Scaled back feast day doesn’t diminish Guadalupe devotion

Father Jose Rodolfo Lache-Avila celebrates an outdoor Mass at St. William in Ward for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Provided)

The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe looked a lot different at St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg-Leesville this year. 

Usually hundreds of people crowd into the parish life center, but this year there were only about 100 as people sat spaced six feet apart. There was no dancing or elaborate processions carrying a statue of Mary as she appeared in Mexico in 1531. 

At this church and others around the diocese, the traditional celebrations were pared down to a Mass and rosary. 

The annual feast day didn’t lose any of its fervor, however, it just took on a different form. 

The feast, which falls on Dec. 12, celebrates Mary’s appearance in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec weaver, on Tepayec Hill near Mexico City.

According to tradition, she instructed him to build a church on the spot of her apparition. He sought out the local archbishop, who denied the request. Mary appeared two more times, but the bishop required proof. Juan Diego gathered roses from the hillside where she appeared and wrapped them in his cloak, called a tilma. When he opened the tilma in front of the bishop, roses poured out and an image of Mary had appeared on the inside. That tilma is on display today at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Our Lady of Guadalupe is now the patron of Mexico and the Americas and inspires a deep devotion. 

Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Valerie Magano Martinez, age 5, wears a handmade dress representing Mary at St. John of the Cross in Batesburg-Leesville.

Three generations of such devotion are symbolized in a beautiful, delicately embroidered white dress and veil, representing Mary, that was worn by Valerie Magano Martinez, 5. She attended Mass at St. John of the Cross with her mother, aunt and grandparents. The outfit was originally worn by her mom, Anna Magano Martinez. 

“My aunt Josefa Orozco made it for me by hand and I wore it, and it was just lucky that my daughter was able to fit into it,” her mother said. “It’s such a blessing that she was able to wear it. And especially since we can’t celebrate the way we usually do here at church, I told my daughter this was something special she could do for Mary this year.” 

Father Jose Rodolfo Lache-Avila, administrator at St. John of the Cross, celebrated Mass there on the evening of Dec. 12. Earlier in the day, he celebrated Mass for the feast day for members of St. William Church in the small rural town of Ward in Saluda  County. Because the church there was too small for adequate social distancing, the Mass was held outdoors. Participants, adults and children alike, dressed in traditional costumes. 

Many people also held Guadalupe celebrations in their homes. Families display a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a special place in their home as the feast day grows closer, often decorating the area with lights, candles and flowers. 

Families also participated in a prayer tradition, joining in a novena dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which begins nine days before the feast day and features daily recitation of the rosary and other prayers.

Children and adults dressed in costume to celebrate the feast day. (Provided)

Jessica Reyes, a member of Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia, said one of the traditions she remembers from her childhood growing up in Mexico was a series of special processions held early in the morning during the novena. Families would get up before dawn and assemble in the street, then recite the rosary while traveling from house to house, one house for each decade.

“We would do this before work or school, walking through the street, praying, with someone carrying a statue of Our Lady and stopping to pray at five different houses,” Reyes said. “After the procession was done, at the last house we would have a special pastry or bread, and a hot drink such as hot chocolate or cider. It was a special way for people to honor Mary and have a little something to eat together before going on to their daily duties.” 

Reyes also recalled the many years she has taken part in ornate traditional dances at Our Lady of the Hills and said she would miss seeing the celebrations this year. She held a quiet celebration with her husband Armando Reyes, attending Mass and praying the rosary nightly during the novena in front of a statue and framed image of the apparition that they keep in their home. 

“We missed the dances and the rest of the celebrations this year, but we still focused on the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Reyes said. “Our Lady represents so much to me and to others. She is part of my culture and my faith, and devotion to her is something important that has been passed down to us through the generations.”