THE HEAD OF THE Los Angeles archdiocese trailing a cow covered in a blanket of flowers led a festive afternoon procession down Olvera Street on Holy Saturday afternoon, commemorating the 82nd annual Easter blessing of the animals in the city’s historic cobblestone plaza.
Using a large brush to sprinkle holy water and with mariachis serenading with “Cielito Lindo,” Archbishop of Los Angeles José H. Gomez blessed hundreds of pets — from Labrador retrievers in baseball garb to horses, goats, geese, llamas, goldfish, iguanas, snakes and more, all pressing together amid smells of animals, humanity, hay and manure.
According to Scripture, Gomez said, animals have a special place in the Easter religious tradition.
“The animals,” he said, “were the first ones that noticed and were aware of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Olvera Street is the oldest surviving street in Los Angeles, dating from the days of Mexico’s rule, but blessing of the animals tradition is even older.
The ceremony dates back to the fourth century when San Antonio de Abad, the patron saint of animals, would lead priests in blessing animals for fertility and health. According to the archdiocese, the tradition today is held in “grateful recognition of the tremendous services given to the human race by the animal kingdom.”
“O, God, you have done all things wisely,” the archbishop began his blessing from the church liturgy. “In your goodness you have made us in your image and given us care over other living things. Reach out with your right hand and grant that these animals may serve our needs and that your bounty in the resources of this life may move us to seek more confidently the goal of eternal life.
“May God who created the animals of this earth as a help to us continue to protect and to sustain us with the grace his blessing brings now and forever. And may the blessing of almighty God come upon all these animals in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Los Angeles is just one of a number of cities across the United States where clerics hold annual animal blessings, though the event here is one of the few held on Holy Saturday. In New York, San Francisco and other places, the blessings are done on the first Sunday of October in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his kindness to all creatures. According to tradition, animals responded by listening to the sermons of the 13th century saint.
Saturday marked the second year Gomez has blessed the pets of Los Angeles for a job well done as companions to humans. He took over the duties when he succeeded Cardinal Roger Mahony in February 2011 as the active Archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the country.
And the role of the cow in the ceremony?
“Like always, we have a cow leading the procession,” a moderator explained to a crowd, many dressed in traditional Mexican costumes. “The cow represents fertility (and) nurturing.”