They Ring Bells In Argentina Too

7 02 2008

As a little girl, I would go home from Church and ring the bell on my mother’s lamp because the priest said to. For those uninitiated with the Catholic Mass, when consecrating the bread and wine, the priest, in Christ’s words, says to eat the bread and drink the wine that are Christ’s body and blood. After the priest, as Christ says, “Do this in memory of me,” an altar boy rings a bell, a tradition dating back to when the congregation couldn’t see what the priest was doing. As the good little girl that I was, I made sure every Sunday to ring my bell, since I thought the priest had asked me to.

As a grown, Carnaval-celebrating woman, I arrived in Salta yesterday afternoon, exhausted, fighting a terrible cold, tired of nieve being sprayed in my ears, and happy to be away from Carnaval. I had completely lost track of my days and and it never ocurred to me that the day after Carnaval ends is Ash Wednesday, and that in so fervently Catholica a country as Argetnina, there would be masses.

Nevertheless, there is a very pretty (pink) church in the main plaza of the city, and after a trip to the museum I decided to pop in. When I neared the doors the sound emanating gave me goosebumps. A crystal clear woman’s voice was singing a lovely Spanish tune that resounded against the ornate walls of the church.

I entered solemnly, excited that I had stumbled upon an actual ceremony, and it was only when I saw the hundreds (literally) of people that filled the giant cathedral that it ocurred to me it was Ash Wednesday. I was exhausted and carrying a heavy grocery bag filled with water, toilet paper for my runny nose (and hotel that doesn’t supply it), and snacks for my next day’s tour, but I felt I had to stay.

It took about twenty minutes for them to get ahses to everyone. In that time the choir sang about 15 songs. I recognized the tunes to five of those, and found myself trying to recall what the words would have been in English. This is harder than it seems. For some reason, with the Spanish over it, even the words to the Our Father failed me; all the responses that have been second nature since childhood faltered as I tried to make out the Spanish.

But one thing crystal clear: I heard bells. It was a touching and humbling experience to thing that in another language, on the other side of the equator, they do the exact same things. And though I haven’t been the most devoted Catholic in recent years, it was incredible to experience Ash Wednesday with hundreds of strangers, speaking in a foreign tongue, in a stunning and massive cathedral.



One response

8 02 2008

Hi that was lovely. Hope you are well. Your Mom keeps us up to date and the blog is great. Stay safe we love you. See you soon.
Tia and Frannie

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