On Oct. 5, the icon of Our Lady of South Carolina was unveiled at the diocesan Rosary Celebration in Columbia. At the ceremony Bishop Robert J. Baker blessed the icon, which he commissioned from Father Larry Lossing of the Diocese of Orlando. The image was designed by Father Stan Smolenski.
This week the Miscellany introduces the image of Our Lady of South Carolina and its symbolism. Next week, we will present the charism — the spiritual message — of the icon and information on the printing of the diocesan prayer cards with the Our Lady of South Carolina image and a prayer composed by Bishop Baker.
The image of Our Lady of South Carolina has a double title: that of location, South Carolina; that of grace, Mother of Our Joyful Hope. Something similar can be found in regard to Our Lady of Lourdes, who identified herself as the Immaculate Conception, and Our Lady of Fatima, who identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary.
The title “Mother of Our Joyful Hope” has as its basis the motto of South Carolina, “Dum Spiro, Spero” – “While I breathe, I hope.” This is spiritualized by St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope.” This is also the episcopal motto of the Bishop of Charleston, Bishop Robert J. Baker.
In its liturgical and popular veneration of Mary, the church frequently includes the theme of hope in its prayer. This is especially evident on her feasts, such as her birth (Sept. 8), her presentation (Nov. 21), her assumption (Aug. 15), and her queenship (Aug. 22). There is a special Mass in honor of Mary, Mother of Divine Hope.
In the preface for the solemnity of the Annunciation, the church proclaims that “in Christ, the hope of all peoples, man’s hope was realized beyond all expectation.” The Incarnation was accomplished with the cooperation of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord. This image of Mary portrays her holding the Christ Child to indicate her holy motherhood, and implied is her spiritual motherhood of the church, Christ’s mystical body. Such a theological reality justifies this image and makes it valid.
“Behold your Mother” (John 19:27) indicates her maternal relationship to the disciples of her Son. This maternal influence can be found formulated in the Old Testament. As recorded in Deuteronomy 4:9, the men and women were told by Moses, “Only take heed and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children …” The prophet Jeremiah (12:11) states that Jerusalem had been destroyed “because there is none that considereth in the heart.” In other words, the above command of Moses was not heeded and the result was their destruction.
On the other hand, the Gospel according to Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” In this way we see that the Mother of Jesus was faithful to the Mosaic law. The rosary in her hand symbolizes the Mosaic command to form the hearts of one’s children by instructing them how to ponder the mighty works of God. This is accomplished by our meditation on the mysteries of her Son’s life, ministry, death and resurrection in the rosary format. In this way Mary is faithful to God and to her children.
The color of Our Lady’s robe — rose — is reminiscent of her Guadalupe image, which Pope Pius XII proclaimed “Empress of the Americas.” The snake under her feet is to remind us of her patronage of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception. As one of those states, South Carolina shares in that patronage as well.
The eight-pointed star reminds us that when the Magi “saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy,” and “saw the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:10,11). This mystery of the Epiphany reveals the evangelization of the Gentiles. Pope Paul VI, in his document “On Evangelization in the Modern World,” proclaimed Mary the Star of Evangelization.
The Christ Child in Mary’s arm indicates the mystery of the Incarnation, realized through Mary’s fidelity to the word of God. The proclamation “Behold the Lamb of God” indicates the purpose of his life. He holds the Eucharist, the sacrament of his presence, sacrifice and communion: “This is my body which is given for you … This cup which poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19,20). The Christ Child holding the Eucharist also reminds us of his birth in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, where his first resting place was a manger — a place for food — a prefigurement of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Bread of Life.
Since this image is to honor Mary particularly in her relationship to the church in South Carolina, the official symbol of the state, the palmetto, is also included. The scriptural quote from Psalm 92:13 gives a spiritual perspective to that symbol: “The just flourish like the palm tree.” Since to be just in Scripture means to be holy, this quote recalls Vatican II’s Call to Universal Holiness in its “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Chapter 5. It is a secular symbol, which reminds us of our duty to evangelize our world.
In his apostolic exhortation for the right ordering and development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (1974), Pope Paul VI after speaking about Mary’s place in the liturgy, devotes Part 2 to the renewal of devotion to her in popular piety. He speaks of the many different sensibilities of peoples and their different cultural traditions. He encourages the promotion of “a genuine creative activity” (paragraph 24). Piety to the Mother of God should express Trinitarian, Christological and Ecclesial aspects. He points out four guidelines for a complete devotion: biblical, liturgical, ecumenical, and anthropological (section 2). A careful examination of the image of Our Lady of South Carolina, Mother of Our Joyful Hope, will show that all these aspects are expressed.
This image was composed and designed by Father Stan Smolenski of the Diocese of Charleston, and the artist is Father Larry D. Lossing of the Diocese of Orlando.