Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Mystical Rose

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Feast Days, Mary

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Mystical Rose

The famous image and story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an important part of the history of the evangelization of the Americas – a continent evangelized more quickly than any other in all of Church history.  Mary appeared to a poor Indian [St. Juan Diego] with a message for the local bishop – that a church should be built.  As a sign, he collected beautiful rare roses, which she pointed out to him. When he brought these gifts to the bishop, a miraculous image of Our Lady appeared on his tilma (a kind of poncho) in which the roses were carried.  She became a sign of hope for a demoralized people in the midst of the trials and tribulations of being colonized by Europe. Interestingly enough, her image is honored in many Churches around the world today, even throughout Europe, during a time when many believers feel demoralized and under attack.

Guadalupe may be the transliteration of a Nahuatl word, which means “who crushes the serpent.” This makes a wonderful connection with Genesis 3:15.  Ancient liturgical texts have celebrated the Mother of the Lord with the one who crushes the serpent's head.  Along these same lines, asking Mary to pray for us during times of spiritual battle, especially at the hour of death, may have always been part of the Christian tradition of prayer – just as the Scriptures say that all generations will call her blessed. Whatever the meaning of the name Guadalupe, it would be difficult to dispute that under this title, Mary has helped many come to believe in her Son, giving hope in sometimes the most hopeless situations.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has also been associated with the title Mystical Rose – a title associated with the words of the beloved in Canticle of Canticles 2:1, “I am the Rose of Sharon.  I am the Lily of the valleys.” Tradition has understood the Beloved of this biblical love poem to be not only an image of Israel, but also of the Church, the new Israel.  Mary, because she signifies the Church by her very person, has also been associated with these words as has every soul that is generous in responding to the love of God.  For Saint Bernard, the delicate beauty of a rose is in contrast to its thorns and signifies the spiritual passion and purity of charity friendship love of God.  He teaches that, in contrast with Eve's disobedience by which we lost access to God, Mary's obedience gave us Christ Jesus – the image of the invisible God, the One who is our total access to all true worship of the Lord.

The mystical life – beautiful, passionate and pure – is a participation in the life of Christ by faith.  This life progresses by way of the Cross – by following our crucified God.  The inexhaustible mystery of his risen life not only purifies us of sin, but fills us with certain truth, deep holy desires and great confidence. Mary is part of this mystical life, the rose of this mystical life, because the Virgin Mother Mary is an inseparable part of the life of her Son.

“Let it be done to me according to your word.”  These words of Mary to Gabriel betray a holy audacity, which informs the Christian faith. The mission of the Mystical Rose – to be part of our life of faith in Christ Jesus, and the mission of Guadalupe – to crush the head of the serpent, coincide in the life of prayer. Mary not only exemplifies the kind of faith we must have in the Lord, she also prays for our life of faith – and through her mysterious maternity, helps us realize the victory of good over evil so that we might not lose hope in the face of trials and tribulation.


Art: Our Lady of Guadalupe, from various sources with minor variations, source unidentified.

Editor's Note: Our Lady of Guadalupe was proclaimed Patroness of Mexico in 1737, Patroness of the Americas in 1910, and Patroness of the Philippines in 1935. For an in-depth explanation, including pictures and links, of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the events that transpired in Mexico so long ago, see Diana von Glahn's three-part series published last year on this site, click here.

For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • Camila

    Sometimes it seems it is easier for me to ‘grasp’ God than it is Mary. I know this can’t be true, He being inexhaustible, incomprehensible. But Mary is at once so hidden, yet so present, so utterly holy yet so totally human, so immensely lovely, so inexplicably God’s yet so little and humble; lifted to Queenship of Heaven, yet can we ever find anyone more humanly humble than she (of course, with the exception of God becoming man)? I know these aren’t paradoxes, for it is precisely her humility that lifts her up, her veiled presence that makes her so vital in man’s life of grace and her trust that makes her so worthy of immitation.

    Yet I find in myself such a tenderness towards her, such a trust and affection. I can’t explain; Mary to me is a real mystery; where my ability to exercise my intellect stops and I must surrender to something deeper and greater. It is not emotional surrender, nor emotional affection, I might add. It is something deeper, a kind of supernatural trust in her who at once fully human yet full of grace, the spouse of Him Who created me… you see, I start thinking about these things and it is hard to keep this suspended too long. If I attempt to put words to the thoughts it is so bizarre, because upon re-reading my words it never seems to reflect accurately what I am trying to convey.

    Something takes place which the most fitting response often it seems to me to be silence, hidden-ness, trust and prayer. Dearest Mother, pray for me, intercede for me, that my trust may grow to the heavenly heights where you and God abide.

    • Camila

      Friendship with Mary is forged in faith for reason can only get so far.

  • Jim Finerty

    So well put, Camila. We all feel the love of our earthly mothers but a spiritual mother is so more incomprehensible. The best we can do, as you say, is trust. Thank you for sharing your insights; they prompt me to look deeper at my relationship with Our Most Holy Mother.

    God Bless You

  • MarcAlcan

    This makes a wonderful connection with Genesis 3:15. Ancient liturgical texts have celebrated the Mother of the Lord with the one who crushes the serpent’s head

    Except that Gen 3:15 actually says that it is the seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent. It is Jesus not Mary who crushes the head conquers satan and his ilk.

    • LizEst

      It’s both/and MarcAlcan. In other words, it is saying the same thing either way it gets translated.

      The translation in the Vulgate is “she crushes”. The Vulgate also has this explanatory note: ” ‘She shall crush’. ‘Ipsa’ the woman; so divers of the fathers read this place, conformably to the Latin: others read it ipsum, that is, the seed. The sense is the same; for it is by her seed, Jesus Christ, that the woman crushes the serpent’s head.”

  • LizEst

    MarcAlcan–I think it’s pretty clear, it is through Mary’s seed that the head of the serpent is crushed. There is only one Savior. The author is not saying that Mary was on the cross, though she suffered intensely right along with Jesus. Notice that Dr. Lilles says “ancient liturgical texts celebrate…” He is stating that this is what was written. Because it was through a woman that humanity lost paradise, God willed, in His infinite justice, that it would be through another woman that humanity would regain it…and even more. God so ordained that salvation would take place through Our Lady’s yes. She was essential to His plan, although He could have saved us in any number of different ways. That is what this is saying.

    • MarcAlcan

      And my point here is that we should not keep resurrecting an erroneous understanding once it has been corrected. It does not help the propagation of the truth.
      He was trying to tie up the transliteration of Guadalupe with an erroneous translation.
      He says “ancient liturgical texts” without even mentioning the correct one.

  • Camila

    While protestants might mistakenly claim Catholics idolize Mary, Catholics, on the other hand, must rightly realize the unique and splendid intimacy between her and her Son.

    David and Golliath are simple, natural human beings – acting under the impetus of reason. Mary was “full of grace” all her actions were always done under the impetus of the Holy Spirit. In other words, her work, in essence, is a work of the Holy Spirit. She is not just a simple human being, acting strictly under the natural light of human reason.

    The Catechism state that God became man so that man may become God. What does this mean? This means that when sanctifying grace is present in our soul, we are actual partakers of the divine nature – we share in both human nature and divine nature, in part. Our nature is elevated.

    Mary never lived in a simple human natural state. She was “full of grace.” So you see, the difference between the work that David’s Mother and David did from the work that Mary and Jesus did is the difference between faith and reason; a supernatural difference. We simply can’t compare the two. It is like comparing apples and stars.

    Further, there were Hebrew manuscripts that read “he shall crush” and other Hebrew manuscripts that read “she shall crush”. So how can you say St.Jerome made a mistake? Do you know which Hebrew version he was using to translate?

    • MarcAlcan

      I have no issue with your explanations. But it still stands that Gen 3:15 refers to the crushing of the serpent by the seed of the woman and not by the woman herself.

      As for Mary being different to David’s mother because her son is God, then even more so is my argument to the point. If we can’t ascribe victory to David’s mother who is human just as he is, how can we ascribe the conquest to a human being whose Son is the God who does the conquest.

      I don’t think there is a Hebrew rendering that says “she” will crush. There was only masculine or “it”.

      I quote here from Jimmy Akin’s article on this:

      According to A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (Bernard Orchard, et al., ed.s):

      It can hardly be doubted that the feminine pronoun had its origin in the error of an early copyist of Vg. In his Lib. Quaest. Heb. in Gen. St Jerome quotes the Old Latin version of this text with the masc. (ipse) and translates the Hebrew with the same, PL 23, 943, and ipse is the reading of various Vg MSS. It is therefore highly improbable that he translated ipsa here [comment on Gen. 3:15b].

      We have to be willing to admit an error when there is an error. Instead of going through all this lengthy elaborate theological somersaults to support an erroneous translation, we should just accept that a mistake was made and move on with the correct one.

      There is absolutely no need for it.

      Mary is not in anyway diminished by a correct rendering of the text. In fact, we do her a disservice when we try to shore up a wrong translation.

      I write here a little story about a Buddhist monk that speaks very much to this subject:

      There was a monk who had a cat. Whenever he would start his meditations with his followers, the cat would roam around disturbing their meditation. So the monk decided to tie the cat to a pole while they meditated. And this became his practice throughout his life. When the monk died at a late great age, his students continued to follow this practice and his student’s students did so as well. In time there came to be written volumes on the efficacy and desirability of having a cat tied to a pole during meditation.

      • Camila

        Have you considered becoming a student at the Avila Institute?
        I think you would like it.
        Let me know what you think.

        • MarcAlcan

          Thanks for asking Camilla.
          But yes, I have.
          In fact I thought of that the first time I chanced upon this website and did enquire with Dan. My little apostolate had not taken off then but now it requires much of my time and money so I will have to revisit this when God desires..
          I had thought for a long time that He might be calling me to Spiritual direction (being very much in Ignatian and yet also Teresian in my approach to faith) but it seems He wants me to engage in evangelization at this point.
          In Christ.

  • LizEst

    Absent the original document, there is no difficulty in understanding both senses of it.

    • MarcAlcan

      That is just the point. There are no “BOTH” senses to speak of. There is only one sense.
      Were it not for a copyist’s error in transcribing the Vulgate we would not even be talking about this. So why this insistence on perpetuating a falsehood when we already know the truth?

      Jesus is Truth. We have to stick with the Truth.

      • LizEst

        Jerome translated the original. I don’t have that, do you?

Skip to toolbar