Mary in the Philippines: The Filipinos’ Love of Mary Immaculate

by Joseph A. Mulry, SJ

It is an ineffable consolation to see how devoted the Filipino people has been, and is, to the Mother of God. Perusing the study of this devotion published in 1904, the fiftieth anniversary of the solemn definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, we come upon many interesting, nay, astonishing facts. There are one hundred and eighty nine parochial and cathedral churches named primarily for some title or glory of God’s Mother. In the role of honor are Zamboanga with thirteen, Surigao and Bohol with twelve, Misamis and Leyte with ten, Samar and Iloilo with nine, Cavite, Cebu and both Camarines with seven.

Of these, forty six are dedicated to La Purisima Concepcion. Truly, Mary, the immaculately conceived, looks down with a benign eye upon an island nation, so unmistakably her own. In the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean, many archipelagos nestle, many mighty nations verge. Towards Asia, none but the Philippines acclaim her glory with a universal voice; and, we venture to assert, none of those republics, Christianized by Spain, from Mexico to Argentine, can outdo the enthusiasm, the loyalty and the love of the Pearl of the Orient Sea for the Virgin Mother of Christ.

Another proof of this devoted love of Mary is found in the veneration paid to ancient images. No less than sixty of these are famous. To repeat what is common knowledge, let us list several of the ancient and precious statues.

· The image of Nuestra Señora de Guia in the chapel of the Cathedral in Manila dates back to the fifteenth century and is honoured on December 18th, the feast of the expectation of Our Lady’s delivery.

· The image of Nuestra Señora de la Costa, in the Cathedral of Cebu, dates back to 1521 – the feast is also December 18th.

· In Binondo, the image of Nuestra Señora de Biglang-Awa, is preserved and dates back to 1588; the honor is paid on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

· In the church of the Dominican fathers is the famous and beloved image of Nuestra Señora del Rosario; it dates also from 1588 and is carried in triumphal procession on the first Sunday of October.

· In Malate, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios dates from 1598. The feast is November 26th. The present image is a replacement of the original, which showed the ravages of time. To this church, pilgrimages were made in times past, which vie with the present provincial pilgrimages to Antipolo and Manaoag.

· In the church of the Recollect Fathers, Manila, is preserved the image of Nuestra Señora de Salud – honored the first Sunday in February. It dates from 1600.

We could no more take out of the Filipino heart, this lovely filial devotion to Mary, than remove the Sierra Madres and cast them into the sea. No wonder, then, that even after thirty years’ barrage of Protestant guns, after thirty odd years of Aglipayan treachery, the faith of the nation remains Catholic. No wonder, that after all the misunderstanding and confusion of revolutionary days and ideals, after the thinning of the ranks of the priests and the abandoning of many parishes for want of them, the heart of the Filipino is true. Under God’s grace and in God’s providence, this miracle is due to the devotion of the Philippines to Mary.

The Catholic nation here is placed under the direct patronage of the Immaculate Conception. Its churches are as a litany of the titles of Mary, its provinces have one or many loved and precious images, its customs and its feasts are a recitation of devotions and glories of the heavenly Queen. If, as St. Thomas of Aquinas so beautifully says, no nation has its gods approach so near as does our God to us, the Philippines is thus blessed because it rests upon the lap of God’s Mother and who is so near to God, or can bring her clients so near to Him, as His Mother?

Devotion to Mary has in the mind of Holy Church been inextricably associated with defence against heresy. “Rejoice Virgin Mary,” we sing in the Office “alone thou hast crushed all heresies in the whole world – Make me worthy to praise thee, Sacred Virgin and give me strength against thy foes.” The history of the rosary, that chiefest devotion to Mary, is a tale of victory against heretics. Dominic against the Albigenses with the rosary as his weapon, the signal victories won at Lepanto, Echinadae, Corcyca not so much by the armies and navies of Christendom as by the earnest telling of the beads, make clear that Mary is more terrible than armies in battle array.

Today our foes are more insidious. Pagan customs have been called from the dead past and clothed with modern apparel. The world is wallowing in sins of the flesh. Divorce is corrupting family life; birth control is sapping the virtue of women and the strength of men; immodesty of dress, of conduct, is hailed as the badge of freedom; foolish feminism is crying for emancipation, equality; and all these is being propagated by literature, journalism, sociology, even the theatre and the cinematograph.

We know that divorce is an ill-concealed excuse for lust; that birth control is an obvious shirking of sacred human duties; that immodesty is a far cry back to days when women were but the chattels of passion; that freedom is license to live as the “beasts” of the field’; that equality means equal opportunity to rush along the broad, flowery way that leads to destruction. Was it for this that Christ came down from the bosom of His Heavenly Father? Was it for this that He chose a Virgin-Mother, conceived without sin, and preserved from the least taint of sin? Was it for this that through nine centuries of war and desolation and ruin the Church little by little held out hope for women and honor for men in the exquisite, ennobling, uplifting glory of a Mother who remained a Virgin, a woman, who was valiant in devotion to duty, a Queen who was crowned for her martyrdom?

No, dear Philippines, do not sell your birthright for a mess of pottage, do not alter the glorious, three-and-more-centuries of Mary-guided faith, to whimper after the flesh-pots of Egypt. Why is the Filipino family the glory of this nation? Devotion to Mary, God’s Mother! Why is the Filipina cherished for her virtue, honoured for her modesty? Devotion to Mary, Virgin of Virgins, the Immaculate. Let not the minions of Hell, either in the guise of divorce, or immodesty of dress, or illicit recreation and pleasure, break in upon this serene abode of Christian faith and customs, to turn it into a desolate, blighted Godless hutch of pagans who know not God. And this can never happen, if the devotion to Mary fail not.

As a final word, we turn to the express word of our beloved Pontiff; and stress the necessity of making the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day of renewal of Christian ideals, and the rejection of those customs which have desolated the kingdom of Christ. Through Mary to Christ and with Christ, peace and happiness to human society.

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