Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Week IV

More on Holy Week.  When I looked at Seville last Saturday, I told you that while the Seville celebrations are spectacular, they actually are more carnival than piety.  I was surprised the year I spent Holy Week in Seville that most of the churches in that city didn’t even have services scheduled for Holy Thursday or Good Friday!!!   In fact, other than the cathedral I couldn’t find services anywhere.  The streets were packed with both locals and tourists to see the processions with their marching bands and hooded confraternity members in their rich costumes and heavy silver wands, scepters, and staffs.  The Paso, or what we would call a “float” supports magnificently carved images depicting scenes from the Passion and is loaded with flowers and candles.  Acolytes wearing magnificent centuries old liturgical vestments in every shade of the rainbow and with heavy silver candelabra, processional crosses, and censers precede the paso and the whole is led by a marching band in a quasi-military uniform.  The paso is carried by anywhere from thirty to sixty costaleros, men who stand beneath the platform and linking arm-over-shoulder slowly carry it through the streets with a slow, swaying dance step. 
One year I managed to be in another Spanish city—Jerez la Frontera, about 60 miles south of Seville.  (Jerez is the center of the Sherry Wine industry—the word “sherry” being derived from “Jerez.”)  There were fewer processions—only three or four a day (while Seville has dozens) but they were just as rich in the pasos and costumes. More significantly, in Jerez there was still an air of religious devotion around them. People dress for the processions—men in dark suits, women in the traditional comb and mantilla.  Holy Thursday and Good Friday were particularly somber with people attending Church in the afternoon and the processions at night by torchlight.  
      Spain has become very secularized over the years since the fall of the Franco dictatorship.  Franco had a close alliance with the Church and under his rigid Fascist regime, Catholicism was not only preserved but forced down the gullet of the Spanish people.  With democracy came resentment.  The Spaniards were fairly quick to legalize abortion in a succession of ever more liberal laws from 1985 until 2010 when abortion became virtually on demand.  Spain legalized gay marriage in 2005 but, contrary to the machismo myth, had been quite socially tolerant of homosexuality since Franco’s fall.  It is perhaps the most open and gay-friendly society that I have seen on my travels.  On the other hand, the churches are deserted with only somewhere between 5% and 7% of the population attending Mass regularly.  Opus Dei is a strong influence among the conservative factions of society but while that includes the wealthiest classes, it is still a very limited group.  My impression of the Spanish Church is that it has withdrawn into a cocoon of its own devotees and has lost influence in the larger society.  When the Holy Father speaks of a “New Evangelization” Spain is where it needs to happen. 
These photos are from the Jerez la Frontera Holy Week celebrations. 


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