Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Infant Jesus of Prague - "the whole of our universe rests in his hands"

In Karmelitská Street in the Lesser Town district of Prague stands the Church of Our Lady of Victory.  It's of quite exceptional significance, not only because of its architecture and artistic decoration, but in particular because it houses the famous statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague.  

Church of Our Lady of Victory

Infant Jesus of Prague
The right hand of the child is raised in blessing, while his left hand holds a sphere surmounted by a cross - the whole of our universe rests in his hands...

The Infant Jesus of Prague receives visitors from all over the world on a daily basis.  People come here to pray for help, healing or peace, and some come to give thanks.  

Visiting the church and Infant Jesus at Christmastime is a tradition...

The Church is beautifully decorated ...

A little history...
The infant Jesus of Prague originally came from Spain.  Legend tells that the Infant Jesus appeared miraculously to a certain monk who modeled the statue based on the appearance of the apparition.  
According to another legend, the statue belonged to St. Teresa of Avia, the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, who was aflame with a great love for the Child Jesus.  She is said to have given the statue to a friend of hers, whose daughter was setting out to travel to Prague.

When the Duchess Maria Manrique de Lara came to Bohemia to marry a Bohemian nobleman in 1556, she received the statue from her mother as a wedding gift.  When her daughter Polyxena of Lobkowicz was widowed, she gave the precious statue to the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites attached to the church of Our Lady of Victory in 1628.

The Carmelites placed the statue in the novitiate chapel so that the young monks could learn from the virtues of the Child Jesus.  At that time, the Thirty Years' War was raging though Europe and even the Infant Jesus was not spared when the Saxon army occupied Prague in 1631.  It was only after his return to Prague in 1637 that Father Cyril of the Mother of God, originally from Luxemburg, discovered the statue, abandoned in a corner.  To his sorrow, however, he found that the Infant Jesus had had both hands broken off.  At this moment it seemed to him that the Infant Jesus was saying to him:

"Have mercy on me and I will have mercy on you.
Give me hands and I will give you peace.
The more you honor me, the more I will bless you."

Eventually Father Cyril had new hands made for the Infant Jesus.  The gold coin invested in this was returned many times over, as the Child Jesus began to bless the monastery, the local people, and the whole of Prague. Miraculous healings were attributed to him, as was the protection of Prague when it was laid siege to by the Swedes in 1639.  In 1651, the statue was carried as a pilgrim round all the churches in Prague and in 1655 it was solemnly crowned by the Bishop of Prague.  This event is still remembered today on the anniversary feast day, falling on the first Sunday in May.

Church of Our Lady of Victory

Infant Jesus of Prague

The Child Jesus is dressed by religious sisters in various royal robes, whose color changes according to the season of the church year.  The white alb and royal apparel remind us of the defenselessness of the Divine Child and at the same time of Jesus' royal title and his divine almighty power.  The ancient tradition of dressing the grace-giving statue of the Infant Jesus is intended to bring Jesus closer to the faithful as a real human being.  It helps us to experience the closeness of Jesus and to express our love and reverence.  It is not a case of idolatry, for the statue is not alive and it serves only as a reminder and a means of enabling a spiritual encounter with the living Christ.

The Infant Jesus of Prague has been dressed in different clothes from time immemorial, and people know him best in his royal robes.  Most of his outfits are gifts of thanksgiving.  The wardrobe numbers around a hundred costumes, some of which are incomplete or unusable.  Some of the costumes can be seen in the museum, which the public can visit free of charge.  The task of changing the Infant Jesus' robes is entrusted to the Carmelite Sisters of the Child Jesus, who help the Discalced Carmelite Fathers to look after this place of pilgrimage.

The robes of the Infant Jesus of Prague are changed so that the color corresponds to the liturgical season, which is governed by the church calendar.  Four basic colors are normally used:

White - festive color of purity and holiness - for feast days and the Easter and Christmas periods.
Red - color of blood and fire, royal color - for Holy Week, Pentecost time and feasts of the Holy Cross.
Violet - solemn color symbolizing repentance - for the Lenten and Advent seasons.
Green - color of life and hope - for ordinary time (color used most often)

On the feast of his coronation, the Infant Jesus is usually dressed in royal robes with an emine mantle.  On special occasions other colors are used:

Rose - color of subdued joy - may be used on the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Gold - festive color - may replace other colors.
Blue - sometimes used as a festive color, especially for feasts of Our Lady.

Prayer of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Infant Jesus of Prague
O my Lord Jesus, 
we gaze on you as a baby
and believe that you are the Son of God,
who became man
in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Just as at Bethlehem,
we too, with Mary, Joseph,
the angels and the shepherds,
adore you and acknowledge you
as our only Savior.

You became poor
to enrich us with your poverty.
Grant that we may never forget the poor
and all those who suffer.

Protect our families,
bless all the children of the world,
and grant that the love you brought us
may always reign amongst us
and lead us to a happier life.

Grant, O Jesus, that all
may recognize the truth of your birth,
so that they may know
that you came to bring
to the whole human family
light, joy and peace.

You who live and reign
with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.