St. Mary, Star of the Sea

November 2 was the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed at St. Mary, Star of the Sea — All Souls’ Day, the Day of the Dead. Sheets of parchment hung along the walls of the Spanish-style church, listing the names of all the parishioners who had died over the past year, along with their date of departure from the world.

The choir, sounding bigger than it was, swelled forth at the opening, “I heard the voice of Jesus say/ Come unto Me and rest.” (And at the end, in a plea for the deceased: “Come to his aid, O saints of God/ Come meet him, angels of the Lord.”)

The first reading was taken from Isaiah. “On this mountain, the Lord of hosts...will destroy the veil that veils all people, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever.” The second reading, taken from Paul’s letter to the Romans, delved into the mechanics of that destruction. “We were indeed buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead...we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with Him through a death like His, we shall also be united with Him in the resurrection.” And the Gospel made it particular with Christ’s words before visiting the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever believes in Me, even if he dies, he shall live.” This was the destruction of the veil, the point of the crucifix that dominated the church’s simple sanctuary.

Father John Hannigan’s homily stressed the importance of prayer for the dead. “We believe that almost everyone, if not everyone, is, at the moment of death, not the person that needs to be there for all eternity.... We pray that our faithful departed may journey along that road that leads to the Light of the World. We pray that our loved ones, who have gone ahead of us marked with the sign of faith, may be purged of all temporal punishment, that they may be cleansed. For the scriptures tell us that nothing unclean enters the kingdom of heaven, and we hear in the Book of Maccabees how it is good to pray for the dead.... We pray that they may be cleansed of their sinfulness completely, so as to enjoy entirely the beatific vision.”

During the prayers of the faithful, the lector petitioned “that the members of this community remember with love those who are no longer among us.” When Hannigan offered the bread and wine to God during the Eucharistic prayer, he also asked God to “raise our departed brothers and sisters into full life with You.” And after the Consecration, he prayed, “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring us all unto life everlasting.”

In the silence following Communion, mariachi trumpets could be heard outside; Oceanside’s celebration of Día de los Muertos was beginning to hum. By the time Mass ended, the thump of a drum was bulleting the air. The drummer stood near the church entrance, alongside an altar that was unmixed with either Christian symbolism or modern sentimental touches. The mounded border of marigolds at its center surrounded a flowered skull, not the Virgin of Guadalupe. There was incense but no candle bearing images of Christ. There were bread and corn but no packaged candy or liquor. Most noticeably, there was no photo of the deceased. It seemed to honor not the dead but the Aztec Lady of the Dead. Later, the drummer was joined by a dancer in traditional garb — his leggings jingling, his feathered headdress adorned with a skull.

That altar was the exception. Most of the others focused on particular people and showed some signs of Christian influence, though some were clearly more political than religious in intent. Where one honored a deceased husband with family photos, hot sauce, and a game of dominoes, another commemorated the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 with news accounts and photos of beaten protesters. Only the bright orange of the marigolds remained a constant.

Beyond the altars, there was food and music and merchandise. Men and boys sat at a craft table, gluing foil and sparkles to Mexican sugar skulls. The usual calacas — skeletal wedding couples and caballeros — were joined by more fanciful versions: surfers, Elvis in his white-gold jumpsuit. And in a grand blending of politics, commerce, and religion, one T-shirt for sale depicted the iconic pop-art image of Che Guevara, his face reduced to a hollow-eyed skull.

What happens when we die? From the Eucharistic Prayer: “In Him who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. For Your faithful people, life is changed, not ended: we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.”

St. Mary Star of the Sea
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Address: 609 Pier View Way, Oceanside, 760-722-1688
Founded locally: 1893
Senior pastor: Michael Diaz
Congregation size: NA
Staff size: NA
Sunday school enrollment: NA
Annual budget: NA
Weekly giving: NA
Singles program: NA
Dress: semiformal
Diversity: Caucasian and Hispanic
Sunday worship: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12 noon (Spanish), 5 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 55 minutes

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