Stars are significant in the Christian tradition. For example, God promised Abraham descendants more numerous than the stars of the sky (Genesis 22:17). And yesterday a star played a prominent role in our celebration of the Epiphany when a star guided the Magi to the stable (Matthew 2:9-11). Additionally, the Church has had a longstanding tradition of hailing Mary as a “Star,” for she is the bright and shining star of the human race.
The Church has two beautiful Marian antiphons (hymns) that call Mary Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). The first is the Alma Redemptoris Mater: “Loving Mother of the Redeemer, Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea, assist your people who have fallen…” The other Marian hymn is the Ave Maris Stella (Hail O Star of Ocean), a devotional hymn popularized by the Pieta prayer book and the preparation for Marian consecration according to St. Louis Grignion de Montfort.
Given the devotion to Mary as the Star of the Sea, mariners fittingly called on Mary to guide them; there are stories of Christopher Columbus chanting the Salve Regina nightly aboard the Santa Maria.
Just as Mary was a guide for sea voyagers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux saw Mary as a guide for the spiritual life in his homily “In Praise of the Virgin Mother.” He encouraged the listener, “If you do not want to founder in the tempest, do not avert your eyes form the brightness of this star. When the wind of temptation blows up within you, when you strike upon the rock of tribulation, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary” (II:XVII).
For Bernard, Mary is the star guiding the Christian through the choppy and turbulent waters of temptation and trial to a calming respite in the Lord.
The New Evangelization and Our Lady of Guadalupe
The popes of the modern age, in a new way, also have called upon Mary as a “Star” in the Church’s work of evangelization. Paul VI expressed his desire in 1975 for Mary to be the “Star of the Evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord’s command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope!” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 82).
Taking his lead from Paul VI, St. John Paul II entrusted the work of the New Evangelization to Mary, calling her the “Star of the New Evangelization.” This is evident in a number of his papal writings, including Tertio Millennio Adveniente (59) and Novo Millennio Ineunte (58).
John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, quoted a prayer from the synod that hailed Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization” (11). It is quite fitting for Our Lady of Guadalupe to be a patroness of the New Evangelization, for her apparition to Juan Diego was a guiding star for the millions of natives who converted to the Catholic faith.
In addition to Our Lady of Guadalupe, on October 18, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI invoked Our Lady of Aparecida (A Brazilian devotion) as a Star of the New Evangelization. Keeping with the custom of his predecessors, Pope Francis also has invoked Our Lady under this same title.
Looking to the Star
Stars have guided people all throughout history. A star guided the Magi to pay homage to the newborn king. And after they encountered the Christ child the Magi returned a different way because no person can encounter Christ and not leave along a different way.
Today we look up to Mary as the star of the new evangelization. We look up to her and ask her to guide us to her son Jesus. True and authentic Marian devotion leads us to Jesus.
There is a beautiful Polish hymn to Mary entitled Star Resplendent which speaks of Mary’s guiding role of faith. The following was translated by the late Fr. Richard Wojcik of the Archdiocese of Chicago:
(1) Star resplendent, Star serene, Virgin Mother, Heaven’s Queen, lead us pilgrims to our Father, Virgin Mother, Heaven’s queen. (2) Thru the storms that try us all, may we heed your urgent call, come to me, all you my children, you were made mine by my son. (3) Here we gather at your feet, pledging you our love complete, sinful hearts to a sinless mother, make us holy, make us one. (4) When in death we fear God’s hand, loving Lady, near us stand, help us know life’s holy ending, lead us firmly, lead us home.
In this new year, let us look up to the Star of the New Evangelization and ask her to guide us. Mary provides the example through the proclamation of her fiat and magnificat. Her instruction to do whatever he tells us still speaks to us today.
May our prayer “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” increase our faith and trust in Mary’s intercession both now and at the moment of our death. Let us pledge our love and devotion so that she can make us holy and lead us home at our life’s end.