In the son of the Virgin, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12), we acknowledge and adore the “bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41, 51). When the Messiah comes to earth to give life to the world, he is born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread” in Hebrew. He sleeps in a manger used to feed cattle. His mission is evident: to feed us. He will later say, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48).
At Christmas, then, we ecstatically contemplate the mystery of the Bread that comes down from heaven to be born in the house of bread and laid in a manger. Therefore, our worship of the baby Jesus on this holy night becomes a eucharistic adoration.
The celebration of Christmas includes the Nativity scenes we arrange at our parishes and in our homes. The figurines invite us to contemplation. It is hard to avoid imagining oneself going through the small streets, woods and streams. Who can resist mentally entering each little dwelling and following slowly the path of the shepherds to the cave and the manger that remains empty until Christmas Eve, when the baby Jesus is finally laid down? We find among the figurines some of the shepherds and the magi adoring the divine infant on their knees.
It is on our knees that we worship God — a gesture of humility at the presence of the Almighty. The Hebrews regarded knees as a symbol of strength; to bend the knee is therefore to bend our strength before the living God.
In this case, the Bread that comes down from heaven humbly sleeps in a manger. We cannot help but humbly bend our knees in his presence. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “Who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core.”
We are celebrating a Year of the Eucharist in our archdiocese. In his pastoral letter about this jubilee, The Work of Redemption, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne indicates that, starting this Advent, and in accordance with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, “we should ‘kneel after the Agnus Dei’ until it is time to go forward in the Communion procession. Kneeling is a posture of adoration. When we are on our knees, we cannot ‘do’ anything else! In this moment, we prepare to receive Communion by kneeling in the presence of Christ, already in our midst in the sacrament of his Body and Blood, until it is time to rise and join the Communion procession.”
When the Bread that came down from heaven was born, the shepherds and the magi adored him on their knees. Through the centuries, the church has adored on its knees the Lamb of God during the holy Mass. Let us continue adoring him ourselves, always on our knees.
Let us not forget also to turn our sight tenderly and lovingly to Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
Be passionate about our faith!
Northwest Catholic - December 2020