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Unpleasant Sunday memories and a Texan fiesta

This morning, Sunday, before 3 a.m. I happened on TV to tune into a mass in Spanish. I do not know where it was coming from. There were three priests and a congregation consisting largely of children. The celebrant was beating himself on the chest and intoning "Mea culpa, maxima culpa" and then it all came back to me: the General Confession of the Anglican church. "We have sinned against Thee in thought, word and deed, and there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou them that confess their faults, restore Thou them that are penitent..." Beautiful English, but not what a small boy needed. On Sundays, we attended Holy Communion at 6 a.m., Matins at 11. Evensong at 6. In addition we had choir practice on Tuesday and Friday evenings. During the General Confession, I stood there delving into my activities wondering what sins I had committed. I undoubtedly did things which pained my saintly mother, but I needed the confidence building which modern educators recommend. The Catholic General Confession differed in that it ended with an appeal to the Virgin Mary to plead with God to forgive us. The TV camera focused on a small boy, aged about seven, looking bewildered at his desperate plight. I sympathized with him, even identified myself with him.

After this grim beginning, it was a relief at 6 a.m. to follow mass at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas. Bishop Patricio Flores as usual was the personification of kindness. He encouraged children, telling them to respect themselves and to respect others. He said TV made him sad with all the news of juvenile violence on the streets. I thought those juvenile delinquents should be brought in and told to beat their breasts and intone "mea culpa, mea maxima culpa", but this would be condemned as cruel and unusual punishment. The new San Antonio chief of police and his wife were in the congregation. Father Flores invited them to come to the altar. They knelt, were blessed, and received an embrace. The new chief will have to deal with the young delinquents. Meanwhile the clergy and the congregation gave the fascist salute, which is the church gesture of blessing. It is the same gesture Mexican politicians make when they are sworn in. They "protest", which sounds like an echo of protesting your faith. Is Mexico the only country where this gesture is routine? Has anyone written a history of the Roman salute? It should be revived for sanitary reasons. Think of the microbes spread by handshakes and worse still by the Latin embraces which have become part of our etiquette.

The service at San Fernando featured priests from Cuba, guests of Bishop Flores, who has paid two visits to Cuba. We hear about all kinds of US groups visiting Cuba, but this is the first time I have heard of an ecclesiastical exchange. They presumably prayed for Fidel. No mention was made in the service, and with good reason, of the Texan fiesta, which had been the subject of last Sunday's service. The fiesta turned out to be just the usual nonsense called "fun", which originally meant to act foolishly. A reporter asked one reveler if he knew what the fiesta was celebrating. He replied happily: just a pretext for a party, like Halloween. He clearly did not realize that Halloween is All Souls Day and that the fiesta celebrates the defeat of the Mexicans at San Jacinto. A Mexican knew, and said it was not a day to celebrate.

Ronald Hilton - 4/28/02