Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Feast of the Entirely Perfect Virgin Holy Mary who Crushes the Stone Serpent


Our Lady of Guadalupe
Augustine DiNoia, O.P. [Magnificat]

Roses and an image. These are the central elements of the apparitions of Our Lady at Tepeyac — not words, or at least not many words, no message as at other apparitions which took place during the octave of the Immaculate Conception and thus during the Advent season, in 1531


The roses were a sign for Bishop Zumarraga who would recognize them as a species of rose native to Castile. How could the good bishop have failed to be amazed by these Castilian roses in midwinter Mexico, roses picked on a barren hillside and arranged by Our Lady. “There is no rose of such virtue / As is the rose that bore Jesu / Alleluia,” to quote a fifteenth-century English carol. The roses make us think of the expectant Mary, the Advent Mary, who directs our gaze to Christ and the mystery of his coming. The Advent theme is sounded: roses from a midwinter hillside signify the unexpected pure grace of Christ’s coming for which we cannot really prepare and for which grace itself must make us ready. “For in this rose contained was / heaven and earth in little space: / Res Miranda.”

An Image

The miraculous image of Guadalupe, measuring six and one-half by three and one-half feet, imprinted on the rough cloth of Juan Diego’s cloak has remained intact for 465 years; and, not only are there no brush strokes, but it is next to impossible to paint such an image on cloth of this kind.

But perhaps even more important than the miracle is the fact of the image itself. Mary says of it: “This sacred image will be known as the Entirely Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe.” In a 1688 work on the apparitions, Franciscan Fray Jeronimo Valladolid put the point clearly: “This Virgin as she is portrayed needs no writing because she is herself a writing on a piece of cloth.” The image itself communicates its message like a pictograph.

Prior to the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the language Nahuatl was written entirely in hieroglyphics. Helen Behrens, who studied Mary’s image by comparing it to Aztec iconography, points out that the image of Our Lady is a pictography which itself contains Mary’s message to us. The most important elements in the pictography can be understood in connection with the word “Guadalupe” which is neither a place name (as one might suppose) nor a Nahautl term. It has been shown that the word “Guadalupe” in fact corresponds to the Nahuatl “te coatlaxopeulh” as a Spanish speaker would hear and repeat it. It means “to crush the stone serpent” and clearly refers to the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, to whom untold numbers of human beings were annually sacrificed. Thus, the title of the image turns out to mean: “the Entirely Perfect Virgin Holy Mary who crushes the stone serpent.” It is the image itself that is powerful in overcoming the serpent (see Gn 3: 14-15).

Other elements of the image are also significant: the sun rays behind Our Lady show that human beings are more important than the sun god to whom they were sacrificed in the old religion, and the crescent serpent depicts the crushed Quetzalcoatl.

Again, we can discern a striking Advent theme. The incarnate Son, whom we expect in this holy season, is the Word made flesh, the perfect image of the Father. God sent us, not words, but his very own Son. Just like the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the incarnate Son is the divine message in himself.

So: the roses and the image are central to the apparitions of Guadalupe draw us into the deepest mystery of Advent. “By that rose we may well see / That He is God in persons three: / Pari forma.” The unexpected and astonishing roses remind us of the pure and unmerited grace of the incarnation. The image reminds us of the awesome immediacy of the divine in Christ.

How fitting it is that, in the hear of the Advent season, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, north and south of the Rio Grande, we all embrace “the Entirely Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe” as the Mother and Queen of the Americas.

The Black Sash of Our Lady of Guadalupe: New Life for the New World
Father James M. Sullivan, O.P. [Magnificat]

Perhaps there is no more perfect feast for Advent than the one we celebrate today. Perfect first because it is a feast of Our Lady. It was the Blessed Virgin’s singular privilege to bear the Son of God. It was because of her fiat, here “yes,” that the world would come to know its Redeemer at Christmas.

An expectant mother

But today’s feast is also perfect for Advent because of how Our Lady chose to appear. In the apparitions to Blessed Juan Diego in 1531, the Virgin appeared in a unique way. Out of all the Marian apparitions of the centuries, in this one vision alone Mary appears pregnant! The black sash she wears around her waist reveals this hidden-from-the-world truth.

Looking carefully at the image of Our Lady we can detect something under her folded hands. It is the tied bow of this traditional Aztec black sash. All of the native women in this region of Mexico would have worn this same black band to signify that they were with child. This simple piece of clothing was meant to set them apart so that no harm would come to them or to the child within them. Our Lady of Guadalupe then was pregnant with the Christ who was about to be born anew in the New World of the Americas, a world discovered just forty years previously by Christopher Columbus.

Being born anew

Today in 2001 Our Lady of Guadalupe is still pregnant with the Christ who is about to be born anew within each one of us this Christmas. This image of our Lady reminds us then of those two essential dimensions of his being born anew within us — of our living his call to be his disciple. These two spiritual aspects are intimately related to each other.

The first is that we, as disciples, are called to be as close to Christ as a mother is to her developing child within her. This maternal union is one which truly defies explanation. The mother nourishes the child with her own life. We all have heard that pregnant mothers have to refrain from smoking and drinking, be aware of their environment and their physical exertion. The slightest change can harm her baby.

This is the dept of intimacy that Christ desires with each of us — whether we are a priest or a religious, married or single. Each of us is called to be so intimately united to Christ that it also would be a union that defies human explanation. Like any expectant mother we too are careful of the life we live. We realize that our thoughts and actions can harm the new life of Christ who is growing within us. We desire, as Saint Paul does, to “become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature” (Eph 4:13). Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that Christ is formed within us by the grace of God through every virtue of our life.

Children of Mary

In order to enable us to have this bond with him, Christ reveals the second dimension of our being his true disciples — namely, that we too are meant to be the children of his own mother. Christ’s mother was made to be that “place” where all of his disciples would mature and come to acknowledge her Son as Lord. We would grow within her maternal protection and care just as Christ himself had, and thereby grow closer to him. Our Lady reminded Blessed Juan Diego on December 12, 1531: “Am I not here who am your mother? Am I not your fountain of life?” She speaks the same words to us today with the same assurance of her love and presence in our lives.

The black sash of Guadalupe is certainly a foreshadowing of the birth of the Catholic faith in the Americas but it is also a sash that the Blessed Virgin continues to wear today as she brings all of Christ’s disciples to maturity in her Son.

That is why Our Lady of Guadalupe remains the perfect feast for the season of Advent. For she foreshadowed not only the new birth of Christ in the New World of 1531, she also foreshadowed our role in being a witness to that New Birth in 2001 — by our own intimate union wit her Son and by our protection under her maternal care.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Ray!! Thanks!