Whenever the Advent season approaches, our thoughts turn quite naturally toward Christmas and, with the urging of the Church, we rightly use the Advent season to prepare our souls for the coming of Our Lord. Christmas and Easter are probably the two most popular, and most solemn, Holy Days among Catholics and we rightly prepare for them with seasons of introspection and self-examination. Both Christmas and Easter are happy days, but in our culture, for a number of reasons (not all of them religious), Christmas seems to be the happier. It is the anniversary of the day on which, more than two thousand years ago, the Word became flesh—isn’t it?
Most Catholics probably accept that as a rhetorical question, needing no answer. Certainly, Christmas is the anniversary of the day on which we celebrate God’s becoming Man—the day on which the Word became flesh. How often have we heard that in sermons and homilies? Oh, there may be an academic dispute as to whether Jesus was really born on December 25th, or perhaps on some day in the spring, when shepherds would have been more likely to have been watching their flocks at night. But we have to settle on some day, and for whatever historical or cultural reasons, we have settled on December 25th as the day on which God became Man. So, it is just a rhetorical question, isn’t it?
A popular pilgrimage site for Catholics is the Holy House of Loreto in Italy. The Holy House is believed to be the very house in Nazareth where the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary and asked her to become the Mother of God. In the 13th century, the Holy House was removed from Nazareth (either by angels or by a merchant family named Angeli), and eventually found its way to its present home inside the Basilica della Santa Casa in Ancona, Italy. Some who visit the Holy House today are mildly surprised when they see the large inscription behind the altar. The inscription reads, “Hic Verbum caro factum est” (“Here the Word was made flesh”). The mild surprise disappears with a realization something like, “Oh, yes, of course. Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb when Mary gave her consent to the angel, and it was then and there that He became flesh.”