Q: Archbishop J, which is more important, the Immaculate Conception or Guadalupe?
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the patronal feast of our cathedral and so of our diocese. This makes it very important for us in Trinidad and Tobago.
On the other hand, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe represents the earliest apparition of Our Lady in the New World (1531). Pius XII on October 12, 1945, acknowledged her as ‘Empress of the Americas’ and the following year declared her Patroness of the Americas. Importance depends on perspective: whether you consider the diocese, or the New World to which we belong.
Many events in the canonical gospels of Luke and John point to the special place Mary must have in the life of the Christian. The stories of the Annunciation and Visitation, the offering of the child Jesus in the temple and, later, his finding in the temple give Luke’s gospel a distinctive character.
The depiction of Mary and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross gives John a distinctive perspective. The son is entrusted to mother and mother to son.
As early as 100 AD, St Justin Martyr in his dialogue with Trypho, made the comparison between Mary and Eve, seeing Mary as the new Eve.
“For whereas Eve, yet a virgin and undefiled, through conceiving the word that came from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death; the Virgin Mary, taking faith and joy, when the Angel told her the good tidings that the Spirit of the Lord should come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadow her, and therefore the Holy One to be born of her should be the Son of God, answered, ‘Be it done to me according to thy word’. And so by means of her was he born, concerning whom we have shown so many Scriptures were spoken; through whom God overthrows the serpent, and those angels and men who have become like to it, and on the other hand, works deliverance from death for such as repent of their evil doings and believe in him.”
The implication here, as developed later on by Church Fathers, is that Mary the new Eve was like Eve before the Fall, from the moment of her conception. The doctrine remained in embryonic stage till the 12th century and was only formally defined in 1854.
In 1851,our cathedral was opened under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. The feast was proclaimed three years later in 1854. Although the feast had been celebrated in several parts of the world for centuries, it was the apparitions at Lourdes in 1858 that gave the title wider popularity.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Some 39 years after Columbus’ ships entered the New World, Our Lady appeared to a native Indian called Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac. The apparition is special for many reasons.
Mary chose to appear to a Native American at a time when the Spanish conquistadors were engaged in genocide of native people. The roses, which Juan Diego was able to gather during the winter months and, most importantly, the tilma gave the event tangible proof.
Like the shroud of Turin, the tilma is an extraordinary miracle. The material should have disintegrated long ago because of the fabric it was made of. Also, there was no known process at that time which could have produced the image. No paint was used. The analysis of the fabric of the tilma raises more questions than answers. There is something miraculous here.
The image appears even more profound when examined closely. Mary appears as a pregnant New World woman. This is phenomenal! The Fathers of the Church taught that Mary already is what the Church is destined to become.
In 1531, Mary was already incarnated as a New World person. It has taken 500 years for the Church to follow this lead and still we have not yet fully grasped the significance.
This pregnant New World woman became the focal point and bridge for the Mexicans to make their way to Christ. In the Old World, in 1531 Europe, 10,000,000 Catholics left the Church as a result of the Protestant Reformation.
In the New World, 10,000,000 Aztec Indians became Catholic because of the apparition. Something in the Madonna attracted conversion to Christ in astonishing numbers. The devotion spread from Mexico through Latin America, to America and the Caribbean.
In Europe, conversion happened because the king was converted: all the people followed the king. In Mexico, conversion happened because the Good News was announced to the people. They responded, accepted the Good News and became Christians.
Faith was proposed and accepted by individual consent. In the rest of the New World, the method of evangelisation was quite different: people were being burnt at the stake to enforce Christianity.
The story of Guadalupe presents a model for the Church in the New World, a model of inculturation, a model of evangelisation that has worked in an overwhelming way. Our Lady has been the most effective evangeliser in the New World, one whom we must emulate.
Our Mother comes to us under different titles, but she remains the same Mother of God. On the website, The World Apostolate of Fatima USA, the author says:
“When Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531, the first apparition actually took place on Saturday 9 December 1531, as he was journeying to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which at that time was held on that date, not on December 8. The Blessed Virgin appeared at Tepeyac Hill as the woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon, one of the traditional iconographic representations of the Immaculate Conception. Hence, at Guadalupe, she was proclaiming in symbolic form the truth about her holy conception.”
We cannot really speak about more important or less important titles of Mary, as if we are speaking about different people. She is one who comes to us under many titles so that we can all have access to her maternal protection and love.
Key Message: The many apparitions and titles of Mary are given for our sake, to reach the heart of the human and lead us to God.
Action Step: Reflect on your relationship with Mary, Mother of God. Which title or apparition resonates best with you?
Scripture Reading: Revelations 12:1–9