For a unique cultural experience in San Antonio, make the effort to attend the Mariachi Mass that takes place every Sunday at noon at the Mission San Jose. It is a remarkably joyous celebration of religion, music, and life itself.
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.