Several hours before the sun crossed the horizon, parishioners at St. Cecilia Parish in St. Louis rose from their slumber to give honor to the mother of all mothers — Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The morning of song and prayer Dec. 12 was in celebration of Our Lady’s miracles, most notably the apparitions to St. Juan Diego in Mexico nearly 500 years ago. Others, including Elizabeth Amezcua, came to give thanks for what they consider a miracle recently given to her family. Her mother, Heriberta, had been discharged from the hospital, having battled both the COVID-19 virus and most recently heart problems. Amezcua said her mother was not expected to survive.
“A miracle has been granted to my family,” said Amezcua, who with her 11-year-old son Alex Aguilar, was part of the group that led “Las Mañanitas,” a traditional morning prayer and song in Spanish to honor and serenade the Blessed Mother. The term refers to the little songs that are sung to wake up Mary in the early morning hours. Her mother told Amezcua, “We’re going today. I cannot stay home. I have to say thank you for this miracle.”
Alex, a sixth-grader at St. Cecilia School, said it wasn’t lost on him that his grandmother has received a second chance at life. “Some people don’t have an opportunity to get a second chance,” he said. “It must be something big that He wants her to do yet.”
This year’s celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe was notably subdued because of the pandemic, with parishioners spaced out among the pews, no dancing, and few people lingering after Mass. St. Cecilia was among several parishes in the archdiocese that hosted similar celebrations. Parishioners arrived by 5 a.m., laying roses at the foot of the image of Our Lady. The rose is the flower that Our Lady gave to Juan Diego, one of the most significant apparitions in Church history.
When the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in December of 1531, she instructed him to build a church at the top of Tepeyac Hill. To help prove Our Lady’s appearance to the archbishop, she instructed the saint to collect Castilian roses at the top of hill, which during December would have normally been barren. When St. Juan Diego presented the roses to the archbishop, the image of Our Lady miraculously appeared on his tilma. Her feast is celebrated Dec. 12.
After the morning service, which included a Rosary and other devotional prayers, a 7 a.m. Mass was celebrated in Spanish. In the homily, pastor Father Timothy Noekler recalled the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego. An indigenous peasant, Juan knew he was not esteemed in the eyes of society at the time, Father Noelker said. He even protested to Our Lady that the bishop would not believe him, when she instructed Juan to request the bishop to erect a chapel in her honor.
“She assured him that, no I’ve chosen you and you will make my message present to the bishop,” Father Noekler said. “We see the necessity of perseverance and trust here, and that we not seek to be great in the eyes of the world, but simply to do the will of the One who sent our Lord.”
After Mass, Miguel Martinez and Fidel Alberto stood outside of the church to chat for a few minutes. Wearing a red shirt emblazoned with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Alberto said he came to give thanks to God and Our Lady for the gift of life, especially in the time of a pandemic.
“My grandson turned one today,” Alberto said through a translator. “I wanted to give thanks for my grandson and that the Virgin has cared for him in this past year.”
After Mass, traditional treats of Mexican hot chocolate, churros and tamales were available to-go in the gymnasium. Several other Masses were celebrated throughout the day at the church.
>> Our Lady of Guadalupe
• She is the Patroness of Mexico and the Americas, and Protectress of the Unborn among other titles
• She sent St. Juan Diego to have a church built so that others have a place to worship
• Her message of love and compassion and her universal promise of help and protection remain constant
• Her appearance is a powerful reminder that Mary and God, who sent her, accept all people