Holy Week (Semana Santa)

Holidays are hard. There’s a constant reminder that we’re not with family and things aren’t the way we’re used to them. But holidays are also a great chance for us to learn about the culture here and celebrate with our new community! So onward and upward we trudge.

I’m going to do my best to give you a play by play, so here we go. Tonight was Holy Thursday mass. Everyone is off of school and most are off of work. I spent the afternoon decorating the church with the Sisters and some youth. We put up a LOT of decorations. I mean, almost gratuitous. We had five different flower arrangements something like 10 20-foot-long cloths that we draped around things (all of which I personally ironed) and a very extravagant altar decorated for adoration. I clarified with the Sisters that yes, we have to take all this down tomorrow? And then put it up again on Saturday? And they laughed and said yes. Sigh, oh well. Because it’s the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood Holy Thursday is a big party here. We presented the priests with flowers and presents after mass. At lunch we had a special chocolate dessert and walnuts! It was the first time I’d seen walnuts here.

The music is also festive. This has kind of been a frustration for us all during Lent but I have since relaxed about it with my mantra “clap it out Laura, clap it out.” Basically, we clap along to EVERY song. It doesn’t matter how slow or serious the song is someone (or multiple people) choose a beat (not always the same) and start clapping. And then a Sister goes around and encourages everyone to keep clapping. In addition to this, we don’t really have contemplative songs at mass, most are upbeat accompanied by the electronic keyboard and we seem to be singing the same songs in Lent that we sing normally. We miss the quiet contemplation and we miss the liturgically-relevant songs. We also had the washing of the feet tonight. It was also a little more different that we’d have liked. Twelve young men from the confirmation class were chosen and dressed up as disciples in white and red robes, and seated on the altar. Then the priest washed their feet. It struck us more as a re-enactment than a liturgical experience. And I felt very offended that the Sisters and Priest couldn’t even be forward-thinking enough to include a female in with the disciples. I mean what message is that sending? We felt like it totally missed the whole idea that we are each called to wash the feet of our neighbors, to be servants of others. This is a primary part of Tom and I’s faith and a large reason we’re in Bolivia. But, I’m focusing on love not judgement this week :) . We are currently relaxing in our house, seeking reprieve from the music at the church. I’m going to return in a bit and finish out the adoration until midnight.

Adoration update: So it’s a custom here to travel around to 7 different churches for adoration. People who didn’t even go to the mass will do this adoration traveling. So they drive over, come in, kneel for about 3 minutes, get up and leave for another church. This gave adoration a bit more of a “train station” feel with so many comings and goings but around 11:30pm it calmed down. The other interesting thing is that although people rarely come to church as a family-unit, at adoration everyone was traveling as families. So that even at 11pm at night there were people walking in with their 2-year-olds for adoration. So the kids would file into the front row and play while the parents did their 3 minute prayer and then everyone left. At first I was shocked, but then I thought well at least the kids are getting exposed to the idea of doing adoration. Also, I understood better why we made such a fancy altar for adoration since so many visitors would be coming to see it. It’s almost like a form of hospitality.

2 thoughts on “Holy Week (Semana Santa)

  1. Actually the tradition of visiting many churches on Holy Thursday night was alive and well in St. Louis as recently as a few years ago, especially in south city. It was never really practiced in west county.

    • Yes I know the CSC has a group every year. I can’t really explain why but it felt different here what with the kids and so many people doing it.

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