December 12th is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, unborn children, and the New Evangelization.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is unlike any other apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. First, it is the only apparition where Our Lady left a miraculous image of herself unmade by human hands. Second, it is the only universally venerated Madonna and Child image where Our Lady appears pregnant instead of holding the Infant Jesus.
The historical story surrounding this Marian apparition is truly fascinating. There are so many details regarding the time period and culture to which the image was revealed that combine to make this a truly significant apparition, not just for the Americas or for the Catholic Church, but for all of humanity.
In addition, there is a such a fascinating story surrounding the image itself and its highly unusual properties. All of this detail cannot possibly be covered in one blog post . . . but continue reading for a sampling and links to more resources!
THE GUADALUPE STORY
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in the 16th century in present day Mexico City, Mexico. Juan Diego saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin on the Hill of Tepeyac on December 9, 1531, which happened to be the feast day of the Immaculate Conception in that time. Our Lady requested that a church be built on that site, which Juan Diego dutifully relayed to the bishop.
After a request by the bishop to prove her identity, Our Lady asked Juan Diego to gather roses that were growing on the hill (which were neither native to the area nor in season) and take them to the bishop. Juan Diego obeyed and placed the roses in his tilma (or cloak) to carry back to the bishop as evidence of Our Lady's appearance.
Upon opening the tilma to reveal the miraculous roses to the bishop, there was something even more miraculous present in the tilma--a striking image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the image Our Lady wears the traditional garments of an Aztec princess. A black sash around her waist was a cultural tradition among the Aztec women that indicated pregnancy. All the elements of the image point to Our Lady as being above the gods the Aztecs worshiped, while at the same time showing that she herself was submissive to the true Creator God while being pregnant with the Divine God-man that grew in her womb.
By using only cultural symbols and no words, which the Aztec people could read as a codex, the miraculous image on the tilma spoke the truth of the Christian faith that the Spanish Catholic missionaries proclaimed.
A mass conversion of millions upon millions of Aztecs to the Catholic faith soon followed--ending the human sacrifices, especially child sacrifices, that they practiced. Many Church historians also connect this mass conversion of souls to the Catholic faith as heaven's balance to the massive number of souls who left the Church during the Protestant revolt, a tragedy which was happening during the same period in Catholic Europe.
A church was built at Our Lady's request on the Hill of Tepeyac to mark the apparition site, and today it is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage shrine in the world. Venerated in this cathedral is the original tilma of St. Juan Diego, which still displays the miraculous Our Lady of Guadalupe image. The image has been subjected to scientific testing to prove its authenticity and miraculous properties.
THE MIRACULOUS IMAGE
Here are just a few from a long list of interesting facts about the Our Lady of Guadalupe image itself:
- The image is proven to not be painted by human hands
- The image and fabric have miraculously lasted in its original condition for nearly 500 years
- The weak cactus fiber, of which the tilma was made, should have decomposed within 15-20 years of being woven
- No natural or animal mineral colorings, or paint, are found on the image
- The image itself is iridescent, which cannot be produced by hand
- Mary stands on a crescent moon, the same crescent moon in the sky on the day of her apparition
- Mary's mantel is a constellation map, the same constellations in the sky as on the day of her apparition
- These constellations tell the story of the Gospel with the arrangements of Leo in the womb of Virgo
- On her rose garment is a topographic map of the geographic location of her apparition
- On Mary's neck is a small black cross, identifying her with the Catholic missionary priests
- Over her womb on her dress is a four-petal flower, the Aztec symbol of life and deity
- In the image Mary is "clothed with the sun" with "the moon at her feet" as described in Revelation 12:1
- A doctor once heard a heartbeat coming from the image through a stethoscope over the womb
- The eyes of the image have the refractory characteristics of human eyes
- The eyes, when examined through a microscope, reflect the images of the witnesses present at its unveiling, including Juan Diego and the bishop
MORE RESOURCES ON THE MIRACULOUS IMAGE
View a video presentation which further explains many miraculous features and occurrences surrounding the Guadalupe image of the Virgin Mary below.
The Knights of Columbus have great resources on the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadulape, to whom the organization has a special devotion. Visit their interactive website Secrets of the Guadalupe image.
FEAST DAY CELEBRATION IDEAS
Many parishes with large Hispanic populations have a special celebrations and processions leading up to the December 12th feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Find one of these events happening in your local community, and join in the celebration! The strength of devotion of the Mexican people, true of most Latin countries, is simply amazing, and you will be inspired by the overflow of love for Our Lady.
Many parishes, in addition to having a special feast day Mass, will also host a reception or party in honor of the feast day. If not, hold your own celebration of Our Lady by inviting friends and family to your home for a traditional Mexican meal. Decorate your table with colorful flowers in bright reds and pinks, blues and greens, and together recite the prayer (below) to Our Lady written by Pope St. John Paul II.
You can purchase a framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as prayer cards to distribute, rosaries to pray with, statues to display, and many other Our Lady of Guadalupe devotional gifts to increase devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. You can also dedicate your home and family to her patronage with a home Enthronement of Our Lady of Guadalupe ceremony using a blessed image.
If you have kids, you'll love this simply adorable Our Lady of Guadalupe coloring and decoration craft that you can download from your computer and print. For kids and adults there are also lots of Gift Ideas to Express Your Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Hopefully the information in this article will encourage or renew your love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, to seek her intercession (especially for the causes of which she is patroness: the Americas, the New Evangelization, and unborn children), and to celebrate her feast day in a special way each and every year. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Pope John Paul II's Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Given in Mexico, January 1979, while visiting her basilica during his first foreign trip as Pope
"O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church!, who from this place reveal your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection, hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.
Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church; hold us always with your loving hand.
Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the Bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole people of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in the faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.
Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children.
Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.
We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth.
Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen."
This article has been updated and was originally published in December 2012. Copyright © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.