Processions, novenas, Christmas cribs, patron saint day celebrations, Stations of the Cross in the streets, posadas, rosaries, and more – not quite the experience of the twenty-first century church in the United States. But here in Central America and in many parts of the world, faith is celebrated not only with the Eucharist and the sacraments, but with the devotional practices of the people in their villages.
In our parish, Fr. German Navarro, does make an effort to have Mass in each of the fifty or so churches every two months. But he also is a grand promoter of popular piety.
Here are photos of some of the practices in our parish.
VÍA CRUCIS PARROQUIAL
The parish has a parish-wide celebration of the Stations of the Cross in Dulce Nombre, the seat of the parish. The celebration is on the Friday before Palm Sunday which had been the traditional feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. In the last few years we have had a number of different social themes for the stations. The people come with signs to illustrate the theme. The people in Dulce Nombre erect altars and often make alfombras, carpets of colored saw dust.
Palm Sunday there is a procession before the Mass. One year they found a donkey.
In at least one church, in Concepción,they make a sawdust carpet in the church before the Mass or Celebration of the Word.
In almost every village there are Stations of the Cross in the morning and then the liturgical Service of the Passion and the Veneration of the Cross in the afternoon.
At least twice I’ve been in Debajiados for either the Stations of the Service of the Passion.
During the Stations, I have seen some kids making small cross of two sticks.
The devotion expressed by people during the Veneration of the Cross moves me deeply – especially in places of intense poverty.
Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, is celebrated two weeks after Pentecost.
In the past few years the Forty Hours devotion has preceded the Mass or Celebration of the Word with Communion, where there is a priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister of Communion. The devotion began in Europe; the forty hours represent the time that Jesus was in the tomb between his burial and resurrection.
The people decorate the altar and expose the Host in a monstrance. People come and pray during the forty hours.
At the end of the forty hours, there is usually a procession followed by Mass or a Celebration of the Word with Communion. The procession often is at least an hour long.
The people prepare altars for the procession where they stop and pray – often with a theme. Last year it was the Care of Creation; this year it was Youth.
Patron Saint Feast Days
Every town and village has a patron saint. It is usually celebrated with a novena – nine day of prayer, followed by a Mass on the feast day. In many places the feast day celebration begins with firecrackers and hymns at 4 or 5 am. After Mass, many places serve tamales.
Dulce Nombre de María – September 12
The big feast here is The Holy Name of Mary on September 12. The villages which have Mary as a patron bring their statues, mounted on the back of pick-ups, for the procession – which proceeds with hymns, prayers (especially the Rosary), and fireworks, before proceeding to the main church for Mass.
San Antonio de Padua – June 13
Saint Anthony of Padua is one of the most important saints for our parish. There are ten churches named in his honor. I know; this year the pastor was gone for the feast and so I had nine Celebrations of the Word with Communion over three days. I missed one place since they had not contacted me.
Saint Isidore the Farmer – May
San Isidro Labrador is celebrating in several villages, since he is the patron of farmers. He is often invoked praying for rain – which has been very scarce this year.
Three years ago, in Yaruconte, Mass was celebrated, very appropriately in a farm building.
Saint Joseph the Worker – May 1
La Colonia San José Obrero celebrates with a procession and a Mass. This year I was able to find them a small statue of Saint Joseph the Worker that they carried in the procession. They also had a small music group leading the song during the procession.
Saint Francis of Assisi – October 4
Saint Francis is also a popular saint with at least three communities under his protection.
The day of his feast day or the night before there are processions.
The posadas are a tradition in much of Central America. During the ten days before Christmas – or, as in our parish, for the whole month of December, people go in procession with images of Mary and Joseph, seeking shelter, as the Holy Family did in Bethlehem years ago. In a few places two people are dressed up as Mary and Joseph.
The people knock at a door and there is a hymn that alternates between the people outside and those within. It ends with people coming inside, praying sharing something to eat and drink.
Christmas cribs – nacimientos
Making a Christmas crib is not just buying something at the store; there are nacimientos in the churches. In the main church the image of the baby Jesus is enshrined there – with incense – at the Midnight Mass.
But sometimes people make elaborate shrines in their homes, including these two from Quebraditas taken several years ago.
There are lots more examples of popular religiosity. But this should give you a taste – and an overview, just in our parish of Dulce Nombre.