Immaculate Conception Novena Talk — “Woman Clothed with the Sun”

Immaculate Conception Novena Talk — “Woman Clothed with the Sun”
Note:  this past Sunday evening, I gave the following talk at a nearby parish, St. Brendan’s in Bellingham, as part of a nine day Novena the parish was having in preparation for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

From the Book of Revelation, Chapter 12, Verse 1:  A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

In the Roman Liturgy today,  this verse from Revelation is frequently applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is sung as the Introit, or Entrance Antiphon, in the Mass of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.  It is again read as the First Reading in this same Mass.  Finally, Rev. 12:1 is read at Morning Prayer in the Office of the Virgin Mary on Saturdays in Ordinary Time.

What is rather interesting, however, is that prior to the 1950 Dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII, Rev. 12:1 was not read in any Marian Liturgy.

While St. Bernard in the 12th Century taught that the Woman Clothed with the Sun was Mary, most commentators and Church Fathers before him tended to apply this scripture passage to the Church.

By the 1600s however, Marian paintings began to appear in Western art, especially Spanish art, depicting Mary, the Immaculate Conception, standing in front of the sun, standing on the crescent moon, with 12 stars around her head.

Still, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the Popes began to teach officially in encyclicals that the Woman Clothed with the Sun is the Virgin Mary.

St. Pius X, Ad diem illum. 1904: “Everyone knows that that woman signifies the Virgin Mary”

Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus. 1950: “We frequently find theologians and preachers who, following the footsteps of the Holy Fathers, use words and events from sacred Scripture with some freedom to explain their belief in the Assumption… . And furthermore, the Scholastic doctors have considered the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as signified not only in the various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun, whom the Apostle John contemplated on the island of Patmos.”

John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, March 15, 1987:  Mary is ” ‘the woman’ spoken of by the Book of Genesis (3:15) at the beginning (of salvation), and by the Apocalypse (12:1) at the end of the history of salvation.”

So the 1600s was when the Church began to reflect more deeply on Mary being the Woman Clothed with the Sun; and in the 20th century we see this reflection become part of the official Magisterial teaching and Liturgy of the Church.

I thought that in this talk I would try answer the question of why this Scripture passage has come to the forefront when it did.  Everything in our faith happens for a reason, and certainly this image of Mary Clothed with the Sun must hold some importance for our Church today.

And in reflecting on the matter, it seems as if the emphasis on Mary as the Woman in Revelation is a result of the Church’s reflection on two of the most famous Marian apparitions, namely Our Lady of Guadelupe in 1531 and Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.

In both of these apparitions, the Sun plays a major role.  One could even argue that in both apparitions, Mary appeared as a Woman Clothed with the Sun.  And in the wake of both of these Marian apparitions, a Marian Spirit descended upon the Church which set the faith ablaze and led to an outpouring of missionary fervor in the Church.

So let’s take a look at these two Marian apparitions and the impact they had on the spread of the faith.

First of all, the apparition of Our Lady of Guadelupe, who began to appear to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 9 (now the Feast Day of Juan Diego) and then miraculously left her image on his Tilma, a poncho-like garment, on Dec. 12th (now the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe).

As I mentioned, the apparition took place in the year 1531.  It’s rather interesting that this was 39 years after the Catholic Faith came to the Americas.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  (And prophetically, his fleet as everyone knows consisted of the Nina (the young maiden), the Pinta (the Spanish word for painting is pintar) and the Santa Maria (St. Mary) — his very ships prophecied the coming of Our Lady of Guadelupe, the painting of St. Mary as a young maiden).  And 39 years later, Our Lady appears to Juan Diego carrying her Son Jesus in her Immaculate womb.  Which of course would mean she would “give birth” to Jesus some time during the year 1532, 40 years after Columbus’ arrival.

40 years is a very significant span of time in the Scriptures.  In the OT Book of Exodus, after being delivered from slavery in Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before they finally entered into the promised land.

Because of their faithlessness and putting of God to the test in the wilderness, God found Moses and his generation to be unworthy of entering the promised land.  Out of all the adults who were delivered from Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land along with the children of those Israelites delivered from Egypt.  Even Moses had to die across the Jordan because of his lack of trust in God.

The Church sees this passage as a sign of the incompleteness of the Old Covenant and the Law of Moses.  The law of Moses can bring one to the borders of the promised land, but it doesn’t have the power to bring one to th promised land of Heaven.  To enter the promised land, Jeshua, Jesus, must lead the way.

There’s a famous passage in the Psalms that the priests pray every day in the Divine Office — Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts as your Fathers did in the wilderness. . . . 40 years I endured that generation; I said they are a people whose hearts go astray and do not know my ways, so I swore in my anger they shall not enter into my rest.

Whether or not God was angry at the first generation of Catholic Missionaries or settlers, I’m not sure.  But it was 40 years after 1492, in 1532, when in the wake of the apparition of OLG that the faith began to spread like wildfire.

As a little aside, it’s rather noteworthy that the 40th anniversary of the close of the 2nd Vatican Council was three years ago, on Dec. 8, 2005.  One could argue that in the past three years, we have finally started to make some concrete headway in implementing the true reforms called for by the true Spirit of Vatican II, such as reverent and authentic translations of the vernacular liturgy, Bishops exercising their teaching authority (especially seen in the many great statements against abortion this past election), and orthodox catechesis thanks to the Catechism and the Compendium.

This past July 25, we also observed another 40th, Humanae Vitae, on right use of the gift of sexuality and regulation of births, and affirming the 2000 year old teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception.  Over the past 40 years God has endured a generation of Catholics who have dissented from the Church’s teaching.  I find it interesting that just months after the 40th ann. Of HV, the United States and Europe plunged into an economic meltdown of catastrophic proportions.  I think we better wake up people and turn back to God.

But back to Our Lady of Guadelupe.  In Mexico in the early 1500s, the predominant culture was the Aztecs.  The Aztecs were quite an advanced civilization in many ways.   They had barber shops, they took baths 3 times a day (in contrast to the Spanish who hardly ever bathed and smelt like it also), and they had an religion who’s priest’s were celibate like ours is.  Only while we offer the sacrifice of Bread and Wine to the true God, which we celibate priests by virtue of Holy Orders transform into the Body and Blood of Christ, the representation of the One Sacrifice Christ offered for us on Good Friday, the Aztecs offered human sacrifice to their false god.

I tell kids in my Catholic School, just as on High Feast Days, we offer a lot of Bread to God, maybe 1000’s of hosts are consecrated and offered to Him, so on the Aztec high feasts, they offered thousands of human slaves in sacrifice, the priests ripping out the persons heart in a manner of seconds.

Two of the main gods in the Aztec religion were Quetzelcoatl, the Serpent, and  Tonatiuh (Tone-ah-tee-oo), who was the Sun.  They believed that the sun would stop moving if they stopped feeding it with human sacrifices.  On high feast days, such as the dedication of a new temple, as many as 25,000 humans were sacrificed.

But in September 1531, a solar eclipse took place, as if to say that one was to come who would eclipse the Sun god of the Aztecs, who would convert them from their pagan S-U-N worship and turn them to worship of the true Son of the Father, Jesus Christ.

(Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto — he must have had in mind OLG story when he made it.  In the movie there’s Aztecs offering human sacrifices to the Sun,  there’s a solar eclipse which stops them from sacrificing, there’s things painted turquoise,  color of OLG’s overgarment, and there’s a pregnant woman whose the heroinne.  And it’s called for no apparent reason “Apocalypto” — the Apocalypse, which is the Greek word for Revelation.  And it was released on December 8.)

After this miraculous appearance of Mary on the timla of St. Juan Diego, the Catholic faith almost overnight toppled the false Aztec religion and stopped  the large scale human sacrifices.  My seminary Church History teacher, Fr. Ledoux, was one of the most rationalistic Church Historians I’ve met.  I asked him if he had a rational explanation for the spread of the faith in Central and South America and he said “There is none, it’s purely the miraculous work of our Lady of Guadelupe”

Truly the Virgin of Guadelupe is the Woman clothed with the Sun, as the image shows her standing before the sun (although supposedly these rays were painted on to the original image afterwards).

Our Lady of Guadelupe also had a hand not only in spreading the faith, but in defending the faith from the radical Islamic invasion of Europe during the 16th Century.  At the decisive Battle of Lepanto, the Captain of the Spanish Fleet, Andrea Doria, had a copy of the miraculous image commissioned by Pope St. Pius V in the captains quarters during the battle on October 7, 1571.  Pius V declared that Mary’s prayers won the battle, in which the Christians were vastly outnumbered.

This image of Mary, Clothed with the Sun has caused the faith to shine brightly on both sides of the Atlantic these past 5 centuries.  But at the beginning of this past century, the 20th cent., Our Blessed Mother realized that her children were going to need her aid in an even graver way.

Pope Leo XIII is reported to have had a vision in 1884 (according to some sources, it was on October 13, but I can’t confirm the truth of this) in which he saw that the coming 20th Century was to be the century of Satan, where he would unleash the most terrible evils upon the Church.  In reaction Pope Leo XIII is said to have mandated the Prayer of St. Michael to be said after Low Mass, which continued until Pope John XXIII made them optional in 1962.

It wasn’t long into the 20th Century before WWI broke out in 1914.  Then in April of 1917, Vladimir Lenin arrived in Petrograd Russia, the streets filled with communists cheering him on.  He concluded his short speech with the flaming words: “Long live the socialist revolution!”  On November 7, 1917, the Communist Revolution had triumphed in Russia.

So Lenin came to Russia in April of 1917, Mary came to Fatima the following month, in May of 1917, realizing that the Prayer to St. Michael after Low Mass wasn’t going to be enough.  In October of 1917, the Miracle of the Sun occurred at Fatima, and the following Month, November 1917, the Communist Revolution broke out.

The century of Satan was also going to turn out to be the century of Mary, the New Eve who crushes the head of Satan.

Now, I’m assuming you all know of the Miracle of the Sun which took place at Fatima on October 13, 1917.  As thousands of people in that muddy, rain drenched field in the Cova de Ivra testified to later, the sun broke through the clouds, appeared to dance around in the sky, and then began to get bigger and bigger, as it appeared to be crashing down upon the thousands of people gathered there.

Many began screaming out their sins, thinking the world was coming to an end.  Suddenly, it was all over; the sky was clear and blue, the noon day sun shone high up in the sky, and the ground and everyone’s clothes were dry and clean as if it had never poured down rain for the past 3 hours.

We all know of the day the sun fell from the sky at Fatima on October 13, 1917.  But was it just the sun that fell from the sky?  Or was it the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Was this great sign that appeared in the sky at Fatima the Virgin Mary coming down to earth, to impart on the Church of the 20th century a double portion of her spirit to do battle with Satan?

Just a few days after the Miracle at Fatima, on October 16, 1917, hundreds of miles away in Rome, a Polish Franciscan seminarian named Maximilian Kolbe began the Militia of the Immaculata with 6 other Franciscan seminarians.

The Militia has grown to a worldwide movement of millions of faithful, and through this order Maximilian Kolbe became the most successful missionary to Japan in Church History, publishing a very successful Catholic newspaper in the Japanese language and founding a monastery of Friars that continues to this day.

It was also in 1917 that an Irish lay man named Frank Duff read for the first time the writings of St. Louis de Montfort on True Devotion to Mary.  Four years later, on September 7, 1921, Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary, now the biggest lay movement in the Church, with 3 million active members and over 10 million auxiliary members in every country.

The Legion of Mary is a powerhouse for the Catholic Faith.  Thousands of parish based praesida throughout the Church carry out apostolic works, first and foremost being door to door visitation to bring back lapsed Catholics and make new converts to the Church.

One could mention other Marian movements in the 20th Century that perhaps were a result of the outpouring of graces at Fatima.  But probably the greatest grace which the Woman Clothed with the Sun at Fatima gave the Church was our late great Holy Father Pope John Paul II.

The Pope who brought down communism in Eastern Europe; the Pope who brought back devotion to Mary and the Holy Rosary when liberals in the Church were trying to abolish these things;

The Pope who affirmed the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and all the other infallible moral and doctrinal truths of our holy Faith;

The Pope whose motto was Totus Tuus — I am totally yours, O Virgin Mary; and whose coat of arms was simply a Cross with the letter M (for Mary) under the Cross beam;

The Missionary Pope who traveled unceasingly to any country who would have him to spread the Catholic Faith;

This great Pope wouldn’t have done any of these things had not Our Lady of Fatima saved his life from an assassins bullet on May 13, 1981 — the anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Fatima.

And so in conclusion, I think this is why the Church in her liturgy and in her papal teaching these past 100 years has emphasized Mary as being the Woman Clothed with the Sun.  For her presence, wherever she is found, whether at Fatima, at Guadelupe, or in that statue or icon or painting hanging in a Church or in a home, makes Christ and the Catholic Faith shine out the brightest.

May Mary clothe us with the radiance of Her Son Jesus, that we might bring the Faith in all it’s brightness to all those we come in contact with.

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