Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quinceañera: The 8th Sacrament

Lately I have noted a number of people arriving on this blog while searching for information about quinceañera celebrations -- the religious and/or secular passage of young Hispanic girls into womanhood at 15. I call it the 8th Sacrament in Hispanic Catholicism in the Americas (for those who think this is sacreligious, wait until Archbishop Jose Gomez gets promoted to Pope...then the Catechism of the universal Church will catch up to us!). Meanwhile, I like to keep my readers happy, so here is some information and a few links to help you learn more about, and plan this celebration.


While the true origins of this celebration have always been a matter of debate, Rebecca Cuevas De Caissie sheds some light on the matter. She says: "Quiceañeras has its roots buried deeply embedded in Mayan and Aztecan history. In Mayan and Aztecan history, we learn that at the age of about fifteen, young women were considered mature enough to wed and begin a family as well as take on adult responsibilities. Their mothers formally acknowledged this coming to sexual maturity as they were directed in how to fulfill their duties as a wife, to obey the decorum and dictates of society as well as various forms of celebrations that to this day remain elusive to modern man. In the more elite circles of this society, daughters were sent to a temple to serve or to be educated as a priestess. At either rate, women by this age were considered experts in duties of womanhood or entered into training for the priestess profession, but the entrance into the position of woman was one that was highly regarded and welcomed by all those within their culture. What we do know is that with the invasion of Spaniards and the conquest of South America, the traditions and religions became blended and the traditional Quiceañera as we know it today was born."

Cuevas De Caissie also shows the commonalities between the quince and the traditional debutante and sweet 16 celebrations in Europe and North America.

Other Sources:

* History of the Quinceañera as a Rite of Passage


These will vary from culture to culture. There is usually a Mass -- or some other faith celebration -- and a party. The young lady will often wear an elaborate gown, usually white for the Mass then pink for the fiesta. Other elements commonly found are:

* symbolically changing from flat shoes to high heels
* wearing a tiara and carrying a sceptre
* formal dances with her attendants and her father
* receiving her last doll

An excellent summary of the most common traditions can be found in Traditions of Quinceañeras by Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie.

Other Sources:

* Quinceaneras: History and Traditions by Yelena Johnson

General Sources to Help Plan a Quinceañera:

* Quinceanera - Sweet Fifteen


Our Arlington Diocese offers retreats for quinceañeras which have become somewhat obligatory when a family requests a quince Mass. During these half-day retreats, the girls receive two talks. The first is about their rights and responsibilities as young women in Church and society and about the importance of sacred scripture. The second is about the Virgin Mary as role model for women and mothers. A schedule of this year's retreats can be found here.

If a parish or diocese is looking to write guidelines to cover these celebrations, they could do worse than to look at those developed by the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. These include information on the symbols that a formation session should cover.

A popular text for formation classes is the bilingual My 15th Birthday — Mis 15 Años written by the Diocese of San Barnardino and published by Pauline Books and Media. There is a separate teacher's guide.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has approved a rite for quince Masses. The text in English and Spanish is called Bendición al cumplir quince años / Order for the Blessing on the Fifteenth Birthday (PDF). It is also available for purchase as a small booklet.

Again from the USCCB, here is a brief description of the rite, though there may be many variations on the particulars depending on the young lady's country of origin and the family's economic means and preferences:

In the presence of family and friends, the young woman (the quinceañera), often accompanied by fifteen young men and women of her choice, (damas y chambelanes), enters the Church in procession, together with her parents and godparents. If she has prepared the readings, she may serve as the lector for at least one of the readings. After the Liturgy of the Word, the quinceañera makes a commitment to God and the Blessed Virgin to live out the rest of her life according to the teachings of Christ and the Church by renewing her Baptismal promises. Then, signs of faith (medal, Bible, rosary, prayer book) which have been blessed and may be given to her. A special blessing of the quinceañera concludes the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After Mass, the young woman is presented to the community. The ritual continues with a dinner and sometimes a dance in her honor.

This passage is part of the USCCB's Fifteen Questions on the Quinceañera which goes into greater detail, and it is particularly helpful for people in pastoral positions encountering requests for this rite for the first time. Not all 15-year old Hispanic girls are going to want a quinceañera celebration and, occasionally, a 15-year old boy will want a similar blessing. I think we can expect that this rite will become co-ed as it flourishes in the United States and gets away from its Latin American roots. It will be like American synagogues offering bat mitzvahs (for girls) whereas in the old days and the Old World only bar mitzvahs (for boys) were available.

Another older resource about this ritual from a Catholic religious perspective is the Mexican American Cultural Center (now Mexican American Catholic College) publication Quinceañera by Angela Erevia, MCDP. Caution: Use the USCCB publication mentioned above for the most updated and approved version of the blessing ritual. This one, however, is still useful for readings and music ideas as well as for general information about the quince.

For priests who are not sure what to say, offers a sample quince homily in English and in Spanish.

Finally, for an ecumenical touch, here is a guide for Quinceañera celebrations in the Episcopalian Church. Written by Isaías A. Rodríguez, it includes a history, pastoral suggestions, a sample liturgy, and suggested readings. Also on the same Web site is another sample quince homily in that tradition. For evangelicos, here is a quince rite from Semon Central contributed by Adrian Olivas of the Assembly of God church in Spanish and in English.


Prayer of Dedication for a Quinceañera

Thank you, Lord
For calling me to be, to live,
To be an image and likeness of you;
Thank you for sending your Son to save me,
Your Spirit to make me holy;
To all your goodness and love,
I wish to say “YES”
And with your help
I dedicate myself more and more generously
To serve you in my brothers and sisters.

I also dedicate myself to you,
Mary, Mother of Jesus;
You who were so close to Him, are a model of faith.
From you, may I continually learn
What it is to be a woman
And a Christian.
Help me to hear the Word of God
As you did,
To keep it in my heart
And to live it in unselfish ways. AMEN.

Oracion Para Quinceañera

Señor mio:
Hoy hace XV Años vine al mundo sin poder agradecerte nada,
pero hoy he venidoa decirte: Gracias por el milagro de la vida,
gracias por la salud que disfruto, gracias por los padres que me diste,
gracias por mis abuelitos, gracias por mi juventud dichosa,
gracias por toda mi familia y por los amigos que me han rodeado,
para quienes te pido derrames tus bendicones en este dia y siempre.

Gracias Senor por permitir que mis padres guiaran mis pasos y con
ternura apartaran los cardos del camino para llegar a ti llena de
felicidad en este dia de mis XV Años.

Photo: Fr. Joe Dyer gives a blessing to a quinceañera in the cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson, Mississippi

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