Like many dioceses in the United States, the Archdiocese of Seville moves its Chrism Mass to the Tuesday of Holy Week so the priests can get together for this important annual occasion without having to rush around at the last minute thinking about the Triduum. It was the first time since I was ordained to the priesthood that I experienced the Chrism Mass outside of my own cathedral with my own Bishop and my own presbyterate. But the fraternity of the priesthood exists in every diocese and every language.
The Chrism Mass was the usual standard Chrism Mass, with the canons singing the Redemptor sume Carmen (I kept hearing Bizet in the background of my mind as we were down the street from the nicotine factory famous in the opera). But before the Mass, the entire presbyterate gathered in the Parroquia del Sagrario, the sacristy of the Cathedral which is its own parish, to hear each other’s confessions. After the Mass, we all processed singing the Hymn to St Juan de Avila to the Chapel of the Virgen de los Reyes, where St Fernando, King of Spain, is buried. The Archbishop publicly thanked all of the silver and golden anniversary priests and gave a fervorino to encourage the clergy to participate in World Youth Day.
As we enjoyed a reception in the Patio de los Naranjos, every Sevillian’s worst nightmare came true: driving rain during Holy Week. And so what could we do? No float would dare go out on a day like this. And so we went to the Ritz Hotel Alfonso XIII, a seventeenth-century royal palace festooned with handpainted azulejo tiles, for coffee and tea.
There was nothing to do other than ask my Spanish friends to accompany me to the Corte Ingles department store to buy CDs of the Sevillian Holy Week music. As we made our way back to Moron de la Frontera, we listened to the ESPN of Processions. The Bofetada Procession, of Our LORD slapped by the Roman soldiers, decided to brave it. Each confraternity has an elected Big Brother, or Gran Hermano, who makes that fateful decision. It is risky. If the floats go out under the rain, the cloths are ruined, the canopies destroyed, and the costeleros underneath the floats find it even more difficult to breathe. The Yes was given, and as soon as the Bofetada got out into the street away from the Cathedral, torrential downpours started.
As we listened on the radio to the shocked commentary of the onlookers, one phone call after another came in to our host from priests and lay friends from all over Seville, “Are you following what is going on?” with as much earnestness as the last play of the Super Bowl. Finally, after a few minutes, it became impossible. We parked on the side of the street, ran into a bar, and watched on television as the float worked its way backwards into safety.
In the meantime, Moron was having its smaller, but very similar procession of the Cross. As the nazarenos, barefoot with their pointy black hats and white robes with external hairshirt-corset looking vests of hemp, worked their silent way up the winding streets of Moron, Fr Luke retired for the night, felled by a fatiguing few days and a nasty cough. It was a reminder that, as the famous antiphon goes, In the midst of life we are in death. Good thing we priests had the great honour to renew our ordination promises in one of the largest cathedrals in Christendom and then enjoy in the excitement of the Andalucian laity who are spending all night in the church working on their floats for tomorrow.
Don Pedro got a phone call. He has a funeral tomorrow. But how do you do that when the pews have been taken out of the parish church whose nave is filled with two enormous floats. We’ll figure that out tomorrow morning.