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Monday, May 3, 2010

Weaving Stories in Liturgy

My arms that held the Pascal Candle had gone weary. I was clasping and holding it high, supposedly in great honor of the resurrected Christ. But seven minutes had gone by the religious elder has not finished his prayers, being said aloud. The crowd behind me with the lighted candles followed him with their own prayers also in a loud voice. The flowers arranged in six vases held by elder women had already sagged – unable to tolerate the heat emitted by hundreds of candles burning all around us. Moreover, amidst us was burning intensely the bonfire that lighted the Pascal candle. There was a vessel, made of clay, filled with copal pom (resin from a tree that is used as incense in religious Maya rituals). Sweat flowed profusely from our bodies and soaked our clothes. It was only after twenty minutes from the Pascal Candle ceremony that we could move in procession into the church of El Rosal.

There was no ritual text in Q'eqchi' for the Easter proclamation. I was to read it in Spanish but then I knew that the people would not understand it. However, in that Saturday afternoon, sitting with the elders, they had asked me if they could do their traditional prayers said at the four cardinals points (Maya worldview conceives the world as being safeguarded by four mystical beings of which center is the Divine Creator) during the Easter Vigil liturgy. I had to consult mentally what I had understood in Liturgical Theology about their suggestion - since "inculturation" of liturgies are not simply about amalgam and toleration of beliefs but stories woven into one. On the one hand is the story of the resurrected Jesus and on the other are the hope and gladness of the Q'eqchi' people as perceived through their history and day to day human struggle, death and sufferings.

The Triduum liturgies had been a patient preparation through dialogue with the elders of the church in El Rosal village. It was for the first time that the people celebrated the Triduum Liturgies. Priests came to visit them three or four times every year to celebrate mass with the people. Ministers of the Word presided prayers with Holy Communion every Sunday.

It is a common celebration, during Holy Week, that the Maya people highlight the suffering and dying Christ through popular religiosity. These ceremonies are very much elaborated through the leadership of the Mayor Domos ("Chinamil"; religious leaders of confraternity of Maya families). The Nazarene procession (Christ carrying the burden of the cross) before Good Friday draws penitent crowds. Good Friday apparently climaxes this contrite religious expression with the erection of a dismal wooden cross with the Christ nailed on it. In the afternoon, the religious leaders bring down the nailed Christ and lay him on his usually glass-covered casket. Here, the people continue to watch over it in vigil led by the somber image of la Señora de Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows). People do not usually feel at ease removing these images from the church even in Easter Sunday.

The long somber history of the Maya people, and of Latin America in general, where hope remains shrouded by today's poverty and misery, violence, injustice and oppression, sickness, hunger and all forms of signs of death shares with the heart (sentiment) of La Señora de Dolores.

This is one part of the story that I was aware to be told during the Triduum Liturgies. However, in dialogue with the community elders, I had to tell the story of the living hope that the first disciples had personally and communally experienced after the death of Jesus. These were all told in signs and symbols.

Thus, the patriarch of El Rosal proclaimed, through his prayers, the greatness of God through creation and the resurrection of Jesus. He prayed for the destructions of all signs of darkness that intends to envelop their lives as persons and communities. His petitions became the Easter Proclamation joined by all the people, each time, praying facing the four cardinal points of the Earth (universe). After the prayers, candles were placed representing the four cardinal points. During the Easter vigil, the Pascal Candle, brightly burning, became the central symbol of the liturgy.

Fr. Joseph Guerrero, MJ
March 24, 2008

Joseph G. Guerrero, MJ had been a missionary in Guatemala prior to his works in northern and southern Philippines. He is now back in Guatemala as a member of the pioneering team of MJ in Petén.

You can write to Fr. Joseph:  josephricguerrero@hotmail.com

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