The Virgin of Guadalupe

The inside flap of this book poses an important question:

“The appearance of the Virgin Mary on a hill in Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531 is perhaps the central tadition in Latino Catholicism. The vision, allegedly seen by recent convert Juan Diego, signaled the rise of Catholicism in the New World at a time when Protestantism was spreading throughout the Old World. So what could a male, Anglo, Protestant liturgist possibly have to say on the subject?

The male, Anglo, Protestant liturgist is question is Maxwell Johnson, professor of liturgy at Notre Dame University and the author of the book. The answer to his question seems to be “quite a bit, actually.”

The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflections of an Anglo-Lutheran Liturgist, published in 2005, was an engaging, enjoyable, thought-provoking read. I am no expert on the Guadalupan phenomen nor on the writing about it. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only major reflection on the Virgin of Guadalupe by a Protestant and one of very few significant contemporary liturgical texts on the subject.

The book is divided into five chapters, bookended by an introduction and conclusion. The introduction is subtitled “An Apologia” in which Johnson carefully situates himself in the scholarly conversation about Guadalupe. The first chapter outlines just what the apparition narrative and image are; the second chapter is an historical examination of the origins and development of the elements in the first chapter; the third chapter is a discussion on the modern Roman Catholic theological interpretations of the Virgin of Guadalupe; the fourth chapter is an examination of the celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe; the fifth chapter presents the Virign of Guadalupe in an ecumenical context.

It’s the material in the fourth and fifth chapters that, for me, presented the most throught-provoking material. Johnson’s customary scholarly rigour is present in the work throughout and there is a fascinating tracing of the historical record in the second chapter. (Fascinating even if the analysis of the record ultimately leaves one without the satisfaction of definite answers.) The fourth chapter takes up the celebrations and views of the Virgin of Guadalupe from a popular perspective and presents the intriguing case of a growing number of Protestant traditions which include the Virgin in their worship. As Latino culture in the USA spreads and changes, more Latino people are joining Protestant denominations and in many cases they are taking the beloved Virgin with them.

This fascinating phenomenon gives rise to the conversation in the fifth chapter on the potential of the Virgin of Guadalupe to be a powerful force for ecumenical dialogue, crossing boundaries between churches and cultures. The ecumenical drive of the latter twentieth century and its focus on examination of the shared roots of different churches, rather than fifteenth- and sixteenth-century differences, particularly in the field of liturgical study, seems to give special power and relevance to this possibility for the Virgin of Guadalupe. It will be most interesting to see how this develops over successive generations in all of the churches in which the Virgin appears.

Overall, a fascinating, well-written and engaging book. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Mariology, liturgy, Latinx theology or, of course, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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