Recommendations for Quinceañera Celebrations
Among several Spanish-speaking countries and for many Hispanics in the United States, the quinceañera or 15th birthday celebration is a rite of passage, a customary celebration of a young woman’s transition from childhood to adolescence with a ritual that expresses thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and that asks for a blessing from God for the years ahead. This celebration is similar to the Sweet Sixteen celebration that is popular in the United States and Canada.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington values and sees the quinceañera celebration as a unique opportunity for the parish to accompany a young woman and her family through an important celebration of their religious and cultural heritage; a number of whom may live in the peripheries of the parish or society. Often, the focus of this celebration is centered on the big party, but it is an opportunity to bring the young woman and her family and friends to an encounter with Christ and his Church. With a lens of evangelization that is warm and hospitable, the celebration of the quinceañera can be a teaching moment for the entire parish and an occasion to practice ministry as a communion to support young women.
Origin and Nature
The quinceañera is a traditional celebration of life and gratitude to God on the occasion of the fifteenth birthday of a young Hispanic woman. The ritual emphasizes her passage from childhood to adulthood. The family usually requests a Mass and/or a blessing to be held in the Church. The rite is frequently celebrated in several countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean, including Mexico. It is frequently requested by Hispanic Catholics in the dioceses of the United States.
The Native Americans of Meso-America celebrated elaborate rites of passage for their young men and women. Rites of passage are known to have existed in Spain and Portugal as well. The Spanish brought the practice to the Americas. It is possible that Catholic missionaries would have approved of this practice, since these rites closely paralleled Christian practices of initiation and marriage.
In the presence of family and friends, the young woman (the quinceañera), often accompanied by young men and women of her choice, (damas y chambelanes), enters the church in procession, together with her parents and godparents. If she has prepared the readings, she may serve as the lector for at least one of the readings. Before the Final Blessing, the quinceañera makes a commitment to God and the Blessed Virgin to live out the rest of her life according to the teachings of Christ and the Church by renewing her Baptismal promises. Then, signs of faith (medal, Bible, rosary, prayer book) may be blessed and given to her. A special blessing of the quinceañera concludes this part. The celebration continues with a dinner and sometimes a dance in her honor.
The quinceañera and a number of young men and women of her choice are joined by members of her family and friends for the celebration. The priest(s) or deacon has a key role as the one who represents the Church and who prays the blessing over the young woman. The local community is also often encouraged to gather for the celebration. Those who participate may be family members and friends, the priest or deacon has the opportunity to teach or remind them about the rich tradition of our Catholic faith.
The parents, in coming to the parish Church seeking the blessing, acknowledge that their daughter has reached the age where she is capable of handling additional responsibility. They see the quinceañera celebration as a way to thank God for the blessing of their daughter’s life and to seek God’s blessing and guidance as she enters adulthood. The extended family, (grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) is usually present, to celebrate with the quinceañera. Sponsors or padrinos, other couples acting as sponsors or the young woman’s godparents, may bring forward the blessed religious articles which are presented to the quinceañera.
Since only approved and confirmed rites may be used in the Liturgy, an Order for the Blessing on the Fifteenth Birthday was approved by the full body of U.S. Bishops and received the confirmation (approbamus sue confirmamus) from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Click here to download the Quinceañera ritual approved for use in the dioceses of the United States of America in 2007.
The quinceañera, and sometimes the parents, sponsors, even the teenagers who form part of her celebration, could be asked to participate in a spiritual day of retreat and/or in one or several sessions of preparation. This retreat or preparation sessions could include catechesis with talks, activities, and prayer, together with the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, prior to the date of the celebration. The precise form of preparation and recommendations can vary from parish to parish. See the Resources section (link), for some of the more popular quinceanera preparation programs successfully used in parishes.
Nevertheless, it is important that any preparation not be overly burdensome or difficult for the young woman and her family to complete. A simple blessing during Sunday Mass for example, may not require any particular preparation. However, if the parish wishes to utilize its own parish-based quinceanera preparation program, the following are the faith themes suggested for inclusion in this spiritual retreat and/or preparation sessions:
- Church – understanding and experiencing the story of the church and its mission
- Jesus and the Gospel Message – exploring the life and teachings of Jesus and the call to discipleship.
- Morality and Moral Decision-Making – applying Catholic moral values and virtues to life situations and decision-making.
- Personal Growth – incorporating the Catholic vision of life into personal identity.
- Relationships – developing and maintaining relationships based on Catholic values and the meaning of Christian community.
- Service – discovering and living Jesus= call to a life of loving service.
- Sexuality – understanding Catholic sexual values and attitudes and the importance of valuing chastity and sexual restraint.
- Self-Worth – God has defined you: You are Worthy.
- Vocations – Living the life God created us for.
Sacrament of Confirmation vs quinceañera
The Sacrament of Confirmation is one of the three Sacraments of Initiation by which the baptized “are more perfectly bound to the Church… and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (Lumen Gentium, no.11; Cf. Rite of Confirmation, no. 2.) The celebration of the quinceañera complements the Sacrament of Confirmation by providing a special blessing for a young Catholic woman as she enters adulthood as she prepares for new responsibilities. It is an additional opportunity for the Church and parish community to accompany her as well as her family and friends at a distinctive celebration where growth in faith and an encounter with Christ can occur. At the time of the celebration of the blessing of the quinceañera, a young woman comes to the Church seeking a blessing. Standing before the altar, she is publicly presented and accompanied by her family and friends in a gesture of thanksgiving.
Through a flexible five-week program, young women prepare for their quinceañera celebration by reflecting Hispanic culture and renewing their Catholic faith-commitment. Both student and teacher’s editions are bilingual, and discuss:
- the cultural/religious background and significance of the “quince años.”
- deepening a relationship with Jesus through a journey of self-knowledge.
- learning about saints and other great women who have preceded us as models of holiness, and more.
This program offers solid Catholic teaching of the faith from a reliable source that is available 24/7 online. This journey can be completed in one to three weeks. The quinceañera will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course. The referring parish will also receive a copy of the certificate.
Approved by the USCCB in 2007 for use in the diocese of the United States.
For the Liturgy of the Word, if it is a Sunday, or a Solemnity, the readings of the day must be used; on all other occasions the readings of the day or other readings may be used; here are some suggestions:
Old Testament readings: Jer. 1: 4-10; Is. 6: 1-8
Psalms: 92 (91), 100 (99)
New Testament: Eph. 1: 3-5; 1 Jn. 4: 7-12
Gospel: Mt. 7: 21-27; Lk. 1: 39-5
Suggested Ritual Guidelines