Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Road to Juquila - Part 4: What is a Procession Anyway?

I’ve said it so often throughout this blog:
Liturgy is Life
and Life is Liturgy.
These are not separate entities.
That being said,
what is a procession anyway?

Is it the ministers
finding their way to the sanctuary
during the entrance song?
Is there an order to these ministers?
I remember once discussing
the order of procession
with a gentleman who insisted
that the order was:
cross, candles, ministers, lectionary, priest.
When I suggested he place the lector with lectionary
before the ministers he had a bit of a conniption.
Why is that?
He began quoting the liturgy documents
(which I know like the back of my hand)
and he began telling me about symbolism.
“In my life,” I told this gentleman,
“I try to march with the Word of God ever before me.”
At the time I let it go
because it just wasn’t worth the energy.
I think it’s all because we don’t understand
what a procession is.
Not to mention the fact
that we sometimes get territorial in our ministries.

When one of my niece’s made her first communion
the children were not in the procession.
I think this was only because
it was too much work for the catechists
with so many children.
How sad.
Laos Ergon: Liturgy IS work.
But so many just don’t get it.
The children were, figuratively and literally,
marching onward toward Christ
but weren’t permitted
to march in for liturgy.
we don’t understand processions
very well in the U.S. of A.

We think it’s great
when we leave the back door of the church
on Palm Sunday
only to re-enter via the front door.
And it’s really grand
if we march around the entire church grounds.
But if the weather is bad
we’ll just do a ring-around-the-rosy
inside the church.
We get up and leave
only to return to the place where we started from.

But do we ever dare
to process through the neighborhood?
Or down a major street?
What if we took up the whole road?
Wouldn’t we need a parade permit or something?
Wouldn’t we need to notify police departments
or city hall?
And so what if we did?
Why don’t we do this?
We don’t do this because
we just don’t understand processions.
We don’t do this
because we are afraid to be a witness to the faith.
We don’t do this
because we are just plain lazy.

When I go to Mexico City
I stay at the Hotel Samil Plaza.
It’s right there on the Calzada de Guadalupe.
I stay at this hotel
because I get to watch the processions,
which begin in the wee hours of the morning
and continue all day long.
The people process to the Basilica
of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
People walking
in public
down a major street
and praying
for several miles
journeying toward the sacred.
one of the reasons I love Mexico so much
is because know how to be public about their faith.

In 1985,
I visited Our Lady of Guadalupe for the first time.
This was about one month after that big earthquake
that had just devastated Mexico City.
At the time
we didn’t think
we were even going to be able to take the trip.
I remember being in procession,
walking down the Calzada de Guadalupe.
Some who were in our group complained
that the bus did not drop us off
at the entrance of the Basilica.
They just didn’t get it.
They wanted to visit Her,
but didn’t want to be in procession.
In fact,
I was a little perturbed at the time.
Many of us want to pray the rosary
and sing.
“Pray for us sinners,”
kept being interrupted by quiet grumbling.
At the time,
just after the earthquake and all,
and having witnessed a lot of the devastation,
after having witnessed much of the suffering,
we certainly had more than enough
to be praying about.
And these others just complained.
I sort of felt like they wanted the glory
without the work.
Liturgy IS work.

A procession is a journey toward the sacred.
It is a movement that brings us ever closer to God,
“nearer, my God, to thee.”
A procession is not just the priest and ministers.
A procession is a movement
by the entire Body of Christ.

Perhaps it is true
that in the formal liturgy of Sunday
the formal procession
is made by the priest and ministers.
But there is a procession that begins
when we awaken Sunday morning
and decide to go to mass.
We decide that we are going to move toward the sacred.

For me, the procession to Juquila
formally began
when I got in the car
and drove to the long term parking.
The procession continued
when we boarded the shuttle to the airport.
A major stint of the procession was made
via Northwest Airlines.
Once in Mexico City,
the procession continued via several bus rides:
to Teohuacan, to Oaxaca, and finally to Juquila.
The entire trip
was about a journey toward the sacred.
And the journey toward the sacred
is the stuff of our daily lives.

And if we are moving toward something
it also means
that we are leaving something behind.
It means that once we reach the intended destination
we will be forever changed.
And changed I was.

I witnessed some outstanding young people
on the Road to Juquila
who truly understood what a procession is.
About three hours into the bus ride up the mountain
(around 8:00a.m.)
We came upon a major group of youth,
several hundred I would venture to say,
making their procession via bike.
It would take us two more hours
to arrive to the municipality
and I wondered how long it would take them
and what physical state they would be in
once they arrived.
But the youth quickly slipped my mind
once we arrived.
I was so excited to be there
and so happy that I didn’t give them a second thought.

As we walked through the neighborhood
the sound of fireworks could be heard.
The tradition is
that as a group of pilgrims entered the area
they would shoot off fireworks
to announce their arrival.
The fireworks marked the end of the procession
and the arrival to the sacred.
Upon hearing the fireworks
someone at the church would ring the bell
to welcome them into the church proper.
What a beautiful thing!
This wasn’t a church bell on a timer.
This wasn’t a ficticious church bell
on a CD with speakers.
This was an actual church bell
rang by someone whose ministry it was
to welcome the pilgrims.

We witnessed several such large groups of pilgrims
with fireworks and bells
while there at Juquila.
After a few hours
we decided to leave the church
and go have lunch
as none of us had breakfast that morning.
It was now 2:00p.m.

As we were leaving the church
the bicyclists arrived,
some six hours after we had first seen them.
I had already cried several times
during our stay in the church
and about the church grounds.
But upon seeing them
I realized that this group of youth
really knew something about sacred journeys.
I cried in thanksgiving
for this wonderful group of young people
who perhaps,
without evening knowing it,
witnessed to me that day.

In Xochimilco there are bike taxis.
In Mexico City,
Dominio’s and KFC deliver via bike.
A bike isn’t a means for exercise or a past time.
A bike is a means of transportation
and even a means for one’s livelihood.
And this being the case,
a bicycle is a sacred, sacred thing to many.

These young people
got off of their bikes
as they arrived near the back of the church.
They hoisted their bikes over their shoulders
as they went up the stairs.
One of the older boys took his bike up
and then returned to help a younger girl,
who I guess was only about eight years old.
But he took his bike and then came all the way back down
to help someone else.
It didn’t matter that he was tired.
Someone needed his help and freely offered it.
He assisted someone in arriving to the sacred.
When they arrived to the main entry
they walked their bikes into the church
with church bells tolling to welcome them.
Now that is a procession.
That is liturgy:
Laos Ergon - A work of the people.
And you know,
sometimes it’s hard work.
Sometimes it is very, very hard work, indeed.
And sometimes
we are called to help someone else
to do their work.
These young people know what a procession is.
And this was only the procession.
What of the rest of the liturgy?
Yes, true liturgy
is work indeed.

I would later learn
that many travel for days on foot
to reach Juquila,
camping out in the mountains
as they make their way.
And while I, myself,
encountered many obstacles
on the Road to Juquila,
it is nothing compared
to what others must overcome
as they make their sacred journey.
I began to realize
that I have much to learn
about recognizing
and embracing the sacred work
that is all around me.
I have much to learn
about the work that is liturgy.

There are those,
who, perhaps,
would make the argument
that I confuse “pilgrimage” with “procession.”
You know,
I really don’t think so.
All of life is a pilgrimage.
We are in procession
through the whole of our lives.
During the whole of our lives
we are in constant movement
toward the sacred.
At least, I hope that we are.

Liturgy and processions
are not just the stuff of Sunday.
The movement toward the sacred
is the stuff of our daily lives.
Every day we move
just a little closer,
nearer, my God, to thee.

Processions are sacred.
Work is sacred.

Laos Ergon:
The Work of the People.
What a beautiful, beautiful thing is Liturgy.
Yes, a beautiful thing, indeed.

About the video:
Just a little something I recorded with my digicam (not my video cam), as we were about to leave Juquila. If you listen closely, you will hear the fireworks going off as this group of musicians and pilgrims near the church.

- - - - - - - - - - -

About the photos:
The first two photos are of the front of the church, Santa Catalina Juquila.
The second photo is of the church bell.
The third is of a truck, whose driver was also making procession, with a small statue of Our Lady leading his way!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yet another compelling read. Thank you again for sharing, and giving all of us a close-up view of your (and our vicarious) procession. ¡Bendiciones! p.s. The part about the arrival of the bicyclists brought tears to my eyes. What oppression has México, yet what great faith!