Friday, December 12, 2014

The Virgin Mary And the Inculturation of our Catholic Faith

I hope I get this posted today, December 12, although I am starting a bit late.  It is just an observation the priest made at Mass this morning about the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. According to the story, the Mother of God (call me old fashioned but I still prefer the designation given at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon) appeared on December 9 1531 to an Aztec convert to Catholicism, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin,  as he passed by the Hill of Tepeyac on the outskirts of Mexico City and spoke to him in the native Nahuatl language.  Juan Diego reported the incident to the Archbishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga (A Spaniard, of course) who asked for some sign of authenticity.  Archbishop de Zumárraga was a wise and compassionate prelate who had no desire to embarrass the campesino but who also had to guarantee the orthodoxy of any cult that might arise from the alleged vision.  This was especially troublesome as Mary supposedly appeared not as a Caucasian but as a Native American and was dressed in Aztec clothing with her sash tied over her pregnant belly in the manner Aztec women dressed during pregnancy.  The Bishop had his suspicions because the “apparition” Juan Diego claimed to see resembled the Aztec Goddess of Fertility, Tonantzin (a name which means “Our Revered Mother).  There had been a temple to Tonantzin on the very site where the apparition occurred until several years before when the Spanish conquerors of Mexico had destroyed the Temple in an effort to wipe out the native Aztec religion.  The Bishop needed some sign that this apparition of an Aztec Madonna was authentic and not an attempt to revive the cult of Tonantzin.  Within the next three days there was a healing miracle but the Virgin went even further, telling Juan Diego to gather some roses that were blooming there.  The Roses were of a variety found only in Spain and not in the new world.  They had not been seen growing there before.  Moreover they were blooming in December despite the cold.  The Virgin arranged the flowers in Juan Diego’s tilma (native cloak made of cactus fibers) and told the Aztec to bring the cloak to the bishop.  When Juan Diego opened the cloak in the bishop’s presence, the image of the Virgin was imprinted on the cloak.  Even from the beginning the Church was divided on the question of the vision’s authenticity and modern historians have questioned the existence of Juan Diego.  The sources are scarce and none are contemporary to the events.  But that is not my point.  The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is extremely popular not only in Mexico but throughout the Americas.  There are some—including myself—who would like to see our national patronage changed from the Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception to the Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It makes far more sense precisely because she is American.  But what is really curious is to consider how the krazies would react to the vision if it where to happen today.  Mary as a Native American?  That raises the whole issue of inculturation and ending the hegemon of European culture and European style Catholicism for the Americas.  Mary appearing to a person in the political and socio-economic underclass?  That has repercussions for today as well.  Some people scream bloody murder when they see Christ or his Mother portrayed as Africans or as Orientals.  What about Mary—or Jesus—dressed in contemporary American clothing?  How would that go over for a statue in our church or a stained glass window?   The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe has always been a popular cult, not associated with the Traditional Latin Mass but with the music and dance of popular Mexican culture.  In fact, while the Spaniards had come to Mexico in 1519 by 1531 there were very few convert but within five years of the vision, almost the entire population had embraced Catholicism, albeit it in highly indigenous expression.  The tilma of Juan Diego is one of the great evangelizers in the history of the Church. 

1 comment:

  1. should take the time to watch the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe that Papa Francesco celebrated in St Peter's Basilica last Friday. It is available here:

    The Mass setting music was the Creole Mass which PF loves. This was such a vibrant and lively celebration. In his homily he identified himself strongly with the Latin American peoples and of course that is his heritage. It was about a 180 degree difference from the other papal liturgies as I have seen in the over a year I have been watching these. It was if he were making a point with this saying "This is who I am. These are MY roots: vibrant, alive, full of energy, almost wild. This is where the Church is so get used to it."