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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Devotion to
the Child Jesus

Adoration of the Magi, by Fra Angelico, ca 1445


 Matthew 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 their nation...

...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 joy...

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

The Infant of Prague (the original)

 
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 Infant of Prague (unrobed)

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.

Cebu, Philippines: The Basilica del Santo Nino, and sinulog celebrationsA 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.

 

 "Prayer 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 Amen.
 

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

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 needed.

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 of 1994.

Prayer to the Santo Bambino

Divine Bambino,
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.
Amen

 
A Corollary Devotion:
Maria Bambina

 
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 with grace.

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 Milan's Duomo (Cathedral)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 Bambina 

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 Virgin.

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.

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