TSD 36: Our All-American Lady

The Immaculate Conception and Guadalupe

I’m going to a state park for a 24-hour guys’ getaway this evening, and my schedule’s jam-packed, so this’ll be a shorter one. Pray that our trip will be safe and spiritually fruitful!

Image result for cook forest state park

Cook Forest includes some of the last and finest old growth pines in the eastern United States. The height and majesty of the evergreens has earned it the moniker “Forest Cathedral.”

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday in Advent. The readings are Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-9, and Matthew 3:1-12.

There’s a bit of whiplash in the readings this week. We begin the the vision of perfect and peaceful coexistence in the new dispensation described in Isaiah:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.

But in the Gospel we have John the Baptist’s dire warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees:

Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

We can bring these together, of course, we observing that it is in Christ that the peace of Isaiah is made possible, but those who reject Him also reject that peace—both now and, if not repented of, eternally.

Can’t talk about this selection from Isaiah without including one of Pennsylvania Quaker Edward Hicks’s more than sixty versions of The Peaceable Kingdom. The man did not know when to stop.

Monday, December 9, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the new calendar, this solemnity is displaced to Monday when it falls on a Sunday. In all American dioceses, it is not a holy day of obligation when it is bumped to Monday. We’ll cover the feast in greater depth in the Extraordinary Form section.

Thursday, December 12, is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The 1531 story of St. Juan Diego, his visions, his tilma, and so on are firmly ensconced in the imagination of many American Catholics; we won’t rehash the whole thing here. To me, this should be the Marian apparition that American Catholics primarily venerate and identify with: The name and image of Guadalupe should be one hat we rally under, in solidarity with fellow Catholics across the continent.

December 12 is said to be the date of the late appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego, hence the date of the feast. The Virgin was celebrated in early December in Mexico almost from the time of the apparitions, though a formal Mass and Office weren’t approved by Rome until the 1750s. Approbation of the devotion continued to accumulate at the Holy See until, finally, Pope John Paul II added the feast to the General Roman Calendar in 1999, with the rank of a solemnity in the Americas.

A word on the status of this feast in Extraordinary Form communities: There are three occasions when these groups follow the diocesan (i.e. current) calendar rather than their universal (i.e. 1962) calendar: the primary patron of the diocese, the feast of the dedication of the diocesan cathedral, and local holy days of obligation. Since Our Lady of Guadalupe was not on the General Roman Calendar in 1962, in most places this feast will not be celebrated in the liturgy. However, there are several American dioceses that have taken Our Lady of Guadalupe as their primary patron: In these places, the feast will be celebrated. (The status of feasts established after 1962 is an ongoing source of vexation for me when I think about the dueling calendars.)

The inauguration of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. By Manuel Arellano, c. 1709.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This celebration supersedes the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1962 calendar. The “Epistle” is Proverbs 8:22-35 and the Gospel is Luke 1:26-28 (the Annunciation: “Hail, full of grace”).

The reading from Proverbs is written from the perspective of Wisdom personified, and is beautiful and mystical, giving us a cosmic view of Mary’s utterly unique role in God’s creation and salvific plan:

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made.

While the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was only officially defined in 1854, its roots go back many centuries. On the roots and controversies of the dogma, the Wikipedia and Catholic Encyclopedia articles on the topic are quite extensive. (As usual, the Wiki article borrows liberally from the CE one.) So let’s add a few words on the history of the feast.

The “Conception of Mary” had been celebrated in the East since at least the eighth century but, as the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, that feast and our current one “are not identical in their object.” While the notion of Mary’s perpetual sinlessness has roots that predate that feast, the early celebration only commemorated Mary’s creation, not her perfection. Only centuries later (c. 11th century) did a similar feast appear in Anglo-Saxon monasteries: “The Normans on their arrival in England were disposed to treat in a contemptuous fashion English liturgical observances; to them this feast must have appeared specifically English, a product of insular simplicity and ignorance.” As much as one hates to say it, the English turned out to be on to something.

The spread of the devotion inaugurated centuries of controversy over the dogma and its definition, which we won’t cover here. Even as the truth of the teaching became widely accepted, though, the name of the feast never took on the modifier “immaculate” until Pope Pius IX’s 1854 definition of the dogma. The timing of the final push to confirm the teaching, and the fascination and devotion of the Catholic faithful for and to it, corresponded nicely with the expansion of the Church in the United States. Hence, the nation and the continent are dedicated to her patronage. Here’s a little more detail on that, from Stefan McDaniel’s 2017 essay in First Things called “Catholic America”:

Although not defined as dogma until 1854, the Immaculate Conception was the obsession of the conquering Spaniards—was not Columbus’s flagship La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción?—and of the Jesuits in New France. In 1760, King Charles III consecrated all his possessions (then including half of what is now the United States) to the Immaculate Conception. In 1846, just as Americans were taking much of that consecrated land from Mexico, the American bishops, convened at the Sixth Council of Baltimore, discreetly took the Marian baton on behalf of the United States, proclaiming our national patroness to be “the Blessed Virgin, conceived without sin.” More than a century later, in 1959, the bishops consummated the national devotion with the extraordinary Marian palace that is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Francisco Zurbarán, a favorite of this newsletter, takes the typical tropes of Immaculate Conception depictions—Mary standing on the Moon, ensconced in clouds, head surrounded by stars—but turns the typically regal and lavish and triumphant Virgin and turns her into quiet, meditative, peaceful girl. A triumph. (1630)

The introit for the solemnity is surpassingly lovely, from the 61st chapter of Isaiah and Psalm 28/29:

Gaudens gaudebo in Domino, et exsultabit anima mea in Deo meo: quia induit me vestimentis salutis: et indumento justitiae circumdedit me, quasi sponsam ornatam monilibus suis. // Exaltabo te, Domine, quoniam suscepisti me: nec delectasti inimicos meos super me. Gloria Patri…

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels. // I will extol Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast upheld me: and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me. Glory be to the Father…

Dom Johner (p. 357) gives a typically helpful and devotional gloss on the text:

The Immaculate Virgin herself, radiant in the light of grace, soaring guiltless over a world laden with sin, the very spouse of God adorned with all-wonderful jewels, introduces today's festal Mass. She knows, however, the source of her beauty and is aware of her singular dignity. She knows that great things have been done unto her. Sin, which up to that time had infected every human being born into this world, was held in abeyance from the time of her conception; while the earth was covered with darkness, the Almighty clothed her in light. Hence in the Introit she chants her gratitude to God, a Magnificat, as it were, in its original setting.

Those Seven Days

For the sake of time I’m linking only one thing here this week, not even from the previous seven days. But it fits so well with this week’s theme: a Twitter thread on the Pontifical “Mass of the Americas” celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, on November 18:

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