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xiii i I have the privilege of being a member of La Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, known in common parlance as the Penitentes. Several years ago I was with my hermanos in the Morada del Rito in northern New Mexico during Holy Week. We were finishing the last rosary for Good Friday when we heard the distinct sound of other penitentes singing an alabado, a hymn or chant, in the distance. Thinking it was a group of penitentes from a neighboring morada visiting us, we hastily prepared to meet them outside in encuentro, formal procession. All this time, the singing outside became louder as if the group was fast approaching our closed door. The words of the alabado also became clearer. It was the familiar hymn“Soy esclavo de Jesús”(I Am a Slave of Jesus). When had finally organized our procession to meet them formally and bring them into our chapel for mutual prayer, we twenty hermanos opened our chapter-house door. You can imagine our feeling when we encountered absolutely no one outside. The young novice brothers were instructed to take lanterns and flashlights to search the approaches to our chapter house so as to lead the visiting penitentes to us, but found no one. Thoroughly spooked by now, we returned to our meeting room. The Hermano Mayor, an elderly brother who had been a penitente for more years than most of us had been alive, explained to us that what we had experienced were hermanos de pena. The voices were those of deceased penitentes who had promised to perform some penance, make a spiritual visit, or sing a particular alabado during their lifetime.Having failed for some reason to fulfill this promesa before they died, they were now completing their vow in our presence. This explanation is only plausible to someone who knows about the profound impact of penitente spirituality on the Roman Catholicism of New Mexico, an influence that evidently reaches beyond the grave. Fraternities such as the penitentes have existed in Spanish-speaking Roman Catholicism since the thirteenth century. They were usually of three types: those honoring the sacraments, those worshiping the glory of God and venerating the saints,and those concentrating on doing penance. These later ones came to predominate around the sixteenth century, around the time Spain colonized New Mexico. Primarily devoted to the passion of Christ and its imitation, they have also been dedicated to the rescue of the poor souls in purgatory.These fraternities were composed of fervent lay people, not the clergy, although the influence of Franciscan friars upon the penitentes is undeniable. They were dedicated to public worship (although one that did not challenge the official liturgical life of the church), private penance, and acts of charity. In New Mexico, penitente membership and influence were highest in the nineteenth century. This was a time of great turbulence for the institutional Roman Catholic Church. Franciscan influence over the missions, long waning, disappeared altogether, and the distant Diocese of Durango could not supply enough priests to meet the needs of the faithful in New Mexico. Into this vacuum Foreword 00 Alabados i-xiv 5/20/05 12:08 PM Page xiii xiv stepped the penitentes. They provided for the spiritual life of most rural New Mexicans for whom the visit of a priest was a rare occasion. They did so by providing re-enactments of the passion, wakes for the dead, rudimentary knowledge of the catechism, charity for widows and orphans, and discipline among the young. Since virtually every male member of the village became a member of the morada, the penitentes were the only comprehensive organizing unit for communal life. Their influence was most profound in imbuing the villagers with a spiritual life. This was done through an elaborate set of prayers and paraliturgical services for every occasion of a Roman Catholic’s life.This popular religion provided a parallel spirituality to that of the sacramental life of the institutional Church. It did not seek to supplant the latter, but sometimes competed with it for the hearts and minds of the faithful.This was especially so when the priests were foreign and ignorant of the customs and culture of the people they served,as was the case after the United States conquered the Southwest. Nowhere was this spirituality better expressed than in the alabados the penitentes sang. Comprising a large corpus of hymns and chants for the different feasts and holy days of the Church...


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