This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a Mass in Spanish. I thought I would share a bit of my cultural reconnaissance.
First, I know exceedingly little Spanish — a truly sad paucity, given that I took Spanish in school for two and half years (though that was now over ten years ago). So I had a difficult time even getting the gist of the homily or the announcements. But thanks be to God, the Mass is universal: though I didn’t know the words, I nonetheless knew the liturgy. The missalette had the words of the Spanish liturgy facing the English; and I do know enough Spanish and enough Latin to read Spanish with a fair proficiency.
It was a large parish, and had a large church building; and it was packed. I’m not a good judge of numbers, but I would say at least a couple of hundred were there? To my knowledge, it was one of the only Sunday Masses in Spanish within a thirty-mile radius. It seemed to be a very active and close-knit community, judging by the length of time spent making announcements both before and after Mass, and the bulletin that I snagged.
The music was lively and contemporary with a distinct Latin beat, not surprisingly (the church architecture and decor were also contemporary, or were fifty years ago). The homily was longer than any English homily I’ve heard, probably thirty minutes or so; I caught scattered bits here and there about the Year of Faith, the importance of living the faith, and what sounded like bits of the Credo. The congregation both spoke and sang a lot faster than my feeble attempts at Spanish pronunciation could keep up, but I did my best, and finally during the Liturgy of the Eucharist resorted to responding in English under my breath. I suppose I am a dead giveaway as an Anglo, with my pale white skin, brown hair, and green eyes, because both the priest and the extraordinary minister of the Cup spoke to me in English (to my slight disappointment): “The Body of Christ.” “The Blood of Christ.”
There was one very striking thing: When it came time to go up for the Eucharist, only a small fraction of the people went; I would say only one or two per row, and not even from every row. I am not sure how to interpret this — certainly it is a vast cultural difference. At every English-speaking Mass I’ve ever been to, the majority of people go up; indeed, I tend to feel a little uncomfortable not going up, when I’m not well-disposed for whatever reason — though I know I shouldn’t. One hears of all sorts of “cultural Catholics” or “cafeteria Catholics” who go to receive Communion even when they shouldn’t, when they go to Mass irregularly and haven’t been to Confession, or when they hold views starkly in conflict with the teachings of the Church (thinking especially of certain Catholic politicians). Many of these merely cultural Catholics (judging by what I’ve heard and not by knowing any of them) feel that receiving Communion is their “right” as Catholics, and are incensed if they are denied it. The attitude seems to be that the Church is there to serve them, not they to serve Christ’s Church.
And here in this Latino congregation, the thinking seemed to be much different. I can think of several ways to read this phenomenon. Clearly the large number of people in attendance thought it was important if not necessary to be there. Were all of these people who didn’t go up — which included young people and old people — not well-disposed to receive, on account of unconfessed sin or being away from Confession? Or, are they merely “cultural” Catholics who attend Mass for the community aspect but do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or in its importance? Or is taking regular Communion simply not a part of their culture? In any case, the one thing I think I can say for sure is that these people had a profound respect for the Blessed Sacrament, not to dishonor it by receiving it in sin or unbelief.
EDIT: In discussing this with a friend, I realized the probable reason for so many congregants’ abstinence from Communion: this was the first Sunday Mass after All Saints’, a Holy Day of Obligation. Many of these folks may not have been able to attend Mass that day (especially not a Spanish Mass). But still, at an English Mass, many people who had missed the Holy Day would have nonetheless gone up to recieve: these people were very respectful.