A Feast of Roses
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
On the Third Sunday of Advent, “Gaudete” Sunday, roses may adorn the altar, the rose candle on the Advent wreath is lit, and today, being also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we venerate Mary who is the mystical rose, the “Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the valley.” (Canticles 2:1). Because Mary is the New Eve, Saint Bernard contrasted her to Eve, like a rose to a thorn, writing:
"Eve was a thorn, wounding, bringing death to all; in Mary we see a rose, soothing everybody's hurts, giving the destiny of salvation back to all. Mary was a rose, white for maidenhood, red for love; white in body, red in soul; white in her seeking after virtue, red in treading down vice; white in cleansing her affections, red in mortifying her flesh; white in her love of God, red in compassion for her neighbor"
As the clergy don the rose-colored vestments on this “Gaudete” Sunday, we think of Saint Juan Diego’s tilma holding those Castilian roses which Our Lady had him pick in the midst of winter.
History shows that the rose is the favorite flower of Our Lady herself. In her apparition at Guadalupe, she made use of roses as a sign of her presence and even arranged them with her own beautiful hands in the tilma of Juan Diego. At La Sallette, she wore a profusion of roses in three garlands and had tiny roses around the rim of her slippers. In the Book of Canticles of Canticles, Mary is spoken of in prophetic terms and is described as the enclosed Garden of God (Canticles 4:12). Saint Bernard remarks on this and writes:
"Our Lord planted all the flowers which adorn the Church in this garden; and amongst others the violet of humility, the lily of purity, and the rose of charity."
In the stately college of King's Chapel, in Cambridge, England, one of the most renowned universities, built by Henry VIII in memory of his father, there can be discerned, hidden in one of the Tudor rose-bosses on the walls, a small image of Our Lady which somehow escaped observation at the destruction of images at the Protestant Reformation. Brother John, a clever carver, was hired to carve all of the roses; knowing of the King's quarrel with the Pope, he secretly carved a tiny head of Mary, half-hidden within the rose petals in the upper tier of decorations, saying,
"There you remain, Our Lady of the Rose, even if wicked men try to drive you and your Son from this Church.”
His words came true, when the place was stripped of every trace of the Catholic Faith, the tiny image of the Mother of God still remained.
Mary’s apparition on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico described her extraordinary appearance: her garments were shining like the sun; the cliff where she rested her feet, pierced with glitter, resembling an anklet of precious stones, and the earth sparkled like the rainbow. When she appeared before Saint Juan Diego he noticed the black belt that she was wearing. To the Aztecs, this indicated pregnancy. Just below the belt, at the very location of the embryo, a special flower with four petals stands out. It is the Nahui Ollin or ‘Sun-Flower.’ This is the main Aztec symbol of the image of Guadalupe, which represents the presence of God. On the tilma it is over her womb. For the Aztecs this was an unmistakable sign that the Child she carried was God Incarnate. This indicated to them, therefore, that she was the Mother of God.
In the 20th Century, the tilma of Guadalupe has been studied by some of the world’s most renowned scientists. One of the physicians who studied the tilma placed his stethoscope over her womb and listened. He heard rhythmic heartbeats. They repeated 115 per minute, like the heartbeats of a baby in the womb. He also took the temperature of the tilma and found it to be 98.6 Fahrenheit, just like you and me.
The theology of the tilma of Guadalupe confirms the teachings of the Council of Ephesus in the year 431, where Mary was proclaimed Theotokos, the Mother of God. And the miraculous image Our Lady left on Saint Juan Diego's tilma helped to bring about the conversion of over nine million indigenous peoples of the Americas to the true Faith, almost person for person the number of people lost to the Church as a result of the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe.
The rejoicing of Gaudete Sunday has a special depth, for we have encountered Christ on our pilgrimage with Our Lady of Guadalupe, His mother and His herald. As Christmas approaches, she points to His universal kingship, and to the kingdom of mercy, peace and love which the Infant of Bethlehem wants to establish in our hearts.
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mystical Rose, intercede for the holy Church, protect the Holy Father, help all who invoke you in their needs. Since you are the ever Virgin Mary and Mother of the true God, Obtain for us from Jesus, your most holy Son the grace of a firm faith, sweet hope amid the bitterness of life, a burning charity and the precious gift of final perseverance.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us.
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary (Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931) 629-630.
Sister Manetta Lamberty, The Woman in Orbit: Mary's Feasts Every Day Everywhere (Chicago: Lamberty, 1966) 29-30.