Woke up: La Cruz, Mexico
Went to sleep: La Cruz, Mexico
Semana Santa – Holy Week
Here in Mexico where 90% of the population is Catholic, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday is the second most important celebration following Christmas. It was fascinating for me to review the catechism since I was raised catholic and attended parochial school.
As everyone knows, Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten season. On Ash Wednesday, also a day of fasting, the priest inscribes a small cross on your forehead using ashes and his thumb. He chants, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. The ashes are often made by burning holy palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
The Lenten period represents the 40 day period Jesus spent alone in the desert fasting and praying before he began his public ministry. Many Christians use this time to fast or practice some form of austerity in preparation for enlightenment and the promise of everlasting life. I remember my dad used to give up watermelon.
On Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, Jesus triumphantly marched into Jerusalem to proclaim his understanding and acceptance of the gospel. Palm fronds are a symbol of goodness and victory. People of the village laid palm branches across his path and waved them in the air. Palm Sunday is a celebration ending Lent.
On Friday before Good Friday, also known as Friday of Sorrows, a mass, Virgin of the Sorrows or Virgin de los Delores, is held. This mass focuses on the pain Mary feels knowing her son, Jesus, has to die to save mankind.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. In Mexico, as in other predominantly catholic countries, celebrations occur all over the country. On Palm Sunday the palms are woven into intricate designs and blessed with holy water.
Following the Wednesday prior to the Last Supper and Jesus’s crucifixion, the celebrations become more somber. A Mass called Vespers of Darkness recalls the disciple’s abandonment of Jesus. At that time a candelabra with 15 candles is placed on the altar. Each candle is extinguished one at a time until only one candle, representing Jesus, remains.
On Holy Thursday, many churches reenact the Last Supper. No church bells are to be heard following the Last Supper until Easter Sunday.
All over the Country communities play out the reenactment of the Passion of Christ as he carried the cross through the 14 Stations of the Cross. In Iztapalapa City over 4,000 residents participate in a performance of the Passion Play throughout the last week between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The play has been performed every year since 1843 and now attracts over two million spectators.
After the crucifixion, statues of the Virgin Mary are draped in black to represent her mourning. A solemn mass is held. In the darkness believers hold candles to symbolize their hope for the coming of Christ. At this mass Judas is burned in effigy.
Finally on Easter Sunday Jesus is said to have arisen from the dead and the bells again toll. Cascarones, colored eggs filled with confetti, are smashed on the heads of friends and family.