Mary, the Mother of the Son of God, holds a special place among the saints, and veneration to our Blessed Mother has been practiced in many ethnic cultures.
From Our Lady of Arabia to Our Lady of Lourdes to Our Lady of Kibeho, celebrations, pilgrimages, processions and devotional practices take place in her honor in different parts of the world. These faith expressions show our love and trust in Mary as we pray in communion with her, in appreciation for the great things that the Lord has done for her, and as an intercessor on our behalf with her son Jesus Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2682).
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, states: “In the words of the apostle, there is but one mediator: ‘for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all’ (1 Tim. 2:5-6). But Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power….It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it” (#60).
In the Hispanic culture, and specifically in Mexico, Mary’s role in fostering unity with Christ is reflected in several cultural manifestations. These include having small altars at homes with the image or statue of the Virgin with candles and flowers, novenas, offering flowers to Mary at the parish during the month of May while praying the rosary and singing Marian hymns.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is the most venerated in the country; however, Mary is venerated under other titles as well, including, “La Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos” in the state or region of Zacatecas and “La Virgen de Zapopan” in the state of Jalisco. Both are the most visited in Mexico after Our Lady of Guadalupe.
She is known as “La Virgen de Schoenstatt,” also known under the title of “Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt,” which is German in origin and which includes four sanctuaries in the country in the states of Querétaro, Guerrero, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí. There is “La Virgen del Pueblito” in the state of Querétaro; “La Virgen de Juquila” in the state of Oaxaca; “Nuestra Señora del Roble” in the state of Nuevo León; “La Virgen de la Asunción” in the state of Aguascalientes; “La Virgen de Izamál” in the state of Yucatán; and “Nuestra Señora de la Salud” in the state of Michoacán.
Often in the same state, Mary is venerated under more than one title.
In Mexico, when processions involving Mary take place, people get up early in the morning to accompany, either by walking or using bicycles, the image or statue of the Blessed Mother to the town that she will visit. The people in the visiting town prepare to receive the Blessed Mother at their parishes and adorn the streets with flowers made of tissue paper or plastic, which are hung on house windows, and long strings with tissue paper cut in strips that are hung from both sides of the sidewalks.
The use of firecrackers is common, and so is the participation of danzantes who dance along the same path. In some places Tapetes de aserrín, which are colorful sawdust carpets created elaborately by the people, are put on the streets, and arches made up of palms and flowers frame the Virgin’s path. In some processions, a band of music plays before Our Lady arrives. It is a wonderful celebration!
Processions can take place in short walking distances (of about two hours) or as long as two days. Those processions include spending the night in the countryside. Adults are not the only ones who participate; youth, children and even babies are part of these events as well. Some people owe mandas, which is a promise made to God for granting a special favor.
Once granted, people thankfully return the favor in many ways, such as carrying a child during the procession, going on their knees before getting to the parish, walking barefoot, praying or donating money to the parish, among many others.
The Marian spirituality of the people of Mexico is profound and is transmitted to each generation. This legacy then becomes part of the Catholic identity of the next generation as sons and daughters of Mary, who is mother of all and who leads us to Christ.
Eva Gonzalez is the Hispanic Ministry Director for the Archdiocese of Louisville.