By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX — From the choir’s warm, gentle entrance rendition of “Immaculate Mary” to the numerous flags and posters depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe to Bishop John P. Dolan’s reminder of Jesus’ mother’s love for the body of Christ, the Diocese of Phoenix’s 18th annual “Honor Your Mother” celebration was all about praising the diocese’s patroness.
“We recognize that Jesus enjoyed Mary as His mother, but we, as members of the body of Christ, enjoy the same mother. She is our mother,” Bishop Dolan told the congregation in downtown Phoenix on Saturday.
“And, we recognize this very special day within the context of this season of Advent — as we long for and hope for Christ Jesus — we know, and we trust and believe that Mary forever and always points to her Son, and invites us to examine Christ in our hearts and in our souls,” the bishop said as he greeted the 500 outdoor worshippers at Virginia G. Piper Plaza.
This year’s Mass took place near the beginning of the day, a twist to the dancing and drumming that would later fill the streets in a colorful display of worship and celebration.
The shift was a direct response to the National Eucharistic Revival, a 3-year grassroots initiative of devotion and belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. That revival started June 19, and Saturday’s scheduling in the Diocese of Phoenix was part of the effort to continue the revival here.
“As Catholics, we believe the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Mary brings us to Christ through her presence and model of being humble, a servant, and ultimately saying ‘yes’ to God in bringing forth our Savior,” explained Ignacio Rodriguez, associate director for the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the diocese. “So, those are connected in terms of how she says ‘yes’ and how she carried in her womb Jesus. We recognize and want to honor that, which brings us ultimately to Christ,” he said.
The intent was that the dancers and all watching would carry that awareness and understanding as the vibrant displays, lilting rhythms, and energetic movements of the scores of matachine dancers filled the streets on what turned out to be a brisk, rainy morning.
The schedule shift was providential.
Early morning clouds over the Valley began bringing light rain about halfway through the Mass. By the start of the parade, the drops were falling moderately, and the march finished in a heavier, soaking rain that surely would have drenched the congregation had the event followed its previous order.
The rain failed to dampen the joy and enthusiasm of dancers and spectators alike.
“I see the love and devotion the matachines have for Our Lady. It’s our 18th year. It’s going strong. The number present shows everyone how much she is loved, and the great love we have for her,” offered Rodriguez.
“You just let your heart out, dance for the Virgin. It just makes me feel happy,” smiled Nery Soto (9), a 3rd grader from St. Matthew Parish in Phoenix. Soto’s matachines dance troupe, Angeles De Maria, formed in August, and was taking part in one of its first events. The troupe was one of 75 appearing at this year’s Honor Your Mother event, according to Rodriguez.
MY HEART MELTED
“My heart melted with all the little children and their outfits and the joy on their faces,” exclaimed Jeanne Walker, a parishioner at Holy Cross in Mesa.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” echoed fellow parishioner Juliette Castillo, who also is a member of St. Anne Parish in Mesa.
“I was born in Mexico, and my mother has a great devotion to Our Lady. I just wanted to be part of this. It is absolutely beautiful — the costumes and the dancing.”
Beyond honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, the movements are rooted in the heritage and culture of the mostly Latino participants. Being part of a troupe is like having an extended family. Their lives include dancing but are closely tied to the elements of their faith, such as Jesus, the Eucharist and Mary.
“[The dancing is] our ‘thank-you’ to her. We are asking her [for things] all year long, and sometimes we don’t take the time to thank her. So, we use the first of December through the twelfth for praise and thanks,” explained Melissa Ruiz of Danza La Rosa de Guadalupe, which means “Dance of the Rose of Guadalupe.”
Based at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Phoenix, the troupe was formed over a decade ago by Ruiz’s father, Samuel, and has performed regularly at Honor Your Mother as well as many other Phoenix-area events. Melissa Ruiz is one of five sisters who dances. Brianna, Gloria and Valeria, and Maria Ordonez – her married name – also dance.
Dance as a form of worship is nothing new among Christians.
David, as recorded in the Second Book of Samuel, “was dancing with all his might before the LORD” (6:14-17). The Book of Exodus tells us that Miriam, the prophet and sister of Moses and Aaron, “took up a timbrel” and praised God for the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and “…all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing” (15:20-21). Psalm 150 offers this exhortation to worship God for his unsurpassed greatness and power: “praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe…” (4).
The event’s renewed emphasis on the Eucharist is part of an effort to reinvigorate the faithful’s understanding and love of the body and blood of Christ.
Led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the effort follows a national study that found only a third of Catholics believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This year, through June 2023, the focus is on revival at the diocesan level. Next year, the emphasis will shift to the parish level. The revival will culminate in a national Eucharistic Congress in July 2024.
The diocese is currently hosting a traveling exhibit of Eucharistic Miracles throughout history also designed to bolster belief and devotion to the true presence.
The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe is part of the story of St. Juan Diego. Canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was a Nahuatl peasant born near what would eventually become Mexico City. In December 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him, identifying herself as the Mother of God, and asking for a church to be built in that place, Tepeyac Hill. When Juan Diego brought Our Lady’s request to the local archbishop, the prelate demanded proof.
A second vision occurred, and Mary instructed Juan Diego to take the roses blooming in the middle of winter from the top of the hill to the archbishop. When Juan Diego emptied his cloak or tilma of the roses at the foot of the archbishop, Our Lady of Guadalupe was pictured there. The image is venerated to this day in Mexico’s Basilica of Guadalupe.
Though it is 8 years away, the 500-year anniversary of the apparition will be the subject of a “grand celebration,” according to Bishop Dolan, who said Saturday that planning will get under way well ahead of the date.
The wonder and joy of the story, as well as the dancers Saturday, captivated worshippers like Jeanne Walker of Holy Cross Parish.
“It’s like a mini pilgrimage,” she said. “because it connects you with all the different cultures you don’t know about. You can see that it unites us as one under Our Lord: One Church, one family under that one baptism. We express it in different ways, but the love for Our Lord and Our Lady unites us. These are our brothers and sisters. It makes scripture come to life.”