Once upon a time, a thousand years ago in the great basilica of Blachernae in Constantinople, high up on the ceiling near the Altar, was an enormous picture of a Palestinian teenager, that selfsame Girl who is such a lead-player in the Christmass celebrations. There she stood orans, Mediatrix of All Graces, as we Westerners would say, her hands raised in prayer, and in front of her womb, in a round circle, a painting of her Divine Son – his hand lifted in blessing. That image of Mary was called Platytera tou kosmou, the Woman Wider than the Universe. Mary was Great with Child; her Child was Almighty God. She contained the One whom the heaven of heavens is too narrow to hold. Can a foot be larger than the boot or an oyster greater than the shell? For Christians, apparently, Very Often. Mary’s slender womb enthroned within it the Maker of the Universe, the God who is greater than all the galaxies that stream across the firmament. The tummy of a Girl was wider than creation.
Then on the crisp night air came the squeal of the newly born baby. It came from the cave that was both a stable and a birth-place. That stable in Bethlehem, as C S Lewis memorably explains in The Last Battle, ‘had something in it that was bigger than our entire world’. The stable, like Mary, was great with child; very great, for that Child is God. And what is true of the womb of the Mother of God, and what is true of that stable at Bethlehem, is also the great truth of the Sacrament of the Altar. Bread becomes God Almighty; little round disks of unleavened bread are recreated by the Maker of the World to be Himself. As Mary’s Baby was bigger than all creation, than all the stars and clouds and mass of it, so the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is bigger than the Kosmos.
As you made your Christmass communion, glorious and loving Infinity came to make His dwelling in your poor body; so that, as you walked or drove home for the rest of Christmass, you were platyteroi tou Kosmou: broader than the Universe.
He spells Christmas with two s’s, you see. Not a typo. It’s what he thinks about the Mass.