Monday, November 18, 2002

Well, maybe this year

I moved to California just over thirty years ago, when the Air Force transferred my father from Germany to what was then Castle AFB. At the time I was an Episcopalian, but I started reading stories about a Christmas tradition here that I had never heard of before: La Posadas (a place of shelter or inn). I have loved the descriptions, but have never made it to a celebration, even after becoming a Catholic. Well, this year, Fr. Oneyma is conspiring with the Spanish Mass community in out parish to surprise the rest of us with something for Christimas, and I hear that some version of La Posadas is it. Maybe this year.

For nine days (December 16 to 24) in many Mexican communities, a group of families will gather each evening to form a candlelit procession that can include a boy and girl dressed as Mary and Joseph. The group will reenact the travels of the holy couple by going from home to home, singing or praying the Rosary. At each home they stop and sing a request for a place to stay the night:

En el nombre del Cieloos pido posada,
pues no puede andar
mi esposa amada.

In the name of Heaven
I ask you for lodging,
because She cannot walk,
my beloved wife.
At all but the last house, the homeowner refuses, singing:
Aquí no es mesón;
sigan adelante.
Yo no puedo abrir,
no sea algún tunante.

This is no inn,
keep on going.
I won't open the door,
in case you are a truant.
There are more verses to be sung at each house, until you get to the final destination where the door is opened and the group wating inside (which usually includes those who were at the earlier houses) sing:
Entren, Santos Peregrinos,
reciban este rincón;
no de esta pobre morada,
si no de mi corazón.

Enter, Holy Pilgrims,
accept this dwelling;
not of this humble house,
but of my heart.
Everybody then enters in for celebrations, especially for the children. On the last evening, the celebration ends with Midnight Mass.
Father Gilberto Cavazos-González, O.F.M. (in the article, Whom will you welcome this Christmas in the December 2002 U.S.Catholic) remebers La Posadas and the building of the naciamento (the creche) growing up as an immigrant in the U.S. La Posadas have largely been a lay practice, with little invovement fron the Church, which mystifies Fr. Gilberto:
For better or for worse, the institutional church in the United States has all but ignored the Posadas and nacimientos, calling them superstitious wastes of time and money. For us, this ecclesial ignorance of our Christmas practices is disconcerting, given the fact that it was the church itself, under the direction of Franciscans and Augustinians, that taught us the Posadas and showed us how to build nacimientos.
While a parish priest in Texas, Fr. Gilbert worked with his parishioners to, in his words, evangelize the Posadas. Keeping them lay lead and family based, they added a stronger emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel story, lay preaching, and prayer.

For nine nights, the people of the barrio were treated to tamales and the gospel in hopes that those who never came to church would feel the call to do so. Throughout the rest of the year I would occasionally meet people after Mass who would introduce themselves as having been touched by the Posadas enough to at least occasionally come to Mass. Some went on to become active members of the parish.

I like it -- this is what Catholicism does better than any other Christian tradition in the West. Tamales and the Gospel -- you need both.

For some additional information:

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