By Fr. Tirso Villaverde

The Virgin Mary’s apparition message to Juan Diego

During the month of December in the Catholic liturgical calendar, the Virgin Mary again plays a major role in the celebrations leading up to the annual feast of the Coming of our Savior. In the Catholic understanding, it is only fitting that a special recognition and honor be given to the woman who was chosen and prepared by God Himself to be the instrument through whom God’s own Son would enter the world to bring the gift of redemption and reconciliation.

Depiction of the story of the Lady of Guadalupe

For this reason, all throughout the month of December, the Virgin Mary is again celebrated and honored with several feasts. The Filipino custom of Simbang Gabi also originated as a time to wait with the Virgin Mother as she is nine days before the birth of her son who is the Savior of the world. Among the other feasts in December are the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.

Although the Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is given more prominence in the Hispanic cultures, in particular among those from Mexico and Central America, she is gaining more and more popularity even among Filipinos. In fact, when the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 16th century Mexico, she was declared to be the patroness of the Americas as well as the other territories that were held by Spain at the time which, of course, included the Philippines. Today, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe captures the hearts of many of the Catholic faithful. Yet, what some may not know is that through the image that appeared on the cloak of Juan Diego, the Virgin Mary herself teaches how she must be understood.

Cannot be explained

First, though, the cloak of Juan Diego (aka his “tilma”) is a miracle in and of itself. The image of the Virgin Mary is not painted onto the cloak in the same way as an artist would capture something on canvas. In fact, if it were painted in the same manner as any other work of art, it would have deteriorated a long time ago. Scientific tests had been done on the cloak and it has revealed that the image is imprinted onto the cloak by a method that cannot be explained in human or even scientific terms. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Our Lady of Guadalupe has become so endearing to many of the Catholic faithful throughout the world.

Greater than the sun

More than that, though, the Virgin Mary herself again teaches through her image how she must be understood. When we look at the symbolism in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and contemplate them according to who the ancient Aztecs would have understood the image, we see a very clear and concise teaching of the role of the Virgin Mary in the life of Catholic Christians.

As we look at Our Lady of Guadalupe, we also notice that she is standing on top of a crescent shaped moon. She also stands in front of what is understood as the rays of the sun. Both the moon and the sun were considered to be among the deities of the ancient Aztec religion. The fact that the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe stands in front of the sun and on top of the moon was a clear message that she herself was greater than the sun and the moon. In that case, the sun and the moon were not to be adored and revered as gods because they were not the One True God.

Yet, unless we misunderstand that the Virgin Mary came announcing herself as a goddess greater than even the One True God, we must look at her face. Among the ancient Aztecs, images of their deities were always depicted with faces looking straight ahead. But, in Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary’s face looks downward in humility. In this simple gesture, she makes it clear that she came to Juan Diego making herself known not as a goddess among other deities but as a servant of the One True God who sent her. Furthermore, the Virgin Mary’s hands are in folded in prayer. If she was a goddess, she would have no need to be in the posture of prayer since prayer was only necessary for human beings.

Under her hands, we notice what was a maternity belt used by the ancient people of Mexico. It indicates that she is pregnant. If we think to the Book of Revelation, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego with many similarities as the pregnant woman about to give birth who was clothed with the sun and the stars and the moon were under her feet. In this, the Virgin Mary has brought a reminder of the new era that was brought to the world by God’s own Son, Jesus.

There is so much more to write about the symbolism in Our Lady of Guadalupe and so much we can gain from the story of her visit to Juan Diego. But let it be enough for us to remember that, as Christians prepare to celebrate the coming of our Savior, for Catholic Christians the Virgin Mary stands as witness that a new age has truly dawned with the coming of God’s Son. Together, may all people of faith prepare for that Coming.


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