Mass in Bolivia

I feel like we’ve had varied enough experience now that I can make some overall comments about the Catholic experience in Bolivia.  First off, it’s just overall rougher.  The pews are not comfortable and you can forget about cushions (and Tom can attest that they’re all made for 5 ft tall people).  Also, none of the kneelers have cushions they’re just plain wood, but that’s if you’re even lucky enough to get a kneeler.  In some churches, the first half has pews but the back half just has benches and you’re expected to just kneel on the floor.  I had decided to politely sit and bow my head but when the 60 year-old woman next to me got done on the floor I was shamed into doing so also.  Not comfortable on the knees.  Also the churches themselves don’t generally own instruments or song books.  Usually a musician will come with their synthesizer or guitar, hook up to a speaker and play whatever songs they know.  If you’re lucky you’ll get a whole band but it’s still electric instruments generally.  We were in one Cathedral with a pipe organ, but that’s pretty high-society here.  This makes the music more unpredictable and hard for me to learn, particularly when I can’t see the words or notes.  Also, every time there’s any kind of discernible beat to the song everybody claps.  Which is great…if they were all clapping on the same beat.  It seems to only matter that you are clapping not when exactly you clap so everyone is just clapping at their own rhythm.   Sometimes a Sister will get up and lead the clapping and that helps.

As far as the mass itself, everything is pretty much identical except in Spanish.  Things get funny again around Communion.   There’s no pew-by-pew here.  Getting into the Communion line is just chaos, you get up whenever you want and walk towards the center aisle.  This would be a problem except that only 10% of the people actually go to Communion, sometimes less.  The Sisters here (Bolivian Sisters) have expressed their frustration at this as well.  It’s possible that some of the people have never had their 1st Communion.  Despite being a very Catholic country, receiving Sacraments seems to get overlooked often.  You will find children of all ages not Baptized or without 1st Communion.  In the current 1st Communion class the ages range from 8-18.  But the Sisters say they know some of the people are practicing Catholics and can’t possibly have mortal sins every week, and so they really don’t know why people don’t receive Communion.  Another note about Communion, it’s pretty much always by mouth and there’s almost never wine.   The receiving-by-mouth really threw me at first but now I like it because my hands are never clean here, it actually makes some sense.  I just had some awkward moments the first few weeks when I would get up there and forget.

So everybody stays seated during Communion, but if the priest comes out with some holy water after church to give blessings to people, sculptures, flowers, or whatever else some trotted into church with, the pews clear in SECONDS.  Elderly women are hauling ass, throwing elbows to be the first in line to get sprinkled with holy water.  I do not understand this.  It’s almost like that’s the whole reason they came to church.  It seems to me somehow equivalent to Communion to them.  Anyone that can shed light on this for me, please go ahead.  I plan to try asking the sisters about it some more this week.

Today, by the way is the Dia de los muertos and with yesterday being All Saints Day and the previous day Sunday, we’re on a three-day streak for going to mass here so I’ve been thinking about these things a lot.  Last night there was seriously a stampede to get to the altar when the priest came forward with the holy water bucket, you would think he were giving away gold coins.  A few other interesting things from last night were before mass started, a stray dog was wandering around the church, a girl walked in holding a Chihuahua and proceeded to sit it down next to her all through mass, the man in front of us answered his cellphone during the Opening Prayer/Hosana and just stood there talking on it, and they read a list of names of dead people for 40 minutes straight.  Apparently the Sisters have this thing going where people pay them to write down the names of ALL of their family members who have ever died and then the Sisters read those names at mass.  The Sisters must be raking it in because the list is ridiculous.

Happy Day of the Dead, and too bad we have to go back to work tomorrow : (.  We enjoyed the surprise four day weekend.

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