22 April 2011

Blue, Blue, Blue...Where are you?

My friend Benjamín Arredondo recently wrote about "Los Colores de la Litugia" (The Colores of the Liturgy) which you can read in Spanish by clicking on this link to his web page, "El Señor del Hospital". He did a splendid job and one thing that he mentioned piqued my curiosity. It is the fact that Spain and its former colonies are the only places (with a few minor exceptions) where the Catholic Church "officially"sanctions the use of the color blue for vestments used in the mass and only then for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. I couldn't help thinking "Why only Spain and her former colonies?" and "What is so special about the color blue?" Well, I am neither a theologian nor an historian but you might be interested to hear about what I learned while digging around in the attic of history.

During the first thousand years or so there were no specific documented rules for colors of the Liturgy. It was merely a matter of local custom. It wasn't until about the year 1200 that Pope Innocent III mentioned the use of five basic colors which were, White, Red, Green,Violet, and Black and it wasn't until 1570 that Pope Pius V introduced a specific color scheme to be followed by everyone in the Church or more specifically, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. The colors were (and still are); "albus" (white), "ruber" (red) viridis (green) "violaceus (violet) "niger" (black), "rosaceus" (rose), "argentum " (silver) and "aurum" (gold). No mention of blue. Why? Well, it seems that in the early days of the church the color blue was associated with Eve as the "woman's color" and the color red was associated with Adam (and Jesus Christ) as the "man's color". Because Eve tempted Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit some of the early church leaders felt that women were weaker intellectually and more susceptible to Satan's charms. Therefore, as a religious symbol the use if blue was avoided in certain locations such as before the altar. However, since the color blue was the color of women and Mary the Mother of Jesus is a woman, the church had to develop a limited acceptance of the color blue.

Let me pause for a moment and say something further regarding this thing about red being a man's color and blue being a woman's color. Before the turn if the twentieth century almost all baby and small children's clothing in the United States and elsewhere was white. The garments were made of cotton fibers and they were usually cleaned by boiling with lye soap. It wasn't until about World War I when the fabrics, the soaps, and color fast dyes were improved the the point where colored fabrics for children's clothes became practical. The trend toward colors was accelerated by the fact that most children's clothing was handed down from sibling to sibling but the marketing people discovered that they could double the sales of new clothing by advertising one color for boy's clothing and another color for girl's clothing...but here's the strange part. They chose pink for boys because it was a watered down version of red, the color of men. They chose light blue for girls because it was a watered down version of ultramarine blue, or the gemstone "Lapis Lazuli", the color of the Blessed Virgin Mary. By the way, the word "lapis" means stone in Latin and "lazuli" comes from the name "Lāzhward" which is the name of the place in Afghanistan where lapis lazuli is found. The Spanish word for blue, "azul" derives from "lazuli" as does the English word "azure". In the 1930's the Nazis in Germany began to require known homosexuals to wear a pink triangular identification badge and that is when some people say that pink became associated with the effeminate. I don't know if that is the real reason for the switch but by the end of World War II the colors pink and blue had done a complete flip-flop.

At a fairly early period in church history there was a question about whether or not the Blessed Virgin was conceived with the original sin of Eve because it would seen to be unsuitable for Our Lord to have been born of a woman with a sinful nature. After all, didn't the angel Gabriel say to Mary, "Hail Mary, full of grace" (Luke 1:28)? Many people believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary long before Pope Pius IX (Pius the Ninth) declared it to be church dogma in 1854. The totally sin free nature of Mary was a controversial subject over many centuries with some theologians believing that Mary was conceived without original sin and others believing that like Saint John the Baptist, she was sanctified in her mother's womb before birth as opposed to being free of original sin at the moment of conception. In any case Pius IX put it all to rest after declaring the Immaculate Conception dogma. He pretty much closed the book on that subject since his other lasting contribution was the invocation of the ecumenical council Vatican One, which promulgated the definition of Papal infallibility. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8th because it is exactly nine months before September 8th which is the day in which Mary's birth is celebrated. Pope Pius IX granted Spain and its former colonies the right to use blue as a liturgical color only on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception because Spain had already been doing just that under the Spanish Mozarabic Rite for at least three centuries. Supposedly Mexico also has permission to use blue on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th but I could find no specific reference for that. Besides, this is Mexico, and the people here will do what they feel is appropriate and ask forgiveness later.

It is my belief that the color of the vestments and other trivial matters are not important. These little picky rules and controversies about what is allowed and what isn't allowed are just a distraction. What matters the most, especially at this Easter Season, is the fact and the belief that:

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias.

“LORD, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”


17 April 2011

Seasonal Programming Note:

The Jewish holiday of Pesach, or Passover, falls on the Hebrew calendar dates of Nissan 15-22 which this year begin on Monday April 18th on the Gregorian Calendar and coincide with the Western Christian Holy Week (Semana Santa in Mexico). It also just so happens that this year the date of Greek Orthodox Holy Week and Easter Sunday (Pascua in Mexico) are the same as the Western Church which is not always the case. It is my belief that we should pay attention to the religious observances of others and have the same respect for the beliefs of all people as we would have them respect ours. In that spirit to all my Jewish friends I say "Chag sa'may'ach". To all of my Muslim brothers and sisters for whom I have the same respect I say As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلام عليكم). To my Hindu family I say "Namaste" and to everyone else I say, "May God be with you and may you keep peace always in your heart".

08 April 2011

David, Ann, Dick, Jane, & the Bear

When I was a little kid back in the early 1950's at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in the Logan Square Neighborhood of Chicago, I learned to read with the aid of a little book with the pretentious name of "Here We Come, This is Our Home, Here We Are Again". It was the story of David and Ann, two lovely white Catholic children who lived with their wonderful parents named Mother and Father in a nice home in great neighborhood. In fact, Mother and Father looked a lot like June and Ward Cleaver of "Leaver to Beaver" fame. As I recall, the little book started out with very simple sentences in which very short words were repeated many, many times as David and Ann were at play under the watchful eyes of Mother and Father. For example, Ann would be swinging on a swing and David would say, "Go up, Ann. Go up, up, up. Go, Ann, go". Then it would be Ann's turn to watch David roller skate and she would say, "Go David, go, go, go. Look Mother, look Father. See David. See David go." We were positively thrilled that we were learning to read and we would read the story of David and Ann to anyone who would listen. My parents had four children and we all started off with David and Ann and we used to drive my father nuts.

The beginning of the last century brought a great influx of Catholics to America. They came from countries like Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Czechoslovakia among others. The Catholic church spent the first twenty or thirty years of the Twentieth Century building a parochial school system to meet the needs of the children of the immigrants that would include Catholic doctrine in the curriculum. In the aftermath of World War One there was a general distrust of the Catholic immigrants as the American public opinion had begun to seize upon the idea that true Americanism entailed rejection of all foreign values . The Catholic Church in America found itself in a decidedly defensive position and adopted a progressive stance that defines American Catholics to this day. Out of this scenario were born David and Ann to prove that a Catholic education was right in line with American standards and values. The David and Ann series of readers was even named "The Faith and Freedom Readers" in order to tie the Catholic faith to American patriotism. In contrast, The Public School System (or "the heathen children" as we sometimes jokingly called them) had the Sally, Dick and Jane "Curriculum Foundation Series," designed primarily by Dr. William S. Gray and William H. Elson around 1930. The most famous phrase from that series was "See Spot run".

After the Mexican Revolution the Mexican Constitution was re-written in 1917 to include the provision that elementary education must be compulsory and that all education provided by the government must be free. Furthermore, the education should be designed to develop harmoniously all the faculties of the human being and should foster in each citizen a love of country and a consciousness of international solidarity, in regard to independence and justice. This was all well and good but the students were required to purchase their own books and many of these books were expensive beyond their reach and at the same time of dubious origin and quality. There were a number of important men who realized that access to good books would be a key ingredient in the education of the populace. One of these men was José Vasconcelos Calderón who was a Mexican writer, philosopher and politician. He was one of the most influential and controversial personalities in the development of modern Mexico and he was the driving force behind many efforts to make education accessible to everyone. He created the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), in 1921 and later directed the National Library of Mexico in 1940. It is ironical that he died in June of 1959, just four months after Mexican President López Mateos created the National Commission of Free Textbooks. One year later in 1960 the free textbooks began flowing to the students. The first of these textbooks were reading primers.

The name of the book was "Mi libro de Primer Año" (My Book of First Year) and it contained a total of 192 pages and was 18 centimeters by 25 by 25 centimeters in size (approx 7" x 10"). About 1,100,000 books were printed for the first edition and by the end of the first year 17,354,000 books in total had been printed and distributed including books for the second, third, and fourth grades. The front cover of "Mi libro de Primer Año" at first had pictures of national heroes but later on displayed a famous picture called "La Patria" that was painted by Jorge González Camarena. It depicts a protective mother figure, a woman with strong open arms yet at the same time she is sheltered by the wings of the Mexican Eagle. In her left hand she holds the tricolor Mexican flag and in her right hand she holds up a book that indicates her apparent wisdom (see image below).

The difference between the David and Ann, Dick and Jane books of the United States And the Mexican book was that the former focused on white, middle class, and idyllic family settings while the later focused on simple things that all children could relate to no matter what their status. If you mention the phrase "Ese oso se asea así" to just about any Mexicano or Mexicana in their 40's or 50's I am sure that you will evoke a smile. One of the first lessons goes like this:

El Oso.
The Bear

Ese oso.
That bear.

Se asea así.
He cleans himself like so.

Sí se asea.
Yes he cleans himself.

Así es su oso.
So this is your bear.

Another goes like this:

La Pelota.
The ball.

Pepe pide la pelota.
Pepe calls for the ball.

Lupe se la pasa.
Lupe passes it.

Luis pisa la pelota.
Luis kicks the ball.

La pelota salta alto.
The ball jumps high.

La pelota es de todos.
The ball belongs to everyone.

The authors use a story by way of introduction that sets the theme for the book. I thought it might be nice to include the story here here for my fellow students of Mexican Spanish.

Todos los días, al terminar las clases, los niños atravesaban la calle y se detenían frente al puesto de juguetes, que contemplaban con avidez.
Every day when classes were over the children crossed the street and stopped in front of the toy shop where they eagerly looked at the toys.

"Mira qué bonita muñeca", decía Maruca.
“Look at that beautiful doll”, Maruca was saying.

"Sí", Anita decía, "pero a mí me gusta más aquel osito".
“Yes, Anita was saying, but I like that little bear more”.

"¡Bonitos soldados! Tienen uniformes y cascos de verdad."
"Beautiful soldiers! They have real uniforms and helmets."

"Cuando yo pueda", Luis comentó una vez, "compraré aquella máquina. ¡Me gusta tanto!"
“When I am able”, Luis once said, “I will buy that steam engine. I like it a lot!

Y pasaban las semanas, y los niños seguían admirando los juguetes y repartiéndoselos con el deseo.
And the weeks were passing, and the children continued admiring the toys and sharing their desires.

Cierto día, Luis, el mayor del grupo, dijo a sus amigos:
One day, Luis, the oldest of the group, said to his friends:

"Creo que, si todos ayudamos, poco a poco podremos ser dueños de los juguetes que más nos gustan. Miren: desde este domingo ahorraremos algunos centavos de lo que nos dan para comprar dulces; los pondremos en una alcancía, y cuando se reúna la cantidad necesaria, compraremos el juguete que prefiera alguno de nosotros. Después volveremos a reunir nueva cantidad y compraremos el juguete para otro, y así hasta comprar los de todos. Yo seré el último.”
"I believe that if everyone cooperates, little by little we can be owners of the toys that we like the best. Look...beginning this Sunday we will save some of the pennies that they give us to buy candy...we can put them in a piggy bank, and when the necessary quantity is raised we will buy the toy that one of us would like. After that we will go back to collecting a new quantity and we will buy a toy for another, and so on until one for everyone is bought. I will go last."

No hubo quien no celebrase entusiasmado la idea de Luis ni quien rehusara ahorrar.
There wasn’t anyone who didn’t enthusiastically entertain the idea of Luis nor anyone who refused to save.

Se compró primero el osito para Anita, luego los soldados para Carlos, después la sala de Lola. Pero algunos niños vieron con tristeza que las semanas volvián a correr sin que ellos tuvieran sus juguetes. Luis les dijo entonces:
First a Little bear was purchased for Anita and then the soldiers for Carlos and after that the doll furniture for Lola. But some children watched the weeks go by with sadness without having received their toys. Then Luis said:

“Compraremos una pelota. De esta manera, mientras llega nuestro turno, juntos podremos jugar y divertirnos.”

"We will buy a ball. This way while we are waiting our turn we can play together and have fun”.

Así lo hicieron, y, a partir de entonces, todas las tardes jugaban un rato al salir de la escuela.
That’s what they did and from then on every afternoon they played for awhile after leaving school.

Un día, brincando tras la pelota, Juanito se cayó. Luis estuvo a punto de tropezar con él, y para no cuasarle daño lo evitó tan bruscamente que se lastimó una pierna. Sus compañeros lo alzaron casi en brazos y lo llevaron a su casa. El doctor dispuso que guardara reposo.
One day, jumping after the ball, little Johnny fell down. Luis was about to trip over him and so as not to harm him he stepped aside brusquely and hurt his leg. His friends lifted him up practically in their arms and took him home. The doctor ordered that he should rest.

Los amigos de Luis resolvieron entonces, para agradecerle lo mucho que hacía por ellos, comprarle esa semana la máquina que tanto le gustaba, y el viernes siguiente, al visitarlo, la sorpresa resultó muy agradable.
The friends of Luis then decided, in order to thank him for all he had done for them, to purchase for him this week the steam engine that he liked so much, and the next Friday upon visiting him the surprise that resulted was very pleasant.

Atentísimos estaban todos viendo correr la máquina, cuando llegó el papá de Luis que era marinero, y su esposa lo entró de la buena acción de los amiguitos y amiguitas de su hijo.
They were all very intently watching the steam engine run when Luis’s father, who was a sailor, and his wife arrived and discovered the good deed of the little boy and girl friends of Luis.

“Es necesario premiar a estos niños por su conducta”, dijo el papá, y, en efecto, así que Luis hubo sanado, los llevó al circo, donde pasaron la tarde muy felices. Además, al terminar la función, el papá se acercó con ellos al puesto de los juguetes y les compró los que más habían deseado.

“It is necessary to reward these children for their conduct", said the father, and so as soon as Luis was better he took them to the circus where the spent a very happy afternoon. Moreover, when they were done with that he gathered them together at the toy shop and he bought the toys that they most desired.

Note: It was customary (and still is) for the father (papá), or the godfather (padrino) or the grandfather (abuelo) to give the children some coins on Sunday for a teat. The children actually call this money their "domingo" (Sunday) and politely, and sometimes not so politely "Piden su domingo" or "Ask for their treat money" which the children in the USA would refer to as their "allowance".

Also, the word "máquina" or "machine" in English is short for "máquina de vapor" which means "steam engine". Likewise the word "sala" refers to "living room" but here it means a set of doll furniture.

The little stories get progressively longer and document the trip to the circus. All in all it is a charming little book and I like it very much.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.