Catholic Meaning of the Birth of Jesus
According to Catholic beliefs, Jesus' birth opened the door to redemption for all. God's son Jesus was born to a virgin, assumed human form and appeared to the rich and poor alike. His birth to a human family, foretold in prophesies, was the first step in the redemption of humanity.
1 Jesus's Mother as the Perfect Vessel
In order to serve as a perfect vessel for Jesus, the son of God, Catholics believe that Mary was free from the stain of original sin. While other humans are tainted with the sin of Adam's disobedience in the Garden of Eden, Catholics believe that Mary was conceived without this sin on her soul and that she remained free of sin for her entire life. She was visited by an angel, who informed her that she would give birth to the son of God, even though she was a virgin and betrothed to a man named Joseph. She agreed to carry the child, trusting in God's will for her life. When Joseph learned of Mary's pregnancy, he was planning to quietly divorce her, but Joseph was also visited by an angel explaining that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. He agreed to marry her, also trusting in God's will. Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life. Joseph, Mary and Jesus make up the Holy Family.
2 God Born in a Stable
According to the story, Joseph and Mary made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. When they reached their destination, they could not find a place to stay for the night. Mary, after the long journey, was due to give birth soon. One innkeeper allowed the family to sleep in his stable with his animals. There, Mary gave birth to her son and made a bed for him out of a feed trough, or manger. This scene is often depicted in art showing the family, animals, angels and other visitors paying homage to the newborn Jesus. Catholics often refer to the lack of room in the inns in the town as a symbol of the importance of making room for Jesus in their lives and hearts. Since Catholics believe Jesus is God, his taking human form as a child born to a poor family gives his followers an example of the humility they must assume to enter into his kingdom in heaven. By taking human form, God has united himself with all humankind.
3 Jesus' First Visitors
The first people to learn of Jesus' birth were shepherds in the fields. Angels appeared to them telling them to go visit the stable where they would find a baby lying in a manger. They immediately made their way to pay homage to Jesus. Three Magi from the east also saw a star and followed it to the stable so they too could pay homage, bringing exotic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Groups of angels from heaven are also believed to have visited the newborn baby, singing praises to God. For Catholics, this story and accompanying images are full of meaning. Humble shepherds and wealthy magi pay homage to Jesus and are equal in his eyes, a theme Jesus will speak of later in his life.
4 Prophecies Before Jesus' Birth
Before Jesus' birth, scriptures from what is now called the Old Testament explained that a child would be born, a son, who would be called mighty God, everlasting Father. The book of Isaiah specifically says that a virgin will bear this son, and the family will be from King David's lineage. All of these circumstances match with Jesus' birth. Later in Jesus' life, he fulfilled more prophecies with his teaching and death, leading Catholics to believe he was truly the son of God, or God in human form.