Immaculate Guadalupe and Other Liturgical Oddities

It’s the time of year when you might hear a voice crying out in the wilderness. It could be John the Baptist, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord… or it could be your friendly parish liturgist, crying “it’s not Christmas yet!”  As other commentators have noted, forget the war on Christmas — the war on Advent is what we need to worry about.

Giving proper attention to the season of Advent is even more difficult in university communities.  Christmas concerts are as much of a staple of December life on campus as off.  And it is a good and worthy thing that campus ministries want to celebrate the great feast of Christmas with the students who make their faith home there for the rest of the year. But it leads to some rather strange juxtapositions.

Some Newman centers celebrated a Christmas Mass as early as last Saturday night, December 1 — at the very beginning of Advent. I have also observed “academic Christmas” on December 6, December 8, and December 12.  These liturgies have included Christmas carols and music, although, if memory serves, the readings for Mass were left unchanged.  So “O Come, All Ye Faithful” might lead into an Advent reading from Isaiah. So the tensions which Advent embodies — “Christ is coming” vs. “Christ is here” — are laid out even more directly.

But is this any worse than singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” at an evening Mass? (“Early in the morning, our song shall rise…”)  Or “God of Day and God of Darkness” in the morning? Or, as has happened perpetually when I was planning music, singing Jaime Cortez’s “Rain Down” on a perfectly sunny day? Are our sung praises any less true if not sung at quite the “proper” time?

The celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is another celebration which gets rescheduled. It has been an issue in parishes when it falls on Sunday (getting bumped by the Third Sunday of Advent), and Mexican communities are eager to celebrate it regardless. It’s a challenge on university campuses, when it often falls during finals week, and often gets observed on a prior Sunday.

I thought of this conflict again yesterday while attending a liturgy that was part Immaculate Conception, part Our Lady of Guadalupe, at my local neighborhood basilica. It was a beautiful liturgy, replete with dancing from Ballet Folklórico Azul y Oro and excellent music from the Notre Dame Folk Choir, Mariachi ND, and Coro Primavera. Like many bilingual liturgies, there were large portions in both languages: one reading was in Spanish, and the scriptures were printed in the language they were not proclaimed in. The readings were from Immaculate Conception (although it should be noted that the gospel reading is the same for both celebrations). The homily was in both English (about Immaculate Conception) and Spanish (about Guadalupe).

However,  the music seemed to be chosen with Guadalupe in mind. The psalm and preparation piece were bilingual (the latter was Steve Warner and Jaime Cortez’s “¡Escucha! Ponlo en tu Corazón / Put it In Your Heart,” which will be stuck in my head for weeks to come), and one of the communion pieces, Sr. Suzanne Toolan’s “I am the Bread of Life” was sung in both English and Spanish as well. Much of the rest of the music was traditional Marian favorites, from “Buenos Días, Paloma Blanca,” to “Adiós, Reina del Cielo.” (I did have compassion for anyone hoping to hear “Immaculate Mary,” but I presume they got word to attend another Mass.) Right after Mass was one of the traditional Guadalupan devotions, laying a rose in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was impressed at the number of people who stayed to participate, and wondered how many might be doing it for the first time.

Like this liturgy itself, I find myself caught in two worlds. I join my student colleagues in shaking my head at this combination of feasts. Who was it that said “The reason for time is to keep everything from happening all at once?” I must say that I had a wonderful time at the liturgy and sang my heart out. I just wasn’t sure what celebration it was supposed to be.

Christmas and Our Lady of Guadalupe are both vital celebrations in the faith life of Christians. As one of the stanzas of “Las Apariciones Guadalupanas” we sang yesterday puts it, “Since then, for Mexicans, it is essential to be Guadalupan.” One could argue, in regards to the rescheduling of these celebrations, that “the sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath.” These celebrations are too crucial to miss.

Is there any better way to handle this conflict of calendars?

Chris Ángel is a graduate of Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary in Collegeville, MN, and is now a doctoral student in liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. He worked for Pray Tell blog during his time in Collegeville.


  1. This is really about three inevitable demographic transitions.

    First the transition of Catholicism from a Church dominated by Western Europe to one dominated by the Southern Hemisphere.

    Second the transition of the United States to having non-whites as a majority by 2042. They already are electing the President.

    Third the transition of American Catholicism to a majority non Anglo religion.

    What amazes me about this blog is that it spends so much time looking through the rear view mirror debating the past while we are demographically heading full spend into the future.

    For myself the transition has already been made.

    When I was a child I built a May altar in the alcove of my room and discovered the Divine Office as something to do there. The altar was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1954 the closing of the Marian Year.

    On February 15, 1958 Merton wrote in his diary: “This afternoon I suddenly saw the meaning of my American destiny –one of those moments in which many unrelated pieces of one’s life and though fall into place in a great unity toward which one has been growing… My destiny is indeed to be an American –not just an American of the United States…My vocation is American to see and to understand and to have in myself the life and roots and belief of the whole hemisphere, as an expression of something of God, of Christ, that the world has not yet found out- something that is only now after hundreds of years coming to maturity.”

    I had a similar experience when reading Merton’s words about a decade ago.

    A few years ago, I found a beautiful tapestry of Our Lady of Guadelupe that perfectly fills the top of the stone fireplace of the great room of my house. It’s colors match perfectly the décor of the room which was chosen by the previous owner. The tapestry faces the statue of Mary on the opposite wall which comes from my childhood altar.

  2. Redoing Advent Christmas

    Rocco Palmo does a good job of covering the demographic transition of the American Church. I put a few notes together for a post last year which I was thinking of calling Redoing Advent. But Christmas came too quickly. So the following are some of my links and notes.

    Recent research reported by NCR was based on data from LifeWay Research, a Southern Baptist research firm.

    “The Christmas season is when Americans are most open to considering matters of faith, according to data from LifeWay Research, a Southern Baptist research firm. In a 2008 survey, 47 percent said they’ve been more open during the holidays. That’s more than after a national crisis such as 9/11 (38 percent), after a natural disaster (34 percent) or the birth of a child (28 percent).”

    We need to totally rethink the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle in terms that will fit well with our demographics.

  3. The Super Bowl Begins

    We might still be a week out from the late-night mañanitas and the annual climax of the Stateside church’s ever-booming Guadalupe festival, but the coast-to-coast celebrations of what’s become American Catholicism’s “Super Bowl” kick into full gear at this hour, in the city founded under the name of Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles — that is, LA. Not only is it the nation’s largest ecclesial outpost of our time, but — by a margin of some two million souls — it is the largest diocese in Catholicism’s five-century history on these shores.

    (On a related note, over recent years, Latinos are likewise considered to have reached de facto majorities in the ranks of the second and third largest American dioceses, respectively New York and Chicago, and also number half or more of the Catholic populations of many of the emerging hotspots of the “new” US church, among them Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix, where estimates of the community’s dominance in the local church run as high as 80 percent.)

    Over recent years, throngs as large as 50,000 have converged on Dallas’ Catedral Santuario de Guadalupe to mark December 12th, and in just a matter of years, the estimated feast-night crowd of as many as 250,000 at Chicagoland’s Maryville shrine in suburban Des Plaines, many of whom bike or even walk from the city, has become Stateside Catholicism’s most massive gathering of all. What’s more, having maxed-out the capacity of the satellite churches primarily immersed in Hispanic ministry in prior years, the mañanitas vigils of the 11th will be held in the cathedrals of locales ranging from LA, San Francisco, San Antonio and Salt Lake to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the US church’s most iconic temple: St Patrick’s in New York

    Mainstream and Catholic media, and liberal and conservative liturgists are like the Republicans in under reporting and underestimating Hispanics.

  4. For Americas Mother The Popes Homage

    Tuesday, December 06, 2011

    Since 2005, the re-rendering of the tilma to include our first Mexican Pope — at least, as he’s regarded by many to Points South — has become a mainstay of the annual celebrations at Christianity’s biggest shrine… which, to be sure, is no longer Rome.
    And in an exceptional tribute from the Vatican side of things, as the “Year of Wojtyla” winds down at the Home Office, this 12 December will see B16 celebrate a Monday Mass in St Peter’s to mark the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, America’s native patroness.

    As significance goes, suffice it to say, Papa Ratzinger hasn’t come close to doing this for his boyhood’s own beloved Madonna of Altötting.

    For a pontiff who doesn’t celebrate the funeral rites of Rome-based cardinals and has returned to the practice of delegating beatification liturgies to the local churches, any Papal Mass scheduled for reasons other than a major feast of the universal calendar or top-shelf Vatican event (e.g. consistories, canonizations or synods) is a distinct rarity these days.

    According to CARA, in 2000 the Americas contained half of all Catholics in the world. In 1950, half of all Catholics were in Europe.

    By 2000, the Americas are far more Christian (90%) than Europe (68%).
    The Americas are far more Catholic (65%) than Europe (40%)
    Christianity in the Americas is far more Catholic (72%) than in Europe (60%)

    The “Next Christendom” is already here and now in the Americas. European Christendom is fading. The demographics predict the possibility of an African Christendom in the future past 2050. Maybe there will an Asian Christendom much later.

    Maybe we should more consciously construct the liturgies of the American Christendom!

  5. Merry Simbang: The Church’s “Doorbuster” Returns

    close to half of Los Angeles’ 288 churches have been hosting what could be called American Catholicism’s “Doorbuster Mass,” while in Chicago, almost 70 communities are taking part as the Novena marks the 25th anniversary of its arrival in the 2.4 million-member Windy City church.

    An inculturated form of the venerable Rorate caeli Advent Mass brought by the Spanish colonists some five centuries back, though the celebration of what’s also called the “Misa de Aguinaldo” (“Mass of the Gift”) is normally still observed between 4 and 5am in the Philippines itself — where churches (or other, bigger venues) invariably fill to overflowing for the cherished practice — the daily liturgies in the States are often, if not usually, transferred to the evening hours in order to accommodate the faithful’s work schedules.

    Another article on Simbang from the Phillipines

    Somewhere in my readings I saw where the Novena is observed with white vestments. I think there were some disputes in the Phillipines about its being observed in the evening with white vestments. These were only to be used in the early morning at the votive Masses.

    Some other related thoughts.

    The Annunciation was observed in some areas of Europe during Advent. I think the Annunciation celebrated in white with Gloria would be a fine way of doing pre-Christmas “Christmas” celebrations for special populations like college students.

    Early on the Gloria was used during Advent; don’t remember any citation for that. I think not having the Gloria during the first three Sundays of Advent is a good idea, especially if we would be celebrating Marian feasts in white (or blue) with the Gloria during Advent.

    I like the idea of the pre-Christmas novena in its various forms. We already have the O antiphons in the Office. I think white and the Gloria during that period is a good idea. It is not like Easter where we have passiontide. Advent is not analogous to Lent where we fast. It is about the Good News and a deeper understanding and joy in the Incarnation.

  6. Thanks, Jack – excellent posts especially your comment:

    “What amazes me about this blog is that it spends so much time looking through the rear view mirror debating the past while we are demographically heading full spend into the future.”

    Allow me to add: Dallas Diocese; every parish is doing a three to seven day novena; Bishop Farrell will do the midnight mass at the Cathedral Sanctuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe Tuesday nite. Suggest, Jack, that it is more than just *demographically* – it is communal, sacramental, and spiritual (beyond piety)

    Strongest influence in my training was to spend time at the Mexican-American Cultural Center in San Antonio (had been Assumption Seminary), founded by Rev. Virgilio Elizondo who is now a STD professor of Latino Theology at Notre Dame. Virgilio has written numerous books: “Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation”; “Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Experience”; etc.

    From his theological perspective and quoting:

    “Even if the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe were not historical, it is still definitely constitutive of the saving truth of the sensus fidelium – of the faith-memory of the people. The story, like the image, is so packed with the word of life expressed in human terms, is so beautiful and harmonious, is so critical and melodious, is so theological and poetic, is so simple and profound, and is so affirming and challenging that it can only be a very special gift of the creating and redeeming God.”

    It becomes a truly Advent story – kept alive through songs and dance – for the marginalized and silenced (a type of Advent or Incarnation story).

    On another note – you can not minister in the Americas without understanding this journey which continues today. (yes, Jack, so different from birettas, maniples, foot of the altar prayers, cappa magnas, how many swings of incense and who gets it first, etc. This is reality – not sure what the other is?)

    Was saddened tonite – parish triduum and we had an SJ come in to talk about *Mary, daughter of the Father* with no connection to Guadalupe (very Anglo & reactive to the Hispanic dances, emotions, etc. What would Bartolome de la Casas have thought?)

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