Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Street Theater, sort of

Rob Kellerman here, posting on the various liturgical processions that we have seen in the streets of Antigua since we've been here.

Though it didn't occur to any of us when we made the plans for the trip, we are in Guatemala a week before Holy Week and two weeks before Easter. Given that this is a strongly, strongly Catholic country (despite the inroads that evangelicals are making in Central America), there have been plenty of processions in the streets of Antigua, and we keep running into them, whether we want to or not. We want t0.

The processions involve many, many floats of sorts that represent variations on the Stations of the Cross--falling Jesus, weeping Mary, and so on--that are borne by small boys, small girls, and adults, depending on the size of the float. Often the figures on the floats are especially gruesome or designed to evoke the greatest amount of pity--could there be a more dolorous mother than Mary, the Mater Dolorosa, after seeing Jesus with His blood streaming down His face? Around this, on both sides of the street, march boys and men in purple robes that are reminiscent of monastic attire, and a few in black that I suspect are monks. The processions take over the streets, and I mean that literally. The entire town comes out to see the processions, purple bunting is put up all over the buildings that mark the route, and each float is followed by a brass band that plays dirgelike music that is appropriate to the mood that the Passion of Christ is presumably supposed to inspire.

I am not sure that the whole mood really plays out the way the Church intends. On the contrary, the whole enterprise seems to be jolly and fun: little boys with incense burners loop-the-loop them all the way around and tease each other, the band players chat merrily with each other before they launch into their next dirge, and sweet mothers beam proudly when their daughters march solemnly or not so solemnly past, bearing one of the floats. It strikes me that this is what makes Catholicism so appealing in such a place: certainly the rise of liberation theology is a huge part of this, but it's also that Catholicism has traditionally found ways to engage people in liturgy that are, well, fun. It is fun, after all, to dress up and see your friends and smell incense and then stop off for a beer on the way home. The processions seem to me to be the essence of Catholicism here--both reverent and irreverent at the same time.

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