As I prepare to leave Mexico, here are a few observations about the local church that I take with me.
The average Mexican parish has about twelve Masses per weekend, let us say three on a Saturday evening, and nine on a Sunday. These may be every hour on the hour until 1pm or even 2pm (Mexicans like a late lunch), followed by two or three evening Masses, some as late at 10pm. Many priests are saying five Masses on a Sunday.
The congregations at these Masses are a cross section of society, old and young, rich and poor. There are no groups that seem over-represented, and no “missing generations”.
Daily Masses attract large congregations.
Whenever you see a priest hearing confessions, there is a queue of people waiting, a very long queue, again of people of all ages. And whenever Mass is being said, another priest is hearing confessions.
At the end of Mass there is usually a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Whenever you go into a Church, you will see someone praying.
The liturgy is rather basic, and reminds me of Italy. The Masses are all low, in every sense – no incense, no nice vestments (the Reds burned them all, I suppose) – and the sort of hymns that people sing without books. The Allleluia I have heard is sung to the tune of Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, which is a melody that no one under the age of forty in the UK will know. Incidentally, as in certain other countries, a lot of the congragation leave as the closing hymn begins.
The clergy do not wear clerical dress, which was banned by the country’s anti-clerical governments of the past.
So what is the secret of the success of the Mexican Church? For if you take the measure of people in the pew, it is a huge success… This must have its roots in history: this is a church of martyrs, but there again, so is the church in the British Isles. True, our martyrs date back a few hundred years, but they are not forgotten, nor should the anti-Catholicism of our own governments be forgotten either, which is still not entriely eradicated.
My answer to this question – why Catholicism flourishes in Mexico in a way it does not in England – is that the answer is partly religious, and partly cultural and sociological. English people are not interested, by and large, in religion, because they are not interested, by and large, in any social activity, and religion is a social activity. In the UK in general, membership of every sort of grouping, from poliical parties to youth groups, seems to be on the wane. Moreover, religion per se now seems alien to the British psyche, whereas in a country like Mexico (or Italy or Poland for that matter) religion seems a natural activity. Why is that? What happened to alienate British people from their faith?
Another question that arises is the old question of “broken Britain” – how can you communicate the faith to people when the channels of communication themselves are broken? And here is a funny thing: Britain is a highly organised and successful country in many ways, whereas Mexico is not. Mexico has had many woes, and continues to experience these woes. Yet something in Mexico works in a way that it does not in England. Of course I am not a sociologist, though I am interested in cultural questions: but what I would like to know is this – is there any way back for us in England to a more integrated, happier society, one in which religion would not be marginalised but would once more become mainstream?