Monday’s Papal Mass in Cuba – Feast of St. Matthew

by Raúl Gómez Ruiz SDS

In today’s CTV broadcast of the Eucharist from Cuba, the inculturation of the liturgy in the Cuban context was more evident. The Caribbean-style music and instruments as well as the “Cuban spirit” came through better than at the Mass in La Habana yesterday.

Even so, the “body and soul” of the Cuban spirit was most evident in the music, prayers, and crowd responses prior to the actual Eucharistic celebration as well as after in the postludes. Here you could feel the excitement and enthusiasm. You could see unison movement in body and gestures, smiles on people’s faces, and people singing along with gusto and familiarity with the hymns. I wonder why this same expressiveness was almost absent during the Eucharist itself. It was as if someone had let air out of the balloon.

We Catholics pray with our voices, our words, our quiet listening but also with our bodies. We stand, sit, kneel and engage in procession. So then why was there such control of the body during the Eucharist itself? Its as if someone instructed the well-prepared choir and musicians: “NO MOVEMENT! NO SWAYING!” Even Pope Francis, smiling, personable and warm in his words and gestures before the Mass and after the blessing, becomes impassive and severe during it.

It seems to me liturgy is to find itself implicated in peoples’ lives. That is, its themes, its modes of expression, its attitudes, its prayers, and gestures need to resonate with people in their daily lives. At the same time, people’s lives have to find expression in the liturgy so that the former can take place. Liturgy and its ministers need to be welcoming and inviting as well as prepared and prayerful. We need to find liturgy in life and life in liturgy!

Much of Hispanic/Latin@ popular piety in fact does reflect the liturgy in its modes of prayer and symbols, and often is linked to the liturgical calendar. But the other way around is less evident. Today, the pope did not introduce Marian popular piety into the celebration except in his homily when he directed a brief prayer to the Virgin and instructed those gathered on the importance of devotion to her.

Nonetheless, there was some evidence of Cuban life and context in the celebration today: from the altar pavilion with its symbolic waves of the nearby Bahía de Nipe where the image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre was found in 1612 to the iconography, both liturgical and historical, around the altar and behind the pavilion. It was here in 1492 that Columbus stepped on Cuban soil and planted the cross. The choir was dressed in the white, blue and red of the Cuban flag and all the members had it and the Vatican flag in their hands. And, unlike yesterday’s Mass, the “vosotros” form of the verbs was missing in the orations and readings.

Personally I was pleased to hear hymns composed by Cuban-Americans and published by OCP: In particular “Eres tu Jesús” by Tony Rubí at Communion and “A los pies de la Virgen traigo mis penas” by Fr. Juan Sosa as one of the postludes. The latter hymn was also sung at the end of the Vespers service in the cathedral in La Habana the evening before. This too gave evidence of the cultural reality of Cubans both on the island as well as in the US. Both were sung in a way that showed the participants knew the hymns well. It reveals that liturgical music can build bridges even when there are political conflicts that militate against them.

Rev. Dr. Raúl Gómez Ruiz SDS is Vicar General and General Secretary in the Curia Generalizia of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians) in Rome, Italy.

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