The Virgin of Guadalupe

by Jim on 3 December 2005

The fiestas of Christmas begin today in Mexico.  The celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe starts on December 3rd and culminates on December 12th, Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (the Day of our Lady of Guadalupe – pronounced gwa-dah-loo’-pay).  This is probably the biggest celebration of the year.  Those of us outside of Mexico can easily under-estimate the importance of Guadalupe in Mexico, and so, I decided to write a brief introduction.

Juan Diego and the Bishop

Back in 1531, the Spanish Catholic missionaries were having very little success in Mexico.  But then, the story goes, a Native Mexican by the name of Juan Diego came to see the Spanish bishop, claiming that he had seen a beautiful dark skinned lady – the Virgin Mary herself.  She called herself Holy Mary of Guadalupe, and asked that a temple be built in her honour.

The bishop didn’t believe Diego at first.  But finally Diego came with an apron full of out-of-season roses.  When he opened his cloak, the bishop was startled to see a figure of Mary, imprinted on the cloak, just as Diego had described her.  

Diego's Cloak
Diego’s cloak, 474 years later

In the country that worshipped the sun and moon, Mary was pictured standing on the moon in front of the sun.  The bishop was convinced, and eventually all of Mexico as well.  This last appearance was on December 12, 1531.

I’ve seen the cloak, set in gold, preserved in the Basilica in Mexico City.  You can ride a moving sidewalk past it at the front of the sanctuary.  The new Basilica was completed in 1976.  As you enter you’ll see the words over the door,"Am I not here, who am your Mother?"  The Basilica is near the spot where Juan said he saw the Virgin, and also on the ancient site of a temple to an Aztec goddess.  As you walk through the gardens, you’ll see more statues and monuments to the glory of the Virgin.

On December 12, the grounds will be packed full of worshippers, people seeking miracles, protection or forgiveness from the Virgin, or just celebrating.  Aztec religious dancers will be a large part of the festivities.  Many of the dancers seem to work themselves into a trance as they leap and swirl in the courtyard.  Men, women and children will crawl to her images on thier knees to gain her favour.  People’s own images of Mary are brought to be blessed by the priests.

Here are some lines from prayers people have made to the Virgin:

  • Please help me in my time of need.  Please help C. to find peace of mind in his search for a job to get us through the winter…
  • Madre Guadalupe, Help me to recover my faith in the church.  Help me provide for my child…
  • Holy Mother, I Love and trust in your complete protection of My Family, Mother and In-Laws in all things.  Please protect My Children when traveling.  Please help heal me through your divine intervention and thank you from the bottom of my heart for curing My Daughter.
  • When last in Mexico, someone shared with me this Mexican Catholic rosary, prayed over and over at the death of a family member.  It goes something like this:  God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  Holy Mother, pray for us.  Mother of Christ, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of the Virgins, Mother of Divine Grace, Mother of Purity, Mother of Chastity, Mother Virgin, Good Mother, Admirable Mother, Mother of Good Counsel, Mother Redeemer, Mother Creator, Mother Savior, Mother All-Prudent, Mother worthy of veneration, Mother worthy of praise, Powerful Virgin, Merciful Virgin, Pious Virgin, Faithful Virgin, Mirror of Justice, Mystical Rose, Throne of Wisdom, Virgin of Virgins, Virgin of the Angels, Virgin of the Patriarchs, Virgin of the Prophets, Virgin of the Apostles, Virgin of the Church, Virgin of all the faithful…

    So much could be said of the popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico.  I could talk about the popularity of Guadalupe (or Lupe – pronounced "loo’-pay") as a girl’s name in Mexico.  It’s been said there are more that venerate Guadalupe in Mexico than there are Catholics.  I could talk about the shrines to the virgin that are found on streetcorners, in homes, in stairwells, in stores.  But I think it was said very eloquently by Judy King in her article on Christmas Holidays in Mexico.  I’ll quote a paragraph:

    The devotion to Guadalupe transcends any form of religious scope to become a symbol of Mexican nationalism and patriotism.  Guadalupe creates a bond, a sense of being Mexican, of profound pride in being Mexican.  Her influence crosses all borders and boundaries.  She transcends the normal division of social strata found yet today in Mexico, and her devotees are the rich and humble, the industrialized and the farmer, the educated and the illiterate, the religious and the cynical.  Her altar is a glitter of lights, roses and hope, the Mexican love for her is an endless hymn, the Mexican’s contact with her is hourly, she is the Mother of Mexico, the Queen of the Americas, She IS Mexico.

    Shrine to Guadalupe
    A picture of a typical shrine to Guadalupe in a market in Mexico

    Possibly related...

    { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

    Barry Kendall December 11, 2005 at 6:44 pm

    Objective historians are of the opinion that the Virgin of Guadelupe is baloney and that Juan Diego probably never existed. See here and here The whole despicable business is likely a piece of deceit by the Catholic Church to keep the faithful in submission. However, those who still believe in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin will not be moved by scientific debunking of Juan Diego’s cloak or of Juan Deigo himself. What would happen to you if you were to publicly attack Juan Diego or the Virgin of Guadelupe in Mexico?

    Dennis December 13, 2005 at 9:14 am

    Jim…good article. I linked to you here:

    Joe January 3, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Our Lady of Guadalupe is the mother of Jesus Christ. She prays for us as we are her sons and daughters through our brother and our God, Jesus Christ.

    No Catholic prays to Mary as God but as the handmaid of the Lord and the mother of Our Saviour.

    I have had a first hand experience with Our Lady of Guadalupe and I assure you that she is a most wonderful intercessor.

    You cannot be devoted to Mary without first being devoted to Jesus.


    Jim January 3, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks to everyone who has commented on this one so far. It should be obvious by now, since we have conflicting comments here, that I allow comments that I don’t necessarily agree with.

    Thanks to Joe for the Catholic perspective. He’s right in pointing out that Catholics differentiate between the honour they give Mary and the saints and honour that is due to God alone. Many Catholics would say they “venerate” Mary and “worship” God. The questions over which people would disagree is, is there a real difference and is the difference biblical?

    For another prayer to Mary, check out this common prayer, quoted here. These prayers should be familiar to Catholics, including lines such as Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that I may ever invoke thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. and For, if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge Himself, because, by one prayer from thee, He will be appeased.

    The Bible does not speak of praying to Mary, but instead tells us clearly that there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Himself (1Ti 2:5) and that He suffered in order to bring us to God (1Pe 3:18).

    Joe January 4, 2006 at 8:30 am

    “The questions over which people would disagree is, is there a real difference”

    Yes, there is a difference. To God alone we offer adoration. We acknowledge that the Triune God ALONE is our God and that Jesus Christ, God the Son, is the saviour of the human race through HIS death and HIS ressurection.

    We love and honor Mary and the Saints and ask them to pray to GOD for us. This practice (we believe in the communion of Saints) dates back to the teachings of Early Church. There are none more righteous than those who, after their physical death, have entered into eternal life and live in the presence of God.

    “…and is the difference biblical?”

    The Catholic Church is not a Bible Only Church. For the first four hundred years of Christianity there was no Christian Bible and no Bible Only Churches until well after the Protestant Reformation.

    A lot of writings were in use by the Early Church but only a few made it into the Bible when the Catholic Church closed the canon of scripture around 393 A.D., under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    I offer you this quote from Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Reformation.

    “We are compelled to concede to the Papists that they have the Word of GOD, that we received it from them, and that without them we should have no knowledge of it at all.” Martin Luther

    “The Bible does not speak of praying to Mary, but instead tells us clearly that there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Himself (1Ti 2:5) and that He suffered in order to bring us to God (1Pe 3:18).”

    I don’t believe that Jesus ever tells us to pray to Him in the scriptures either, but I do it because the Catholic Church taught me to do it.

    Jesus is the only one who could mediate our ‘salvation’. But when you pray for someone,….when you speak to God on behalf of someone else,…you too are a mediator.

    God Bless.


    Jim January 5, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Once again, I believe Joe has honestly and clearly presented the Catholic point of view.  However, we are diverging into a number of related topics that perhaps would be better to discuss in person or by email.

    First, however, I will clarify a couple of things, and respond.

    When I ask is the difference biblical? I’m asking a question that can be asked by Catholics and anyone who accepts the Bible as an authority.  I’m not asking if the practice is specifically in the Bible, I’m asking what is permissible based on what God has told us in the Bible.

    The proper place of the Bible in our lives and theology is of course tightly related to this discussion, but it’s a whole other topic that deserves more space.  Perhaps I’ll write a more substantial post or article on the subject in the future, because, as Joe would agree, it’s critical.  I do want to point out that most people I know that are Catholic or not would agree that we use the Bible in a larger context which includes tradition.  How those things interact is the question (which we can perhaps discuss later).

    For now, I do think we need to be careful not to leave the impression that there was lots of Scripture floating around before the Canon was closed, and that the books were somehow chosen at the council.  I don’t think Joe would want to leave that impression either.  The council confirmed what was the general agreement of the Church since the start.  The Church didn’t choose the books of the Bible, they recognized that they were God’s Word.  The difference is critical.  It appears that even in the first 100 years the books were recognized as Scripture (see how Peter recognizes Paul’s writings as Scripture in 2Pe 3:16).

    With the quote of Martin Luther, another topic is raised about the nature of the true Church and its succession through the ages.  Again, much too big a topic for here.  However, I agree that Luther recognized that he had learned of the Scriptures through the Catholic Church, though he disagreed with the current Roman Catholic interpretation at some points.

    We’re mixing together some issues here – I mixed them myself – the concept of worship and honour and so on, and the concept of mediation and prayer.  This leads to a number of semantic issues – if you think prayer is to God alone, you consider it to be related to worship.  If you speak (Joe used the term pray) to Mary and the Saints, you may differentiate.

    So when we talk about praying to Jesus or Mary, there are larger issues of what prayer is and what worship is.  Clearly Jesus as God never rejects worship in Scripture – because He is God we pray to Him, the issue is clear.  The Bible talks about calling on the Name of Jesus (1 Cor 1:2), and there is Biblical precedent for praying to Jesus (see for example Acts 7:59, Rev 22:20, 1Ti 1:12 and numerous passages about praying to the "Lord" which in context is likely Jesus).  (Note that most would admit that the normal pattern of prayer in Scripture is prayer to the Father – this is another issue deserving more space!)

    No doubt Joe would agree that he prays to Mary because the Church taught him to do so.  This assumes the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and brings us back to questions of the Bible, Church authority and tradition.  These really are the key issues, as Joe rightly points out.  There is a strange lack of mention about praying to Mary and the saints in Scripture, and from my study I think the Biblical writers would find it odd that we would choose to pray to someone other than God, when we had a choice.  Jesus broke down the barrier between us and God and made believers "priests" (Rev 5:9-13).  There is no longer a need to go through someone else to come to God (Heb 4:14-16).  All glory and praise forever belongs to Him.

    As I said, we’re in danger of getting hopelessly off topic.  This post was simply intending to report on culture in Mexico.  However, we can continue to conversation by email or on later posts that speak on related topics.

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