Monday, 12 December 2016

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Heavenly Patroness of the Philippine Islands! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines

Obsession with rank is a cultural baggage common to Filipinos. It runs the gamut from stage mothers pitting their preschoolers against each other in school singing competitions, to media networks appropriating for themselves meteoric ratings based on their statistics in hand. Companies attempt to harness the better aspects of this Filipino tendency, rebranding it as a strong bias towards excellence, but, as is almost always the case, never quite succeed in banishing its malignant expressions.

We are tempted into tracing this obsession to the agglomeration of many proverbial nations forming the proverbial Philippine state. Scattered settlements, congealed into colonies, kept in check by a combination of divide et impera and a caste system that placed importance not only on racial purity but, more importantly, on birth geography, created a regionalism that is barely masked by a fabricated linguistic unity under a national patois. This, together with the padrino system, which is anchored on a complex social and societal contract, in a multitiered and bureaucratic government, ultimately increases the burden of our obsession with rank.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a victim of this Filipino obsession.

Not a few pockets of fierce Marian devotees have fought in the battle we have decided to call the War of the Fools, where the Immaculate Conception is pitted against Our Lady of Guadalupe, both forced to vie for the principal seat in the roster of patrons for the Philippines. Laughable as this may seem, it is nevertheless alarming, for, notwithstanding all the across-the-pew friendships broken, all the santero clubs dissolved, over the course of this bitter war, the battle itself possesses no reason to exist. The Blessed Virgin, under her title as Our Lady of Guadalupe, was never for once declared principal patroness of the Philippines.

Historical notes

Throughout most of our Catholic history—this means, throughout the Spanish era—the Philippines technically only had one principal patroness. We say technically in its literal sense, meaning there was no other saint accorded with such honour and title in the Ordines of that age. Saint Pudentiana—whose patronage we owe from Miguel López de Legazpi—enjoyed this privilege. Until at least 1903 (the year of the only Ordo we have from the Archdiocese of Manila), Saint Pudentiana appears as the Patrona Principalis Insularum Philippinarum.

Saint Rose of Lima, on the other hand, consistently appears as the Patrona Principalis Indiarum. One can somehow sense here a palpable pulse of tacit rejection. All the Ordines during from the Spanish era, keeping with the designation employed by the masters of ceremonies of the See of Manila, used this denomination. We do not know when exactly she was ordinally recognised as Patrona Principalis Insularum Philippinarum, but in the 1939 Ordo of the Philippines, by then compiled by a German SVD priest, she was already accorded such title.

This brings us back to our thesis: The Blessed Virgin, under her title as Our Lady of Guadalupe, was never for once declared principal patroness of the Philippines. Pope Pius XI indeed declared Our Lady of Guadalupe patroness of the Philippines on 16 July 1935, with the bull Romani Pontifices, but this was done without attaching any ordinal rank to the patronage. The Blessed Virgin, under this title, was appointed Heavenly Patroness of the Philippine Islands (Cœlestis Patrona Insularum Philippinarum). If it was the intention of Pius XI to attach rank to this patronage, he would have done so. And if it was his intention to elevate this patronage to peerless pre-eminence, he would have “deposed” Saint Pudentiana and Saint Rose of Lima first.

But the 1939 Ordo of the Philippines kept their titles as they were. They would wait until 12 September 1942 for Pope Pius XII, through the bull Impositi Nobis, to be stripped of their principal rank and be reduced to secondary status. Through this bull, Pius XII elevated the Immaculate Conception to the pinnacle of Philippine devotion, decorated with the commanding title Principal and Universal Patroness of the Philippine Islands (Primaria Universalisque Patrona Insularum Philippinarum). As this bulls altered the patronal order and rank of the Philippine liturgical calendar, so it only affected those feasts so ordinally ranked. In this case, the feasts reduced were of Saint Pudentiana and Saint Rose of Lima.

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which did not affect these two saints, remained untouched with this newer declaration. Neither the title suffered diminution nor the liturgical rank suffered reduction. It is under this very circumstance that the Fathers of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines, which convened in 1953, reaffirmed the bull of Pius XI. If the Fathers of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines were wrong, then it would put the Holy See in a very strange situation, considering that the acts and decrees of the said Council received their approval from the Vatican in 1956.

Reality check

Unfortunately, wisdom is not hereditary. This, coupled with a repugnance for investigative historical enquiry—something in which most Filipinos are arguably inadequately empowered and consequently alienated by a language barrier—has forced one camp with stakes in the War of the Fools to hijack the affirmation of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines and weaponise it in order to bolster its own claim that Our Lady of Guadalupe was and is the Principal Patroness of the Philippines par excellence.

Allow us to provide a brief historical situation concerning the Filipino devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, of which the 1935 bull Romani Pontifices has only good things to say. First, there are two images bearing the title Our Lady of Guadalupe venerated in the Philippines. The older title, from Extremadura, Spain, is popular in many parts of the Visayas, particularly in Bohol. The newer title, from Mexico, is the more recognisable one, being greatly diffused not only in the Archipelago but also in the whole world. These titles have their own distinct proper Offices and Masses.

Pope Pius XI

Romani Pontifices mentions that, according to many letters penned by the bishops of the Islands, the Filipino devotion to the Mexican Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the beginning of Christianity in the Archipelago, when missionaries coming from Spain, passing through Mexico, transmitted and propagated the devotion. We do not possess copies of these letters so we cannot confirm if there were proofs to their claims. Insofar as the Ordines of the Philippines from the Spanish era (the 1864 and 1903 Ordines, for example) are concerned, Our Lady of Guadalupe was not listed in the calendar.

Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu

Among the few singular expressions of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe from the past we can find, the one that stands out is from the then Diocese of Cebu. At the height of the 1902 cholera epidemic, the faithful of the afflicted places processed the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Holy Cross, allegedly at the behest of the then bishop of Cebu, Fray Martín García y Alcocer, for nine days ending on 16 July, the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, now the patronal feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cebu. Through the intercession of Our Lady, the cholera epidemic ended. It is a long stretch, but one can draw the connection between this 16 July and the 16 July on which Romani Pontifices was issued.

Pope Pius XII

That Impositi Nobis rescinded the ordinances of Romani Pontifices is a fanciful extrapolation. Go over the text of the bull, and you will not find one iota of mention regarding Our Lady of Guadalupe. The bull devotes copious amounts of text to Saint Pudentiana and Saint Rose of Lima, whom it reduces to a lower rank, but never so much makes a passing mention of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom it reportedly rescinds, not even a token reference to the 1935 declaration. How people summon the gumption and muster the moral ascendancy to see a vestige of rescission in it is unknown to us. Madness and rank ignorance has engendered a plethora of well-meaning but ultimately poorly-informed Wikipedia editors declaring in many articles on Mary that Impositi Nobis voided Romani Pontifices on the strength of the formula Contrariis non obstantibus quibuslibet.


The poorly-curated 2017 Ordo of the Philippines, a far cry from the gems of old, as expected, endorses this poverty of thought. It has reduced Our Lady of Guadalupe into a rank not befitting of the Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines. (The calendar of the Ordinary Form, for one, conducts a tempestuous romance with patrons and titles, preferring to honour only patrons. In all kindness, we must not fault it if it bungles in some areas owing to outbursts of romantic grief.) But in the calendar of the Extraordinary Form, Our Lady of Guadalupe remains ranked in the I class. As it was so ordained, thusly we keep.

Rigiditas is one thing. Stultitia is another.

¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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