As believers, we are called to understand the Church as Mystery. Yet Mystery is something that cannot be fully explained or grasped. To understand Mystery, we must draw on analogies afforded by our experience of the world. Avery Dulles speaks of the needs for models in the construction of more appropriate concepts of the reality of the Church. Based on his idea, I propose that we see the Church through a different lens, such as the one that the Hispanic/Latino presence provides in the life of Church of the United States.
The Church in the United States is undergoing a process of transformation mainly due to the rapid growth of the Hispanic/Latino population. This means that the face of the Church is becoming more diverse, calling for a renewed vision in our ecclesial understanding. This new model should be expressed in everyday language, images, gestures, and symbols that are easier to be grasped. Models are ways of experiencing what is not observable, hence are symbolic representations that are varied and dynamic, capable of expressing multiple levels of reality at once. The practice of popular devotions, as they are expressed in the spirituality of Hispanic/Latinos, may help us construct a new model for the Church in the United States. This model can afford the opportunity to understand and experience the Church as the gathered assembly that explores, learns and celebrates the mysteries of the faith and life itself through culture, art, and ritual.
Religious images bring about experiences in new ways. They appeal not only to the mind but also to the imagination and the heart. To be effective, images and models need to resonate with the experience of the faithful. They must be deeply rooted in the shared experience of the believers. Virgilio Elizondo’s concept of mestizaje is helpful in crafting this new model. Loosely defined, a mestizo is a person who lives in two cultures and hence has multiple perspectives. For the Hispanic/Latino worldview, reality is not monolithic. Life tends to be understood in terms of its beauty and drama. This dramatic beauty is revelatory. It informs life and practice. In other words, one’s actions and life are understood, filtered and mediated through symbols. In acting or participating in everyday events, God is revealed. Popular Catholic devotions, more than mere religious ceremonies are liturgical celebrations of life understood as an end in themselves. These celebrations include participation in domestic and public relationships. They have roots in the home, in family devotions and practices.
Popular devotions, and specifically, processions are religious ceremonies, and ritual actions of particular communities that demonstrate fervor, solidarity, or sorrow. A large number of common popular devotions include, as part of their practice of worship, some sort of procession. The theological aspect of “procession” cannot be denied. This particular term is used in theology, specifically, in reference to the Procession of the Holy Spirit, which expresses the relation of the Third Person of the Trinity to the Father and the Son. The Church, therefore can be seen as the people processing toward God. Processions express the idea that life is one constant movement toward the sacred. They bring forth and express the concepts of transcendence, journey, and pilgrimage in both the mundane and divine sense. Processions, furthermore, unveil the communal and corporate mode of belonging to the Church. They reveal human and divine truths. In the celebration of processions and in popular devotions, theological truth is found not in clear and distinct ideas, but in relationships. That is, truth is discovered through affective and active participation in sacramental relationships, which use symbols and rituals.
Since to be human, in the Hispanic/Latino worldview, is to be relational, what it means to be Church is, therefore, understood differently. A model of the Church as procession sees religious narratives, symbols, and rituals as presenting other possibilities of meaning and truth. This model of Church resonates well with the vision advanced by Pope Francis. During World Youth Day in Brazil, the pope declared that Church must take to the streets. The Church in procession, then, means that in this model all participate in a visible, communal and public manner. More than that, it affords a non-hierarchical construction where the Sacred, symbolized by the image carried in procession, takes to the street surrounded by clergy and ministers and accompanied by the laity. The entire people in procession, pray, mourn, sing, chant and celebrate life and faith with the help of musicians, dramatists, vendors and onlookers.
2014 © Francisco H. Castillo, D.Min. All Rights Reserved.