Me at 54; Father Benigno at 101
On one of my last trips to Manila, a friend casually brought up that he knew of a Spanish priest who was 101 years old.
I said, "What! I love old priests! I love old Spanish priests!" I just had to meet this one.
Father Benigno Benabarre is a Benedictine priest at San Beda Abbey in Manila.
The day and time were arranged, through my friend, to meet him.
I walked into his office, which is one small corner of the Alumni Office at San Beda College. He was at his computer typing away, totally oblivious to me standing there. You can see his printer right over my shoulder in the photo above.
A lay staff member called out, "Father!" and Father BB, as he is fondly called, looked up and showed me a nice smile. I was relieved. I had no idea what he would be like, and his smile disarmed me.
He offered me a seat and I asked, in Spanish, "Shall we speak in English? Or in Spanish?"
He crossed his arms and rested them on the desk in front of him, shook his head and said, "Español." I said under my breath, "Oh boy. Here goes some practice."
I spent my 15 minutes with him asking him three questions about Spanish peculiarities in the liturgy and devotional life; peculiarities which I could never explain after reading the many Spanish books and articles I have perused all these years. Younger Spanish priests would be out of touch with these old customs, so who better to ask, I thought, than a Spanish priest 101 years old! And a Benedictine, which meant that he would be more into the liturgy than other priests.
1. PALMS OUTWARD
It may not be a big thing, and it really isn't, but it was a distinctive trait of many Spanish priests when saying Mass in the old days. It was to hold up the hands at Mass with the palms facing outward, towards the altar ("ad altare versas").
The usual way priests everywhere else did it was to turn the palms towards each other. If you look at the two pictures above, the difference can be hard to tell if one isn't aware of the difference. But in one of those pictures, the four fingers are not clearly seen and neither is the left palm. That's because the palms are facing outward (the Spanish way).
I had heard about it from traditional priests, one of whom even joked about it ("hands up! bang bang!") but I never saw it until 1992 when I was in Spain once. I was at a Novus Ordo Mass (the Mass after Vatican II) said in Spanish but the celebrant was an old priest ordained in the 1940s. I'll never forget his homily echoing something Saint Ignatius Loyola once said ("If my eyes see white, but the Pope says it's black, it's black!"), but what I also remember is that the priest faced his palms outward, just as I had heard.
So I asked Father Benigno where this custom came from. He didn't know. Furthermore, he said he himself never saw priests in Spain in his youth do it, and he himself did not practice it. Today, hardly any Spanish priest holds his hands up like this any more.
It's safe to say this must have been an ancient Spanish custom which Rome eventually conceded formally. But, as Father Benigno says, it wasn't the custom with every priest in Spain. But it was widespread since the custom was talked about by many when the topic of Spanish liturgical peculiarities would come up.
2. AMÉN. JESÚS
When I was young and listened to the older ladies lead in singing the Chamorro hymns, one thing struck me about the Chamorro Salve (Hail Holy Queen), which goes "Si Yu'us unginegue Rainan yan Nånan mina'åse'." It ended with the words "Amén. Jesús."
Why was the name of Jesus added? Almost every other prayer ended with just "Amén." Why add the name of the Lord after the word that ends every prayer?
Years later, when I saw the Spanish version, it was there as well. "Amén. Jesús."
But I have never seen this in Italian or French prayers. If it exists, please let me know.
Father Benigno attributed this Spansh custom to the attachment they have to Jesus, and/or His Holy Name. If this is so, then the preachers promoting devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus several hundred years ago did a good job.
This is the answer I received from a Spanish priest, Don Tomás de la Torre.
"When people say 'Amén, Jesús,' they are affirming 'May this be so in the name of Jesus.'"
3. JESUS OUR FATHER
If you are familiar with Spanish devotions and devotional books and pictures, you will come across pictures calling Jesus "Our Father." "Nuestro Padre."
This is found especially in the south of Spain (Andalucía) where the devotion to the suffering Lord is very prominent.
But then I also noticed that, in one Chamorro hymn, Jesus is also called "Our Father." It is found in the hymn Dimuye, Manhengge. The line goes :
Ti siña ta yute' ennao na señåt-ta
(We cannot abandon this our sign)
annai i Tatå-ta umakalaye.
(wherein Our Father was hung.)
And there is yet another Chamorro hymn that calls Jesus the Father. Jesus Tatå-ho mames. Jesus my sweet Father.
Now, anyone translating this into English is immediately struck by the question : How to explain to people how Jesus is Our Father when He is, in fact, the Son of the Father.
One thing is sure. The Church never teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same persons. All three are one God, but three separate and distinct persons.
So God the Father was not hung on the cross. God the Son was.
Then why call the Son a Father?
Because even the Son possesses fatherly traits.
In John 14:9, Jesus says that those who see Him also see the Father. Not because Father and Son are the same person, but because the Son is a person who perfectly reflects the person of the Father. "Like Father, like Son" as the saying goes. The Son so perfectly loves the Father and obeys the Father, and shares in the same divine nature as the Father, that he who sees the Son sees the likeness of the Father. This is what Jesus means when He says that "The Father and I are one." Two separate persons of the one God, sharing one divine nature with all the same powers of the divinity, united in will. When two human beings are united in love, it is said that they are one heart in two different bodies. Father and Son are one God but two different persons.
And so Jesus calls the Apostles and disciples "children" several times (John 13:33, 21:5, Mark 10:24). It is true that He doesn't call them "My children," but He does address them as children. If the Apostles are children of the Father, they are such only through the adoption won for them by the true Son of the Father (Jesus Himself). That is another way Jesus is, for us, a Father. Just as Adam is our father in terms of being the first man from whom we all originate, Jesus is the New Adam, and if we become new people, God's children, heirs of heaven, it is because of the New Adam, who is the first of the new human race, saved from the fall of the Old Adam. We call founders and originators of things "fathers," like the Founding Fathers of the Country. Jesus is the founder of a Church. He calls it "My Church," not simply "God's Church" or "the Father's Church." It is HIS Church; He is the founder and therefore the Father of His Church.
Finally, in Isaiah 9:6, one of the titles given to the Messiah, whom Jesus was, is "Everlasting Father." The Prophet himself calls Jesus the Everlasting Father. Why? Because He is like a father to us in many ways. He gives us new birth as the children of God the Father. He is founder of a new people, His Church. He provides and defends us like a true father, dying in order to save His children from death.
When I asked Father Benigno, he was most at a loss with this one question. He attributed it to Spanish popular piety, especially of the southern Spaniards.
Well, nonetheless, I enjoyed my time with this centenarian priest whose legs don't carry him much but whose cheerful spirit, agile mind and typing fingers still do a lot of good in this world for other people. Would that I can do the same!