So a big thing happened this week: the United States experienced its first total solar eclipse since 1979, and the first total eclipse to stretch from coast to coast in over a century. In ye olden days, eclipses were viewed with abject terror, as divine harbingers of death and destruction. This is understandable, given the scientific limitations of the time, and the potentially frightening experience of the sun disappearing midday. Today, eclipses are viewed as “cool” or as simply an accidental quirk of the rocks circling our sun. But I think there could be some truth to the “divine sign” idea, though not as a sign of devastation.
The sun has long been used as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Of course, “son” and “sun” are similar words, but the symbolic connection predates the English language. Jesus is the “Light of the World.” As the sun rises over the horizon, overcoming the darkness, so Jesus rises from the dead, defeating death forever. The sun as a symbol figures prominently in the badge of the Society of Jesus, which is today seen as the major charge of the coat of arms of Pope Francis:
The moon has equally long been used as a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is in large part because she is identified as the Woman in the Revelation of Saint John, who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe includes Mary standing on the crescent moon, and the moon is used as a heraldric device for Mary, such as in the coat of arms of my local church, the Archdiocese of Mobile:
Mary’s identification with the moon is particularly apt because of what the moon actually does. The moon has no light of its own. It merely reflects to us the light of the sun. Mary, too, is not noticeable on her own, but is radiant because she perfectly reflects to us the light and love and grace of her Son, Jesus Christ.
Just as the sun and moon reveal Jesus and Mary, I think that so too does an eclipse—a special confluence of the sun and the moon—reveal the relationship between Jesus and Mary and our experience of that relationship.
I firmly believe that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) I take this message seriously. Sacred Scripture itself shows that in many ways God has painted the Gospel message in the medium of His creation. The stars themselves are his paintbrush. The birth of Our Savior, of the Creator’s own Son, was announced by a “star at its rising.” (Matthew 2:1) In ancient Judea, this language could have had a number of meanings, but something in the sky caught the notice of the learned.
And this eclipse we have experienced should catch our notice. A total solar eclipse such as the one just seen in the United States occurs when the moon passes just perfectly between the earth and sun, completely blocking out the surface of the sun. With the surface blotted out, it is possible to see the sun’s corona with the naked eye. The corona is always there, an aura of plasma extending out from the sun in every direction, but is only visible during a solar eclipse, when the moon shields us from the full glare of the sun’s surface.
As the moon stands in the gap between the earth and the sun, so too does Mary stand in the gap between us and the Son. She has no desire to best Jesus, to block us from ever seeing His Light. But every once in a while, she stands between us and Him so that we can see Him better. She humanizes Jesus, lifting her veil so we are shielded momentarily from His shimmering glory, and can experience parts of Jesus that we would never be able to see otherwise. His corona, His humanity, is visible around her veil, and we see the deep love he has for us. And then, like the end of an eclipse, she drops her veil and again we are enveloped in his wondrous light.
Take notice of this sign in the sky, this sign of Our Savior and His Mother. Take advantage of the Veil of the Virgin to see her Son more fully.