June 17, 2010

Paraguayan Rezo

Yesterday before teaching English class, I attended the rezo (RAY soe) of my neighbor. I never met her, but she's a woman who died one year ago, just before we moved to this neighborhood. Her children and her husband are our friends.

On the six-month and one-year anniversary of a death, and then every year thereafter, the family hosts a rezo every day for nine days straight. Rezo comes from rezar, the verb that means "to pray." But not like prayer where someone talks with God conversation-style. This is the recitation of specific prayers in a specific form and order. Some people choose to wear black (grieving) clothes until the one-year anniversary, especially if the deceased was a close family member such as a parent, child, or grandparent.

So at this particular rezo, neighbors and family members dropped by around 4:30, to stand around a large altar in the living room covered with candles, flowers, and a photo of the deceased. One woman began the prayers to the Virgin Mary, which were repeated many times in a row, interspersed with a few "Our Father who art in Heaven" and some others I didn't recognize.

In the most repeated prayer, the folks asked Mary to intercede for them on behalf of their sins, now and at the moment of death. They blessed her and the fruit of her womb (Jesus....) One of the last prayers was repeated several times, and it asked Mary to intercede for the deceased woman. After the prayer recitations (I'd say about 40 minutes of them), they sang a song about a mother's presence in the home, which of course brought tears to her teen-aged and early 20's children.

As soon as the song was done, the visitors (the neighbors and I) sat in plastic lawn chairs that are rented for occasions such as this, and the family came around with a platter of cookies and candy. The guests take a few and then go home. In this culture, the family SERVES, whereas we're used to the family BEING SERVED at a memorial service. I find it a little sad that the family re-lives the sadness of what amounts to a wake, or as we'd call it, a settin' up, for 9 days on this anniversary. They told me they view it as a way to honor their loved one, and to further her chances of arriving in Heaven by asking Mary to plead on her behalf. Another thing I found sad was that in this system, even by observing all the traditions and requirements, one can never know if their family member has gained enough "saving grace" to make it in. The words of this song were ringing through my head as I spoke with them...

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.


  1. It's so sad to see folk just not letting go of the dead and its so common here and its such a burden upon the whole family and so ingrained.
    Your experience is really well explained and love the timeless and priceless hymn that popped into your head. Keep shining you guys ! One day - They will know the truth and the truth WILL set them free !

  2. Wow. So interesting. I know nothing about Paraguay except an old friend travelled and worked with a tribe called the Ava Guarani (?) a few years ago as a Fulbright Scholar.

    I began competing with my brother to gather international hits/flags on our blogs, but it's turned into a virtual world tour for me. I am so enjoying looking at all the international blogs as I solicit hits.
    Please come visit me at josephinafinchworthsflaghunt.blogspot.com


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