Saturday #49 – San Francisco de la Espada — One of San Antonio’s five mission churches, 10040 Espada Road, San Antonio, TX
Why this church?
A year or so before I met my husband, he got into photography. From 1982 until 2012, this photograph he took hung on the walls of our homes – in Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Houston and finally in Denver.
I knew that he had made many trips to San Antonio with his camera in tow, usually on his way to see his parents in Kerrville. However, I never gave the picture a second thought, nor did I ask about its origin.
When speaking with my daughter via Skype earlier in the week, I noted that same picture which now hangs on her wall. Seeing it reminded me that I’d not been to any of the five mission churches in San Antonio. I quickly looked them up and ran across a mission church that looked so familiar – a scene I’d seen daily for 30+ years. I quickly Skyped her back and asked her to turn the computer so I could see the photo again up close. Sure enough, one of the missions that I’d just researched — San Francisco de la Espada — was the same mission church he had photographed all those years ago. That sealed it; I knew this would be the one I visited. Hopefully, I could arrive before the sun went down, so I could snap a shot similar to Mike’s.
History of the Mission
Founded as San Francisco de Los Tejas in 1690, the oldest of the East Texas missions moved to the San Antonio River in 1730 or 1731 and was renamed San Francisco de la Espada. Without French influence, this mission wouldn’t be standing today. In September 1831, the governor of Coahuilla and Texas sent an order to the political chiefs that all mission property, except the churches should be sold at auction. In 1858, the mission was partially returned to usage with the arrival of the Reverend Francis Bouchu, who lived at the mission and made records of everything.
Once again, I was running late and wasn’t sure I’d make it, but traffic cooperated. I found the little mission church and entered its old wooden doors about two minutes after the service began.
I walked into a small room with Sautillo floor tiles, walls made from adobe and wooden beams that spanned the ceiling. About 25 people sat in very old, Spanish style wooden carved pews.
Service Already in Progress
As I took a seat on the back pew, I scanned the room while two different people gave the readings. After that, a wonderfully talented guitar player stood in an alcove about a quarter of the way from the front of the church and played while we sang. Then the priest, dressed in a maroon and gold hooded robe walked to the altar framed in a sea of red poinsettias.
After saying a few words at the pulpit, this priest walked to the middle of the aisle and began talking about mother Mary, then made the reference to the many Quinceañaras that are celebrated as young Hispanic girls turn 15. Quinceañeras are given to bless girls at the age when they move into womanhood. He explained that centuries ago, young women were honored for their ability to give birth; in an agrarian society those extra hands were considered a blessing to a family.
As with the priest at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, this priest also delivered his message without any notes and with a sense of levity that left the congregants laughing. (This is such a wonderful change to what I typically expect from a Catholic service).
After he gave his message, he walked back to the altar, bowed and then sat to his right. Then as soon as he sat, he arose and stood to recite the Creed. (That’s just what I call it. I’m not sure what this is called, because I didn’t have a program for the service.)
Then, a woman came to the pulpit to offer the prayers of the people. After that came the offering. While the guitarist sang, two people grabbed long-handled baskets and took the offering. This, too, reminded me of the “fish frying baskets” used by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.
Then, as soon as that offering was made, they came back for round two. By now, I understand that most Catholic churches have two offerings – one for the general church fund and another for the poor. However, I’ve never seen a church doing offerings back-to-back like this before.
Then, since there were no altar boys at this church to help, adults came forward to help with Communion. The priest said something in Spanish and we rose to our feet and sang the hymn of Glory, then knelt.
After the priest gave the instructions for the Communion as Christ did in the Bible, we joined hands with those around us and said the Lord’s Prayer and passed the peace. After that, we remained standing and sang once again with the guitar player, while the priest broke the large wafer in pieces. Then, we were back to kneeling.
The priest then served himself, followed by the person standing to the side of him. And finally, people filed up the aisle while some worshipers remained kneeling and others sat back on their pews.
After everyone was served, the priest turned toward the altar and knelt, while the music continued to play.
We sang again while seated, then we stood while the priest said a prayer and gave some announcements.
Finally, the adult helpers grabbed the red Bible and the crucifix and led the procession down the aisle with the priest following in close step.
Shortest service ever – 58 minutes — 56, if you count that I was two minutes late! Funny, last week I attended the longest service of the year with a grand total of 2.5 hours and then the shortest service with only 58 minutes.
What most impressed me about this church, besides feeling that I was in a time warp and reliving what Mike may have experienced in the same spot decades ago, was the priest. Some exude this wonderful aura of complete sincerity. Everything he did was done with reverence and purpose and such humility: so refreshing to witness. I can see why people worship here – the wonderful history of the mission combined with a priest who exemplifies the traits we’d all like to demonstrate as Christians.
#50….the final church service of the SteepleStretch series. My hope is that tomorrow I’ll be at a church called Celebration Circle. I can’t think of a more fitting name for my last service of the year. (At least the last one I’ll write about.)