Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The queen stands at your right, clothed in gold (Ps. 45: 9).
After years of answering questions from Catholic Answers clients about unapproved and disapproved Marian apparitions in the United States (such as those reported in Bayside, New York; Conyers, Georgia; and Scottsdale, Arizona), I have been delighted in 2010 when I heard that a bishop from Wisconsin had approved a Marian apparition in his diocese. I had never heard of Notre Dame’s apparitions in the 19th century to a Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise, and I quickly read the story on the website of the sanctuary maintained in Champion, not far from Green Bay.
While digging through the site, I was somewhat puzzled to find images of the Virgin Mary without her usual veil. When I read the story of the apparition of Mary, I found out why. Adele Brise reported that the woman she met in the Wisconsin woods had “long, golden, wavy hair. [that] fell loosely around his shoulders. Unlike most psychics in the approved apparitions, Brise, 28 at the time, was a mature woman by the standards of her day. Unbound and uncovered hair would have made a strong impression on her, considering that most adult women of that time and place had to pin their hair up and cover it with a hat or beanie on the outside.
Wow that was cool, I was thinking. At that time, I had nearly a decade of experience dealing with fundamentalist Catholics pushing a Marylike Standards for Modesty in Dress account, in which the Virgin was used as a sock puppet to tell Catholic women to pull up their cleavage, ditch their pants, and wear skirts that fall to their ankles. Oh, and veil. Because that’s what Marie did. Supposedly.
I was so impressed to find an approved apparition in which the Mother of Christ defied expectations by dropping her hair that I pointed to the example of Our Lady of Good Help (as she became known from the apparitions at Adele Brise) in an article I wrote on modesty for Catholic Answers. For good measure, I also cited the example of Notre-Dame de La Vang, an approved 18th century apparition, in which Mary wore slacks under a long dress, as was common in those days for women in the Middle East. Vietnam.
For years after, whenever I needed to answer to the Catholic modesty squad on the veil issue, I invariably refer to Notre-Dame du Bon Secours. Then I started to notice something strange.
It has become really difficult to find images of Notre-Dame du Bon Secours without a veil. At one point, images of the Lady of the bareheaded apparitions apparently disappeared from the shrine site. If Adele Brise’s original description that the Lady she saw had “long, golden, wavy hair [that] fell loosely around his shoulders ”still appears in the shrine online documents, this is where I originally read it, and then can’t find it. At the time of this writing, Google Images had exactly one image of Notre-Dame du Bon Secours bareheaded. The rest shows her with long blonde locks but with a veil on top – looking at me to everyone like a fig leaf covering Michelangelo’s groin David.
Was it possible? Had conservative Catholics complained about the bareheaded Lady seen by Adele Brise and demanded that she be covered? Well, maybe. I can’t say for sure. But that wouldn’t surprise me.
Alright, Michelle, why is this important if the funny ones insisted on veiling Notre-Dame du Bon Secours? Creative anachronism has long been deployed in artistic representations of saints. The Virgin Mary didn’t come down from heaven to show her hair to Adèle Brise, did she? And, hey, you don’t really think a first-century Palestinian woman was a blonde, do you?
Yes, I admit that Virgo does not show off. And, yes again, I know that it is impossible for the Virgin to have blond hair during her earthly life. But what if there was significant symbolism at work in the way she chose to appear to Adele in the woods of Wisconsin? What if Virgo tries to convey something important, something obscure by dropping a veil over her head?
Every summer, the shrine marks the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary with an open-air Mass and a Eucharistic procession. Before the pandemic, hundreds of Catholics descended on the shrine every year to participate. The Assumption is of such importance to the shrine that the USCCB chose on this day in 2016 to announce that the shrine had been designated as a national shrine.
In the Psalm of the Liturgy of the Solemnity, the response sung by the congregation is “The queen stands at your right, clothed in gold”. Interesting, isn’t it, that Adèle Brise saw the Virgin “between two trees in bright light, dressed in crisp white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her. her flowing blond locks ”?
The bright light, the yellow belt, the crown of stars. They are all golden, just like Mary’s hair in this apparition. That the Virgin appeared to Adele with flowing golden hair could be an image of her glorified state, of the dogma that she had been assumed in heaven, body and soul. She obviously appeared with uncovered and unbound golden blonde hair, “veiled” only by the stars, as a means of indicating that she had been raised to stand at the right hand of God, a place of authority and majesty – and no place to hide the natural “cover” God has given him (1 Cor. 11:15).
The requests of Notre Dame du Bon Secours to Adèle Brise were much more modest than those attributed to the Blessed Virgin in other approved apparitions. The Lady of Adele did not ask for the construction of a church as she had done in Guadalupe, she did not ask Adele to attend apocalyptic scenes as she did to the children of Fatima . All she asked was for Adele to teach the children their catechism, how to make the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments. Adele was to “gather the children in the wilderness to teach them what they needed to know for their salvation.”
In other words, the Lady asked Adele to teach the children how they could one day join her in paradise, glorify themselves body and soul. And this is the message that is obscured when insolent fundamentalist Catholics take it upon themselves to drop a cloth on the Virgin’s head, thinking they are doing her a favor by “correcting” her appearance to match their preconceptions about how the Mother of God “should” appear.
Michelle arnold was the staff apologist for Catholic responses, a Catholic Apologetics apostolate in the Diocese of San Diego, Calif., from 2003-2020, answering client questions about the Catholic Faith by phone, letter, email, and online platforms. She has written essays for Catholic Answers online and print magazines and has written four booklets for the 20 Answers series of the apostolate. His 20-answer booklets covered Judaism, the New Age, Witchcraft and the Occult, and the Liturgical Year of the Church. Today a freelance writer, editor and proofreader, Michelle arnold has a blog at Catholic Pathéos channel. A wallet of his published essays is available on Authory.