All went to plan going to Velez Malaga this morning. I was there by ten but overshot my destination and had to double back. Finding a parking place nearby without disorientating myself in streets still unfamiliar gave me some trouble, so I lost twenty minutes finding a place, but arrived with enough time in hand to start punctually.
There were twenty two present, an enthusiastic and cheerful gathering, attentive and enjoying the singing. Three people shared in leading the intercessions, which was unusual, but it worked. I couldn't help noticing that the lady who read the Hospitality of Abraham story expressively did so using her hands as she spoke. It was far from being a mannerism, the story-teller's instinct was in evidence here. That takes confidence, but also calls for finding a certain pleasure in valuing the story element in reading scripture.
The little bar where we gathered for coffee and fellowship after the service when I was here last September has now closed, due to lease expiry, so we had to walk a few extra pace to the Bar El Tomate on the corner of the block. It's full of light and has simple modern decor. It was crowded and busy, clearly a well used Sunday meeting place in this barrio.
After a drink and a chat, I drove back to Malaga, cooked lunch and had a siesta before making my way to the Cathedral for the evening's Blessed Sacrament procession. On any evening the streets are crowded with walkers and diners, but tonight an even greater crowd, as people from parishes across the city converged on the Cathedral. Diocesan clergy, Cathedral Canons, seminarians, and various guilds formed the main body of the procession, with some lay people following and more watching, taking photos from the side. It must have been quite difficult for tourists going against the flow of the procession, and perhaps not rally understanding what was going on. I noticed uncomfortable and awkward looks on the faces of some passing by in the opposite direction.
The silver clad flower bedecked trona carrying the Holy Sacrament in a large golden monstrance was not borne by a squad of portadores on this occasion. It was mounted on wheels and pushed by a handful of people. I'd love to know the reason why. Street altars were set up outside the Cathedral, in the Calle Marquesa de Larios, the main luxury shopping area and at a junction of several streets in between. Apparently the number of altars has been reduced in recent years. It it for convenience, faced with the dominant demands made on these streets by visitors? Or is it for practical reasons?
The custom used to be to stop at a street altar for prayers. Nowadays, prayers and devotional songs go on throughout the time of the procession, aided by a portable public address system using a wireless microphone for the prayer leader. Songs were familiar and sung unaccompanied by heart as we processed slowly. There were a couple of bands, which played intermittently, but accompanying a walking singing crowd would not come naturally to their performance style. I imagine change of this nature doesn't come easy to cofradias that invest such time and energy in maintaining their tradition. What's impressive is the degree of participation by local people. It doesn't feel like a show but a genuine expressing of religious life which succeeds in binding people together.
The procession ended with the Archbishop receiving the Holy Sacrament from the Trona to carry into the Cathedral through the great west door. After leading the final devotions and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the high altar, for the first time since the procession began, Don Jesus Catala donned his episcopal mitre to deliver a brief address to the multitude filling the nave. In the procession he walked bareheaded like all the other clergy, behind the Trona, holding his episcopal crozier, symbol of his pastoral authority in the church and in the wider community. Having the last word, as a preacher of the Gospel in the Apostles' succession, he puts on his teacher's hat. Nice and simple. I wish more Anglican bishops would take note, and parade their mitres in public less often.
It was hot. It was tiring. But joining in the procession, not as a robed cleric but among the people took me back to my young, and reminded me what pilgrimage feels like at the grass roots. It's quite possible to miss out on that experience when you're organising or overseeing a liturgical occasion. So grateful I don't have to undertake those kind of duties any longer.