Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pasch of the Resurrection in Andalucia

Fr Luke Melcher, Fr Christopher Smith, and Fr Pedro Jimenez Barros shoot confetti bullets
towards the Risen Christ to celebrate Easter 2011 in Coripe, Spain

Oldtimers in Southern Spain do not remember a worse year for rain during Holy Week. I apparently chose the wrong year to come, but it has been nice to live Holy Week with some calm instead of running around from dawn until way past midnight every day going from one procession to the next. Good Friday and Holy Saturday were a washout, but the Rising Sun was warmly greeted this Easter morn. Don Pedro, Fr Luke and I made our way to Coripe for Easter Sunday Mass. Of course, I found out at the last minute that I was on as MC and Preacher, so imagine my frantically composing my Spanish homily during the Victimae paschali!

The Mass was not surprisingly packed, and Chant Café Readers will be happy to know that Fr Luke sang the Vidi aquam from the Parish Book of Chant on an IPad. The rest of the Mass was a 'traditional' Flamenco mass with castanets, guitars and some powerful lungs belting it out from the choir loft. Latin according to the best of Solesmes style was provided by the American clergy as Spanish in the best folksy tradition descended upon this little village church in a liturgy few would ever forget.

But what I would never forget was what happened after Mass. Of course, a Procession! The Risen Christ was carried on a float by the costeleros of Coripe, with a recently formed band that meets twice a week with professional teachers. In front of the church several men of the village stood at attention with rifles and shot into the air confetti bullets. As we processed around the village for an hour, shots rang out and confetti and roses rained down all over the place. Of course, your clerical commentators, always eager to suck the marrow out of life, did not hesitate to take up arms more than once and shoot confetti into the sky. The South Carolina contingent, raised more on philosophy and French, was impressed by redneck Louisiana’s marksmanship, and learned a thing or two during pick up lessons in shooting from the hip in mid-procession.

Once the procession returned to the church, we ducked into a bar for some Cruzcampo and to greet the townsfolk while the men of the parish brought a scare-crow looking effigy of Judas with Qadaffi’s face to hang from a tree next to the north wall of the church.

I can only imagine the reaction of the insurance adjusters of American dioceses at what we saw next.

A firing squad appeared, this time with rifles with real bullets, and they shot at Judas until the kerosene tank in him exploded. And they kept shooting until there was nothing else left of the Traitor. The children rushed to throw stones at the stray pieces of straw and cloth that littered the tree, the remains of the faithful’s revenge on Judas. No felix culpas here!

After a brief respite back at the rectory, we made our way to Castelleja to see what cannot be called anything else but the Battle of the Virgins. Two neighborhoods in the same tiny smart Southern Spanish town have been involved in a West Side Story kind of struggle for so long they have two separate processions at the same time on Easter Sunday afternoon.

The Immaculate Conception procession goes up and down one street of the town while the Sorrowful Mother Procession goes up and down the other main street at the same time. Two different parishes, two different confraternities, two different worlds, all literally one street away from each other. United in the same faith, but divided by historical ties that no one really understands, no one seems to be bothered by this Battle of the Virgins that has gone on every year since time immemorial.

It was an odd way to end our Semana Santa experience in Seville. Fr Luke is staying to race Ferraris with some new friends found in the area, and I go back to my hermit lifestyle of a doctoral student in Pamplona. We started this amazing week with the impressive processions for Palm Sunday all over Seville and Don Pedro’s explanation of their origin in the Catholic Reformation’s desire to keep Spain away from Protestant iconoclasm. And we ended it with a little town which had kept that same faith, but was still divided over other issues. We saw the best of popular piety and what public manifestations of the faith can to do to promote Catholic identity. And we also saw how that deeply felt faith does not always translate into a moral life, a Catholic spirituality from day to day, orthodox belief, and the quest of the entire People of God for holiness. But I am deeply grateful to all of those friends new and old that became incredibly dear to me in this Sevillian Great and Holy Week, for allowing me to experience the Mystery of Redemption as I never have before, and perhaps never will again.

In the meantime, however, I will find a way to shoot the hell out of Judas on Easter Sunday in my next parish. Somehow I think that South Carolina just might find that Spanish tradition a welcome addition to the Palmetto State’s celebrations of the Paschal Mystery!

Many thanks to Don Pedro Jimenez Barros of the Archdiocese of Seville and Father Luke Melcher of the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, for their expert guidance through Holy Week and or their priestly fraternity and friendship, as well as to all of the wonderful priests and laity we were graced to serve and get to know during this week.

Check out my bad photos at the Picasa Web linked in the first article, Semana Santa en Sevilla.