QUAERITUR: Rubrics for Aztec dancers during the offertory

From a reader:

On the fest of Our Lady of Guadeloupe the local parish here had Aztec
liturgical dancing during the offertory
. Everything else was fine, but this seemed a bit off.

It opened with the dancers running to the altar accompanied by a
excruciatingly loud beating of the drums. [So far so good.] They then proceeded to present the gifts, while dancing around the altar as the priest celebrant prepared it.

We had few questions about the rubrics that might allow for something like this. On an almost petty note, should the Aztec dancers present the gifts before or after the priest incense the altar?

On a more serious note, is it acceptable to have clearly non-Catholic images onthe cultural costumes and drum?

I assume that these things are not in line with the will of the current Roman Pontiff, but we were wondering if thisshould be raised to the attention of our bishop or perhaps the CDW?

I’ve linked to some of the better photos that you can use if you want.
They should also give you an idea of what we were talking about.


I think I get the general idea.   I wonder if the CDW has enough of these photos yet.

Perhaps you should send them in, asking for the clarification about the incense.

My sense about the incense is that the priest is to incense the altar after the Aztec dancers present their gifts.  I understand that the gifts may be carried in also to the accompaniment of special ordination tambourines.

However, if any of the victims are sneezing because of the smoke, or are otherwise manifesting their resentment loudly enough to be heard over the beating of the drums (which is why the drums are important, by the way!), it may be necessary to act as an Extraordinary Minister of Blows to the Head … ad hoc, as it were.  I think there is a blessing and commissioning for an EMBH, though normally the local bishop has to certify EMBHs for Aztec rituals during Mass.

If you are going to “EM”, do it right!


Seriously, I don’t think there is any problem with ethnic or indigenous garb for people who are “bringing up the gifts”, so long as it is decent and modest and doesn’t have elements that are contrary to our Christian Faith.

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  1. Ralph says:

    This is a joke right? The photos weren’t of an actual mass, correct?

    [No, I believe they were for an actual Mass. That part wasn’t a joke, though we joshed around with it.]

  2. DisturbedMary says:

    In my lay opinion, this is horrible. HORRIBLE! Ugly too. Weren’t the Aztecs offering bloody sacrifice of young children before Our Lady of Guadalupe intervened? What was the point of having Aztecs run up to the altar with gifts? Maybe they should have crawled up in their appreciation of God’s mercy. And Americans could get on their bellies too given our bloody love of abortion. Sorry for sounding so crazed. But this is reee-diculous.

    [I don’t believe any actual parishioners were sacrificed during that Mass.]

  3. Veronica says:

    I think it would have been better to have some type of Aztec dance after Mass at the parish hall or even the parking lot. Definitely this cultural acts h r no place in the Mass.

  4. Patti Day says:

    We had male and female Aztec dancers at the Spanish language mass. The men performed a stomping dance in heavy boots and headdresses in a procession around the parking lot and in the narthex. The placed roses before a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The women wore colorful skirts and performed a twirling dance that looked like pinwheels. I didn’t stay for the mass, so I didn’t see that part, although father had told us that they would be performing a play about the appearance and subsequent miracle of the tilma bearing Mary’s image.

  5. Mary Jane says:

    Read this post out loud to my Catholic co-worker; we’re laughing pretty hard over here! ROFL.

    On a serious note, I think it sounds like a fiasco.

    Fr Z said: “Seriously, I don’t think there is any problem with ethnic or indigenous garb for people who are “bringing up the gifts”, so long as it is decent and modest and doesn’t have elements that are contrary to our Christian Faith.”

    I’m not sure if one can reconcile “Aztec” with “Christian Faith”. Is this possible?

  6. edm says:

    What strange layout for a church building. One can’t even make out the people in the sanctuary (if there is one).

  7. Dr. Eric says:

    Yes, reconciling Aztec with the Christian Faith is easy. Their costumes, food, language, architecture are all morally neutral. As long as they are Catholics who worship the Triune God and follow all that Holy Mother Church teaches, then there is nothing wrong with Aztec culture. It’s the paganism and human sacrifice that are evil. Take those away and there is nothing to get upset about.

    Now, I’ve been to Masses in which there was a parishioner who acted like St. Juan Diego and ran up to the Bishop with his tilma stuffed with roses and let them fall. The offertory consisted of people dressing in Aztec costumes and processing rhythmically up to the sanctuary. I saw nothing wrong with it. What if it were people in traditional Polish costumes brought up the gifts?

  8. donantebello says:

    I lived in Mexico for a time where I learned Spanish and was immersed in the culture. We Americans have to understand that they are very proud of their Aztec roots, and that unlike the Protestant immigrants who pilloried the heritage of the indigenous people, the Church helped to protect the cultural identity of the Aztecs peoples of Mexico. We had a celebration of NSDG here in our Diocese, it was very reverent, and we incorporated the Aztec Dancing and traditions at the hall AFTER MASS. We have to understand that the Mexican people never broke with their ancient and sacred traditions, the Catholic missionaries even helped them to transform the dances to be Catechetical tools with each step signifying, instead of pagan belief, 3 steps for the trinity, 2 steps for the dual natures of Christ, etc… So in this there has been an unbroken line of the sense of the sacred in Mexican culture in this area. If you study the history of the Liturgies in Mexico before the council, the Aztec dance and traditions were incorporated in to the celebrations before and after the Holy Mass, or in processions, but never within the Sacred Liturgy, which has a thoroughly Spanish/Roman character (until the Council.) We need to bring back the sense of continuity to help restore the balance between things sacred and profound, yet not proper for the Mass itself. And the Mexican people definitely have a deep pride in the Romanity of the liturgy properly celebrated, so we need to bring this all back for a further enrichment of Catholic Identity (as Fr. Z has told us many times).

    Just a side note: in the Sacred Image of NSDG you can see there is a shadow on one knee, they say in Mexico it is because she was doing the sacred Aztec dance. That is very commonly held all over Mexico from the time when the Image first appeared. So you see how deeply they hold these things.

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    Nothing wrong with respectable persons in actual indigenous dress bringing the gifts to the altar.
    I’ve seen members of Indian tribes in full ceremonial regalia bringing up gifts with great dignity and respect. And my own tribes, the MacGregors and MacDonalds, have been known to wear somewhat out of the ordinary dress in church.
    Blowing flutes, leaping, ululating, banging drums, and shimmying about in home-made costumes that bear little if any resemblance to authentic dress is probably not o.k. for church.
    However it could be worse — I had to go to Not My Usual Parish once during a dog trial. The Aztec drummers and dancers were what my daddy calls “stark nekkid” except for feather headdresses and a loincloth. Of course, judging from the codex illustrations, that probably IS authentic. Or at least it was 600 years or so ago.

  10. Ralph says:

    I’m sorry to disagree with those who found it an appropriate cutural expression. I don’t care if your Polish, Irish or Mexican. I found it totally out of place and, frankly, it breaks my heart.

  11. Rich says:

    This is inculturation at all costs, even that of revealing how ignorant one is to the fact that Our Lady of Guadalupe set herself up as an antithesis to the Aztec religion. The symbolism of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe reveals that the place of Our Lady was to supplant the place that the fertility goddess Cihuacoatl (“Lady of the Serpent”) had in Aztec mythology. The creation myth associated with this goddess involved her son’s killing of his brothers and sister when the sister (Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess) led an uprising against Cihuacoatl who had become pregnant under unusual circumstances (see also Mt 1:18-25). When the son killed his sister, he tore her heart out using a snake and threw her body down a mountain, which was the inspiration for the the Aztec religious practice of tearing out the hearts of human sacrifices and throwing their bodies down the sides of the temple. It is said that about 20,000 people were sacrificed to the Aztec’s sun god, Tonatiuh, as a tribute to appease him into continuing to move about the sky as the sun. According to Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh was ruler of the heavens who became this supreme god when a lesser god, Nanahuatzin, sacrificed himself in order to gain such higher divine status and become Tonatiuh. Contrast this to Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7).

    Cihuacoatl was depicted in Aztec statuary adorned with a skirt of writhing snakes and a necklace of human skulls and hearts. Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the other hand, is depicted as a simple, native expectant mother whose seed would crush the serpent’s head (cf. Gen 3:15). She is also depicted as the woman “clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet” (Rev 12:1), eclipsing the sun – or sun god, Tonatiuh – and placing underfoot the pernicious aspirations of those who would target expectant mothers (represented by the moon goddess who led an uprising against her expectant mother), like those today who pursue the abortion of unborn children in their mothers’ wombs’, setting up the mothers’ wombs’ as new altars as it were to Tonatiuh.

    Such reasons show how ignorant and antithetical it is exhibit Aztec culture so illustriously within a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Guadalupe came to root out and supplant core aspects of this culture.

  12. Long-Skirts says:

    “And the land was polluted with blood,” by idolaters who sacrificed
    their sons and daughters to devils. (Ps. 105:38) Such was Mexico when
    Hernando Cortes arrived there in 1519. Some ten million native Nahuatl
    Indians formed a vast confederation of tribes at this time. These
    tribes were dominated by the powerful Aztecs who, for all their
    intelligence, industry, and valor, were equally barbaric, enslaved by
    an extravagant system of idolatry which placated its numerous gods
    with gruesome orgies of human sacrifice and cannibalism. For
    centuries torrents of blood literally flowed from the temple
    pyramids, with as many as 20,000 humans being sacrificed in one day.

  13. Dr. Eric says:

    Then stop wearing sandals because the Greeks and Romans had Bacchanalia, Rich. Your arguments go too far. There is nothing wrong with legitimate cultural expression.

    Some of the Plains Indians asked to become Catholics when the US Army declared that they be executed. The Catholic missionaries allowed them to retain their legitimate dress, language, food, and architecture. The protestants tried to WASP them up as much as possible. The Indians would rather be associated with The Black Robes.

  14. Grabski says:

    I don’t understand the Aztec angle.

    From what I know, Juan Diego was not an Aztec but an oppressed tribe!

    Having said that, I attended Mananitas on the morning of Guadalupe Day.

    I was the only non hispanic; it was moving 5AM service, Mass, rosary. Old school catholicism.

    The future is us with our Latino Brothers.

  15. jarhead462 says:

    Just stick to the Extraordinary Form. No problems, no dancing.
    “Extraordinary Minister of Blows to the Head”

    Now THAt had me doing a Danny Thomas spit-take with my coffee!
    Semper Fi!

  16. ppb says:

    As others have said, there are Christian expressions of these indigenous dance traditions that were encouraged by the Spanish missionaries – the matachines, for example. These traditions have been around in Mexico and the Southwestern US for centuries. But until the post-Vatican II “everyone has to be up on the altar” craziness started, this would *never* have been allowed at Mass itself; it would have only been in outdoor ceremonies. (Those drums are truly ear-splitting and inappropriate in an enclosed space!) The same can be said of the practice of having mariachi bands play inside the church itself, by the way.

    Another point: it appears that link with the pictures is from a parish in….North Carolina?!? I can see this having a place in Mexico and the southwestern US, but importing Aztec dancers to an average suburban parish on the east coast makes no sense at all. It sounds like a shallow attempt at multiculturalism.

  17. disco says:

    I find two ironies. One this mass was celebrated on the feast day of our lady of guadalupe who is credited with the conversion of the natives who practiced such barbarism and two it took place in a church dedicated to st Thomas more, who no doubt would have gladly been beheaded again to prevent such a tragedy.

  18. jarthurcrank says:

    Hispanics make up six percent of the population in Orange County, NC, where Chapel Hill is. Hispanics probably made up less than one percent of the population in the county before the 90s, the increase being all the more considerable given the triumphant rise of the Triangle Area in NC in general. Evangelization of Hispanic immigrants is Catholic priority no. 1 in North Carolina because otherwise, they become Pentecostals or Baptists. If that means Aztec dancers in the sanctuary, that is a small price to pay – – it’s as innocuous as Order of the Arrow ceremonies – – so long as they aren’t dancing to the Salsoul Orchestra’s “Magic Bird of Fire.”

    (Now, St. Thomas More is not an attractive church, mind you, it is “Environment and Art” all the way, but one must make do with what one has. The NC Triangle is not a friendly environment for the more aesthetically-discerning or traditional-minded Catholic.)

  19. Gail F says:

    Geez, people, there ARE other cultures in the world. I think the dancing shoudl have been before or after Mass. But if they are really Aztec people who really do those dances, then by all means they should do them. If they are NOT — if it’s pretend multiculturalism — that’s another story.

  20. jarthurcrank says:

    “it took place in a church dedicated to st Thomas more, who no doubt would have gladly been beheaded again to prevent such a tragedy.”

    I think you’ve confused Martin Van Dorp with Thomas More. (Actually Dorp wouldn’t have given his head to prevent anything, but instead would have just bitched and moaned about whatever irked him.)

  21. Sword40 says:

    I really try to avoid the OF Masses so that I don’t run across such things. Being Cornish-American I can just imagine what sort of “cultural” things would happen. Probably try to hijack the presentation of the “gifts”. My ancestors had a reputation for such activities off the Cornish coast.
    Even grandpa refused to be very civilized although he did enjoy his “tay”.

  22. Kathleen10 says:

    Fantastic commentary by Father Z. about the EMBH. I may have found my vocation. Instead of being disturbed by my weekly inclinations I can now apparently celebrate it. Also loved the pictorials.
    If I attended that Mass, I would be very disturbed. I too would find it ironic knowing Our Lady came to end the Aztec sacrifice, and the loud drumming and running would be too much for this faint heart. Twenty years ago I crabbed about these specific “cultural” celebrations. How long before we have a Mass for those of us who celebrate our “red hair and freckles”.

  23. Southern Baron says:

    Pardon my jesuitical approach to some of these things, but as some have pointed out, we should be careful distinguishing between that which is morally wrong and morally neutral, and then consider what role the morally neutral should play in the liturgy.

    I would ask a number of questions: was this done as a form of education during the Mass? If so, should it have been done afterwards? Is intercultural enlightenment appropriate within the liturgy itself? Or: is there a significant Mexican population in this parish, with whom such costumes would particularly resonate as they contemplate their own history and the way that their culture has embraced Catholicism? If so, this could make sense. You’ll see similar things in processions for Guadalupe Day at churches with large Mexican congregations all across the US. We don’t frown upon Polish cultural activities at all the Our Lady of Czestochowa parishes scattered across the country. So why Aztec? We were all pagan at one point. As Fr Z pointed out, they weren’t glorifying human sacrifice. Being a devout Christian does not mean being European.

    We have an EM at my parish (say what you will) who wears the traditional dress from her home country in Africa; she does this because it is what she wears when she is dressed up. Somebody raised the valid point when I commented on it that it’s not much different from when I wear seersucker in the North: it sticks out but to me, it’s normal.

    That said… if the Mass is being used as a platform for education beyond joining people to Christ through the sacrament, then we risk belittling the actual significance of the Mass, which remains the highest importance. So be careful when holding such activities between “Dominus vobiscum” and “Deo gratias.”

  24. Southern Baron says:

    Pardon my jesuitical approach to some of these things, but as some have pointed out, we should be careful distinguishing between that which is morally wrong and morally neutral, and then consider what role the morally neutral should play in the liturgy.

    I would ask a number of questions: was this done as a form of education during the Mass? If so, should it have been done afterwards? Is intercultural enlightenment appropriate within the liturgy itself? Or: is there a significant Mexican population in this parish, with whom such costumes would particularly resonate as they contemplate their own history and the way that their culture has embraced Catholicism? If so, this could make sense. You’ll see similar things in processions for Guadalupe Day at churches with large Mexican congregations all across the US. We don’t frown upon Polish cultural activities at all the Our Lady of Czestochowa parishes scattered across the country. So why Aztec? We were all pagan at one point. As Fr Z pointed out, they weren’t glorifying human sacrifice. Being a devout Christian does not mean being European.

    We have an EM at my parish (say what you will) who wears the traditional dress from her home country in Africa; she does this because it is what she wears when she is dressed up. Somebody raised the valid point when I commented on it that it’s not much different from when I wear seersucker in the North: it sticks out but to me, it’s normal.

    That said… if the Mass is being used as a platform for education beyond joining people to Christ through the sacrament, then we risk belittling the actual significance of the Mass, which remains the highest importance. So be careful when holding such activities between “Dominus vobiscum” and “Deo gratias.”

  25. heway says:

    Our diocese was founded for Natuve Americans by Pope Pius XII. My first experience of a native entrance in the cathedral cannot be matched. Tribal chiefs led the way, none less than 6’2″. They are preceded by the drummers. They are all in traditional dress. The walk straight, tall and serious. The prayers of the faithful are in languages of the local tribes. Never saw cultural dress in the sanctuary. Pentecost is recalled as the moment when the church embarked upon reaching all men.

  26. CarismaTeaCo says:

    I attended 5a.m. mañanitas at my home parish. Apparently, the hispanic ELCA church began singing at 11pm the previous day and asvertised ‘just as we sang to her in our native country’.. Oooook

    Anyway, Another year, another celebration of liturgical abuses.. The choir practiced our rancheras (polka sounding music) for an hour before 6pm Mass . Thank God people at our Parish tend to arrive exactly on time; the music was as loud as can be! which people like.. no Aztec dancers, And no BLOODY sacrifices,  but the annual play was presented after Mass ON the steps of the SANCTUARY, props and all. As usual  Juan Diego was portrayed as a dumb Indian. I’m not sure if they tell the kid to sound the way he did or what, but it never fails. 

    As for the future being with our Latino brothers,  there are just as many liturgical abuses in the happy -clappy -hand -swaying, resting- in -the-spirit Masses at our 1030 Spanish service as in the 9am English ones. 

    The other Catholic church in our city which offers Mass in Spanish (and we share the same priest) went all out in their decorating for OLoG . Waterfall and even LIVE doves and parakeets in CAGES next to ILoG’s image. 

     Let’s just stick to EF as you guys have already said. Leave the extra stuff for the pan y  champurrado time in the hall. 

    On a side note, I have heard that blood from the sacrifices was used to make the statue of the god huitzilopochtli  which was later broken up and distributed to the people to eat. 

  27. gambletrainman says:

    I may be missing something, so, someone help me out. I’ve looked at the pictures, and there seems to be two different settings. The first group is in a church building, complete with altar, organ (up front) and wooden pews in the main body of the church. The rest of the “festival” seems to be in a parish hall type of setting, along with folding chairs which I’m taking to be a festival OUTSIDE of Mass. No one has made any remark of this. If my observations are correct, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Although the person who wrote this seems to indicate all of this was done during Mass. If he is right, it would seem that Mass was taking place in two different settings.

  28. Joseph-Mary says:

    They do this at the offertory at the Basilica in Mexico City with the Cardinal as well. Normally I would not care for this but when I witnessed it I found it as the offering of a whole people, a whole nation to Jesus through Mary. It was actually very spiritually powerful.

  29. tzard says:

    Perhaps the original author can identify for us the non-catholic imagery on the costumes. All I could make out was Our Lady of Guadalupe – otherwise white native garb (except for the feathers). Could this be a tempest in a teapot from someone who doesn’t know who that is?

    Whether dancing or feathers is culturally appropriate and permitted – I’ll leave that to others more qualified than I am. But I don’t see any prima-facie paganism here.

  30. tonyballioni says:

    Having been at this Mass too, I can comment that there did appear to be something like Aztec serpents or deities on the back of the drummers costume and on the drum itself. And, yes, for whoever asked about whether this took place during mass, it did. There was a fiesta afterwards which took place in the parish hall.

    The dancing seemed out of place, and the dancers had bells on their feet which made it hard to pray. It was certainly very odd/out of place.

  31. benedictgal says:

    As a native South Texan who lives on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, I am a little amazed at the reaction here to what the Matachines (the correct name of the dancers).

    The dance “performed” by the Matachines is actually indigenous to Mexico. In fact, much of it dates back to the original events of 1531. Shortly after the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe (and the resulting miracle of the roses), the Aztecs had a celebration in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This celebration included dances. Unfortunately, a child was fatally hit by an errant arrow and died. The distraught mother carried the child to the tilma bearing the miraculous image of OLG. The Aztecs joined the mother and the priest in prayer. Miraculously, the child was restored to life. A special dance was performed in honor of the Blessed Mother.

    The costumes that the Matachines wear are a bit updated from what their cultural ancestors wore. However, the rhythm and steps are as close to the original as has been handed down over the course of nearly 500 years. Indigenous Mexicans and their descendants (many of them who have moved to this country) have retained this nearly 500-year-old custom.

    In fact, the documents do allow for this form of inculturation, moreso since this is a tradition that goes back roughly five centuries. Now, I am not in favor of these so-called “liturgical dancers” wherein folks prance around like ballerinas and twirl incense bowls around. This is certainly not fit for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. However, before we start panning something that is actually legitimate and has a very long, indigenous tradition, we should take the time to learn about it.

    As for the Matachines coming to a parish in North Carolina, who is to say that there is not a growing Mexican-American population in that area? This weekend, Laredo will be welcoming thousands of paisanos (Mexican-Americans who live all over the country who travel every year to Mexico to visit their families). Having worked at the rest stop for several years, I have seen many folks come in, arriving in vehicles bearing license plates from all over the country, including North Carolina, Michigan, New York and Oregon.

  32. Nora says:

    I am a convert from the Episcopal church, of largely English and German ancestry. “Noble simplicity” is the motto of all the accidental properties for mass in my native culture. If I were in a parish that did not provide a healthy dose of that aesthetic, I would be sad and would consider attending a church outside of my geographic parish. We “say the black, do the red” and chant it all in plainsong. That said, the Matachines bring me a great deal of joy to see and to pray with. God made the white on white garden rose which is my style and the raucous bird of paradise that matches there costumes, because it gave Him pleasure. I may not understand some cultural expressions of faith because of my context and some of them may be as wrong as Father Rock Star mangling the OF, but there is nothing inherently unGodly about worship from a different cultural context.
    As much as it surprises me to say so, I find myself missing the obsolete translation. It made me sigh, quite often, when I read the Latin and compared it to the English we were about to hear and pray. However, I had a lot of masses and years plugged into my intentions when I said “And also with you.”. Our history, our culture, our experiences are part of what bringing human worship to God requires. He made dappled things for a reason.

  33. Christine111 says:

    “Everything else was fine, but this seemed a bit off.”

    Understatement of the year.


    And this I loved: “should the Aztec dancers present the gifts before or after the priest incense the altar?”


    I truly thought the letter was some very funny parody, until I saw the photos.

  34. 1. Those outfits don’t look particularly Aztec. Kind of generically Mexicanish Native American, but not Aztec.

    2. Malinche dancing is a blend of various Native American dance traditions with the fashionable Spanish “Moorish dance” plays — the same ones that became Morris dancing in the UK.

    3. Of course, there are inappropriate uses of Morris dancing in the Anglican-sphere, and there are people convinced that Morris dancing is some kind of secret sacred pagan ceremony (or used to be). But in general, nobody thinks of Morris dancing as some arcane blasphemy against the Christian religion; so malinche dancing is highly unlikely to be an insult to Our Lady.

  35. Maltese says:

    At the Basilica Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, NM, it’s an annual event.

    I had to leave mass early due to scantily-clad women prancing around. I’m no prude, but my 13 year old son and 15 year old daughter don’t need to see that during Holy Mass!

  36. TNCath says:

    This is yet another example of when the Mass becomes a stage show, where everybody has to “feel good” about themselves by having a “part” in it. Prayer and worship are replaced by performing and acting.

  37. ContraMundum says:

    1. When I click on the “better photos” link, I get only the message “Error”.
    2. I’m inclined to believe that the message sums it up correctly.

  38. benedictgal says:


    I am a native south Texan and have seen the Matachines most of my brief time here on this Earth. As I indicated in my previous post, this is a modification of the Aztec indigenous costume. For whatever it’s worth, down here, the Matachines do their ritual dance before the Mass. I believe that this is also done at the Basilica in Mexico City.

    Now, what I do find rather disconcerting is the annual Silver Rose pilgrimage that the Knights of Columbus down here do during the Guadalupe “season”, for lack of a better word. What originally began as a simple gift of a genuine silver rose from the Canadian Knights to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico has become something akin to the golden calf that Aaron had wrought during Moses’ time with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The local Knights, lamentably, have confused the story and convoluted it to the point that no one knows the real meaning. When the Silver Rose arrived in Laredo, it was run throughout the parishes as a gesture of thanksgiving and tribue to Our Lady of Guadalupe. On its final day, the bishop (in previous years, the Corpus Christi ordinary, but, now that we are our own diocese, our bishop) processes the Silver Rose to the International Bridge and, as he meets his Mexican counterpart, hands the Silver Rose to the Nuevo Laredo bishop and then it is run from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey (it does not go to Mexico City). What the local Knights have done is blow the whole thing completely out of proportion and make the Silver Rose some kind of relic, to the point that they have commissioned extra roses to suppliment the Canadian rose and then have these taken from parish to parish and placed, in some cases, on the altar. We managed to put a collective foot down and tell them that, since these are not relics, they have no business being on the altar. They can be in the sanctuary, but, off to the side in a separate table.

    Believe me, the local Knights and their Silver Rose ritual are more problematic than the legitimate, centuries-old tribute that the cultural descendants of the Matachines pay to Our Lady of Guadalupe every December 12th.

  39. 4. The outside church steps, or the parish hall, or the front yard of church, are all good places to hold plays and dancing for God. Not so thrilled about them inside church; but it’s better to accuse Father of a lapse of liturgical sense than of advocating pagan human sacrifice practices.

    5. Huitzilopochtli didn’t have anything to do with bread or statues made of bread. What got passed out was pieces of human flesh, which is dead standard for any kind of human sacrifice. Animals get sacrificed to gods, the gods get the fat and bones and smell; and the meat gets passed out to human attendees. Human sacrifices, same thing.

    The idea was that Huitzilopochtli was the wizard that fought the darkness. To keep up his strength, he needed to eat a sacrifice on his holiday every year, and a human sacrifice every 52 years; otherwise he would weaken and the world would be destroyed.

    Anyway, during one of the festival months (some say April, some say December), the Aztecs fasted from everything except amaranth grain to eat and honey to drink. They wound up this fasting period by making little cakes shaped like Huitzilopochtli as a man squatting, which were made out of amaranth grain stuck together with honey. (Presumably because his other shape was a hummingbird, and hummingbirds like amaranth flowers and drinking honey.) Some say there was a giant Huitzilopochtli honeycake-model also; and of course, the point of making a giant cake is to have a lot more to give away to people. (And Mississippian/Mexican cultures are all about centralization of power and agriculture.) Some say the big cakes were only given to the unlucky people who were going to get sacrificed. I couldn’t find the actual books to find the actual quotes, though.

  40. tonyballioni says:

    For anyone wondering whether it was really Aztec, that was how it was advertised in the mass programme.

  41. jflare says:

    I’ll admit to having rather strongly mixed thoughts on this.
    On one hand, acknowledging legitimate cultural heritage will always be good. I think one of the more tragic aspects of the Church’s life these past few decades has been a stubborn neglect of the Caucasian heritage that many of us would surely wish to celebrate. I might point out that, though I technically come from a Irish/German background, I can’t recall anything I’ve seen from either cultural heritage even within the walls of a parish hall in some 20 years or so.
    On the other hand, beings that Mass isn’t intended as a lesson in multiculturalism, but IS the sacrifice of Our Lord being made present in our midst, something like this DOES strike me as being too close to liturgical abuse, as it DOES appear to me to distract from the sacrifice at hand.

    I would suggest that something like this would definitely be better suited to a presentation before or after Mass in a parish hall. Those who’re presenting the material have ample opportunity to explain all the symbology and ritual involved, from the rationale behind the dress and decor, to the choreography, and also explaining what the dance, drums, and whatever..MEAN.
    In this way, we could receive a genuine opportunity to become better acquainted with each other, but still keep our focus during the Mass on the obvious, commonly known, Word of God.

  42. jflare says:

    So, I reviewed the pictures again. Many of them, I think, demonstrate an appropriate expression of pride in one’s cultural heritage. Most of the pictures of the children dancing appear to me in a parish hall, not during Mass, so there’s an appropriate use of cultural context there.
    I DO think I can safely say this though: In my lifetime, I’ve come across altogether numerous occasions in which Hispanic people seemed quite willing to share their cultural heritage with others. Oftentimes they do so in a manner that’s quite virtuous.

    At the same time, I think it problematic that..though I’d be hard pressed to demonstrate any particular music or dance of my own cultural heritage..I can’t think of even one occasion when I ever heard a Hispanic person ever inquire about any other person’s cultural background.
    Given that, the whole argument regarding multicultural exposure..seems to me to take a serious hit in the credibility department.

  43. PeterK says:

    Good thing the Aztecs didn’t use the altar for one of their sacrificial offerings


  44. jarhead462 says: Just stick to the Extraordinary Form. No problems, no dancing.

    Not to mention, it is probably a lot closer to the Mass as St. Juan Diego knew it.

  45. Christine111 says:

    “If the proposal of the religious dance in the West is really to be made welcome, care will have to be taken that in its regard a place be found outside of the liturgy, in assembly areas which are not strictly liturgical.”
    –“The Religious Dance – an Expression of Spiritual Joy”, in The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp.78-82 (originally in official publication by Congregation for Divine Worship)

  46. I hear it on good authority that Sr. Feidler was volunteered to become the sacrifice on the Mayan altar.

  47. stacy_cook says:

    As bad as the Aztec liturgical dancing is, the thing I’m really having a hard time getting over is that a grown man would ever attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wearing nothing but a cape and hot shorts. Even the non-Catholics I know wouldn’t go into a Catholic Church without a shirt on.

  48. Brian2 says:

    There are two seperate issues being conflated in most of the comments: (1) is the sort of lay particpation encouraged by the rubricks of the NO a good idea and (2) is this kind of dancing appropriate for the church. I will leave aside the first questions, since it goes far beyond the ‘Aztec’ dancing, raising more substantive issues about the IGRM, NO and the like

    Assuming, per the rubricks of the NO, that lay particpation of this sort is allowed, lets turn to (2): is this kind of lay particpation — dancing in Aztec clothing — good? I think the shortest answer is: It is right and just.

    The argument from ‘paganism’ is a non-starter: the whole point of NSDG celebrations is that they are no longer pagan (in many ways, it is similar to St. Patrick’s day). The point is that, per Augustine, we have taken the gold of the egyptians. They are dancing becaus they are happy to be Catholic, not because they are pagans.

    The argument from ‘appropriateness’ is equally bad: are they dressed inappropriatley? Does anyone find themselves having lustful thoughts when they see the dancers? I think not. Or if so, the problem might be with you and not the costumes, for they are surely not designed to arouse.

    So what are the benefits of the dancing? In my parish, being one of the dancers involves being part of a prayer-group (Los Guadalupanos), practicing the dances weekly throughout the year, organizing and attending the novena in honor of NSDG, mananitas, and the procession on the day of the feast the like. It is an especially good way of catechizing the young and keeping them from drifting away from the church. I don’t see how, within the context of (2) anyone can seriously object. I suspect that most objections here are really about (1) with this being only the most recent example of a more general complaint about the current liturgical norms.

  49. benedictgal says:

    What many of y’all seem to forget is that there is a 500-year tradition behind the Matachines dance. This is not the same thing as the travesty that has occurred every year at the LA Religious Education Congress. This is not the same thing as girls in white robes prancing about hoisting bowls of incense over their heads.

    Every year, from December 3rd to December 12th, many neighborhoods down here have a novena in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Matachines accompany an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe from one house to the next with a sacred dance. The Matachines are serious while they dance and there is a degree of solemnity in how they dance.

    I can certainly understand some of the ambivelence here regarding oddities during the Mass, as I have seen too many of them to the point of nausiating disgust. However, to start bashing one particular group over how it has honored the Blessed Mother for nearly half of a millenium is to show a lack of understanding of the situation.

  50. twele923 says:

    I was at this Mass. To all those who claim the attire and instruments look authentic: you didn’t actually see the “dance.” I don’t claim to be an expert on Aztec dance, but I didn’t leave feeling convinced of its authenticity. Also, @tzard concerning the images on the costumes: the drummer had the eagle-and-serpent emblazoned on his back. Most of the dancers’ imagery was pretty abstract, but there was only one of the 10 (12?) that wore the Virgen.

  51. aspiringpoet says:

    Here are some photos of a procession at another parish with dancers in traditional garb. I especially like the photograph of the dancers kneeling in front of Our Lady. http://www.ologsf.com/galeria

  52. I’m simply annoyed by the comments here. I’ve had to rewrite this comment a number of times to try and have a more charitable tone. Please excuse me if I fail.

    I’m distraught at the lack of historical knowledge that many commenter have demonstrated. I’m also distraught at the lack of Catholic, cultural understanding that has been demonstrated. I’m concerned that if some of the more restrictive comments were followed to their logical conclusion we would end up with a second “stripping of the altars.” I say this because nearly all of our liturgical signs and symbols from the Christmas Trees in our Sanctuaries (not to mention the Easter Fire and Gregorian Chant) to the vestments worn by the priest (save the alb) have their origin in pagan use. But, each of these over a period of time have been Christianized. Consider Mozarabic Chant. It was an appropriation of Muslim poetic forms in the Iberian Peninsula that was melded with Roman Chant for liturgical use. Authentic inculturation is something that the Church has done throughout her entire history. It has always been the heretics (most recently Modernists and Jansenists) who have worked tirelessly to destroy these cultural forms in our liturgical and para-liturgical use.

    Native dancers, whether they be from Aztec or Pueblo Indian or some other culture have long ago shed their pagan signification. The Franciscans and my brother Dominicans worked hard to reorient these cultural manifestations toward the praise and worship of the one true God. These dances have existed in some liturgical form or another for hundreds of years. Yes, this all happened prior to the Second Vatican Council! One of the most striking examples is the dance that is held each year in honor of St. Dominic in New Mexico at Santo Domingo Pueblo. This is not some new post-Vatican II innovation. This has existed for hundreds of years.

    I can understand the fear that some may have in light of the gross liturgical abuses that exist. We should be careful to distinguish between what is authentic and inauthentic inculturalization. However, to toss all of it out of the window is as un-Catholic as anything else I can consider.

    We should also consider the best time for their use. My understanding of the historic use of native dancers is that they were found in the procession prior to and following Mass. Also, they would have the central devotional aspect of their dance either in a period before or after Mass. I don’t know of any historical president for their use during the course of the Mass (as seen in recent years). Is this a legitimate development? I don’t know. It is not for me to decide. But, since we lack a robust devotional life in the US it is hard to see how dancers fit into the Catholic world of authentic praise and/or worship. The use of dancers could be the perfect door through which a greater devotional life can be established in a parish that likely lacks processions in honor of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the Saints. But, if a parish has a strong devotional life, then dancers fit into their proper niche along side all the other devotions of the parish.

    While the use of the dancers during the Presentation of the Gifts (the OF doesn’t have a proper Offertory) was probably a bad choice it doesn’t mean that dancers are not a legitimate part of the Catholic patrimony. Instead of seeking their removal, we should advocate for their proper use. It is still remembered by the Pueblo Indians in NM when the French Jesuits, influenced by Jansenism, sought to root out what they mistook as pagan practices and dress that had long been Christianized. We should take care to not fall into the same trap of ignorance as those Jesuits did nearly one hundred years ago.

  53. MarkJ says:

    Cutltural dancing outside of Mass? Nothing wrong with that.
    Cultural dancing and displays during Mass? Pure entertainment leading to loss of the meaning of the Mass.
    Solution? Only assist at the Traditional Form of the Mass, and work to get more TLMs in parishes far and wide. The Ordinary Form encourages the entertainment mentality… the Extraordinary Form does not.

  54. Rich says:

    @ benedictgal

    If these were indeed Matachines, you would have a point. Matachines do indeed derive many elements of their performance from the Aztec culture, especially of its conquest by Cortes (as he even represents evil or Satan in their performance). And, Matachines traditionally perform within the context of Catholic celebrations. More indigenous or chronologically earlier Aztec dance is making a comeback, though, and does not take the Matachines’ performance as an inspiration. It is hard to tell by the pictures which is taking place in the church. A couple of the headdresses worn in the pictures look like they could be like those traditionally worn by Matachines, but most of the headdresses look more indigenous. And, Matachines garb is usually more elaborate and flamboyant, while the garb worn by those in the pictures looks simpler. I don’t think what’s going on in the pictures in a Matachines performance.

  55. Supplex says:

    @ Rich. Thank you for your post.

    I am getting tired of people trying to insert all sorts of pagan practices in Catholicism, so as to make it more palatable for them.

    There is no room for dances and rituals that once represented unholy pagan practices.

    This is why we have Catholics practicing vodou, Santeria and Candomble.

  56. JaneC says:

    We had a small group of (all-female) dancers and one drummer at our parish’s Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration. The dancers were modestly dressed. The male drummer’s actual costume was fairly scanty, but he wore black leggings and a close-fitting black shirt underneath his costume. Before the procession at the beginning of Mass, the drummer played and the dancers danced/marched partway down the main aisle, then they stopped and stood at the sides, facing inward, like an honor guard as the procession passed. They performed their full dance at the fiesta in the church hall.

    Apparently they did the whole dance during Mass last year, but this year one of the priests raised a fuss and things were changed. I think the way things were done this year was very tasteful.

  57. benedictgal says:


    The dance was one of the forms of worship that the Aztecs used to venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe. To equate this with voodoo and santeria is to completely miss the point.

  58. I don’t think there’s any bright line here. Yes, there are people out there (much like we suffered in the 80’s and 90’s) who want to “fight the man” and do pagan things in a Catholic church. But there are a lot more people who want to do dances proper to Catholic fiestas, and who may or may not understand what sorts of things are worshipful and tasteful. Similarly, while I’m sure there are a few bigots out there, mostly there’s a lot of culture shock. Taking Spanish class in high school isn’t the same as having Hispanic people from several different regions and countries in your parish.
    And when dancers, who are vague about what they’re doing, meet up with parishioners of different ethnicity, who don’t even know what the dancers are trying to do, there’s bound to be some uncomfortable moments.

  59. In fact, this reminds me very strongly of the trouble a French Catholic parish in northern Ohio had, back in the 1800’s, when they did their normal Rogation Day procession around the parish bounds. They had a dragon banner that they marched along with the priest and everybody, and some of the settlers had never seen such a thing and thought it was pagan and non-biblical and popish and such; while it looked perfectly normal to those from English and German areas that kept similar traditions for Rogation Day or “beating the bounds.”

    I’m not saying we should let immigrant tradition trump all decorum. But pastors should try to strike a happy medium between maintaining Catholic stuff from elsewhere in a dignified and fitting manner, and explaining it to the other parishioners in a Catholic and edifying way.

    And yes, I’ve got no beef with the “spoils of the Egyptians” argument, but it’s helpful to use it only when something really is of pagan origin. A lot of “pagan” stuff in Europe is really medieval Christian in origin; and a lot of “pagan” stuff in South America is really from back home in somebody’s village in Spain or Hungary or what have you.

  60. jflare says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Supplex.
    I understand just fine that the Aztec rituals aren’t being used to worship some form of pagan deity or principle. Fine. But if those rituals have been converted to Catholic worship..why aren’t we considering rituals or symbols from Gallican, Germanic, Celtic, or Slavic influences? My ancestors came from the those particular groups originally, so if we’re making the ethnicity argument here, we’re failing miserably.

    For what it’s worth, I live here in Nebraska and am well aware of the existence of the various tribes from this part of the nation: Sioux, Pawnee, Ponca, Blackfoot, and at least one more. Now and then, I receive a mailing from a mission located just across the border in South Dakota, when they’re working with “native peoples”, remnants of those various tribes.
    I still don’t understand why we’re so determined to insist that these tribes need to cling so desperately to their tribal identities.
    If I attempt similar notions, I’ll be accused of racism or bigotry sooner or later.

    I don’t understand why we place so much emphasis on ethnic identity with some groups, when we’re so determined to stomp out the same ethnic identities of other groups.

    I’d like to see us focus on the Mass, itself, if you really wouldn’t mind!

  61. MarkJ has a good point (I don’t mean his conclusion). What should be avoided at all times is what I tend to call “cultural voyeurism.” This can be characterized by the occasions when Native Dancers are invited to a dominantly Anglo parish. When this happens there is no longer a true inculturation of the faith happening. Rather, it has always seem to me similar to English Imperialism. It is the attitude of “Oh, let’s go watch the natives dance, what splendid fun.” I’ve always found such instances insulting. It would be like forcing Italians to practice German traditions or Germans to practice Polish ones. The cultural significance is lost and the event becomes a spectacle. I think this may be part of the problem when events like this happen in US parishes. Because most parishes are culturally mixed these days it is hard to find authentic expressions of the faith according to the traditions of that culture. True, some things have become universal over time, like the Christmas Tree, or the Advent Wreath, or Roman Vestments. But such a process should always be an organic development, not one imposed. The imposition of one cultures expressions upon another tends to lead to more problems than it is worth.

  62. YoungCatholic says:

    Being Mexican American I have seen matachines preform various times , but never during mass . If such a thing did happen around here it would be because our parish pastor would suggest it , not the matachines. Even if the original matachines did dance to false gods that is no longer the case because they now dance in honor of God and Our Lady.

  63. benedictgal says:


    With all due respect, your example of the 19th century instance really does not apply. The dMatachines are intrinsically tied to the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There is a 500-year tradion associated with this, a point that not a few detractors of the practice seem to understand.

    I am the first to complain about liturgical abuse, especially when it comes to young girls dancing about with bowls of incense; however, these two incidents are not one in the same. Before we start throwing a nutty over something that may seem strange, we should investigate and not start throwing stones.

    OLG is a very sensitive subject to Mexican-American Catholics. For them, she is truly one of their own, especially those who are of direct Aztec descent. The Matachines are a prime example of inculturation. I cannot make the same claim about Mariachis, since these are mostly associated with secular performances. There is nothing secular about the Matachines, as in many Mexican-American communities, they are associated directly with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

  64. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Meh. It looked like all the dancers were female in the pics and, not surprisingly, the priest was assisted by two alb-ed servettes. Bored with this stuff. If people want to celebrate their history that’s fine…just do it before or after Mass and preferably not in the sanctuary. If this IS a 500 year old tradition, then great for them and they should celebrate their history outside of Mass.

  65. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I stand corrected. There is a chubby male cross-bearer in one of the earlier pics. Everything is okay now. Off to a Polka Mass to celebrate my heritage.

  66. Cathy says:

    If the procession and dancers are understood by the culture in which they are part of, this may certainly be a reverent expression of how Our Lady intervened at a crucial moment in history to bring about the conversion of one’s people and country. That being said, if this is not part of your cultural understanding, it seems to serve as a spectacle and an innovation to behold during the liturgy. For example, the use of drums in a liturgical manner for people who come from Africa may be appropriate. To simply employ the use of the same drums in a community unfamiliar with their use is not only confusing, but may be disturbing to the congregation. Another problem, is the potential that such employment of culturally understood practices in liturgical worship within a community that has no basis for understanding, leads to the potential of those who witness this to be a call for their own cultural innovations in liturgical settings – hip-hop masses, rock music masses and quasi-disco flower children masses with incense bowls on their heads.

  67. benedictgal says:

    There is no need for sarcasm.

    I think that Brother Gabriel has a point about the lack of charity in some of these posts. The tradition of the Matachines is long-standing and has always been associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    There is a huge difference between the Matachines and the madness that happens in Los Angeles every year during its Religious Conference.

  68. twele923 says:

    And yet, the dancers were not identified or described anywhere in the music program or during the Mass as “Matachines” – simply as “Aztec dancers.” This may be a niggling point, but if the Matachines are in fact so closely tied to Guadalupe, I would have expected the dancers to be advertised as such. Also, the Aztec dance was the format of the Procession of the Gifts; I don’t know if that is standard Matachines dance practice, and would love to learn from anyone who does know.

  69. Jael says:

    The only time I saw “Aztec dancers” they were mostly a bunch of school girls prancing around in the middle of Mass, skirts slit up to here. The few men had their stomachs hanging out. The dancing was very amateurish and they were wearing tinfoil hats! That’s the part that cracked me up and prevented a headache from the drums. I left before the sermon.

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