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Christmas 2002 - Moments in Time

Our most ancient celebration


Surely the oldest and most enduring American-born Christian ceremony must be that celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thanks to the wonderful set of documents about American Hispanic Catholics edited by Timothy Matovina and Gerald Poyo in their book ¡Presente! one can trace this fascinating history.

As early as 1755, the magistrate and town council of San Antonio swore “that now and forever we shall celebrate the feast of Blessed Mary of Guadalupe” “for [she is the] Universal Patroness of this New World.” When Texas became part of the United States, visiting priests sometimes presided over the ceremony and were impressed.

Here is part of a report by a French priest who attended the ceremonies at Santa Rita in 1851: “Shortly after nightfall, we repaired to the chapel. The litany of the Blessed Virgin was sung in chorus, as was also vespers, and then we formed a procession by torchlight. Young girls in white bore on a pole, ornamented with streamers, flowers and draperies, an image of the patroness of the Mexicans. They were followed by musicians playing the violin and mandolin, while I walked behind. All bore lighted torches or lanterns in their hands and recited the rosary aloud. As we passed in front of a cabin, the procession was saluted by the discharge of a gun, a rocket or a musket. I rarely witnessed a more interesting spectacle.”

The celebration of Conejos, Colo., in 1874 featured a procession of some 320 people on horse and foot, while that in Los Angeles in 1934 stretched several city blocks and included floats. As Catholics across North America recently testified, the enthusiasm for this great feast continues unabated in the 21st century.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego. He may be reached at macy@pwa.acusd.edu

National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002