Throughout most of Advent, I had been somewhat despondent about the state of our liturgical celebrations down here in the South Texas hinterland. A couple of parishes had decorated for Christmas rather early (even before Advent), a new, somewhat substandard bilingual Mass setting was introduced that lacked any semblance of the sacred, and a couple of celebrants took excessive liberties with the Mass, either inserting a song into the Eucharistic Prayer or, as in the case of last night's Mass, substituting the Gloria for "Angels We Have Heard on High". It was enough to almost make me pull a Charlie Brown lament. "Isn't there anyone who knows the real meaning of the sacred", I interiorly screamed.
After last night's Christmas Eve Mass, as I was getting ready to go back home and spend the evening watching TV with my father, someone called my name. I turned around and felt bad because I did not recognize the woman who reached out to me. It turns out that she was my maternal grandfather's niece. I had not seen her since I was a small child. She invited me to annual family gathering at my great-great Aunt Maria's house (she has since died, but the family retains the house). It had been years since I had gone over there. The last time I was there was when I was five or six. I gladly accepted the invitation.
On my way over there, I called my Dad to let him know where I would be. He was happy, as he remembered Christmas Eve at Tia Maria's house. I then called three of my surviving aunts and they were excited. The streets were quite familiar, almost as though my Jeep knew the route, no need for Siri's directions.
Suddenly, it came back. The house was just as I had remembered it, right down to the familiar sill where the Nativity Scene was placed. Tia Maria's daughters greeted me, picking up where we left off so many years ago. As the rest of the family arrived, one of Tia Maria's daughters announced that we would be praying the Rosary. This was the long-standing tradition that Tia Maria had every Christmas Eve. Two of us led the Second and Fourth Joyous Mysteries in English (the one break with tradition), while three others led the rest in Spanish.
The prayers were just as I remembered them, insofar as the introductory ones were concerned. My cousins meticulously preserved the ritual even down to the smallest detail. I mused that they were more faithful to Tia Maria's venerable custom than, sadly, some priests are to the rubrics. Everyone who was able knelt, much as we did when I was a child. Young and old joined in the chorus of prayers in their language of choice. I felt as though I had walked back in time. In my mind's eye, I could see my Mom kneeling beside me in prayer.
After we prayed the Rosary, we embarked on the second of Tia Maria's customs, the veneration of the Child Jesus. A couple held a basket bearing the Christ Child and each of us, carrying a lit candle, went to venerate the Infant King as we sang a Christmas carol. As we venerated the Baby, we each got a candy. Then, we ate! Even the menu was scripted by Tia Maria, tamales, beans, rice and bunuelos! This time, I got to sit with the adults.