Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Evangelizer Par Excellence

Move over, Mother Earth, and make way for our real Mother — Our Lady of Guadalupe.

 A boy lights a candle in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Guatemala City, Dec. 12, 2008.
A boy lights a candle in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Guatemala City, Dec. 12, 2008. (photo: Eitan Abramovich/AFP via Getty Images)

We’ve seen things being promoted that appear contrary to the faith. It’s a sign of hopelessness. But not to be desolate. Our Lady of Guadalupe brought real hope and evangelization to the Aztecs and other tribes.

When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 and left her image on his tilma, her tilma became an indelible, eloquent catechism in art that evangelized the pagan Aztecs and Indians so that more than 9 million converted to Christianity in eight years. Able to easily read the abundance of signs and symbols on Our Lady’s image which used Aztec pictogram language, they quickly gave up worshipping the sun and the moon and other pagan entities.

The Aztecs had indeed been mired in diabolical doings. Horrendous human sacrifices to their demon gods ran into the tens of thousands yearly. A leading authority on the history set the figure of human sacrifices in 15th-century central Mexico at 250,000 a year.  Grzegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon present the gruesome facts in Guadalupe Mysteries.

But Our Lady of Guadalupe changed all that once they “read” the message she left on Juan Diego’s tilma. St. John Paul II calls this “an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization.”

 

Reading the Tilma

On the tilma Our Lady of Guadalupe appears in front of the sun. She stands on the moon.

The Aztecs and Indians considered the sun as their top god (we will dispense with the names of these that they worshipped). Their god of night was the moon.

Our Lady blocks the sun showing she is more powerful than their sun god. The rays become a radiant light, an enveloping mandorla that making known that she is a sacred person. She has come to show them the real God.

Similarly, by standing on the moon she teaches them she is more powerful than their god of darkness. At the same time, she reveals her royalty. She is a queen. The angel who seems to carry Our Lady testifies to this because the Aztecs and other Indians believed that only kings and queens and similar personages were to be carried and transported by others. And she comes not from this world.

Our Lady also appears as the woman beginning Revelation 12:1 — “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet.” There’s a Bible lesson they will later hear and learn.

Something else to keep in mind. Christian iconography uses the crescent moon under the Our Lady’s feet to symbolize her perpetual virginity or sometimes to refer to her Immaculate Conception, or Assumption. She first appeared to Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531. In the East, her Immaculate Conception was celebrated on Dec. 9 back then. Not until later did the western Church move the date to Dec. 8. So that’s another lesson.

Our Lady shows them she is a queen, but gives them another sign by the way she looks with her eyes focused downward. This is a sign of her humility as she acknowledges there is someone greater than she. The Indians would pick this up intuitively, because they drew their gods starring directly ahead with open eyes.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Civilization of Love, Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chaves, an expert on Guadalupe and Aztec pictograms, explained that for the Aztecs, “the sun and the moon pictured this way showed them a new harmony” because they were making human sacrifices to the sun so it would keep shining. “Our Lady shows them not to fear — the sun is ‘under her governance.’” They’re not gods. “She eclipses the sun but shows her importance before it…the moon under her feet shows it is under her governance.” She illustrates to them the truth of the universe.

Then there is her clothing. The mantle of turquoise or blue-green proclaims her as royalty, again a queen. Why? Because the Aztecs and others recognized that only royalty could wear this particular color. The golden border around the tilma was yet another sign of her royal person.

Combine that with Christian art which uses blue as the color of the Virgin Mary. It also is the color signifying immortality.

Also speaking to the natives of Our Lady’s origins are the stars on her mantle. They told them she is from heaven. She comes from heaven, she’s a queen — therefore the Queen of Heaven. Yet there is someone greater than she is because she comes humbly. And she emphasizes the message again because she joins her hands in prayer showing there is someone greater than she is.

To tell the Indians who this person is, Our Lady wears a brooch on which is a black cross circled with gold. ((It’s difficult to see this on a smaller image without using a magnifying glass.) That reveals she worships the God that the Spanish missionaries have been telling the Indians about. He is the greater One. The greatest One. Her fingers in prayer point toward this cross pendant.

 

More Revelation Continues

Guadalupe Mysteries and other sources pile layer and layer of the meaning these “pictures” and symbols have as they reflect the Aztec language. There is Mary’s hair, worn loose, signifying she is a virgin. At the same time, she wears a black belt tied with a bow. It indicates she is pregnant. Also placed over her womb there is a flower with four petals meeting at a fifth part in the center. “For the Aztecs, its four-petal flower symbolized the four directions covering the universe,” explained Anderson and Msgr. Chavez. “The center symbolized to the group Juan Diego belonged the ‘only living and true god’ and the titles given this ‘unknown deity’ were (in English) ‘Him for whom one lives,’ ‘Creator of people,’ ‘Owner of the near and close,’ ‘Lord of heaven and earth.’” When Our Lady speaks to Juan Diego of her Son Jesus, she will use these titles.

Then, too, the position of the flower on her womb “just below her pregnancy belt” identifies “her child as divine. The symbol …shows the Indians that the omnipotent God is reachable for any human being, and not only is he interested in them, he delivers himself to them: it is wondrous that this omnipotent God, deeply rooted God, no comes to find and deliver himself to mankind through his mother.”

To further make the connection, the authors note this flower “was the Aztec ideal of harmony and beauty, while the number five symbolized man meeting God. So the pictorial message, clear to the Indians of the time, says that the lady in the image is a virgin, who bears the true God in her womb.”

There different flowers placed elsewhere which also brought distinct messages from Our Lady to the Aztecs. For simplicity’s sake, another heart-shaped flower viewed upside down (as the native language’s codices would be viewed at different angles) looks like a heart and arteries attached to Our Lady’s mantle. Our Lady teaches the Aztecs the ritual human sacrifice of cutting out hearts, for one, is to be replaced by this “sacrificial heart,” a divine heart “through which divine blood flows, indicating the sacrifice and thus love of God,” revealed Anderson and Msgr. Chavez.

 

Our Lady Brings Hope

To a culture hopelessly stepped in paganism and diabolical practices, our Lady of Guadalupe enters to crush the devil and bring hope and conversion to the Aztecs. Not only to them, but word would spread to others throughout Latin America. As St. John Paul II reminded in Ecclesia in America in 1999, “The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole Continent.”

In a reflection on Our Lady of Guadalupe a few years ago, Marian expert Peter Howard wrote, “Wherever Mary enters, she crushes the head of the serpent and recalibrates a disoriented society according to its worship, its womanhood and its ‘yes’ to life!”

On a side note to the tilma along the same lines, he explained the Aztec word for “Guadalupe’’ which means “the one who crushes the serpent.” It’s a reference to Genesis 3:15 again.

In all the current controversy about that Mother Earth image that is seen as having pagan roots, Father Dwight Longenecker pointed out the tremendous difference between Catholic images and that image.

He defined, “An authentic Catholic image is the representation of a real person who, by God’s grace, has become remade into Christ’s likeness.’ Whereas “a pagan image is not a real person. A pagan image is an idol. It is either a representation of a demon or it is a symbol of some sort of spirit or demigod (which is a nice name for a demon).” Even if that Amazon image is a symbol, “we don’t venerate symbols…We don’t carry them around in processions…We don’t put symbols in the middle of prayer circles and bow down before them.”

Ah, but the answer is Our Lady of Guadalupe and the image with all its radiant message she gave to the Aztecs, many other tribes, and to all of us in North America too. Only she can bring the hope in Christ to us.

On Jan. 22, 1999, in Ecclesia in America, John Paul II said how the Blessed Virgin Mary “is invoked as ‘Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization.’ In view of this,” he also declared that “the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on Dec. 12.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

This article originally appeared Oct. 23, 2019, at the Register.

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