The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, was a beautiful slice of Heaven located a few miles from our resort. It took only 15 minutes or so to arrive by taxi, and my husband was kind enough to accompany me into town so I wouldn't be travelling around in Mexico by myself.
That's right, folks. My wonderful (and atheist) husband agreed to chaperone. Having him with me, I felt confident and comfortable. Thank God he's such a gem. I know Mass was the last thing he wanted to do (especially on our last morning in Mexico), but he came. God bless him, he came.
We arrived about 20 minutes before Mass which gave me ample time to snap a few photographs and pay attention to the pre-Mass cleaning and organization that happened in a flurry of volunteers.
In the sanctuary, an adorable sister swept the marble floor. She paid careful attention to the stairs and shooed away someone dropping palm strands unwittingly before the podium.
An older gentleman, his one arm bandaged tightly to his chest, was using his other arm to deftly maneuver a broom in and out of each pew, somehow navigating kneelers, feet and purses. The action must have been hard on his good arm and shoulder - even his lower back probably hurt from constantly stooping to get under the seats - but he did not seem to mind. He offered himself as custodian of the Lord's House, and I marveled at his quiet dedication.
Then there were ladies in dressed in red. Obviously part of a society of sorts (or maybe a hospitality committee), these women acted like an army of mother hens, hurriedly flitting back and forth through the entire church, ushering some folks to their seats, handing out copies of the readings, informing folks where they could go for palm, etc. It was like they were everywhere at once, working together as a well-oiled machine in anticipation of the swell of Palm Sunday worshippers.
Then there was Father Patrick. At least I'm about 99.9% sure it was Father Patrick. This thoroughly Irish priest stood out from the procession both for his fair complexion and his height. My husband chuckled with surprise and confusion at his presence. He and our friends wondered why they'd need to import an Irish priest given the country is thoroughly Catholic.
They failed to realize that tourists need Confession, too, and English is the best way to reach the majority of us. At least that was my guess. Not that it matters. A priest is a priest regardless of his country of origin, and Lord knows I'm always grateful for them wherever they are.
I had briefly connected with Father Patrick before travelling down to Mexico. My blogger-friend, Jacob Wall, kindly put us into contact when Jacob found out I was trying to plan for Mass while on vacation.
***As a complete aside, I must take a moment to publicly thank Jacob for his incredible help. Without his e-mails of reassurance and helpful pointers, I'm pretty sure I'd've stuck out like the sore thumb I am for more reasons than simply language. His guidance was instrumental in making me feel at ease leaving the resort to cross through town to get to this parish. I honestly cannot thank him enough for his willingness to patiently answer my questions. THANK YOU, JACOB!!!
Mass was exactly what I'd envisioned. There was a wonderful procession into the church led by Father Patrick in his alb and two young altar boys. A lone guitarist strummed simple (but beautiful) melodies that engaged the whole congregation. The readers were direct and humble, each being sure to pay respect to their God in the tabernacle with a genuflect or a reverent bow. Their attention to this often-forgotten reverence made my heart leap with joy.
One thing that surprised me, though, was the Gospel reading. As many of you know, the Passion Narrative is re-enacted by the priest, lector, and congregation. This re-enactment is a reminder to us that we, too, participated in the Crucifixion of Christ.
I retract that statement for correction. Instead, it should read "This re-enactment is a reminder to us that we, too, PARTICIPATE in the Crucifixion of Christ." After all, we participate each and every time we sin. Each sin is an echo of "Crucify Him!" Heaven forgive us.
As this narrative was being read, I noticed that no one in the congregation was reading their portion. Only I was (or it seemed that way to me). I can't speak fluent Spanish, but I can fluidly read the words printed in front of me, so I read our portion aloud only to realize I was the only one reading aloud in addition to the second lector.
I was confused. I wasn't sure if it was a cultural thing to not take part in the spoken liturgy beyond prescribed responses, or if the majority of parishioners were unable to read. I can't imagine it being the latter because it seemed like they were reading along, just not being vocal about it. Regardless, I kept pace with the reading figuring if I was wrong, the folks around me would chalk it up to my own ignorance at custom. At least I hoped they would.
The homily went well beyond my realm of understanding. The only portion I was able to catch was when Father Patrick explained that Christ did not come as a mighty conqueror. He came as a humble Man who died a terrible death on the Cross. He was not what the people were expecting their champion to be. Instead, He brought salvation in a way no one had foreseen. I'm very likely butchering even my weak paraphrasing of the snippet I think I understood, but it was enough of a reflection to keep me sustained through the rest of his homily. Maybe that's all God thought I needed to think on... especially given how arrogant I tend to be sometimes.
Christ didn't come as a warrior who violently clamped down on His enemies. He came as a gentle victim, offering Himself as a beacon that would lead us home.
Stay tuned for my next entry, dedicated to their artwork.
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