This was our 1st Easter Sunday away from our home parish and our family. It was a wonderful day but we miss you all dearly. All the new experiences, friends we make and enlightening moments are a blessing but some voids in a person’s heart are not so easily filled even on this most blessed of Days.
Our day started at 7AM to the sounds of the kitchen in the guest house already in high gear. You see, on this Easter our new Parish “La Iglesia de la Divinia Providencia” Church of the Divine Providence will be hosting an ecumenical service with a Catholic Church. You don’t see that every day in the United States, at least not from my experience. Approximately 150 members of La Iglesia Catolica de Antigua led by their Priest, Padre Louis Ban de Belde were arriving around 8:30 to prepare for our servicio at 9 AM.
Dianne helped with the food preparation (yes, you heard that right) and then the both of us helped set up chairs in the veranda to accommodate all our visitors and our community. Everybody had a job, we all worked together, there were laughs, there were mix ups that had to be corrected and if we closed our eyes we could easily have been working with our previous Churches of St Francis in Holden, MA or St Andrew’s of Edgartown, MA. To give it that home flavor I made a point of humming or whistling Jesus Christ is Risen Today or the Strife is O’er. Literally the last chair was being dusted off when two full school buses of our guests pulled up.
As they walked up they too had that Church Community synergy going. Padre Louis had created the Ecumenical Service. He, Father Mario and Alfredo immediately got down to the business of everyone’s roles as clergy and lay leaders. The Members of the Church of Antigua also got busy. They had brought the bread (large loaves of Salvadoreno Sweet Bread) and wine. They also had other items to use for the procession.
Like all church communities people found the seats they wanted put down pocket books, bulletins or whatever to hold seats. You could see the different families and also communities getting into their groups. It doesn’t need to be repeated but I don’t think any churches would run very well without the Venerable Church Ladies (VCL for now on), Episcopal or Catholic. You could see who the movers and shakers were in both communities who kept things organized amid the chaos. It was the VCL. Our VCL deserve their own blog and I will share that sometime in the future.
The service began with Father Louis introducing himself and our clergy, he then recognized all the different communities that made up his church and ours. As he mentioned each group they would stand and we would all clap. It was a special moment for Dianne and me to stand with our community of El Maizal and to be recognized as members for the 1st time. After that the service officially started, one thing jumped out, the order of the service was different from both the Catholic Mass and Episcopal Service I was used to. We said the Padre Nuestro (Our Father) early in the service and we received communion before we shared the peace.
The most glaring difference of the actual service was that Catholics and Episcopalians received communion together. There was no sign of hesitance from either denomination to receive from priests of different denominations. I was very glad that my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ were willing to receive communion with me, as I believe Jesus fully intended for all of us to do. Having it happen on this Festival Day made it all that more special.
As I mentioned earlier lay people from both denominations played major roles. There were different readers from each faith, both groups participated in giving communion and both groups had musicians playing together during our hymns.
The presentation of the gifts was very special too. 1st a woman brought up special candle that was lit, at the time I didn’t know the significance. As it was brought up, she lifted it high and turned to us all so we could see it before it was set on the Altar. Then a large bowl of water was brought up and placed on the table and then a large red candle was brought up in the same fashion. Once this was completed prayers were said as Father Louis lit the red candle from the flame of the 1st candle, then the red candle was placed in the middle of the bowl of water. Then he, Father Mario and Alfredo joined in blessing the water. Upon completion of this Father Louis picked up the bowl and walked amongst us, using a group of palms to sprinkle us all with the Holy water saying prayers to bless us. It was a very powerful moment. I’m assuming the red candle symbolized Christ’s death, resurrection and our blessing was representative of the world’s cleansing of sin.
We were not done yet with the presentation of gifts. Two pictures of Bishop Romero were brought up and placed on the altar, then flowers were brought up, then water and wine were brought up and finally the bread was brought up. Seeing the Altar covered with all the gifts plus the presence of Bishop Romero’s pictures was a spiritually touching, actually a little overwhelming.
The Peace was another delightful moment. It took some time but we were a sea of handshakes, hugs and kisses. As Missionarios we are pretty popular and it was such a feeling of honor to have strangers seek us out to wish us God’s Peace and for us to do likewise.
I’m sure some of you are wondering about the sermon but as I put in an earlier blog post, we don’t know enough Espanol to know what the sermon is about. Our loss is your loss and I apologize.
After the service the community stayed and we all shared a Fiesta together. The Main course was Baked Chicken, rice and tortillas. Fresh Mango fresca (Mango fruit blended with water served cold), water or café was the accompanying drink. There was also sliced fresh Mango’s, watermelon and cucumbers available. The visiting community stayed for a few hours after the service and the two communities shared the use of our pool, the soccer field (how they played soccer in this heat is beyond me) and visiting with families in our community. Once the other community left and we all started cleaning, by 3 O’clock you would never know that we hosted this huge event.
All in all it was a remarkable day and week. I’m sure I forgot to mention some things but I think I covered most of it. One other noteworthy thing worth mentioning is that Easter is not commercialized at all. There are no huge candy displays at Super Selectos and no Easter Bunny in this culture. We had an Easter where Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ, did not have to share top billing with a Giant Bunny giving out Cadbury Eggs and Peeps. It’s spiritually sobering to see the difference in how our cultures celebrate the same Holiday.
This is for my Sainted Mother and Father. My dad was a cradle to grave Episcopalian and sang in the choir at All Saints of Worcester, MA. as a little boy and well into his adult life. He was a great singer and he could belt them out, this was one of his many favorites.
Tom & Dianne