Viva Cinco de Mayo!
Today is that annual event Cinco de Mayo when all of Mexico and Spanish-American communities celebrate their day of independance. Just as we celebrate the fourth of July, so also they commemorate the fifth of May as their day. Amidst pinata bashing, a feast of margaritas, nachos, burritos, and much mariachi music there is an ironic note to Cinco de Mayo: it isn't really the official day of independence for Mexico! You see the victory they celebrate was the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 when the Mexican forces, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza outlasted the French artillery, losing 215 men to 400 of France's soldiers. But it was in 1863 that the French, under Napoleon III, retrenched, bringing in reinforcements and retaking the city of Puebla. The French legions were able to reconquer Puebla despite a strong defense by Mexico's president Benito Juarez. The French forced surrender two months later through starvation of the citizens. This opened the door for the French to march on Mexico City where they installed the Austrian Maximilian to replace Juarez and rule it for France. Maximilian recruited ex-Civil War confederate soldiers to fight with him as mercenaries. It was a direct confrontation with Juarez tactic of inviting northern soldiers to fight against France. Maximilian also threatened under pain of death any Mexican who would fight against him. With a heavy hand he ruled and all looked lost for the Mexican people reared for the past three centuries under Spanish dominion. Undaunted, many Mexican loyalists - known as Juaristas - retreated to the mountains where they learned guerilla warfare and then unleashed the first known such military tactics on Maximilian, ambushing the French at every turn. The latter were growing more confused, not knowing who they were fighting as the casualties mounted. Add to this the United States' terse reprimand to France to cease and desist and we see that America played a major role in Mexico's independence for General Phil Sheridan commanded an army of 9,000 battle-tough recruits who were positioned at the Mexican border ready to move south. Napoleon III could see the handwriting on the wall and rather than sending in more troops, decided Mexico wasn't worth it and recalled the troops already in Mexico. This pullout left Maximilian and his wife Carlota stranded in Mexico City at the mercy of Juarez. While Carlota was in Europe futilely pleading for help for her husband and his cause, Juarez captured the Austrian ruler. On June 19, 1967 at Queretaro Maximilian was executed by Juarez who, despite pleas of mercy from the citizens and the Church, carried out the execution. Juarez realized that his execution would discourage all other European nations from even thinking about ruling Mexico. He brought home this point when he said "I kill the idea, not the man."
In reality then, Mexico should celebrate "Diecinueve de Junio" but it doesn't have the same ring as "Cinco de Mayo" so history takes a back seat to legend. This happens so many times throughout the history of mankind, but not with Sacred Scripture. Even though many naysayers have said that the Bible is fiction, that we can't take the accounts of it literally, we must realize, especially in the New Testament, that these are facts confirmed by the Church and upheld through the Doctrines and Traditions of the body Jesus Christ bequeathed to Saint Peter: His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. So much is made between fact and fiction that it often boggles the mind. We find this so often in our research of the history of the Roman Catholic Church in bringing you the series THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH where we find one account clashes with another historian's narration of the story. We even find this in Scripture, but it is nitpicking to say it is "fiction," rather an interpretation of how the author saw the event or events in question. Most of the time the discrepancies deal with minute details and non-important issues. On matters of great importance, such as Christ's Words, they seldom vary from evangelist to evangelist, even though one of them - Mark came after Our Lord ascended into Heaven. In all history, importance should not be placed on dates or details, but on the causes and effects. So also with Holy Mother Church, we cannot get bogged down with details about liturgy that so often divides us. It's true most liturgies today are an eclipse of what they used to be. So often reverence is forgotten for the sake of expediency and staying up with the ICEL. For traditional Catholics who long for the orthodox way of faith within Holy Mother Church they often feel they are in a Protestant church. The tabernacle is nowhere in sight, statues are passe, replaced with banners and trees. The altar is too often a mere table and more emphasis is placed on the baptismal font and the pulpit than on the holiest part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet, it is still the Holy Sacrifice and, despite the liturgical aberrations, the important elements still remain such as the words at the Offertory, and the vital words for confection of the bread and wine at the Consecration. If these elements and words are intact, if the priest truly offers the bread and wine separately, if he follows the rubrics outlined by the Vatican, than no matter how many distractions, no matter how many ministers crowd the sanctuary and take away the awe of the altar, it is still a valid Mass worthy of the graces bestowed and still our greatest prayer and the greatest Gift we could ever receive: Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - truly present body and blood, soul and divinity.
So just as those of Mexican ancestry celebrate the independence of their country on a day that is not as true as history teaches, so also we can celebrate the opportunity to attend and take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass even though it has been watered down from the reverence and awe it once held in the traditions of Trent. It is still very valid, sanctioned by Rome and blessed by God and attended by countless choirs of angels at every Mass everywhere in the world. And in churches throughout Mexico today and many communities in the southern and western United States, you can probably hear the guitars and mariachis during Holy Mass. Though for some cultures this may seem strange and somewhat out of place, to the Mexican faithful, the angels and saints, and God, too, it is music to the ears. So let's forget the trivia and trivial, because the causes and effects of Mexican independence preserved the faith in Mexico to this day. That in itself is worth celebrating. Viva Cinco de Mayo!