessed
V. Pray for us, holy Child Mary.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us Pray: O almighty and merciful God, Who through the cooperation of
the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the Immaculate Infant
Mary that she might be the worthy Mother of Thy Son, and didst preserve her
from all stain, grant that we who venerate with all our hearts her most holy
childhood, may be freed, through her merits and intercession, from all
uncleanness of mind and body, and be able to imitate her perfect humility,
obedience and charity. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.