Guadalupe for Gringos

By Fr. Christopher Roberts - Union City, Indiana, USA - 3 December 2016



The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe holds immense significance for those of Mexican descent, as it celebrates, among other things, one of the central icons of the formation of their national identity.  The fact that this feast day always falls in Advent brings with it two unique challenges. First, the theme of Mexican national identity can effectively overshadow the rest of the season of Advent. Second, the liturgical celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe can practically diminish the importance of Christmas in the liturgical year for the same reason. 


Despite these challenges, the shape of the Eucharistic liturgy itself for Our Lady of Guadalupe provides ample resources with which to situate this feast in the broader context of the liturgical year and Christian discipleship. These texts reflect Advent's twin themes of Christ's first and second comings so as to fit almost seamlessly into the progression of the four Sundays of Advent toward Christmas. They also provide entrance points into the dynamics of growth in living the Christian mystery.


At first glance, Guadalupe and the Advent season show obvious signs of congruence. In 2002, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a directory treating the relationship between popular piety and the liturgy. The document aimed at establishing a fruitful synthesis between the liturgical renewal that followed Vatican II and extra-liturgical devotions that originally had arisen in an environment in which the content of the liturgy was much more difficult for the average layperson to access. In section 102, the directory observed that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is particularly suited for the Advent season.


Elements of this relation are obvious. For example, the image associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts Mary as a pregnant woman. Advent prepares the Church for the celebration of Mary giving birth to Christ on Christmas.


Yet, in light of the intensely Mexican flavor that can dominate Guadalupan liturgical celebrations, clarification of the place of the feast in the broader context of Advent and the Christian mystery in general is very important for several practical reasons, especially in the United States. First, as Mexican immigration brings this feast more and more into the mainstream, those who do not have Mexican roots will be drawn into the celebration more effectively if the message presented is less particular to Mexico and more universal. Second, since immigration usually upsets the inter-generational systems for passing on the faith (e.g., parents and grandparents play a much smaller role in their grandchildren's religious formation because they live in different countries), those who have come to the United States as young adults who participate in the liturgical celebration of this feast often lack formation in the relationship between what they celebrate on December 12 and what the Church celebrates every Sunday. Third, as the children of Mexican immigrants become more integrated into the wider culture, it will become increasingly important to be able to articulate the enduring and universal importance of the Christian message of Guadalupe for those who are transitioning from thinking of themselves primarily as Mexicans to being Mexican-Americans or even simply Americans of Mexican heritage.   


In order to root the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the context of the season of Advent, it will be necessary to sketch briefly the principal themes of the Advent liturgies, focusing on the Eucharistic texts of the four Sundays. In a 2010 article in Worship, Patrick Regan contrasts the differing liturgical theologies of the seasons of Advent in the renewed Roman Missal and the older Roman Missal used before the Second Vatican Council. His summary of Advent's renewed texts provides a concise picture of the most important aspects of Advent in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Regan echoes the official liturgical documents by stating that "devout and joyful expectation" ought to characterize the Advent season.


He elaborates on the modalities of this expectation by explaining that the two fundamental themes of Advent are eschatology and preparation for the Christmas feast. As regards the Gospel readings for the first Sunday of Advent, the point of meditation is the second coming of Christ, which corresponds to eschatology. On the following two Sundays, the Gospel readings shift to focus on the figure of the precursor, Saint John the Baptist. These readings form a kind of middle point between eschatology and preparation to commemorate the feast of Christmas.  Finally, on the fourth Sunday, attention turns to the events immediately preceding Christ's birth. The other Sunday readings show a similar development. When it comes to the orations for the Mass, particularly the collect, there is also a progression from eschatology to the events surrounding Christ's first coming in Bethlehem. The first two Sunday collects consider Christ's second coming, while the last two zero in on preparing for the celebration of Christ's first coming. Finally, there are two prefaces for Advent season in the Missale Romanum of Blessed Paul VI. The first preface, to be employed until December 17, accents the second coming of Christ, whereas the preface for use from December 17 to the morning of December 24, speaks of awaiting the celebration of the first coming of Christ.


From Regan's scholarship, it is possible to formulate a rough outline. In the renewed liturgical books of 1969, the themes of the texts for the season of Advent gradually move from eschatology to preparation for the feast of Christmas. On the first Sunday of Advent, the collect, the Gospel reading and the preface, all point directly toward eschatology. Over the next two weeks, there is a slow transition in the texts toward preparing to celebrate Christ's birth until the fourth Sunday, when the focus becomes unmistakable. Two key turning points in the unfolding of the Advent season are the second Sunday of Advent and the 17th of December, when the second Advent preface supplants the first. In his article, Regan does not pay any attention to the place of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Before one can address where conceptually the texts of the liturgical celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe fall in Advent, it is important to identify which liturgical texts and when these texts are to be used in Advent. As regards the latter, the earliest place in Advent that December 12 can take is just after the second Sunday of Advent, while the latest is the third Sunday. The liturgical celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe lies somewhere in the middle of Advent's movement from contemplating the second coming to preparing to celebrate Christ's first coming. If it is to fit into the liturgical year harmoniously, the feast must show both of these constitutive elements of Advent.


The question as to which liturgical text is somewhat more complex. At least two different liturgical formularies exist, one for Mexico and another of the United States. The Mexican version has a special preface, orations and antiphons for the entrance and the communion. The American version revises the Mexican orations by excising specific references to the significance of the feast in the formation of Mexican national identity and omits the special preface. In addition, the American formulary provides an additional option for the communion antiphon that moves focus from the Mexican people to the economy of salvation more generally.


The most significant difference between the two Mass formularies comes with the readings. The Mexican formulary, which is the only one in Spanish currently in print as a liturgical book in the United States, has three readings, whereas the American formulary has two readings, for which there are two options from which to choose for each reading. This difference reflects the level of solemnity for December 12 in the respective countries. In the United States, the date is merely a feast. In Mexico, it is a solemnity and a holy day of obligation. For the readings, the American Lectionary provides the choice of Zechariah 2:14-17 or Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab and the Annunciation or the Visitation (up to the conclusion of the first verse of the Magnificat). The Mexican Lectionary gives Sirach 24:23-31 as the first reading, Galatians 4:4-7 as the second reading and the Visitation up to the second verse of the Magnificat inclusive ( Lk. 1:39-48) as the Gospel. Finally, the Mexican and American lectionaries use different responsorial psalms, Psalm 67 for Mexico and Judith 13:18-19 for the United States. While both sets of readings have their own particular merits, the Mexican texts will serve as the focus of this brief study, primarily on account of the fact that the American formulary has several optional texts and is therefore more complicated to parse.


The eschatological content of the liturgy of Our Lady of Guadalupe is somewhat less prominent on a textual level, but nonetheless important. From the beginning of the liturgy, the entrance antiphon draws one's attention to the miraculous image on Juan Diego's tilma by quoting Revelation 12:1, "a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon below her feet and with a crown of twelve stars over her head." This vision comes from the most eschatology-oriented books in the New Testament and looks forward to the final victory of Christ and the Church over the powers of hell at the second coming. It also bears a striking resemblance to the image left on Saint Juan Diego's tilma in 1531. Even if the congregation sings another suitable chant in place of the entrance antiphon, the very likely visual prominence of the Guadalupan image in the context of this liturgy ensures that this eschatological motif will certainly be present in the celebration of this feast. The final line of the first reading also sounds an eschatological tone: "Those who honor me [Mary/wisdom] will have eternal life." In this reading, veneration of Mary forebodes one's name being written in the book of life at the end of time. These eschatological accents blend harmoniously into the eschatological diminuendo already in motion during the second week of Advent.


All three of the readings at least allude to Mary being pregnant with Jesus, which places the feast firmly within the context of preparing to celebrate Christ's birth at Christmas. Typological interpretation yields a vision of Mary pregnant with the child who will be the way, the truth and the life in the first reading, "[i]n me is all grace of the way and the truth, all hope of life and strength." The second reading proclaims Paul's only clear reference to Mary giving birth and a foundational New Testament Marian text (Gal. 4:4). The narrative of the Visitation and the first two verses of the Magnificat used for the Gospel also present Mary pregnant and looking forward to giving birth to Jesus. One could easily imagine these readings taking the place of the readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent, which focuses on the events immediately preceding Christ's birth, with minimal thematic change. 


One of the challenges inherent in popular liturgical festivals is that while they may draw many people to celebrate an event like Christ's birth or resurrection or the apparitions and the miraculous image of Tepeyac, a tone of sweet sentimentality connected to the folklore of an event can overshadow the consequences that the event should have in the lives of the faithful.  For many, it is easier to make special tamales for the feast than to go to confession so as to be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion. In other words, it can be difficult to translate the lex orandi into the lex vivendi for popular feasts because the celebrations attract so many who practice the faith on a more superficial level. This reality is certainly a challenge for the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is also a challenge that the texts of the Eucharistic liturgy for the feast address quite well.


In addition to fitting harmoniously into the arc of the Advent season, the images in the three readings point to the fundamental progression of the Christian life from beginner to proficient to prefect that helps to root the feast in pointing the way toward translating its lex orandi into a lex vivendi. The image of a pregnant Mary as the embodiment of wisdom in the first reading from Sirach provides an implicit reminder of who her Son is -- the way, the truth and the life -- and that no one comes to the Father but through Him (Jn. 14:6). In order to begin to live the Christian life one must, through grace, turn to Jesus Christ as one's final end and begin a process of purgation. The second reading, in addition to speaking of Christ's birth, also treats Christian prayer, the regular practice of which is essential to moving from being a beginner to a proficient who is in the process of illumination. Through the Spirit, every Christian has become a child of God and thus is able to cry out "Abba, Father!" This confident prayer in the Spirit becomes easier as one progresses in the Christian life. Finally, in the Gospel reading, Mary gives an excellent example of a more perfect living of the Gospel in deeper union with God when, after consenting to the Incarnation, she immediately sets out to serve her pregnant cousin Elizabeth and sings praise to God for His greatness while confessing her own lowliness. The themes of these three readings articulate a forceful rejoinder to anyone who would question the relationship of the feast to the fundamental elements of living the Christian mystery. The universal nature of the themes of the liturgy can also facilitate a wider embrace of this feast by those who do not identify strongly with Mexican national identity. 


The texts for the liturgical celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe demonstrate that the feast is neither an interruption of the flow of Advent, nor need it be an exclusively Mexican religious observance. Rather, the liturgical formulary embodies a shift from eschatological expectation to preparation for the feast of Christmas in such a way that fits almost seamlessly into the days between the second and third Sundays of Advent. Furthermore, the readings for the feast propose themes that embody the three fundamental movements in the Christian life: initial conversion to Jesus (purgation), growth through prayer (illumination) and arriving at a state where praise of God and service of others comes almost as a second nature (union). It is undeniable that the liturgical celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe holds great significance for Mexican Catholic identity. A closer examination of the formulary for this feast shows that there is no reason that December 12 cannot also be an opportunity for all to enter more deeply into the Christian mystery -- not only in a way that is proper to the Advent season, but even in way that traces the fundamental contours of the Christian pilgrimage of faith.