[By Christine and Cecilia Bryan]
The Church dedicates the month of December to the Divine Infancy. In actuality, since the image of the Holy Child isn’t seen until the first hour of the twenty-fifth day, much of the month is spent imagining him quiet in the Ark of the Covenant, already Incarnate, already active on our behalf, but not yet visibly dwelling among us.
When the moon went down at the break of morn,
And Christmas began, and Our Lord was born.
And Our Lord was beautiful to behold
The minute He was one minute old.
And He smiled, but of course He did not speak,
He was too little, He was too weak;
But He did do all that He was required:
He lay in the manger and was admired,
And was most worthy to be adored,
For really and truly He was Our Lord!1
When the feast of Christmas arrives, the Church loves to show us this Baby, this blessed Little One we can press to our hearts. But we do well also to consider His Kingship. Founded, as America was, as an “experiment in democracy,” as an emancipation from monarchy, we have never had a positive, tangible connection with royalty. We may not understand that form of government, or how the elaborate clothing worn by kings and queens was an attempt to manifest power and dignity. Embracing the Kingship of the Infant Jesus is often a neglected aspect of our Christmas meditations.
Here in Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel, we have a statue of the Infant of Prague, now robed in the violet of Advent, awaiting the golden glory of Midnight Mass. But why is this statue placed in our chapel? In Chapter 10 of The Loyolas and the Cabots, Sister Catherine tells the story of how the custom began:
In February of 1948, a great honor came to St. Benedict Center. A statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague was presented to us, blessed by the Archbishop of Prague, His Excellency Josef Beran. The statue arrived on February 22nd, the day the Communists took over Czechoslovakia.
The story of the miraculous statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague is one familiar to almost every Catholic. It is a devotion which has been precious to Catholics for centuries, and grows more beautiful with time. Through it, the Christian pays homage to Him Who, even as an infant and Mary’s child, was at the same time the King of Kings. The statue is dressed royally, in rich vestments for the King who was also the Great High Priest. The small right hand is raised in a Bishop’s blessing, and on the infant head is a tall crown, majestic and heavy.
The statue of the infant Jesus of Prague called forth all of Father’s priesthood. He blessed us with it, spent a whole day finding the best spot in the Center in which to place it, and he was not content until he had, finally, built for it an altar, with a baldachino. …
On Sunday, May 2, 1948, over 1200 people from St. Benedict Center carried His Infant Majesty in procession through the grounds of His Excellency, the Archbishop, to the altar in the garden at the back of the Archbishop’s house. The Archbishop received us, and listened to the promises of the St. Benedict Center students to the Infant Jesus, Who was so beautifully symbolized in our statue, and to the addresses which followed the promises. Archduke Rudolph, of the House of Habsburg, and Count Edmund Czernin, of Prague, were significantly among the speakers, significantly because both their families figured for centuries in the history of the miraculous statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. It was through Count Czernin, who was a member of the Center, that the precious statue came to us. He told us:
“If Prague had remained faithful to the Infant Jesus, all that has befallen it today would not have happened. Devotion to the miraculous statue spread all over the world, and yet thousands of people in Prague knew nothing of it, cared to know nothing of it. We have had Chinese come to Prague, Americans come to Prague, people from everywhere, just to visit the statue, only to be told by someone who lived a few streets from it that he did not know where it was.
“This statue of yours is exactly like the original. If Prague goes down before the Communists, at least the Holy Infant is here, honored and beloved.”
It was a magical afternoon, that afternoon in May, 1948, as we stood with lighted candles, singing hymns to Our Lady, with the statue of Her Infant Son resplendent upon the Archbishop’s altar, in the Archbishop’s presence. One year later His Excellency had placed us under interdict, and silenced our priest. And one year and two months later, over forty of our people knelt three hours on the lawn, in front of this same residence, reciting the rosary, waiting for the Archbishop to come out and speak to them; but he would not. … [T]hey waited for the Archbishop to tell them why they should be penalized for professing the doctrine that was at once the protection of the Infant Jesus of Prague, their own protection, and the protection of their children to come.”2
The original statue was brought to what was then Bohemia in the seventeenth century by a Spanish princess. She donated it to a Carmelite monastery in Prague. The following words are attributed to her: “I hereby give you what I prize most highly in this world. As long as you venerate this image you will not be in want.” The statue was solemnly crowned in 1655 in thanksgiving for numerous graces and cures. After the Thirty Years’ War, during a Protestant occupation, the monastery was plundered and the “popish superstition” was tossed into a heap of rubble. Years later, the statue was uncovered. It was finally repaired and re-enthroned through the efforts of a monk who had heard these words from the Infant King while praying before the statue: “The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you.”
From small beginnings, this devotion has grown to great proportions, so that it is almost as universal as the Church itself. All who approach the miraculous statue and pray there with confidence receive assistance, consolation, light, health, and hope. The famous novena, never known to fail, is ideally said for the nine days preceding the 25th of each month. In urgent cases, a novena of hours can be made.
This powerful Presence in our chapel reaches out to us:
Watch our great and beautiful King! We are His subjects. Tonight, here in Saint Benedict Center, we have His little throne room, and in it the Infant Jesus of Prague, with His royal crown on. Imagine this for triumph, as Jesus answers Pilate! We were in His mind, as He speaks!
“Art Thou a King?” asked Pilate.
“Yes. For this I came into the world. … Nineteen hundred and eighteen years from now, in Saint Benedict Center, where a light shines before My Queen and Mother, I will have a throne room all to Myself—hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years from now! Jewels will be on My crown, and girls and boys will come and kiss the robes of just anything that looks like Me!
“My Body and Blood will be their delight, and My Sacrifice will be for them their adoration in the Mass. They will call My Mother the Queen of the Angels. . . .”3