Friday, July 23, 2010

The Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Novena in Honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The novena in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe being used in the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Makati City was composed by Msgr. Salvador R. Jose and published in 2005 by the Daughters of Saint Paul. While devotion to the Guadalupe per se as manifested throughout the world is not limited to any particular sector, its “Pro-Life” dimension is especially highlighted in the National Shrine, thus endowing the novena and other expressions of popular piety specific to the said shrine with a unique flavor.

Overview of the Novena

In this particular Novena, the Christian value being highlighted is first and foremost the respect for human life. The primary basis for this being that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego, an elderly man, as a pregnant woman carrying Jesus in her virginal womb. Thus she came to be invoked as the patroness of life “from womb to tomb” and venerated as the protectress of the unborn, sick, aging, disabled and others (USAD-O). The introduction makes clear this distinctive emphasis and its explicit objective:

One of the most basic issues today is the conflict between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death. Because of materialism and secularization, the respect for life has diminished and is threatened to be lost. Through the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of Life, the value of life will be uplifted and promulgated (sic). (page 10)

Other aspects of the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe are mentioned in the same introduction but are not given as much emphasis in the novena text. These include her being the Secondary Patroness of the Philippines as declared by Pope Pius XI on July 16, 1935, and her being Patroness of Indigenous Peoples, Nature, Elders and even of Photographers.

The structure of the Novena is loosely patterned after the Liturgy of the Word, beginning with a hymn and a penitential prayer. The core element of the Liturgy of the Word, however, which is the proclamation of the Word of God is optional and may be replaced here with the reading of a letter of petition or a letter of thanksgiving. After the opening prayer, the Magnificat, which is properly a hymn, is recited followed by another hymn which is sung. This is then succeeded by some reflection and the Prayer of the Faithful (sic). A concluding prayer and hymn ends the Novena proper, which is followed by a short prayer to the Santo Nino de Vientre (Jesus in the Womb).

Without the proclamation of the Word of God, the core of the Novena, it seems, is the “reflection,” which is actually a series of meditations on three events in the life of Mary followed by a prayer of petition. Using allusions to biblical and extra-biblical events in the life of Mary, the author tried to properly ground his petitions in anamnesis. After first recalling the Immaculate Conception, for example, he invites those praying the novena to ask God “to make our poor body and soul as his living sanctuary through holy acts of respecting and valuing life from the first moment of conception onwards”. and in recalling the Annunciation, he continues with a petition “for the grace to follow God’s will”. For the reflection on the Visitation though, he seems to forget this structure and ends with a brief praise of Mary as “co-mediatrix of God’s grace” and as “an example of true service to one’s neighbor”. The “Prayer of the Faithful” then follows with even more petitions, most of which concern the USAD-O. The concluding prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving and petition ending with a rather peculiar form of doxology: “Ma-BUHAY ang Makapangyarihang Diyos Ama, Anak at Espiritu Santo!” to which the people respond “Ma-BUHAY!”. The author himself explains this unique phraseology: “Everyone is encouraged to praise God through Mary by frequently saying “Ma…BUHAY” while thinking of the compassionate Mama Mary (Ma…) and Jesus the Life (BUHAY).” We shall focus more specifically on the devotion to the Santo Nino de Vientre at the end of this paper.

Evaluation and Recommendations

The author, and indeed the National Shrine, deserves praise for highlighting this particular aspect of the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Even if historically, her message of compassion and inclusivity was more prominent and central, this particular focus on Christian “pro-life” values makes the devotion more relevant to the needs of the Church in our time where the promotion of, and even insistence on, the respect for the dignity of human life is certainly among our most urgent tasks. There are however, some finer points and suggestions, based mainly on the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy that may be good to consider in case a revision of this Novena is to be carried out in the future:

1. A more central place should be accorded to the Word of God.

In enumerating the criterion for the evaluation and renewal of popular piety, the Directory puts as first in the list the concern that “a biblical spirit” (12) should permeate the devotions. Reading of Scriptures should not be optional but instead made compulsory. Indeed, the proclamation of the Word and meditation on it should rightly form the heart of the novena. The opportunity must certainly be taken to open up to the faithful the rich fare of God’s Word as envisioned by the Council.

2. A more holistic Mariology, based on Scripture, should be expounded in harmony with the liturgical seasons.

In connection with the first recommendation, an ample selection of possible Scripture readings may be prepared with at least some options suited for each liturgical season e.g. the Annunciation for Advent, the Nativity for Christmas, the Wedding at Cana for Ordinary Time, the Johannine account of the crucifixion for Lent and Pentecost for Easter. In this way, not only will the devotion be more easily harmonized with the liturgy but it will be able to present more holistically, in the interest of evangelization, the life of Mary as contained in the Scriptures, which includes not only her role in the Incarnation already shown in the Novena, but also her participation in the Paschal mystery and presence in the life and growth of the Church. With a fuller picture of Mary, especially as model and mother of disciples so dear to the Council, her role in the economy of salvation may be more clearly shown to the enrichment and deepening of the people’s understanding of her mission.

3. The structure and content of the novena should mirror more closely the structure and content of the liturgy.

The Directory envisions that popular devotions “dispose properly for or echo the mysteries celebrated in the liturgical actions.” This faithfully reflects the desire of the Council that popular devotions be so drawn up in relation to the liturgy so that they “in some way derive from it, and lead people to it, since in fact the Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them” (SC 13). The structure may be made to follow more closely that of the Liturgy of the Word. Also, at least some of the prayers may be re-written such that they will now be directed to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit and not only just to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This suggestion refers in particular to the “Prayer of the Faithful,” more properly called (not even General) Intercessions in this context, which should be, as a norm, directed to the Father and only in some rare occasions directed to the Son but never to Our Lady. Even if the Novena is explicitly Marian, this does not mean that it should lack, after the manner of Our Lady herself, our essential Christological focus and Trinitarian prayer posture. If possible, the same Intercessions may also be expanded to include the more general concerns of the universal Church instead of focusing almost exclusively on specifically pro-life concerns, thus strengthening even more the ecclesial aspect of the prayer text. Finally, following also what is done in the liturgy, this form of prayer, even if supplicatory, is to be prayed standing instead of kneeling. Seasonal intentions, as well as space for more current intentions may lend more dynamism to the novena.

Some final remarks on the devotion to the Santo Nino de Vientre

Apart from the short Act of Contrition found at the beginning, the Prayer to the Santo Nino de Vientre (Jesus in the Womb) is the only prayer addressed directly to God in this novena and is quite remarkable because of its novelty. In its full-page picture of the Santo Nino de Vientre (page 35) the author himself describes this image of Jesus, who is shown as a fetus outside the womb of Mary, as “unique” and “non-traditional”. Certainly, Jesus as once being “in the womb” is a valid assertion of a Christological event, given that Christ truly became flesh and was conceived and borne in the womb of the Virgin. It is even more especially appropriate in relation to the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who showed herself as a pregnant woman carrying the Lord in her womb and also in connection with the pro-life aspect of the devotion being advanced by the shrine. What seems to be disturbing however is not so much the name but the depiction of Christ under this title.

Although the Church has always asserted the legitimacy of depicting the Lord who by his holy Incarnation became for us “the image (eikon) of the invisible God” (Col 1: 15) at the same time she has also seen fit to lay down necessary limitations in this regard. For example, in the twenty-fifth and final session of Trent, the Council admonished the bishops to see to it “with great care and diligence” that “that there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God.” The Code of Canon Law also clearly states that “images are to be displayed in moderate numbers and in suitable fashion, so that the Christian people are not disturbed, nor is occasion given for less than appropriate devotion.” (CIC 1188) The First Plenary Council of the Philippines is even more explicit and specific in saying, “Ordinarius loci sacras imagines publice ad fidelium venerationem exponendas ne approbet, quae cum probato Ecclesiae usu non congruant… damnatae sunt imagines sacrae, quae insuetis formis horrorem quemdam pariunt et sensus violenter commovent.” (570) That Council banned, for example, the public exposition of images of the heart of Jesus without the rest of the body. Therefore, without precluding potential developments in iconography, the Church nevertheless forbids images that are incongruous with her doctrine and customs, as well as those that are potentially horrifying and offensive to the sensibilities of people.

It therefore has to be reconsidered whether the novel and non-traditional image of the Santo Nino de Vientre is truly conducive for the piety and edification of God’s people. Or if perhaps the already explicit even if delicately subdued presence of Christ, inside rather than outside the womb of Our Lady of Guadalupe, better fosters prayer.

In the end, Ignatius of Loyola’s principle tersely encapsulates all of our criteria for evaluating popular piety: TANTUM QUANTUM—as far as it helps—to lead us to God.


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