Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Gringos Go to Mass

While visiting my daughter in Connecticut this weekend we decided to attend Sunday mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in the town of Meriden. The town is home to a large Mexican population, and so every other mass is celebrated in Spanish. We have been to this lovely old church before, but our schedule this week was such that the 9 am mass was the most convenient for us, and that happened to be one of the Spanish-language masses. I'm not sure we've been to Spanish mass at St. Rose's before, but we have attended such masses in other parishes, and there is really no problem keeping up despite the language difference.

We were among the few non-Spanish speaking people in attendance. The Mexican people are very religious, and seeing them walk in all dressed in their Sunday best, with children respectful and scrubbed within an inch of their lives was sweet. The altar at St. Rose's could not hold another flower. Every niche was filled with colorful blossoms that lent a festive air to the normally sedate interior of a Catholic church. Leading the way up the aisle for the priest and altar servers was the parish Legion of Mary, a group of Hispanic women who were all over 70 years in age and under 5 feet in height.

The Franciscan priest who celebrated the mass was called simply Father Jack. He spoke fluent Spanish but I got the feeling that it was not his first language. As he launched into his homily, Father Jack began to warm to his task. He paced up and down the main aisle gesturing animatedly with his arms in a way that his Latino audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Although I don't speak Spanish, I could tell by the congregation's reactions that he was putting questions to them. In my regular church, when the priest tries to draw the faithful into discussions with him, there are few takers. No such reluctance in this group; old women shouted comments from around the church, gladly playing supporting roles to Father Jack's leading man.

At the presentation of the gifts, a group of young children marched up to the altar carrying a rosary they had fashioned out of colored strips of paper. Father Jack made a fuss out of draping the altar with this offering from the children, who looked very proud to be so included in the service. Near the middle of the mass, when parishioners typically offer each other the sign of peace by shaking hands or sharing a modest embrace, these Mexican families rose from their seats and began walking around the church enthusiastically and un-self consciously greeting friends and relatives with smiles and hugs. It was charming to see.

Sometimes it's a good thing to step out of our familiar boxes to try something new. Every Sunday we go to the same mass in the same church, and I must confess that I am not always as attentive or prayerful as I should be. Seeing these lovely people singing hymns in Spanish to the delightful, south-of-the border accompaniment of guitars and maracas was inspiring to us. They wore their almost child-like faith on their sleeves and it was humbling to be a part of their joy. Matthew's gospel tells us Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

I think Matthew had something there.


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1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

I had a similar experience driving through Queens one day on my way to LaGuardia airport. We drove through a Spanish speaking neighborhood on a Saturday morning, and the people were out in mass, music playing and a very happy atmosphere was embedded. The people were courteous to me as I drove through the crowded streets, listening to the music and seeing some really happy faces! It's nice to know there are people like that in this world.