Once again we turn to the Blessed Mother as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all the Americas. It is indeed fitting that this feast take place as close to the Solemnity of the Nativity as it does since this is the only image of the Blessed Mother which depicts her as pregnant. The black band which is shown girding her gown was a cultural sign of being with child. The "tilma" or image of the Blessed Mother that was imprinted on St. Juan Diego's cloak includes this detail.
Because there is so little reference to the Blessed Mother in the Gospels, the references to her from St. Luke's Infancy narrative ordinarily are used for the proclamation of the Gospel on her feast days. The other Scripture readings depict Mary metaphorically or symbolically.
Because the image of Guadalupe is of a pregnant woman, the use of Mary as the "Ark of the Covenant" is apt. The Jewish Ark was kept in the Temple until the Assyrian attack on the country from the north. At that time, the priests of the Temple sealed the ark in a cave to hide it from the attacking army as it would have been a prize beyond all imagining for the enemies of Israel. Unfortunately, its location was lost as the captured Israelites suffered in exile for several generations. It was never found again; a legend grew up that it would be found by the Messiah when he came among the people. This is, in fact, the sign for which Jesus is asked several times in the Gospel. Not satisfied with the signs and wonders that Jesus worked, they expected him to produce the lost ark.
The Ark of the Covenant held the tablets upon which God had written the commandments as well as a portion of manna from the sojourn in the desert. Its presence was regarded as sacred as the "shekina" or glory of God descended upon the Holy of Holies when it was installed in the Temple. The Gospel of St. Luke reports that much the same thing happened to Mary at the Annunciation: “And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Because the Blessed Mother held the body of Jesus in her womb, Christians have come to regard her as a symbolic ark of the New Covenant.
As the days before the celebration of Christmas grow shorter, we give thanks for Mary's willingness to cooperate with the grace of God's Incarnation.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator