Tag Archives: Mexican Catholicism

La Novena and el Luctuoso

la novena
Then began the novena, 9 days of prayers for the release of my mother-in-law’s soul from purgatory.  This was held where her body had been viewed, with the leftover candles from the funeral.  A candle must be lit at all times and no one may sweep, since this would be rushing her soul out of the house. (See Mass and Burial)
Each child took a day to sponsor the novena, providing refreshments for those that came to pray.  I thought my night of hosting went well.  I had to be signaled that the prayer was over and hurried to the kitchen to serve the flan, jello, and juice that I had bought earlier in the day, my son and husband helping to serve.  I hadn’t had time to prepare anything traditional or home-made, but that’s why supermarkets were invented right?
A woman named Socorro did the prayer reading for each evening.  It seemed to be her calling, presiding over novenas when asked.  She isn’t paid per se, the refreshments each night being given in compensation for her time.  (See Parenting Challenge–When someone dies)
Each night, Socorro and her echo, another religious woman, intoned prayers from a little booklet.  It’s important that everyone  sit in the same seat each night, but I didn’t understand the reason for this, just that’s the way its done.  The prayer session lasted about an hour since every few minutes there was a round of choral recitals of Padre Nuestro, (Our Father), and Ave Maria pleading that if my mother-in-law’s soul be found at the gates of purgatory, that she be pardoned as well as any other souls found with her.  Apparently, her eternal damnation or salvation would be based on the strength of our prayers during the novena while her soul was wandering around in purgatory.
A glass of water and a white towel were set out the first night.  This was in case the soul was in need of refreshment.  If the soul visited and drank the water, the towel would be imprinted where it had knelt.
As this was my first novena, I’m not sure how smoothly it goes, but it seemed to me that we had more than our share of issues during the 9 days.
The first night, the little children, who were exempt from the prayer meeting, locked themselves in one of the bedrooms and we had to break the door down to rescue them as they became more and more hysterical on the other side.  Not a very auspicious beginning to the novena.
Then another night all the sons came drunk to the novena and interrupted the prayers abruptly and repeatedly in order to use the bathroom.  Again, not as it should be.
Then the night D was in charge of the refreshments, not only did she not have enough for everyone and I had to supplement with some flan left over from my hosting, but her husband refused to help her serve, demonstrating what an ass he was to all.
Then L was had a screaming fit because my father-in-law had asked where the money from the presidencia was (nearly 3000 pesos) that she had spent on rent for her apartment and local although it wasn’t her money to spend but meant to defray funeral costs.
Another night, I was called away from the novena by the mother of one of my students who happened to be a judge.  She had been given a copy of the lawsuit that Chuchi sent and wanted to speak with me immediately.  As she isn’t the type of woman you say no to, I hurried to her house.  She explained some of the legal terminology and wanted to know for sure if we had answered the charges as there was only a 10-day period to do so.  If the charges were not answered, Chuchi wins by default.  I called R and he assured me that they had.  I wasn’t satisfied so went to the office of Super Prez and asked him.  He gave me a copy of the respuesta (answer to the charges) and I hurried back just in time for the opening prayer.
Then J was to make the traditional corundas for the last night, but B said he wanted enchiladas, and to please him, his sister P made them although it was extra work and angered her own husband and was contrary to tradition.  The three sides of the corunda represent the trinity and the eating of it as a sort of holy communion in honor of the deceased.
The final novena was a 2-hour session.  Not only were the final day prayers said but the dirt that was in the form of the cross on the floor since the viewing must be lifted.  It couldn’t be swept up and had to be scooped by hand in a prescribed manner.  First the right side of the cross, then the left side of the cross, then the foot of the cross where the three Marys wept, and then the head of the cross.  Flower petals, candle wax, and dirt were all scooped into a yellow shoe box.  More prayers were said and the rosary was placed on top.
ceramic statue novena
Each attendee was given a small ceramic crucifix, like a party favor, with the following poem on the back:
Fin de novenario
“Muero pero mi alma no muere los amare y los bendeciré en el cielo como lo hice en la tierra”   Agradece Padre e hijos
Loosely translated it read:
End of the Prayer sessions
I die but my soul does not.
I love you and bless you in heaven as I did on earth.
With appreciation: Father and children
The following morning we gathered again at the panteón (cemetery). The sacred dirt in its shoebox, candles, photo, cross, the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, some sacred saint prayer cards, rosaries, the glass of water and the white cloth were all stuffed unceremoniously in the windowed front of the crypt.
The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

But that wasn’t the end of it.  The next week there was a mass en el Templo del Señor de Escapulitas.  The priest was paid to say the names and ask for special blessings for those recently departed, but my mother-in-law’s name was accidentally left off the list.  So it was rescheduled for Saturday.
Then there was another mass in another church in the wealthy section of town.  I misunderstood where this mass was scheduled and my son and I went to the wrong church and then arrived late for the services.
Then there were masses scheduled every month.  My son and I went to the first few, but as the sons would be there either drunk or hung over, which in my opinion was shameful, I refused to go to anymore.
B made a vow that he would not shave until his mother had been gone one year.  I’m not sure if this vow was meant to be a bargain made to ensure that his mother’s soul left purgatory for heaven or not, but the result is that for most of the year looked like a ungroomed Mexican dwarf with a beard halfway down his chest. The night of the first-anniversary mass, he arrived completely bald and clean shaven.
So this week there was a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of her death. It’s called el primeto luctuoso (which as far as I can translate means the first anniversary of a person being called to the light).  An ad was placed in the paper for the first luctuoso.  This year, the masses will only be every 3 months.  An ad will be placed in the paper for the second luctuoso.  Next year they will only be performed every 6 months.  An ad will be placed in the paper for the third luctuoso.  After that, there will only be one mass per year until eternity.  Each year with its own newspaper ad.
Again, I discovered that the quality of the misa (mass) is dependent on the money you pay.  My mother-in-law again was given the basic package service.  I can not imagine how much money the church earns through this system since the masses continue for all perpetuity.  Death is quite a profitable business after all.
first anniversary
As souvenirs, the few attendees were given escapularios (small sewn leather charms to be worn around the neck) and a poem.  This one reads:
Te damos gracias, Señor, por habernos dado la dicha de tener una madre ejemplar y disfrutar de su amor.  Tu la llamaste Señor y ella no hizo sino tomar tu mano; al escuchar tu voz.  Agradecemos su asistencia, Esposo e Hijos.
Loosely translated it reads:  We thank you, Lord, for given us the honor of having an exemplary mother and of enjoying her love.  You called her, Lord, and she did not refuse to take your hand when she heard your voice.  We thank you for your attendance, Husband, and Children.
crypt 2




Filed under Death and all its trappings

El Velorio –Viewing and Wake

Today marks a year since my mother-in-law was killed by the police. (See On Life and Liberty) The horror, shock and grief have abated for her family some and as death is a part of life, it is necessary to understand some of  the customs surrounding it.
After my mother-in-law’s body was released from the hospital, she was taken to Yuriria for an autopsy since there were legal charges pending.  Her daughter L went in search of clothing to take to the funeral home, where they would clean and dress the body for viewing once the autopsy was finished.  I thought she would need to head out to La Yacata to pick up some clothing from my mother-in-law’s wardrobe, but I needn’t have worried.  L went to a special tailor to have a green and pink satin dress made and a crown of plastic flowers for her head.  Her body was dressed as the Virgin, possibly Santa Gertrudis, in what I thought was burlesque and even for this area was not common, although when I asked locals, they said they had heard of that being done.
Funeral homes come and set up a tent like this one to shade the mourners.

Funeral homes come and set up a tent like this one to shade the mourners.

The funeral home came to pitch a tent for the mourners outside the house before they brought the coffin.  There are funeral homes and salones de velación (places for the public display of the body) in Moroleón, however the poor still open their home for the viewing and wake, as inconvenient as it may be.
cofin 2
Her coffin arrived in the late afternoon and set up in the area adjoining the kitchen.  Large pillar candles were placed one at each corner and remained lit during the entire viewing. As the viewing was extended an extra day, we had to buy another set of candles.  Mourners brought more candles and flowers.
Squash was cut open and placed underneath the casket along with a dirt cross and rosary.  The squash was there to suck out the “cancer” from the deceased.  The nearest I was able to understand is that the squash removes the bad humors from the body in preparation for the spiritual awakening and that as the squash shrivels, the body is cleansed.
Every once in awhile, the women passed inside to rezar (pray with rosary beads) and I was included in this as a daughter-in-law of the deceased.   Being not only foreign but non-Catholic, I was not expected to lead the prayers and I just stood respectfully in silence.  However, the inclusion was a first and demonstrated an acceptance from the ladies of the family that was not extended to M’s American wife, who stayed outside with the men.
The casket was open but my mother-in-law was kept under glass, or rather plexiglass.  Her 88-year-old parents, Mama Vira and Papa Rique, came from Cerano, as did my father-in-law’s mother, Mama Sofia and her husband Tío Felipe.  Everyone was concerned that the viewing and wake might be too much for them at their advanced ages, but instead, it was her niece, daughter of her sister Lucia, that had difficulties.  Later that night, she was rushed to the hospital after having miscarried.  Doctors said that the fetus was malformed and the body took care of it on its own, however, the everyone nodded and said it was only natural that my mother-in-law’s spirit did not want to go alone and so took one of the family to accompany her.  Pregnant women are discouraged from attending for this reason.
In the evening, mourners arrived to accompany the family in their grief.  Some brought flowers, some tequila, some sugar and coffee or bread, as it is custom for the family to host the mourners, providing a beverage and light repast.
Mourners the first night included representatives of the various political parties, PAN, PRI/Verde, PRD, with their candidates very visibly and ostentatiously positioned.
Flowers sent from the PRD candidate, later elected President of Moroleon

Flowers sent from the PRD candidate, later elected President of Moroleon

(See Politicking) My mother-in-law was PAN and although she wasn’t able to participate in this year’s elections, she was well known for past services and honored with a corona (wreath) from the party members.
flores de pan
Super Prez also came to the viewing with secretary R and his brother and the community’s lawyer R2.  Super Prez sent another corona (wreath) from the colonos de La Yacata.
flores de la yacata
My mother-in-law’s co-workers at the Presidency sent a third corona (wreath).
flores de sus companeros de trabajo
Not to be outdone, her son B bought a corona (wreath) twice as big as any of the others and at the crypt positioned it to eclipse the other wreaths, although as the heaviest it unbalanced and broke the stakes of the other wreaths.  I guess that proves that he loved her best.
flores de su familia
Mourners stayed until the early morning hours.  Family members took turns serving coffee and sweetbread to the women and tequila to the men.  Every two hours or so, there was another session of prayer.  In the early morning hours, there was singing.


Filed under Death and all its trappings, Religion

Carnival, Lent, Holy Week and Pilgrimages

footprints soledad

Footprints of those that make the pilgrimage to La Soledad to see La Virgen.

Well, there is quite a bit to cover with a grand title like that, but I’m going to keep it local, rather than national. México is a Catholic nation, as I’ve mentioned before, but each area has its own spin on things. There are some areas where the activities and rituals surrounding this holy season are a reaffirmation of faith both for participants and observers. Moroleón is not one of those areas.

kinder parade

Moroleón Carnival parade with 4 and 5-year-olds dressed in traditional attire from Veracruz

In Moroleón, the beginning of the season of fasting and supplication begins with a parade. A kindergarten parade. In February, all the private kindergartens sponsor a float and dress their students in costumes representative to different regions or countries where Carnival is celebrated. Of course, having been a teacher in various kindergartens, I have had the dubious privilege of marching beside the float and keeping little guys from jumping out. It’s never fun for me, although the kids like throwing candies to the crowds. It’s a long walk around town, I get confetti in areas where confetti never should be found, and it’s often cold and blustery. After all, it is February.

Then there is the egg throwing. In Moroleón, after the kindergarten carnival parade, there is egg throwing. They are supposed to be blown eggs filled with confetti, but sure enough, there is a significant number of real eggs tossed. I have asked and asked, but no one can explain to me the significance of the egg throwing or its origin. Perhaps it is a symbol of waste, I don’t know. Regardless, we stay away from downtown as being pelted with either confetti-filled eggs, or real ones is low on the list of activities we’d like to do in the evening.

Then comes Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Cuaresma (Lent). In the Catholic religion, the traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Holy Week through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial.

This year, Ash Wednesday came right before Valentine’s Day, and I thought that the subsequent Valentine’s Day celebration would be muted. But no, apparently the gluttonous consumption of chocolate and the orgies of public displays of affection are allowed. So much for self-denial.

Ash Wednesday is marked by misa (mass) and the receiving of an ash and oil cross on the forehead in a reminder that “from dust we are and to dust we shall return.” As nearly everyone in México is Catholic, the church is overrun with devotees on holy days. They have become more efficient in their proceedings by using a rubber stamp (dipped in ink mixed with ash and holy oil) to mark the foreheads of the penitent.

The 40 days of Lent are to be a time of prayer and fasting in remembrance of the 40 days that Christ fasted in the wilderness. However, the fasting need not be extreme, at least here. Only meat is to be given up on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. All the carnicerias (butchers) are closed on these days. Fortunately, meat still may be bought at the Bodega Aurelia (a branch of Wal-mart) for those that are not Catholic or vegetarian. Fish, of course, is acceptable either day, as it is not considered particularly satisfying.

As one of the traditional practices in addition to prayer and fasting is the giving of alms, supposedly the meat that one would have customarily eaten on those days should be bought and given to someone in need, someone less well-off financially. However, I have yet to meet anyone in this area that does that. But that’s what I’m told.

christ walk

Part of the drama, Christ carrying the cross.

The drama ends with the cruxification of Christ.

The drama ends with the crucifixion of Christ.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is celebrated throughout México with reenactments of the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It’s really a good show. Barabas actually goes into shops that are open (as all stores are supposed to be closed anyway) and steals items. I even saw him take an ice cream cone from a little child watching the drama. The final crucifixion is done on a vacant lot on the edge of town. In Moroleón, Jesus and the 2 thieves are only tied up on the crosses, not nailed as they are in other parts of México. There is also no flagellation of any kind, Moroleón being a moderate sort of town.

During Cuaresma, suffering is the key, so traditionally one is to give up something dear for the 40 day period as a sacrifice in addition to meat. If your sacrifice holds the entire period, you may make a pilgrimage and ask a favor from the Virgin. The choice of pilgrimage place and the difficulty is dependent on the petition. For instance, when my mother-in-law was dying, her husband promised that if she survived, he would make a pilgrimage during Semana Santa (Holy Week) to La Soledad descalzo (barefoot). As she didn’t survive her injuries, the promise is not enforceable, and my father-in-law did not make his pilgrimage.

We, however, did. During Semana Santa (Holy Week), most specifically Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Sábado de Gloria (Holy Saturday), those in need of health-related favors make the pilgrimage to La Soledad, a little town outside Moroleón and there deliver their petitions to the Virgen de la Soledad, Madre de todos los enfermos. (Virgin of Comfort, Mother of the Ill)


This shrine marks the entrance to the path that leads to La Soledad. As with all shrines of La Virgen, it supposedly appeared miraculously.

The transitos (traffic cops) stand on the major roads and slow traffic so that the hundreds of men, women, and children who make the pilgrimage from Moroleón and Uriangato and other communities can cross. From La Yacata, La Soledad is not terribly far. Through the dry creek bed and past the basurera (dump) the distance is about 3 miles as the crow flies. So Saturday morning, I donned my big floppy hat and long sleeve shirt (not taking any chances on yet another severe sunburn), and we were off.

Hundreds make the pilgrimage to La Virgen de la Soledad during Semana Santa.

Hundreds make the pilgrimage to La Virgen de la Soledad during Semana Santa.

We were late getting started since we had to attend to the animals before we left and we met more returning from the pilgrimage than going in the same direction. But we arrived in good time, after maybe 2 hours of walking.

arriving in soledad

Refreshments for the weary walkers are available.

Enterprising vendors sell rosaries, holy prayer cards, candles and orange juice to the pilgrims arriving in La Soledad.

Virgen de la Soledad

La Virgen de la Soledad

The shrine is not especially big, perhaps holding 20-30 people. Inside is a life-size statue of the Virgin Maria, dressed in mourning black and surrounded by flowers.

The prayer goes as follows:
Estás, Madre mía a la cabecera de todos los enfermos del mundo de todos los que, en este momento han perdido el conocimiento y van a morir, de los que han comenzado ahora su agonía, de los que han abandonado toda esperanza de curación, de los que gritan y lloran de dolor, de los que no pueden curarse por falta de dinero, de los que desearían andar mucho y tienen que estar inmóviles, de los que tendrían que acostarse, y la miseria les obliga a trabajar, de los que buscan vanamente en la cama una postura menos dolorosa, de los que pasan noches interminables sin poder dormir, de los que atormenta el pensamiento de una familia en la miseria, de los que tienen que renunciar a sus mas caros proyectos para el futuro, y sobre todo, de los que no creen en una vida mejor, de los que se revelan y maldicen a Dios, de los que ignoran que Cristo sufrío como ellos.

Loosely translated:
Mother of all those that are sick
You, my mother, foremost of those ill in the world that in this moment have lost consciousness and are about to die, those that have now begun their final agony, those that have abandoned hope of being cured, those that shout and cry out in pain, those that can not be cured due to lack of money, those that desire to walk and must remain immobile, those that wish to lay down but misery obligates to work, those that search in vain for a less painful position in their beds, those that spend countless nights unable to sleep, those that are a torment in the thoughts of their families because of their misery, those that have given up their most precious projects for the future, and above all, those that do not believe in a better life, those that revile and curse God and those that ignore that Christ suffered as they do.

La Virgen de la Soledad

La Virgen de la Soledad

Well, we took a quick look, didn’t stay the entire mass since we weren’t there to make any petitions, had some pan (bread) and horchata (rice milk), rested a bit in the shade, then started back. However, perhaps we should have made some sort of offering. We were under the weather the next three days.

Procession of silence

Procession of Silence

There is also a procession of silence at night, but we didn’t stay for that.

Domingo de la Resureción, (Easter Sunday) is again observed with a mass and traditionally is a family day. However, this year, we noticed that several small towns used the opportunity to hold jaripeos (rodeos) later after misa (mass). Monday is typically a day off here, with the work week being Tuesday through 3/4 day on Saturday, so I’m sure the revelers had time to recover from the jaripeo (rodeo) overindulgence (the main attraction at the jaripeo is beer, beer, and more beer).

Schools are closed the week following Semana Santa, and many families use these days to go to the beach or other vacation areas. We took the week to recover from the virus that we caught and are now gearing up for back to school.




Filed under Mexican Holidays, Religion, Tourist Sites in Mexico