Jesus, Mary, and the solar system

A painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Photo: Laks-Art/iStock

Subscribers to the print edition of Catholic Digest probably already saw the Apollo 11 moon landing cover story for the June/July/August 2019 issue. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 this week and thinking about outer space, I thought it appropriate to look at the solar system’s connection to the spiritual life.

If you are like me, there have been passing references we’ve seen all the time. A lot of paintings depicting Our Lady, especially of the Immaculate Conception, have her standing atop a moon. St. John in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, recounts his vision of a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of stars. Depictions of Our Lady of Guadalupe show constellations on her dress, which if memory serves, those who have decoded the image, allege they represent certain constellations.

“Immaculate Conception” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1652. Photo: Public Domain


God is the creator of the universe. The Book of Genesis recounts how creation came to be, and that includes outer space. Our God is the creator of and the God of the galaxies. So should it not surprise us then that the spiritual life uses these analogies to talk about Jesus, Mary, and the solar system?

During my recent summer session of classes for an advanced ecclesiastical degree, I had to write a paper on a certain theological time period. I chose to examine an individual I had heard about, but never formally read or studied — Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (1575–1629). He was the founder of the French School of Spirituality. His writings influenced many saints, including St. John Eudes and St. Louis de Montfort.

Cardinal Bérulle lived on the heels of the Copernican revolution when Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) proposed that the sun, and not the Earth, was the center of the universe. This scientific notion became incorporated into Catholic theology with Cardinal Bérulle, who likened Christ to the sun, around whom all people should center their lives. Cardinal Bérulle writes:

An excellent mind of this century has wished to maintain that the sun is at the center of the world and not the Earth; that the sun is immobile and that the Earth, proportional to its round shape, is moving relative to the sun: by this contrary position, satisfying all the appearances which obliged our senses to believe that the sun is in continual movement around the earth. This novel opinion, very little followed in the science of the stars, is useful and ought to be followed in the science of salvation. For Jesus is the sun, immobile in his grandeur and moving all things. Jesus is like his Father, and being seated at God’s right hand is immobile just as God and the cause of the movement of all things.

Jesus is the true center of the world, and the world ought to be in continual movement towards him. Jesus is the sun of our souls, from whom they receive all graces, lights, and influence. And the earth of our hearts ought to be in a continual movement towards him, in order to receive in all its powers and parts, the favorable aspects and the benign influence of that great star. Let us then bring into action the movements and the affections of our souls towards Jesus. Let us give ourselves in eagerness to the praises of God, on the subject of his only Son and of the mystery of the Incarnation. (Emphasis added)

In a Copernican spiritual system, Cardinal Bérulle contends that Jesus must be the center of our lives. It is his teachings, his words we hear in the Scriptures, his actions that must shape and guide our lives. Whatever it is we set out to do, we orient it around Christ, we do it motivated by Christ and out of love for God and others. Anyone who has forgotten to put on sunscreen knows what sunburn is like. If we approach Christ as the sun, as he often has been called in the Christian tradition, the rays of the Christ the Sun will shine on us and fill us with grace, blessings, and love.

Jesus must be the center of our lives.

Cardinal Bérulle’s Copernican spiritual solar system was not restricted to Jesus alone. In a unique contribution to the study of Mary (mariology), Cardinal Bérulle refers to Mary as a planet, in relationship to her son. He writes:

Mathematicians claim that there are stars surrounding the sun, which is their center. They revolve around it, just as the sun revolves around the Earth. May it please God that we might be one of those stars revolving around Jesus, rather than around ourselves, as we do on a daily basis. We must forget ourselves in this so that we might remember only Jesus and the Virgin. Thus he is a sun and the Virgin is a planet that revolves around Jesus, around this glorious sun. She revolves around him. He is her center. He is her circumference. It seems that she encloses and brings to perfection his greatness and his power. He looks at her unceasingly from every angle. She is directed only toward him.

In his Marian thought, Cardinal Bérulle proposes for our consideration the fact that we should become like Mary, and see ourselves as a planet revolving around Jesus. This meditation invites us to see how Jesus can be at the center of our lives. What does that mean? What does that look like in practice? We can ask Our Lady, to make Jesus our center just as he was for her.

We should become like Mary, and see ourselves as a planet revolving around Jesus.

Cardinal Bérulle’s thought is unique as he analogizes Mary to a planet. In the venerable tradition of the Church, Mary often is referred to as the moon. Not only because she is depicted with the moon, but because the moon is a reflection of the sun.

If Jesus is the spiritual Sun, then Mary rightly can be called the moon. Just as Cardinal Bérulle’s meditation invites us to make Jesus the center of our lives like he was for Mary, this long held image of Mary within the Church invites us to become reflections of Christ. As we come to know who Jesus is and how he lived his life, we begin to reflect that same love in our lives to all we meet.

Photo: adventtr/iStock


There is a beautiful Marian hymn that calls Mary the dawn, and Christ the perfect day. At dawn, the moon fades away and the sun appears in the sky. Unfortunately, this hymn doesn’t say Mary the moon, Christ the rising Sun. For indeed in the spiritual heritage of our Church, we have used solar imagery for living the spiritual life.

As our country celebrates the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it is an invitation to reflect upon Mary the moon, and Jesus the Sun, the center of our lives. The ordinary events of our lives, when seen with the eyes of faith, become opportunities for spiritual growth. With Jesus and Mary, our love and celebration of the solar system can do just that.

Read all of our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing here. 

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