Two important feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary take place during the Season of Advent: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (a holy day of obligation) on December 8th and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, on December 12th. Closely related to both feasts is the Memorial of Saint Juan Diego, the messenger of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on December 9th, which will not be celebrated liturgically this year because it falls on the Second Sunday of Advent.
The celebration of these feast days of our Blessed Mother and of Saint Juan Diego help us to enter more fully into the observance of the Season of Advent.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is our model in preparing for the celebration of Christmas by disposing our hearts to welcome our Lord more fully, both as He comes to us now in the Church and as He will come to us in glory on the Last Day. She is also our intercessor who asks our Lord to give us the special graces of Advent, by which our hearts are purified of whatever hinders both our Lord’s coming to us now and our preparation to meet Him when He will come in glory. A reflection on her feasts will help us to see how the Blessed Mother is both the model of our Advent observance and our intercessor for the strong graces of the Season of Advent in our lives.
The Immaculate Conception
On December 8th, we recall and celebrate how God preserved the Virgin Mary, from the very moment of her conception, from every stain of sin. In a mysterious and wonderful way, God permitted our Blessed Mother to receive, in anticipation, the grace of eternal salvation which her Divine Son would win for all mankind by His Passion and Death. In this way, the Virgin Mary was prepared to receive and fulfill her call to be the Mother of God; the Virgin Mary’s heart was totally pure from her conception and thus her womb was the fitting vessel in which God the Son could be received into the world. The purity of her heart is a sign to us of how our hearts must become pure, with the help of God’s grace, in order that we may welcome our Lord ever more fully into our lives and be ready to meet Him at His Final Coming.
Mary’s Immaculate Heart is filled with love of us who are called to be true sons and daughters of God in her Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. When He was about to die on the Cross, Jesus gave us to His mother, as our mother, even as He entrusted her into our hands through the Apostle John. As our Blessed Mother was totally one in heart with our Lord Jesus in His saving mission, so she continues to exercise her maternal care for all who, through Baptism, have come to life in her Divine Son and, indeed, for all mankind for whom her Son died and rose from the dead and whom He desires to come to life in Him. Our Blessed Mother both teaches us the truth that God became man for our eternal salvation and leads us to experience the same truth through Christ’s love of us in the Church.
Saint Juan Diego
On December 9th, we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Juan Diego. Juan Diego was a native American of what is today Mexico, who had received the gift of faith and baptism through the ministry of the Spanish Franciscan friars. On December 9, 1531, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at that time in the Spanish Empire, he was on his way to his parish church for the celebration of the feast. He had a somewhat long walk from the home of his elderly uncle, Juan Bernardino, to the parish church. As he approached Tepeyac Hill, which was along the way, our Blessed Mother appeared to him and asked him to be her messenger in carrying out a special mission of love on behalf of his people and all the peoples of the American continent.
The mission was to have Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, O.F.M., First Bishop of Mexico, build a chapel on Tepeyac Hill, in which she might show to all peoples God’s mercy and love in her Divine Son. In her appearance, our Blessed Mother was with child. She appeared to Juan Diego three more times and once to his ailing uncle to whom she brought healing and to whom she announced her name: the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe (Handbook on Guadalupe, New Bedford, MA: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 2001, p. 204). At her fourth appearance, on December 12th, God miraculously supplied, through her, roses in the middle of winter and on a rocky and thorn-infested hill, as a sign of the truth of Saint Juan Diego’s messages to the Bishop. Through Our Lady, God also worked an even more wonderful miracle.
When she had arranged the flowers in the mantle (tilma or ayate) of Juan Diego, she instructed him not to show the flowers to anyone but the Bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his mantle and the most beautiful flowers cascaded before the Bishop, the Bishop witnessed a miracle which we continue to witness today.
God imprinted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s cactus-cloth mantle. There is no human explanation of how the image is imprinted. The cactus-cloth mantle which should have disintegrated within thirty to forty years remains intact today, so that we can still gaze upon the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is, by a very special title, our mother in America.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
We celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, the day which marks both her last appearance to Saint Juan Diego, with the miracle of the roses and of the sacred image, and her appearance to Juan Bernardino. On her feast day, the Mother of God invites us anew, as she has faithfully done since her appearances from December 9th to 12th in 1531, to know the mystery of God’s mercy and love in our lives by coming to know and love her Divine Son. Her words to Juan Diego in 1531 are her words to us today:
Know, know for sure, my dearest, littlest, and youngest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives…. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me (Handbook on Guadalupe, p. 194).
In her maternal love, Our Lady of Guadalupe wants, most of all, to show us how much God loves us in Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate in her womb. She draws our hearts, which are frequently beset by fear and doubt and sin, to her Immaculate Heart, so that we, with her, may place our hearts into the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, the only source of our joy and peace, of our healing and strength.
In a very special way, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe uncovers for us what the Coming of our Lord means for us in America. It is our Blessed Mother who teaches us how immeasurably God loves us, treasures every human life, without exception or boundary. She draws us to Jesus Christ, her Divine Son, so that, through our union of heart with His Sacred Heart, we may know directly in our lives, especially through the Holy Eucharist, the love of God and become, with her, bearers of God’s love to all our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable and those in most need.
May the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe draw us closer to Christ Who comes to us in the Church and Who will come to us in glory at the end of time. As we honor the Mother of God, let us make our hearts one with her Immaculate Heart, so that we, with her, may make our hearts one with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In a special way, may our celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the title under which the Blessed Virgin Mary is the patroness of our nation, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, inspire in us a new enthusiasm and a new energy to be the heralds of God’s mercy and love to all our brothers and sisters. With the Mother of God, may we become ever more generous and tireless in safeguarding and fostering every human life, called into being by God out of His immense love and redeemed by the outpouring of the life of His only-begotten Son Who became man for us and for our eternal salvation. So may we, day by day, with the Mother of God, await faithfully the Coming of the Lord.
Editor’s Note: Cdl. Burke’s article originally appeared on CE on Dec. 11, 2007 as Feasts of Mary and Our Advent Observance.
Statue of the Immaculate Conception, Jansa Gora Monastery/Shutterstock