Five-year-old Nicole Vicente holds a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be blessed during a Dec. 11 Mass celebrating the anniversary of the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Mass was celebrated at St. Joseph Church in Penfield, N.Y. CNS photo/Mike Crupi

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the star of the new evangelization

By 
  • December 25, 2015

It was a good idea that didn’t work. Before the reform of the Roman calendar in the 1960s, the octave day of Christmas — Jan. 1 — was celebrated as the feast of the circumcision and holy name, as Jewish boys were named on the eighth day after birth. There was a minor feast of the divine maternity of Mary in the calendar on Oct. 11, which St. John XXIII chose for the opening of Vatican II, and now serves as his feast day.

The calendar reform took the feast of the divine maternity from October, elevated it to a solemnity and made it the octave feast of Christmas, so that the Christmas octave now concludes on Jan. 1 with the solemn feast of Mary, Mother of God. It makes good historical, theological and liturgical sense. When the Church wanted to defend the divinity of Jesus Christ, the best formulation it could find, pronounced at the Council of Ephesus in 431, was that Mary is the “Mother of God.” So in a sense the octave feast of Christmas is both the consequence of Christmas and its protector. It confirms that Mary gave birth to Jesus, a divine person with two natures.

Yet for all the wisdom behind it, it simply doesn’t work. Jan. 1 is just New Year’s Day and no matter how much earnest effort is put into emphasizing that we don’t go to Mass because it’s New Year’s Day, but because it is a major Marian feast, in most parishes people speak of Mass for New Year’s Day.

The elevation of the feast of Mary, Mother of God, came too late. The piety of the Catholic faithful honours Mary at her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption, at the Annunciation, which is properly a feast of the Lord, and at various feasts of local significance. So Jan. 1 limps along, the ugly stepsister of the holy days, and an afterthought to the major Marian feasts of December, the Immaculate Conception and more recently, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I might suggest then a way to honour the Blessed Mother this Jan. 1 might be to watch the recent documentary produced by the Knights of Columbus and Salt + Light, Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message. It’s extraordinarily well done, written and directed by Salt + Light alumnus David Naglieri, and featuring narration by Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ in English, and tenor Placido Domingo in Spanish.

One of the major Catholic events of 2016 will be the pilgrimage of the first Latin American Pope to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. When Pope Francis arrives in February, he will be a pilgrim at the most visited pilgrim site in the Christian world. More people come to Guadalupe every year than visit either Rome or Jerusalem.

At Lourdes, the Blessed Mother confirmed her Immaculate Conception. At Fatima, she spoke of her Immaculate Heart. At Guadalupe, she spoke simply of herself as the Mother of the one true God, as if confirming on the 11th centenary of Ephesus the doctrine of that council. Appearing to St. Juan Diego, the lady of Guadalupe hearkened back to the first promise of a redeemer made in Genesis, describing herself as the one who would crush the head of the serpent.

The Guadalupe documentary gives serious treatment to scientific impossibility of the image on Juan Diego’s tilma. The image, by strict scientific standards, simply cannot exist in the complexity with which it does, nor should it have survived across the centuries. There is no explanation, aside from faith confirmed by miracles.

Yet the power of the documentary is its analysis of the apparitions in the history of evangelization. Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight, comments that, until that point, the history of evangelization of new lands began with the leaders. First convert the king, and then he would enable evangelization of his people. The astonishing conversion of Mexico after the apparitions in 1531, with some eight million baptisms in the subsequent seven years, was the reverse. It was an evangelization that began with the ordinary people, led by a most ordinary holy man, Juan Diego.

When Pope Francis visits Mexico City in February, he will lift up the Virgin of Guadalupe as the star of the new evangelization, to use the title St. John Paul II gave her. The brutality of Aztec worship no longer plagues Latin America, but the serpents of secularism are abundant. To deepen devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe — the miracle and the message — honours her feast and will serve as good preparation for the Holy Father’s second visit to North America. A blessed feast of Mary, Mother of God!

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium, a Canadian magazine of faith in our common life: www.conviviummagazine.ca.)

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