Liturgical Celebration of a Quinceanera
October 25, 2007
In many cultures, it is not uncommon to have some kind of ritual or rite to mark the passing of a boy or girl into adolescence or adulthood. In the Hispanic/Latino culture, primarily in the Mexican community, the quinceañera, a girl’s fifteenth birthday, is one such ritual.
For the young woman, her quinceañera is an event that is dreamed of and planned for months, if not years, before the actual day. In its purest form, it is a celebration of life, a gesture of profound thanksgiving for the life and childhood of the young person, and the moment to commit oneself to a life of discipleship and service to others by following the example of Jesus and his mother, Mary.
Because the social event associated with the quinceañera has, in many instances, eclipsed the liturgical event, there is a renewed sense on the part of Hispanic Ministry leadership in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, to highlight the true essence of this rite and prepare the young people involved, as well as their family members and friends, for this special day.
Liturgically, the quinceañera, may be celebrated within the context of Mass, in a Liturgy of the Word, or as a simple blessing given by a non-ordained lay person. In 1999, the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, published an excellent bilingual rite guidebook: Quinceañera: Celebration of Life/Celebración de la Vida, which contains the complete text for the rite desired by the young woman and her family.
In 1999, the guidebook was approved by the USCCB, and is still an excellent resource. In it, one will find that after the Profession of the Faith, the presider is instructed to invite the young woman to the front of the church to recite her Act of Thanksgiving and declare her willingness to follow Christ and his example of service with and for others. Often the young woman will also wish to present the Blessed Mother with flowers, and family members will have religious gifts to be blessed which are then given to the young woman. The liturgy would then continue with the Prayer of the Faithful.
However, as of July, 2007, the Bishops of the United States issued a document entitled “Order for the Blessing of the Fifteenth Birthday,” which clearly situates the presentation of the young woman after Communion and before the final blessing, when the quinceañera is celebrated during Mass. This change was made to give a clear message to the faithful that the blessing of a quinceañera is just that and not to be confused with an actual sacrament of the Church.
It is interesting to note that this rite of passage is not just for young women any more. There are a significant number of young men who also wish to give thanks for the gift of their lives and make a commitment to follow Christ. Similarly, it is our experience in the Midwestern U.S. that occasionally a young woman from the dominant culture who has Latina friends, is following their lead and asking for a quincerañera celebration, as well.
While part of the above phenomenon is due to the social aspect of the event, the Church finds herself in a tremendous opportunistic moment to evangelize a large number of young people across cultures. Each young woman or man who seeks to celebrate this rite of passage does so with a large number of family and friends. Therefore, it is important that parishes have a preparation program for young people seeking to celebrate this sacramental. Such a program is not only for the young woman or man, but for her/his parents, godparents, and friends who will be involved in the young person’s “court.”
Liturgically, it is hoped that the quincerñnera/o will make the celebration uniquely his/her own. If s/he has not made her First Communion and does not care to prepare to receive the sacrament, it is inappropriate to have a Mass. However, most young people do wish to celebrate the sacraments. In addition to preparing for baptism and/or first Eucharist if desired, we ask young people to be enrolled and actively participate in the local parish confirmation program.
During the specific quinceañera preparation, the young woman picks out readings and selects her readers. A rehearsal is part of the preparation so that the readings are proclaimed as best as possible and the solemnity of the moment is preserved. We ask the young woman to identify what will make the liturgy special for her and her family and why, so that it has as much significance as the social dinner and dance to follow.
In closing, the quinceañera event fulfills a certain Marian devotion and affirms one’s cultural identity. It can be a beautiful event that brings out the best we have to offer with regards to Catholic liturgy when there is adequate preparation and accompaniment.
Anne Attea is Coordinator for Hispanic Ministry, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
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