Almost every single time I hear a Taylor Swift song, I think of my friend Sofía. During high school, I didn’t have a car of my own, and she didn’t mind giving me free rides everywhere, so we spent our semesters going together to mass and holy adoration in her Toyota. I never got to choose the music, though. It was her car, and she drove it, so she chose what we heard.
It was Taylor Swift. It was always Taylor Swift.
That’s how we managed to craft our own tradition. For a couple of months, we never missed a 6:30 p.m. Sunday mass at the parish of María Reina de los Ángeles, nor did we skip an 8:30 p.m. holy adoration at the chapel of Fátima. Each time we had practically the same routine: Sofía picked me up along with any other friend that wanted to join us, we chatted while listening to Cruel Summer on our way to the parish, and we attended mass or adoration together. This is one of those core memories that I’ll remember when I’m older and tell stories about when I share about my high school days.
Traditions are like that, aren’t they? They add familiarity to our lives in such a way that they make us feel at home. But, while my personal stories have a special place in my heart, this is not a thing of my own. Traditions are at the core of what being Catholic means. Why? Because God, for some divine reason, chose to let Himself be known through them. Tradition means “the transmission of beliefs from generation to generation” and, by that definition, our faith can be rightly called so. God didn’t reveal Scripture directly to each of us. Instead, He willed that almost everyone may know Him through the transmission of beliefs from generation to generation. How beautiful is that? God wants you to find that compelling beauty in our traditions that make us Catholic.
I grew up in a charismatic Catholic movement. My entire spiritual world was filled with modern, pop-like worship songs. That’s why, when I found out that Vatican II stated that “Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place” (Musicam Sacram, 50a), I was shocked. How had I never heard a single mass with Gregorian hymns throughout my entire life?
I later found out that Musicam Sacram was referring specifically to Latin Masses, but at the time, I didn’t know it and believed Gregorian chant was meant for every single liturgy, including the Novus Ordo. So, I decided to cultivate a habit of listening to Gregorian chant. I looked it up on Spotify, listened to a couple of songs, and added the ones I found less monotonous to a newly created playlist of mine. I titled that playlist “How?” because, even though my intellectual mind comprehended what Vatican II taught, my emotional heart could not understand how such a seemingly boring (and even underwhelming) genre of music should be given such praise.
Still, as the weeks passed by, I listened to my Gregorian playlist a couple of times between my usual routines of merengue and salsa. I did so out of lifeless obedience to the church’s teaching. But, slowly, the Spirit started working through Spotify’s algorithm because it began to recommend hymns that I actually found compelling. Bit by bit, my entire soul became drawn to this kind of music and its solemnity, its regalness, and its beauty. Now, I do find Gregorian chants fascinating and love to listen to them while studying or praying. Sure, they aren’t as dopamine-packed as modern worship songs, but that’s precisely the point. They train our hearts and minds to find beauty in sobriety.
If you want to try it out, one of my favorites is the Low Mass composed by Gabriel Fauré. Its Sanctus is particularly awe-inspiring.
This second tradition is quite local, I believe. I’m from Mexico, and over here, during each of the nine days preceding Christmas, we do something called pedir posadas. Translated literally, “pedir posadas” means “ask for lodging”. Each household does it a bit differently, but, basically, family and friends get together at a house. They then divide into two “teams”, so to speak, and one of them gathers right outside a door. It can be the main entrance or any other door, really. The second team gathers right inside this same door. This division intends to simulate the Holy Spouses’ pilgrimage to Bethlehem to seek lodging. In other words, the team outside pretends to be Joseph and Mary, while the guys inside pretend to be the different hosts that the Holy Family encounters. I’ll explain it further in a bit, but, for now, you only need to know that, when everyone has chosen a side, the people outside the door light up candles and start singing something that, translated into English, goes like this:
In the name of heaven
I ask you for shelter
For she cannot walk
My beloved wife
After this first stanza, the team inside, pretending to be an unkind host, responds with their own:
This is not an inn
I must not open
Lest there be some rogue
After this rejecting response, the team outside does a little walk to another door in the house. This is to simulate the actual walking that Mary and Joseph did through Bethlehem. The team inside also walks to the same door, but separately. When everyone gets there, the ones outside will start another stanza, which will be answered again with rejection. This second time, however, the team inside will pretend to be another host in Bethlehem, not the same one as before. The stanzas go like this the second time:
Do not be inhumane
Give us charity
The God of heaven
Will reward you
You can go now
And do not bother
Because if I get angry
I’ll beat you up
There’s a specific traditional melody that corresponds to these verses. And of course, the translation here is not enough to convey the richness of this tradition that is so deeply Latin-American. But, in spite of it, I hope you can get a grasp on how this tradition is lived. Moving on, the walking and singing continue for a couple of stanzas more until, finally, the Holy Family gets answered with affection and tenderness. Then, the team outside enters through the door while everyone sings the final verses:
Come on in, Holy Pilgrims, Pilgrims
Receive this corner
Though poor the dwelling place, the dwelling place
I give it to you from my heart
Pedir posadas is something so incredibly Catholic and Latin-American. Pedir posadas is something so deeply mine. It reminds me of my whole family reunited at Christmastime. It’s as much a part of my faith as praying the rosary is.
The first article in our Catholic-Link series, “My Favorite Catholic Traditions,” was written by Diego Herrera. Diego says he is “a full-time nerd who spends my free time taking pictures, drinking coffee and reading. Oh, and from time to time I also play at writing articles!” If you would like to share about your favorite Catholic traditions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.