Felices Pascuas! Here we are at the end of our Semana Santa journey. I decided to go to two masses today: the Catholic Easter service at the Duke Gardens, and the Spanish mass at the Church of Immaculate Conception in Durham. The second was quite the experience, and gave me a new perspective on what it meant to be a Hispanic Catholic. To begin, there should have been a warning outside that said: Standing Room Only. I hadn’t seen such a huge body of people since our high school graduation–700 kids and their families. The age demographic was probably similar too; it was mostly parents with two or three children, I only spied a few elderly or single churchgoers. What was most surprising to me was that the Catholic mass here was similar to what I had often seen in the Guatemalan videos: staid parishioners who did not seem overly involved in the service. I must say that after having attended Duke University’s mass for the last year, I had grown accustomed to a body of parishioners who always wanted to be there 100%–after all, they had no parents to force them to attend. Going back to the real world, I was reminded that there were people who left right after communion, and I was reminded that the church wasn’t enough of a community to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer. I wouldn’t say that they were not in tune with the service at all–and perhaps it was because I was sitting in the back–but many parents were more preoccupied with their children than in the worship. I could definitely see how going to a spirited Evangelical mass might be much more fulfilling.
One challenge in the mass was that the priest was white, and although he could pronounce the Spanish well, it was clear that he was not a native speaker. The sermon was slowly vocalized, and simply summarized the events of holy week and why Jesus died on the cross, skipping over any deep religious convictions. Although the priest was clearly trying–and it showed that after mass he stayed and spent time talking to some of the children and parents–there was a clear cultural and language barrier. In Guatemala, priests are often of lighter descent, and may face some of the same challenges in preaching to a majority indigenous/mestizo population.
Overall, the Spanish mass reminded me more of my parish at home, where only a small portion of the people were really there, than I would have imagined from a culture that is often labelled as being deeply religious. It makes me question whether this is what mass is like in Latin America, too? If so, I can see where there are a clear shortcomings in the Catholic church’s religious service, and the problems are similar there as in North America. I would like to return next week to see if maybe the view I got was of the “Cheaster” Catholics (if they exist in the Spanish mass too), and whether there is any change in the services between different weeks.