Feast Day of Guadalupe

December 12, 2006

Today, December 12, is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, Mother of God, friend of the oppressed.

I mentioned to my congregation last Sunday that we were probably the only Presbyterian congregation in the country named for Mary. (This is not quite true since we were named for the town of Guadalupe where the church is. The town was named for Mary.) Like most Protestants, and especially Hispanic Protestants, there is not much love for Mary in my congregation. They are particularly uncomfortable with Guadalupe, the apparition of Mary in the New World to the Nahua man, St. Juan Diego (canonized recently in 2002 by John Paul II in a cloud of controversy). She has become, for them, a symbol of the Catholicism that they or their parents decided to leave behind. I find this to be terribly regrettable and a major loss caused by the Protestant evangelizaton. Protestant fear of worshiping Mary is–maybe–historically justifiable, but mostly it’s based in an ignorance of how important a mother can be in a faith that is not merely based on brainy propositions and theological declarations.

I recently had the great good fortune to read an annotated translation of Luis Laso de la Vega’s Huei tlamahuiçoltica, a Nahuatl history of the apparition of Guadalupe to Juan Diego on a hill outside of Mexico City in 1531. The Huei tlamahuiçoltica, more commonly referred to by the name of its first section, the Nican mopohua, wasn’t published until 1649, more than a century after the alleged apparition. There are a host of fascinating and thorny historiographical issues that question exactly how the story of the apparition was sustained and related over that time span between event and publication.

The story itself is in the genre of gospel. In fact, the phrasing, the constructed series of events, the miracles, and the role this text has come to play in the lives of Mexican Catholics all argue that it has somehow transcended mere hagiography and has reached an almost testamental quality. It is beautiful, and it most certainly invites exegesis. I have seen Church-sanctioned liturgies that include passages from the Nican mopohua, a startling admission of this story’s centrality and impact.

To conclude this post, two vingettes about Guadalupe:

1. My academic adviser grew up in a Mexican Catholic household. When, in a paper I wrote, I suggested that Guadalupe was an “other,” i.e. distant, different, he shouted in his written comments to me, “No! She’s not an other! She’s a mother!” Got it.

2. Last Sunday, a younger person in the church asked my stalwart elder, a Yaqui man of 75 years, if Mary and Guadalupe were the same person. This man, a Presbyterian his entire life, responded, “Yeah. They’re the same. But Guadalupe is just a white Mary that someone painted brown.” Of course, he nailed the center of the historiographical controversies (and took sides). Was she an invented tool of the Spanish to evangelize Indians, or did the Mother of God remember her lowly beloved people in America? Or, is she more Nahua goddess, barely shrouded in the image of the Christian Mary?

In my semi-informed opinion, Protestants who reject the intercession of Mary are generally the same Protestants who are so concerned with ethics that they have forgotten the joy and beauty of our faith.

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5 Responses to “Feast Day of Guadalupe”

  1. Dave Says:

    Somehow, I never heard about the Huei tlamahuiçoltica. Thanks for the info.

  2. sheepdays Says:

    It’s a great read, very moving and suggestive. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  3. adan Says:

    Mary, Mary,

    I’m Honduran but have lived in the US all of my life. My parents and their parents were raised Roman Catholic. My Parents became Protestant soon after coming to this country in the late 60’s. Now they are Presbyterian Ministers. I am as well.

    Since I’m Presbyterian I’ve always been the outsider among friends and family when it comes to Saint’s Day’s and other beautiful-sounding Roman Catholic traditions. Virlgilio Elzondo, A Roman Catholic Priest from San Antonio, writes that if you are Latino and not Roman Catholic you have lost part of your identity. Although I have no clue about being Roman Catholic I somewhat understand what he means…it feels like there is something indescribable and mysterious missing. Perhaps it is the ritual aspect, the candles and reverence, perhaps it is the numerous personalties that the various Saints have (at least in mind they do), perhaps it is the communal aspect thsatsurrounds all the sacraments, who knows. Perhaps it is that I’m an outsider, maybe even invisible within a denomination that has taught Latino Presbyterians that we are to have nothng w/ la Virgen.

    How can we Latino Protestants include La Virgen in our Spirituality? I once asked a Roman Catholic friend “how would you feel if I had La Virgen in my Presbyterian worship space?”
    She asked, “where in your worhsip space?” And, that question has stuck ever since. “How can I respect, acknowledge, include, and recognize La Virgen as a revelation of Christ apropriately and yet be a Latino Protestant?” Will she be in the corner of my soul and worship space? by the door of my heart and the church welcoming and hospitable? Where is she for Latino Protestants like me?

  4. sheepdays Says:

    Adan, thanks so much for this generous and provocative response. Where is she? That’s definitely the question at Guadalupe. Some of the older people would be content if she were nowhere–she reminds them too much of Catholicism, a world they decided to leave. The younger life-long Presbyterians are not so sure. As for me, I’m not sure either. I wonder if an Anglo Presby can make room in his worship for La Morenita.

    I can tell you this: since my mother died (in 1995), it has been a lot easier for this Protestant to imagine that there is a mother in heaven interceding for me.


  5. […] I know that I sometimes miss comments that are made on blogposts that I don’t return to.  Because of this, I want to encourage you to check out the comment my colleague and friend Adan made on my recent post on the Virgin of Guadalupe. […]


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