By Eli Pacheco
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe commemorates the Virgin Mary appearing to a peasant in 1531. This Catholic holiday, on Dec. 12, honors Mary, Mexico's patron saint who is also referred as the Lady of the Americas. It's a special day for Mexican Americans, too, because of their cultural and religious identity in this icon of Catholicism.
The pilgrimage occurs all over the Americas and includes festivals and processions, as the faithful carry images and statues of the Lady of Guadalupe to begin 24 hours of prayer. In this post, you'll learn more about the day that the miracle happened. You'll also discover more about Our Lady of Guadalupe, namesake of the renewed Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Who is Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Our Lady of Guadalupe is Jesus Christ's mother. She's also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe and has become an enduring icon for Catholics. She appears in many forms in the Catholic faith.
You've likely seen Mary's iconic image everywhere in the Americas. It's on candles, car window decals, and even tattoos. She protects those who pray to her, immigrants and unborn children. She's the patron saint of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and parts of California.
She's seen as God's messenger of solidarity in the Americas. Br. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, Franciscan historian and storyteller, reflected on this depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“None has had the impact on diverse nations and peoples as the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Br. Jack said. “A two-dimensional image of a young, pregnant woman, Native American rather than European or Middle Eastern, has become a multi-dimensional embodiment of Christian theology: The Holy One comes to us, meek and vulnerable – where, when, and as we are.”
How did Mary appear to Juan Diego?
She appeared to Juan Diego as the poor Indigenous walked to Mass on a Saturday morning in December 1531. Juan Diego, a 57-year-old widower, heard enchanting sounds on his path, like warbling birds. Mary then appeared to him out of a bright cloud, as an Indigenous maiden dressed as an Aztec princess.
In his native language, she asked Juan Diego to visit Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, OFM, a Franciscan bishop of Mexico. Her message: to build a chapel on the spot where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared that day.
This place became the Hill of Tepeyac, a sacred place where a miracle happened.
Juan Diego told the Franciscan bishop of the sighting, but the bishop didn't believe him. Mary appeared to Juan Diego again and requested that he gather flowers on the hilltop. She directed him to a place where roses grew –- unusual for winter, even in Mexico.
Juan Diego collected the flowers in his cloak and brought them to the bishop. As the roses fell to the ground, Mary's image appeared on his cloak, and the bishop fell to his knees. The image was exactly what Juan Diego saw in her first appearance to him.
It’s notable that Mary chose to appear before a common man such as Juan Diego. This reminds us of Mary’s love for all people, through a kind and benevolent God.
How is the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated?
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a day of reverence and prayer. This manifests itself in activism, art, faith, and feminism. Processions are happy and colorful, with singing and dancing, leading to special Masses. Some traditions include:
The Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe
On Dec. 2 or 3, the faithful pray the Rosary and meditate on Our Lady of Guadalupe's virtues for nine days.
An image or statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe is placed in a prominent location in the church and surrounded with flowers. Participants pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe with re-enactments of her apparition. Traditional Indigenous dances are performed. It's a public showing of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and belonging to the Church.
Parishioners pack churches late in the evening or early in the morning to serenade Our Lady of Guadalupe with las mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday song.
This marks the feast day, a Solemn Mass to end a beloved celebration.
The Dec. 12 menu
Food plays a central role, as does generosity in sharing it. It's an opportunity to show hospitality, especially to those who have traveled far. The menu can include:
Hot fruit punch
Why did the friars choose Our Lady of Guadalupe for the province name?
The friars chose Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patroness of their new province by vote. She symbolizes the value of approaching others with humility. Her values align with those of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM): commitment to justice and support for the oppressed.
The name appeals to a broad Catholic community. It's fitting for friars who give their entire selves to their community and the natural world in humble servitude.
What are the symbolic meanings in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe?
The image – engrained with no brush strokes on Juan Diego's cloak – contains several symbols. Here they are, with an explanation for each.
She stands upon an angel's shoulders, a spot reserved for royalty. The angel's wings look like those of an eagle.
Her face and hair are dark, much like the Indigenous people. Some would call her a mestizo, with Mexican and Spanish background. This shows that she stands for all people. She casts her eyes downward in a show of humility with the love of a mother. Her loose hair indicates her status as a virgin maiden. Her hands are folded in prayer, and her knee is bent as if in a prayerful dance.
Her rose-colored tunic is symbolic of dawn, or new life, and is in the traditional Indigenous style. Close examination reveals a pattern of four-petaled flowers. These represent the earth and its four seasons. Stars adorn her blue-turquoise cloak, the color of heaven and royalty. Her round medallion features a cross engraving, to show consecration to Jesus Christ. The black ribbon around her waist was common for pregnant women.
Sun and moon
Mary stands before the sun rays, indicating she is greater than any Indigenous sun god. She stands on the moon, again showing her superiority over the native moon god and the darkness of night.