The Spectacle and the Sinner

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Our team decided to attend Easter Mass at the Cathedral today. We don’t come from Roman Catholic backgrounds, as many of you know. However, we live in a predominantly-Catholic country where Easter is celebrated all Holy Week. Every day, different parishes have had processionals through the old town, and Thursday and Friday were national holidays. If only we could celebrate Easter like that in America – having a four-day weekend, remembering Christ’s death every day with a processional, and celebrating so richly His Resurrection on Easter Sunday with not one, but multiple parades!

So this year, we wanted to worship on Easter Sunday in the Cathedral. It was an experience! The pews were already full when we arrived and there were hundreds of people standing up in the aisles and pressed up against the walls. It had the feel of a concert or major event. There were quite a few pilgrims and plenty of tourists. The majority had out their iPhones, iPads, or cameras to take photos and videos.

One of three main wings of the Cathedral:

Easter Mass 2013 Santiago de Compostela

If you saw the movie The Way, you may remember that at the end of the movie, Martin Sheen and his friends attended the Pilgrims’ Mass at the Cathedral, during which the priests swung the golden botafumeiro incense holder up and back through the Cathedral. In olden days, pilgrims used to sleep in the upper level of the Cathedral. They stank, and the botafumeiro was swung around to cover up the odor. These days, pilgrims no longer sleep inside the Cathedral, but on certain holidays and occasions the priests will swing the botafumeiro during special services. Today, they started out with it:

Easter Mass Santiago de Compostela

Everyone was taking videos and photos. Here you can see the botafumeiro (very blurry) to the left of the black speaker:

Botafumeiro Santiago de Compostela

The botafumeiro now still:

Botafumeiro Santiago de Compostela

After the botafumeiro stopped swinging, many people left. They had only come as tourists to watch that part of Mass, and once it was done, they were done. I felt judgmental of them for a bit. But then my attention was caught by the elderly man standing next to us. He’d been there the entire time, quiet, patiently enduring our kids’ noise and restless movements, and all the tourists pushing by him. The moderator started reciting a prayer, Yo pecador (I Confess to You):

Yo confieso ante Dios Todopoderoso
y ante ustedes, hermanos,
que he pecado mucho
de pensamiento, palabra, obra y omisión:
por mi culpa, por mi culpa, por mi gran culpa.
Por eso ruego a Santa María, siempre Virgen,
a los ángeles, a los santos y a ustedes, hermanos,
que intercedan por mi ante Dios, nuestro Señor. Amén.

(I confess to almighty God
and to you, brothers,
that I have sinned,
in thought, word, and deed:
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
So I ask blessed Mary ever Virgin,
the angels and saints
and you, brothers,
to intercede for me before the Lord our God. Amen.)

This dear man knew the words, recited them solemnly, and pounded his chest with his fist on every “mi”  at the part of “por mi culpa, por mi culpa, por mi gran culpa” (through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault). He sounded so sincere. I was judgmental of all those touristy types who had only come for the botafumeiro, but then again I’d been walking around, too, trying to get good photos, thinking about the lighting, worried about the kids’ noise, wondering where the rest of my teammates were in the Cathedral. I’d been way distracted. But he was there to reflect today, and he took it seriously – not the spectacle part, but the sinner’s part. After all, we were the ones Jesus came to save from our darkness and sin, and to give us new life. It was convicting.

Outside, the festivities continued. The Franciscan church down the street (separate from the congregation in the Cathedral) held their own processional with a statue of the risen Jesus:

Easter Parade Santiago

And Mary:


And then the white tourist train pulled into the square, as it does many times each day:

Tourist Train Santiago

It felt like a circus! I guess the longer we live here, the more we realize that Santiago – being such a landmark town with its Cathedral, deep traditions, old historic center, and importance as the end of the Camino – will always have its tourists and colorful and interesting things going on. But when I think back to Easter 2013, I’ll remember the older Spanish man next to us who confessed he was a sinner, and helped me remember to celebrate even more what Christ has done for us.


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