DEVOTION TO THE CHILD JESUS
Devotion to the Child Jesus
Devotion to the Child Jesus is popular around the world. It is rooted in the belief that even as a child, Christ was ready to do the mission His Father sent Him to do. As an infant, He was both loved (by the Magi and the shepherds) and persecuted (by Herod the Great). He showed an example of obedience to religious authority by being presented in the temple. As a boy, He couldn’t wait to begin His messianic role as a teacher by conversing with the temple doctors.
Devotion to the Child Jesus is a way of honoring the virtues of Christ’s childhood. The image of the Child Jesus is an invitation to strive for the virtues of simplicity, innocence, humility, obedience, and childlike trust and confidence in the Father. The veneration of the image is, therefore, more than an external expression of our natural love for children. It involves a commitment to strive after the Child Jesus' special virtues.
There are many images of the Child Jesus that have been made around the world, but only three will be described below. Reports of miracles have been claimed through the veneration of these images, but the miracles were granted by God more as a result of the people’s devotion to the Christ Child than to the beauty, workmanship, or excellence of the images themselves. In fact, miracles were performed through the veneration of even those images that had flaws on them. God allows this to happen to remind us that it is not the perfection of the image that counts but the quality of our devotion to the Child. St. John of the Cross tells us, “Hence the reason for which God works miracles and grants favors by means of one kind of image rather than another is not that these should be esteemed more than those, but to the end that, by means of the wonder that they cause, there may be awakened sleeping devotion and the affection of the faithful for prayer.” Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book III, Ch. 36, No. 2.
Various Images of the Child Jesus
The Infant of Prague
One of the most popular images of the Child Jesus is the miraculous Infant of Prague, Czechoslovakia. This 19-inch tall wax image shows the Christ Child dressed in a royal robe, with a crown on His head, the globe (symbolizing the world) surmounted by a cross on His left hand, and with two fingers of His right hand raised in a gesture of blessing. The infant's robe is traditionally changed seasonally and comes in a variety of colors:
Green – at Ordinary time
Purple – during Lent and Advent
Red or Gold – during Christmas
White or Gold – during Easter
Blue – at Immaculate Conception and other Marian Feasts
(This color is used in some countries, such as the Philippines,
Spain, Mexico, etc., although not prescribed by liturgical law.)
The Infant Jesus of Prague
Photo by Szalas
CC BY 3.0 license: commons.wikimedia.org
The famous statue of the Infant of Prague originated in Spain and was brought to Bohemia by Princess Polyxena Lobkowitz, who received it as a wedding present from her mother. When her husband died, the Princess resolved to live a life of charity and donated the holy image to the Discalced Carmelite friars of Prague in 1628. The war with Sweden that followed left the city in ruins, and the statue was lost but found again after seven years in the rubbish behind the altar, with its hands broken off. The priest who found it, Fr. Cyril of the Mother of God, placed the statue in the oratory. Fr. Cyril later claimed that while he was praying one day, he heard a voice say, “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.” Fr. Cyril, therefore, raised the funds necessary and hired someone to restore the hands of the Infant, and since then, it has drawn many devotees worldwide. Reports of blessings and miraculous healings have come from those who showed their veneration to the Infant Jesus. For more information about this image, see Wikipedia.
The Señor Santo Niño de Cebu
While the Infant of Prague is known worldwide, an image of the Christ Child, similarly dressed as a king, may be found in other parts of the world. For example, the miraculous image of the Señor Santo Niño de Cebu is well-known in the Philippines. This wooden image shows the Christ Child with a darker complexion, wearing a crown on His head, carrying a globe surmounted by a cross on the left hand, and a gold scepter fastened to the right hand that is also raised in blessing. Unlike the Infant of Prague, the Santo Niño wears gold gloves, and His vestments do not cover the feet in front, thus displaying His golden boots. The Image has an extensive wardrobe of costly vestments donated by its wealthy devotees.
Señor Santo Niño de Cebu
Photo by Cofradiabsn
CC BY-SA 4.0 license: commons.wikimedia.org
According to the journals of Antonio Pigafetta, who kept records of Ferdinand Magellan's expeditions around the world, the wooden statue of the Child Jesus, together with a cross and a statue of the Blessed Virgin, was given by Magellan in 1521 to the Filipino chieftain and his wife on the occasion of their conversion to Christianity. See Pigafetta, Magellan's Voyage Around the World, p. 155. (The whole book is a very interesting read!)
The next Spanish explorer, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who came to the Philippines in 1565, attempted a peaceful colonization of the country, but his proposals were rejected. The war that ensued destroyed the city of Cebu, where the image was kept, but the statue survived and was found intact in a pine box. The Filipinos regarded the survival of the statue as miraculous and have since been very devoted to it. The image also survived the WWII bombing of the church, which the Filipinos also regarded as a miracle of the Santo Niño. Over the years, many more miracles have been attributed to the Señor Santo Niño de Cebu, which include the protection of crops from typhoons and animals, the control of epidemics, healing miracles, etc. The statue has been in the custody of the Augustinians in the Philippines. For more information, see Wikipedia.
The Santo Niño de Atocha
In Spain, the Santo Niño de Atocha is another popular image of the Child Jesus. Unlike the two previously described images, the Santo Niño de Atocha is usually portrayed as sitting rather than standing, wearing a hat and pilgrim’s clothing rather than a crown and royal robe, the left hand holding a traveler’s staff with an attached water jug rather than a globe, and the right hand carrying a basket of bread instead of being raised in blessing.
Santo Niño de Atocha
Image source link: commons.wikimedia.org
There is a pious legend behind this image that made it very popular, and it dates back to the 13th century, when the Moors (Muslims) were ravaging Spain. According to the story, the Moors in the town of Atocha would not allow Christian prisoners to be fed except by family members under the age of 12. Those prisoners who did not have young family members suffered most from this odd rule, so the women of the town prayed before the image of Our Lady of Atocha to ask her Son for help. (The image of Our Lady of Atocha was a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a detachable statue of the Child Jesus on her lap.) Soon, reports began circulating around town that an unknown child dressed in pilgrim’s clothing had been bringing food to the childless prisoners at night. The women, therefore, went back to Our Lady to thank her for her intercession and noticed that the sandals worn by the Child on her lap were worn and dirty. The women replaced the sandals with new ones, but these were worn and dirty again the next day. It didn’t take long for the people to connect the dots and think that the unknown child who was feeding the prisoners at night was the Child Jesus Himself. Because of this legend, devotion to the Santo Niño de Atocha spread throughout Spanish-speaking countries, including Latin America. Like the devotion to the Infant of Prague and the Santo Niño de Cebu, devotion to the Santo Niño de Atocha has produced countless reports of favors granted by the Child Jesus to His devotees. For more information, see Wikipedia.
Prayers to the Child Jesus
Prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Jesus’ name,
The Savior of mankind.
O hope of every contrite heart!
O Joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show –
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
Jesus, our only hope be Thou,
As Thou our prize shalt be;
In Thee be all our glory now,
And through eternity. Amen.
Prayer of St. Gertrude
Hail, most loving little Jesus, sweetest love, far above all created love! I greet You, and in the desires of all Christendom, I embrace You.
Hail, most charming little Jesus, noble Child of Nazareth, full rose of Jericho, blooming flower from Heaven! Draw our hearts to Yourself and refresh them with Your sweetness.
Hail, most lovable little Jesus, living Bread of Bethlehem, innocent Lamb of Jerusalem,
newly-born King of Judea! Receive us into the number of Your chosen servants.
Hail, most beautiful little Jesus, watchful Shepherd of the heavenly sheep, beloved fellow-Brother of all the children of men, delicate flower planted by the Holy Spirit in the virgin heart of Mary, bright daybreak rising out of the dark night to the joy of the whole earth! Drive away from us the darkness of sin.
Glory and praise be to You, tender, sweet little Jesus! From the depths of my heart, I pray and adore You because for the love of me and of all mankind You were willing to lie in the manger and suffer such great poverty and misery. I thank and adore Your tender limbs and Your tender hands and feet, and I praise the inexpressible love which did draw You forth from the bosom of the Heavenly Father, down to a poor and miserable stable.
Glory and praise be to You, noble little Jesus! I greet and praise You with the same fervent love with which Your mother loved and praised You so intensely.
Glory and praise be to You, most beloved little Jesus, sweet delight of eternal bliss. I greet and praise You with the same love which made You leave Heaven and become a poor Child.
Glory and praise be to You, most precious little Jesus, joy, and honor of Your Heavenly Father! I thank You through Your Own sweet Heart which You have revealed to the whole world through Your birth. I greet You over and over again, most beautiful little Jesus, sweetest delight of the Father's Heart, refreshment of sick souls. I offer to You my own heart for Your eternal glory and service.
Jesus, crown, love, joy, bliss of virgins! Your love made You the Son of a Virgin. May You be glorified and praised forever. Amen.