Unto us a little girl is born; unto us a daughter is given. “The Holy Ghost shall come upon her, and the power of the most High shall overshadow her” (Cf. Lk 1:35). The Word will take flesh in her virginal womb and suckle at her breast. And her name shall be called Full of Grace, Glory of Jerusalem, Joy of Israel, and Mother of God. In Italy she has another name, one that the people love to give her; she is their Maria Bambina, the little Infant Mary.
The Story of an Image
It was in Rome, forty years ago, that I encountered the image of Maria Bambina for the first time. All sorts of people, and especially children, came to pray before her. I saw that that Maria Bambina had stolen their hearts. She attracted the most extraordinary outpouring of tender devotion, and does to this day.
A Child for Children
The learned and the clever, the theologically sophisticated and those who think that holiness has no need of warmth and no time for tenderness, are baffled by Maria Bambina. But children understand her. Raïssa Maritain understood the Child Mary perfectly; “The Blessed Virgin is the spoiled child of the Blessed Trinity”, she wrote. “She knows no law. Everything yields to her in heaven and on earth. The whole of heaven gazes on her with delight. She plays before the ravished eyes of God himself”.
God With Us
The birth to Joachim and Anna of a little girl “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) set in motion great rolling waves of grace that reach even to us, for she was born to be the Mother of Christ. “And of his fulness we all have received, and grace for grace”. (Jn 1:16). All the joy of today’s festival is summed up in the last three words of the Gospel: “God with us” (Mt 1:23). In the birth of the Child Mary, “those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79) see the first glimmers of the long-awaited Dayspring from on high (cf. Lk 1:78). Joachim and Anna rejoice! Abraham and Sarah rejoice! The ancestors of Jesus Christ rejoice!
Rejoicing Ahead of Time
Today, with good reason, we hear the Genealogy of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew. The long list of patriarchs and of prophets, of kings and of warriors, of saints and of sinners is transformed by the birth of Mary. We see all the ancestors of Christ standing on tiptoe to see the joy that comes to them from afar. With the birth of Mary they begin to rejoice ahead of time.
A Virgin Shall Conceive
This is the little girl who will give her consent to the Angel — “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38) —“And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). The Mother of the Messiah has arrived. Isaiah’s prophecy is about to be fulfilled: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).
Her Voice and Her Face
The cries of little Mary announce the arrival of the Bridegroom in the night of history. “The voice of my beloved, behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills” (Ct 2:8). In the daughter of Joachim and Anna we can already see the human features of the Word made flesh. Her face announces His. Speaking at the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello on September 1, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI called her, “Our Lady in whose face—more than in any other creature —we can recognize the features of the Incarnate Word.” The face of Maria Bambina already reveals the Human Face of God.
The Voice of the Word
The sound of little Mary’s voice is jubilation to our ears because it means that the voice of the Word is very close! Soon the Beloved will lift up His voice: at Bethlehem in the cries of an infant; at Nazareth as a little boy learning His Hebrew alphabet and beginning to read the Scriptures in the synagogue; at Jerusalem in dialogue with the elders in the Temple; on the Mount of the Beatitudes; in Galilee and in Judea; in the Cenacle and in Gethsemane; on the Cross, saying: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27); “I thirst” (Jn 19:28); “Father forgive them” (Lk 23:34); “Father, into thy hands” (Lk 23:46); “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). In the splendour of His resurrection, He will call another Mary by name, and He will ask Peter, “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?” (Jn 21:17).
The inarticulate cries of the newborn daughter of Joachim and of Anna announce all of this. And so we bend over the cradle of Maria Bambina, the Mother of God, and say to her in the words of the Canticle: “Shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely” (Ct 2:14).
The Heart of the Mother and the Heart of the Son
In thy face, O little Mary, we already see that of Jesus; in thy voice, we already hear His. Thy voice, O little Mary, is sweet to our ears; thy face is lovely to our eyes, for He whom the whole universe cannot contain will be enclosed in thy womb. He will grow for nine months beneath thy Immaculate Heart. Out of thy flesh and blood the Holy Ghost will form a human Heart for the Son of God, the very Heart that, together with thine, will be pierced on Calvary.
Cause of Our Joy
Thou, O little Mary, Maria Bambina, art the Cause of our Joy! Thy appearance in the arms of thy mother announces that the Word of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, will soon appear in thy arms. And thou hast but one desire, one joy: to give us thy Son, to draw us to Him, that thy joy may be ours and that our joy may be fulfilled.
Today we ask Maria Bambina, the little Child Mary, to chase all sadness, all coldness, and all fear from our hearts, that we, like little children, may worthily welcome, love, and adore her Son, her very Flesh and Blood in the holy and life-giving Mystery of the Altar. Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine.