I’ve just returned from a two week visit to Brazil. In addition to the tropical beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people, I was struck by the sheer size of the country (the fifth largest in the world after Russia, China, Canada, and the US). Even though we took several long bus rides and one plane trip, we never even left what is considered the southeast of the country, where both Rio and Sao Paulo are located.
Here are some quick takes of some of my impressions of some Catholic aspects of the small slice of Brazil I saw:
Church of Santa Rita, on the water in Parati.
Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese, beginning in the early 16th century, and the language and architecture reflects that history. The the early churches were designed by Portuguese architects, and were Baroque, as was the current European style of the time, but then Brazilian builders developed their own flamboyant version of the Baroque style. I’ve never been a huge fan of Baroque churches, but in Brazil I absolutely loved them. They seemed to fit so well with the tropical exuberance of their surroundings.
The first weekend we were in Parati (old spelling is Paraty), a colonial port town about midway between Sao Paulo and Rio. In the historic old part of the town there are four churches, although all were closed up tight (except for when I attended Mass at one, see below).
We spent the following weekend in Ouro Preto, an old Portuguese colonial mining town in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais. The city is a Unesco World Heritage Site, mainly because of its profusion of 18th century Baroque churches. Really, a town filled with churches - pretty much my idea of heaven! Because of limited time, and unpredictable opening hours, I saw the inside of about 5 or 6 churches, and several more from the exterior. Unfortunately, none of them permitted interior photography.
In Ouro Preto: one church at my back; three more in view.
I had a bit of a hard time finding Mass times - there didn’t seem to be much information on Brazilian Mass times on the internet and the churches themselves didn’t tend to have the times posted. In Parati I asked at the hotel, and got an estimated time for the church around the corner, around 7pm. As the hotel clerk told me, “here in Brazil, we like to go to Mass in the evening.”
After a day on the beach at a neighboring town of Trindade, we returned to Parati early on Sunday evening (it was dark because it’s late autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) to find that the large square in front of the church had been transformed into a bingo venue: the square was jam-packed with people (far more than the picture, above, indicates), and everybody had a paper bingo page and pencil. I’m not sure if this was church-sponsored or not, but when I returned to the square a short while later, the game had ended, Mass was starting, and the church, while not empty by any means, had far fewer people than had been at bingo.
Yes, I actually pulled out my camera and took a photo during Mass. In Brazil it seemed more natural to see the people - and the priest on the altar - wave their arms as they sang.
Church of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Parati, where I attended Mass.
Both weeks at Mass, there were newsprint fliers with the weekly readings, along with all of the Mass prayers and responses. It seems like a perfect solution: the paper is inexpensive and everything is right there in one folded sheet. The paper made it very easy to follow the Mass (even though I brought my handy booklet with Mass prayers in several languages, this was better)
I found it interesting to hear (and read) that the Eucharistic prayer has a fair amount of congregation participation. After the consecration, responses sprinkled throughout the remainder of the prayer. Also, we knelt only until the consecration, then stood.
Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Ouro Preto, next to our hotel, where I attended 4pm Mass on the second Sunday
The music at both Masses was guitar/contemporary, and it seemed to me that the guitar music works pretty well in a Latin country, in those old churches.
There is a Monastery of St. Benedict in Sao Paulo and one in Rio as well. Both have 10am Masses with Gregorian Chant, and apparently they are very well attended. Unfortunately we were not in the big cities on the weekend and missed out on these liturgies.
Here is the exterior of the Monastery of Sao Bento (Benedict) in Sao Paulo:
This church made me admit that my older-is-always-better church architecture snobbery is just plain wrong at times - I was bowled over by this 1910 church. It was built in the Beuron Art School style which includes influences of Egyptian, Byzantine, Romanesque and Celtic art. No photos were allowed inside the church, which was ultimately a good thing, as I never would have left.
Here is the Cathedral in Rio, which is nicknamed “the beehive”, made drearier by the gray, drizzly day:
The church is dedicated to St. Sebastian. It holds 20,000 people! We didn’t get to see the inside, although the guidebooks say that the stained glass windows are beautiful on a sunny day.
interior of Rio cathedral, above, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In many of the churches we saw a life-sized recumbent figure of Christ in the tomb (as you can see in this post), usually with real hair and quite explicit wounds. Often, there were reverent worshipers kneeling before them, kissing the case and crossing themselves.
No post about Brazil would be complete without Christ the Redeemer, who stands tall, on a mountain in the middle of Rio:
We, of course, saw much, much more on our trip to Brazil. I’ve posted one Brazilian church as a Tuesday Tour; look for more on future Tuesdays!
And for more Quick Takes, visit Jen of Conversion Diary and all of the links you can find there.