Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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August 16th, 2011

Experiencing Spanish Mass


A woman and a small boy kneel in prayer during Spanish Mass. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

This summer, we were lucky enough to spend a week in El Paso. Apart from the obvious great things that come with being in El Paso — La Lupe, La Lupe’s food, La Lupe’s hospitality, the descendants of La Lupe — one of the things I look forward to the most is going to Mass.

Whenever we are in El Paso we attend Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. When we lived in El Paso we were so loyal to this church that I actually thought it was the only church in all of El Paso until I was about 9.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. As you walk into the church, you are immediately drawn into La Virgencita’s story. The entire 40-foot wall behind the altar is a painting of Jesus crucified with Our Lady of Guadalupe at his side. Lining the other walls are huge 10-foot tall paintings that tell the story of the indigenous people being colonized by the conquistadors and then ending with La Virgen’s apparition to Juan Diego. The art, for actually a pretty poor parish, is beautiful and breathtaking.

What I love about Mass at this church, and any Spanish Mass in general, is the oneness I feel with the people. If you have never attended a Spanish Mass I really encourage you to do so. The sounds that come from the congregation are plentiful. Older women adorned with mantillas loudly pray the rosary throughout Mass, children are allowed a little more latitude in their noise level, no one is shy about making their voice heard. With the use exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions, faith is much more an outward expression. You can feel the faith of the people hanging in the air. Not that it is better, just different.

There are some funny quirks about Spanish Mass; the choir is hardly ever in tune (at least in my experience). I guess God never asked for perfect pitch, just faith. Also, for some reason, the organization of Communion lines never really works out, even when ushers are present. There will always be that strong-willed La Lupe-type that will get up and make her way to the front immediately as Communion starts no matter where she is sitting in church. And when one person has done this, everyone else gets nervous and gets up and does the same. It pretty much turns into a reverent free-for-all to get up to the front. It’s pretty comical.

It is all the small devotions everyone does that really make me feel like I am with “my people.” There are many important traditions to be observed:

  • Whenever you drive past a church you do the Sign of the Cross even if you’re not going to church.
  • Walking into church, if there is a crucifix in reach, you kiss your hand then touch the feet of Jesus.
  • At the holy water font you would cross yourself three times.
  • Next, on to any saint statues that need to be venerated. As for my family, we’ve always had a special devotion to St. Anthony so we go to him.
  • Upon entering a pew, regardless of being late to Mass, it is necessary to put down the kneeler and kneel to say a short prayer of thanksgiving.
  • When the opening song begins, everyone, and I mean everyone, turns their bodies to face the center aisle to watch the priest process from the back of the church to the front. As the cross and the priest pass, you do the Sign of the Cross and then turn to face the front of the church once again. And at the end of Mass all will do the same in the opposite direction.
  • It is imperative to never, ever give your back to a priest or to Jesus. Especially in Adoration, you will see people walk out of the chapel backwards so as to not give their back to Jesus. Even when the chapel is very full and you have to step over people’s legs that are kneeling, you still do so backwards.

I love all this. I love that I can do all this and not feel strange. At English Masses we’ve tried again and again to do the whole turn-toward-the-center-aisle-to-watch-the-priest-process-up and it just doesn’t work. If the people next to you don’t do it then you are just staring at their shoulders, and they feel awkward and you feel awkward.

Spanish Mass. I love it. I love its beauty. I love its people. I love its quirks. It feels like home to me. And not just the-city-I-grew-up-in home but my-soul-is-at-peace home.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • Gaby

    Wow! All the reverence there is in the Spanish Mass is incredible. I remember we celebrated a bilingual Mass at my largely white Catholic high school, and many of us who are white felt a little strange not expressing our feelings the way our Latino/Hispanic peers did. I think I’m going to try and attend a Spanish Mass on campus this year. Thanks for another awesome post, Vanessa! I’ll be sure to light a candle for you at the Grotto this fall.

  • Noe

    OK I’m really jealous now that everyone in my mothers family married out (wait, my aunt married Lebanese Catholic), and no one’s Mexican Catholic – or Mexican – or even speaks Spanish. My mind and soul are filled with a need for the kinds of “things you do” you’ve described that are so washed out of The Church when it’s all so cosmopolitan and ‘universalisty’…I went to one of the old Missions a few weeks ago in Cali and it felt so RIGHT, you know? I watch Penitentes (in Spain – not New Mexico..), and something stirs. It’s proper.

  • debbie

    I received “Baptism by Fire” when as a young bride, I found myself living in Latin America and going to Mass was quite an ordeal for me. I was lonely, and homesick,but very much needed to go to Mass. I felt so at home in God’s House..! Long Story Short I believe Jesus and The Holy Spirit helped me to learn Spanish by going to Mass as I would listen intently, take the bulletin with the readings home and with my little Bible, and a bi-lingual dictionary translate the Readings. I now live in California,but attend Spanish Mass at least once or twice a month. I love its vibrance !Gracias a Dios por Sus Milagros y Regalos en mi Vida!!! Debbie Kobler

  • Angelique

    Much of this resonates with me too, as I most often attend English mass, but also attend Spanish mass on occasion. I totally agree with you on the out-of-tune choirs! I’ve only known of one exception. Thank you, Vanessa, for reminding me of many forgotten traditions of my Catholic Mexican culture. It is a beautiful kind of service to witness, that can be so festive and passionate it has felt like an episode of “Sabado Gigante.”

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