Monday, June 27, 2011

The Eucharist among the poor


Corpus Christi alfombras in Santa Rosa, 2009
Sunday, June 26, was the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

In Honduras, despite the thousands of villages without weekly Eucharist, there is a very strong and deep Eucharistic piety. The people reverence Christ in the Eucharist. At times I have seen people at Mass or when the Eucharist is exposed on the altar walk backwards down the aisle, not wanting to turn their backs on the Eucharist. In this diocese, it is common to have a Holy Hour before the Eucharist every Thursday.

On Corpus Christi in Santa Rosa de Copán and other major towns in Honduras there are processions in the streets decorated with colorful carpets - alfombras - of sawdust, complete with Eucharistic symbols.

This Corpus Christi, though, was going to be something special for the people in the village of El Zapote de Santa Rosa in the parish of Dulce Nombre, in Copán, Honduras. Not only would they have Mass and a procession but a new tabernacle in their church would be blessed and the Eucharist would be left in the tabernacle. They would have “Jesús sacramentado” – “the sacramental Jesus” in their church.

El Zapote is a community with about 240 households. There are fifteen base communities there and at least nine catechists, plus other pastoral workers. There are several very impressive leaders in the community, some of whom help lead the training sessions for catechists.
 
On Saturday I joined in preparing the church for the celebration of Corpus Christi.

After the church had been cleaned, a group of mostly men and boys brought several bags of sawdust and pine needles to the church. 

Adolfo cleaning the center of the pathway.
 A pathway from the entry to the altar was prepared with a pine needle border and a sawdust carpet. 


Since the community is poor they used uncolored sawdust. But they added several symbols using pine needles and cal (lye).  Before the altar was a chalice and host; in the middle was a simple cross. 

Putting the cross on the host
 I even got into the act.

Preparing an altar
Sunday morning, people got up at 5 o’clock to begin erecting four altars in the community where the priest carrying the monstrance with the Eucharist would stop for prayer in the procession after Mass.


The altars were adorned with flowers and leaves brought by the people in the community.

A small carpet of sawdust and pine needles graced the area in front of the altars.

The fourth altar
Behind the altars there were short phrases, such as “Let us adore Jesus in the Sacrament [of the Eucharist].”

The church also was prepared with flowers and with pine needles spread over the entire floor.

At Mass in the church in El Zapote
Mass, though it started at 2 pm rather than at the originally scheduled time of 9 am, was well-attended with people from seven neighboring villages. (There would have been more if the time had not been changed at the last moment.)

During the Mass, the tabernacle was blessed. Many people came up for Communion.  after which consecrated hosts were placed in the tabernacle. And then the procession began.


Father Julio César Galdámez, the associate pastor, carried the monstrance with a large host, outside the church and stopped at the four altars.



The road was a little muddy but the hundreds of people followed in procession, with lots of little kids running ahead and getting a spot right near the altar.

After the prayer at the last altar we turned around and went back to the church.

Reaching out to touch the monstrance with the Eucharist
The people opened a space between the crowd for father to pass with the Eucharist. At this point he invited them to touch the monstrance, to make a physical contact with Jesus in the Eucharist.

It was touching to see men, women, and children reaching out – to connect with Christ.

Corpus Christi procession, El Zapote, 2011
Now El Zapote de Santa Rosa will have Christ in the Eucharist present in their midst.  They will begin having Holy Hours each Thursday in the church, before the Eucharist. The parish will try to arrange to have more Masses there and  have agreed to come occasionally to distribute the Eucharist at a Sunday Celebration of the Word, since at this point there is no Extraordinary Minister of Communion in the village.

Such is the piety of these people, but it is a piety that is rooted in and connected with their daily lives – through these and other expressions of popular piety as well as through a  commitment of many members of the parish to work for justice and to be involved in the struggle for the refoundation of Honduras as a country based in justice for the poor and in the participation of all the people in the decisions that affect their lives.

Chalice and host in front of the altar in El Zapote, Corpus Christi 2011

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More photos can be found at this set of photos among my Flickr photos

1 comment:

phoenixwoman said...

The designs are truly beautiful, an extraordinary labor of love.

--Charles