Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing.
You reign now in splendor with Jesus our king.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria
The veneration of Saint Mary is always tied to the worship of Jesus. With Christmas only three weeks away, the Church celebrates two great feasts this week in honor of Our Lady. Tuesday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation, will be followed on Saturday by the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is Patroness of the Americas. The two days are related.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception dates originally to the East in the seventh century. It was popularized in the West by Venerable Bede’s influential eighth-century English martyrology, which has the “Conception of Mary, the Perpetual Virgin” on December 8. The Church’s invention of this feast is a liturgical reflection upon the more ancient celebration of the Birth of Mary, which originated in Jerusalem as an anniversary of the dedication of a basilica in Mary’s honor in the first quarter of the fifth century on September 8. Churches in honor of Mary sprang up at that time sparked by the Church’s teaching of the personal union of divinity and humanity in Jesus, a doctrine that is conveyed by honoring Mary as the “Mother of God.” The spread of church dedications and feast days in Mary’s honor led to a lively practice of turning to her as our intercessor. Mary as mother of the divine and human Jesus is our mother, too.
Mary became, in a special way, the mother and guide of the Christian faithful in the Americas in the seventeenth century with the spread of the veneration of the image of her as the Virgin of Guadalupe, also known as Our Lady of Tepeyac. The sacred image of Mary is one “not made with human hands,” which was impressed on the outer cloak of Saint Juan Diego, a fifty-four-year-old Aztec deacon, during the last of four visions of Our Lady that he received in the octave of the Feast of the Conception of Mary in 1531. In the first appearance, Mary introduced herself to the visionary, “Know my poor beloved son that I am the ever Virgin and Holy Mary, the Mother of the one true God, of Him who is the author of life, the creator of men, of Him in whom all things subsist, of the Lord of heaven and Master of the earth.” Though we know that her image on the tilma of Juan Diego is painted, it has endured five centuries and has been the locus of many miracles and healings. Its greatest miracle, or rather, Our Lord’s greatest gift given through this image of his mother, who appeared as a young Indian maiden, is the conversion of the Aztecs and other peoples of Mesoamerica to the Christian faith.
Saint Mary has been the object of special devotion by the papacy throughout history. The conception of Mary enjoyed particular attention from Blessed Pius IX, who, in 1854, after consulting his brother bishops throughout the world, declared that Mary “at the first instant of her Conception was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, by the singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind” (Ineffabilis Deus, Dec. 8, 1854). Every since this promulgation, the feast has been known in honor of the Immaculate Conception. This year, Pope Francis decided to begin the extraordinary jubilee year of mercy on December 8.
Pope Benedict XIV added Mary in the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the liturgical calendar in 1754. On October 12, 1945, Pope Pius XII, decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be “Patroness of all the Americas.” In 2002, Saint John Paul II canonized Juan Diego and set his memorial on Dec. 9.
Let us all take time this week to be thankful for Mary’s special protection of the Americas and to commit ourselves to be her agents in the divine mission of love and mercy for all humanity, especially in these days marked by news of so much violence, even as the celebration of the nativity of her Son, the Prince of Peace, draws near.
A prayer to Our Lady:
Virgen de Guadalupe, Madre de América. Tiende tu protección sobre todas las naciones del Continente y renueva su fidelidad a Cristo y a la Iglesia. Suscita propósitos de equidad y rectitud en sus gobernantes. Protege a los hermanos de Juan Diego para que no sufran discriminación. Cuida a los niños. Guarda la unidad de las familias. Que desde esta tu Imagen manifiestes siempre tu clemencia, tu compasión y tu amparo. Te lo pedimos por Jesucristo, nuestro Señor. Amén
Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of America. Spread your protection over all the nations of the Continent and renew their fidelity to Christ and the Church. Bring forth purposes of fairness and honesty in their leaders. Protect Juan Diego’s brothers and sisters so that they don’t suffer discrimination. Watch over the children. Save the unity of families. That from this your image you always display your mercy, your compassion and your protection. We ask this through Christ our Lord.