Our Lady of South Carolina

Last week, we talked about the symbolism of the new icon of Our Lady of South Carolina, Mother of Our Joyful Hope. This week, we present the charism, or spiritual message, of the icon.

The charism of Our Lady of South Carolina

The term “charism” is widely used to mean some special quality connoting a gifted person. The image or icon of Our Lady of South Carolina has its own charism because it has its own particular spiritual message.

Religious icons are unique in that they have a special terminology. For instance, icons are not painted but “written.” In formal iconography, the iconographer would be assigned by the bishop to this work and the iconographer would then go into a period of fasting and prayer to be spiritually purified. The idea is that the icon would be an inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore contain a “message,” the iconographer being the instrument in the process.

Everything present has to be relevant to that message; each item has a part in the unfolding of the mystery presented. An example of that would be drapery. Even if awkwardly placed, it indicates that what is portrayed is taking place within a building. The drapery is not there for aesthetic purposes. In the portrayal of Mary, it is customary to place a star above her forehead and on each shoulder to indicate her perpetual virginity, before, during and after giving birth to Christ.

There are many schools of iconography. The image of Our Lady of South Carolina can be easily identified with the Near Eastern Coptic/Egyptian form, which is simpler and more linear than the Greek or Slavic types. The colors in the South Carolina Madonna give an American flavor to this representation.

The key to the charism of Our Lady of South Carolina, Mother of Our Joyful Hope, can be found in the eight-pointed star above her head. It is the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Magi, who joyfully found the Christ Child with his mother Mary (Matthew 2:11). In his apostolic letter on the Most Holy Rosary, Pope John Paul II points out that in the mysteries commemorating the infancy of Jesus, “Mary leads us to discover the secret of Christian joy.”

The atmosphere of Bethlehem is one of simplicity: a baby resting in a manger. A shelter for animals, the stable is not a place of sophistication. This should remind us of our Lord’s proclamation of the kingdom of God in terms of evangelical childhood.

St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy who died in 1938, recorded in her diary that one day the Infant Jesus appeared to her and taught her to live the virtues of his holy childhood. On another occasion she stated that at prayer she felt God’s presence as a child would; she felt strangely like a child. This spiritual theme fits very much into the symbolism of the South Carolina image.

The Eucharist in the hand of Jesus tells us of our celebration of the New and Everlasting Covenant in the Mass. It is through our baptism into the New Covenant that we are transformed by grace into children of God the Father. The rosary in Mary’s hand reminds us that that supernatural relationship with God was obtained for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The serpent recalls the vigilance needed, lest we allow ourselves the loss of our eternal inheritance.

This image of Our Lady of South Carolina is a sacramental, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines in its glossary as a means to obtain the spiritual effects which are signified and obtained through the prayers of the church.

Father Stanley Smolenski of the Diocese of Charleston designed the image of Our Lady of South Carolina. The artist is Father Larry Lossing of the Diocese of Orlando.