Palm Sunday at Saligao Church and Santos Passo at St. Anne’s Chapel

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

Lenten observances have always been elaborate and intense in the churches of Goa, and the ceremonies I witnessed when I was growing up in Saligao during the 1940s and 1950s are etched in my memory.

The liturgy of the Holy Week began at Mae de Deus Church in Saligao with the blessings of palms at the entrance of the Saligao Church on Palm Sunday, where we youngsters gathered with palms in our hands. Those who had coconut trees on their property usually engaged a padai to climb the trees and cut off some palm leaves, others pleaded with their neighbours to give them a few, and a few mischievous fellows nicked the leaves from wherever they could. Regardless, everyone had a saintly look on their faces while assembling in the portico of the Saligao Church the next morning.

There was a wide variety of decorated and intricately woven palms on view in the congregation. Some were embellished with artwork, others were woven together in the form of an alette, and many brought palms draped with crosses and mogrins and rosam. Still others had white tiny flowers on each palm leaf interlaced with other flowers of different colours shapes. It was a colourful, kaleidoscopic public display at Saligao Church on Palm Sunday.

Plam Sunday

Colourful spectacle

We had an informal competition among us with respect to whose palm was the best decorated one. I remember the boys from Bairro Alto fringed their palms in alette style; the Mudd’davaddi, Tabravaddo and Mollembhatt parishioners had them decorated with rosam from their fields, whilst Donvaddo folks decorated them with white and crimson colours. Arrarim, Cotula, Dhaktem and Vhoddlem Morodd and Goletem brethren highlighted their palms with crisscross patterns along with mogrins and abolim in the background. Sonarbhat and Salmona youth carried palms ornamented with xinvtins, some white and some yellow. The spectacle was fantastic. All stood regally, proudly brandishing their palms.

At the allotted hour, the three celebrants (a priest and two acolytes) ceremoniously walked to the portico where some big palms taken from the Saligao Church property were placed on a table and blessed, then kept aside for use the following year by the sacristan for ash on Ash Wednesday.

The main celebrant together with the acolytes and altar servers came solemnly from the sacristy to the portico of the Saligao Church and the religious ceremony commenced. Prayers were sung in a solemn manner which prepared the congregation for this liturgical occasion. After the palms were blessed with holy water and incensed, came the long-awaited moment of demonstration of power–the shaking of the palms with the greatest possible force and noise, so much so that celebrant had to intervene and put a stop to it by admonishing all of us with a stern and loud “Stop it!”

Stop it we did, but not before exchanging quick sniggers of triumph among ourselves, after which we settled down into complete silence. Next came the Gospel reading and the celebrant read the Word of God outside the Church, reminding us of the solemn entry of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem and how the people welcomed him with palms in their hands and shouted hosannas to the King who arrived mounted on a donkey.

Palm Sunday Mass

Soon the procession began in the direction of the nave, transepts and sanctuary of the Saligao Church, the processionists with palms in their hand balancing them this side and that, and singing in Latin “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat or Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini, Hosanna Filio David, etc.”

In the Church they began the other parts of the Palm Sunday Mass. At the solemn singing of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the main celebrant represented Christ, another read the narrative and a third was assigned the words of the others who spoke. The solemnity of the singing in Latin in three different tones by three people kept all in a meditative mood while they stood continuously for more than 45 minutes. This was followed by a sermon. After the Mass we quickly returned home, hung up the palm near the oratory on the nail where the rosaries were usually hung, to be placed later on inside the oratory.

After the religious service in the Saligao Church, some of us from the three wards of Mudd’davaddi, Donvaddo and Tabravaddo-Mollembhatt directed ourselves to the Chapel of St. Anne to help in getting things ready for the evening service of the Passo.

Passo at St. Anne’s Chapel

The life-size image of the Dead Lord (Senhor Morto), which was offered to St. Anne’s Chapel by Idinha P Dias, wife of Pedro Joao dos Remedios from Tabravaddo, and kept inside the main altar of St. Anne, was cautiously removed and kept on two or three benches. Then Mr. Patru and some elders cleansed it thoroughly with sacramental wine. Next the image was draped in a dark blue vestment studded with false diamonds of different hues and sizes and imitation-gold laced boarders.  The “mogreanche jhelle” decorated the base of the altar case where the image was kept for veneration after been washed and clothed.

Everything was set in its proper place; the candlesticks with candles, the ritual books, the thurible and incense boat, the ceremonial vestments, the sprinkler, the cross, etc. The evening ceremony, based on the liturgy used in those days, began with the singing of a motet in Latin – such as Filiae, Filiae Jerusalem — in four voices accompanied by two violins, two clarinets and a bass. People brought with them more jhelles, and these were handed to the sacristan to be deposited near the Senhor Morto image or tied to the candlesticks of the main altar in semicircular or crescent arrangements.

When all were assembled at the appointed time, the Way of the Cross service commenced.  Three altar servers carrying a cross and two candles on each side walked from one station to the other, with the people following slowly, genuflecting, praying and singing along the way. This Way of the Cross was led by the Chaplain Rev. Fr. Arcanjo de Menezes, dressed in his surplice and purple stole over his black cassock. The singing after each station was in Konkani, rendering the common hymn of the Lenten season, “Papia Re Nibhagea, Tum Pap Na Sandxi…” At the end of the 14th station a prayer was said and Senhor Deus Misericordia was sung three times.

The highlight of the whole religious ceremony was the sermon preached on Jesus the Compassionate, usually by a preacher from outside the parish of Saligao. Then came the procession with irmaos dressed in their white opa and blue mursa, distinctive of St. Anne’s Chapel, wending through the traditional route. At the end came the chaplain dressed in his black cape and carrying the relic of Holy Wood (Santo Lenho), offered to the chapel by Rodolfo Napoleao Fernandes from Donvaddo. The choir singers sang the popular Latin hymn Miserere Mei Deus during the procession, with the chapel bell ringing soulfully, allowing the faithful to meditate on the Merciful Compassion of Jesus.

When all has assembled in the chapel, the relic was kept on a decorated table. The celebrant incensed it, then sang the prayer in Latin and kissed it. Finally people proceeded towards the altar in two lines, where the image of Senhor Morto was kept for kissing and veneration. A tray at the side of the altar was kept for people to place their offerings. The motet Porje Mhoje rendered during the veneration brought to an end to this Passo service.

At sunset we youngsters were given a soda, which satisfied us immensely, while the elders had a light intoxicating drink. All this was a long time ago, and a lot has changed since then, mostly for the better I suppose. I am indeed blessed to have had the experience of the old Trindentine rite and also of the new Vatican Liturgy and the changes it has undergone over the years. This year, I join my fellow bairristas in spirit in their celebration of Palm Sunday at Saligao Church and the Passo at St. Anne’s Chapel in Saligao.

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