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September 2, 2004
The moderately sized interior of the Mission San Jose fills up every week, so try to arrive about thirty minutes before the mass. The seating is first come first served, and latecomers will probably wind up standing in the back of the church. People line up by the entrance outfitted in their Sunday best. The interior is modestly decorated in comparison to the detailed exterior, but the domed space is still impressive. The structural junctions and edges are colorfully trimmed, and plaques representing the Stations of the Cross hang from the walls, which were formerly adorned with frescoes.
The attendees appear to number 50/50 between local parishioners and out of town visitors. This is discovered at the beginning of the mass, as the Franciscan father asks people to stand up according to their home state or country (he actually compiled an informal tally before the mass). On this day the audience included travelers from Guatemala, France and Germany. This sort of howdy-do welcome could have been corny, but it felt just right and was indicative of how celebratory and inclusive the mass will be.
The father’s sermon was not fiery, not too preachy, not gloom-and-doom. He was an adept speaker whose friendly manner made his words on peace, openness and understanding all the more sensible. Like any talk show worth its salt, this mass has its own musical group for accompaniment. The energetic mariachi band converted its goodtime up-tempo sound to spread the message in this house of religion. The lead female singer was the star of this outfit in my estimation. I was blown away by a duet featuring her simultaneously soaring and robust voice and the gentle strumming of the guitarist. This collaboration was beautiful, emotional, and spine-tingling. I felt like clapping each time she sang, but remember it is still a Catholic mass. The typical movements and rituals all take place with the added kick of the Mexican music, which enhances the overall impact of the ceremony.
To conclude the mass, the father invited those in the audience who were celebrating birthdays and special anniversaries to come up and take a bow. Then the anniversary couples, who have been together for decades, were allowed a special dance as they were royally serenaded by the mariachi band. What a way to celebrate! The mass lasts over an hour, and everybody leaves the church with warm feelings.
After the mass, the musicians may perform an impromptu set under a large shady tree on the grounds. It is an encore well worth listening to if you are not in a hurry to leave. This memorable Mariachi Mass is an experience you will not soon forget.
From journal Bill in the USA - SAN ANTONIO
by Lauren T
October 8, 2001
Yes, the mission is very old and it is beautiful, but, to be honest, I have toured Europe extensively and I have seen a lot of old churches and, after a while, they all start to look the same. However, what strikes me about the mission (and also the Cathedral in downtown San Antonio) is that, not only do you see an old building that has seen a lot of history and is filled with old art and artifacts, but you see church bulletins strewn about and bulletin boards with a note about the upcoming church bake sale or a camping trip for the youth group tacked to it. Most old European churches are sterile museums left to tell us of a culture that has long passed (except when they are occasionally used for weddings). These churches are as alive and thriving as they ever were and are a tribute to modern culture as much as they are a tribute to the culture of centuries past.
There are various services that are given every Sunday morning at various times in the mission San Jose. Some are in English and some in Spanish. However, the most interesting service is the Mariachi mass given every Sunday morning at noon (in English).
I am not Catholic (but have attended mass on several occasions) and have always been under the impression that mass was rigidly ritualized and well...boring. So I was really surprised to find a large troupe of singers and musicians singing and dancing throughout the service to Mariachi music. It was every bit as lively as an African-American church with a gospel choir.
This may not be for everyone, but it is a good way to learn something about not only the history of San Antonio but the modern hispanic culture thriving there currently as well.
From journal San Antonio