Fr Walter de Sa
One hundred and sixty-nine years ago, the venerable Pope Pius IX promulgated the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary through an apostolic constitution, ‘Ineffabilis Deus’ (the Ineffable God) on December 8, 1954, whereby he declared definitive tenenda as the revealed truth that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from the original sin on the very moment of her conception. She was freed from any stain of the sin. This is an exceptional privilege and highest honour conferred upon her who was chosen from eternal ages by God the Father.
An age-old hymn, by an unknown author, praises and exalts Mary by calling her the “Dawn of God’s redemptive plan…. conceived in perfect grace….. Immaculate, sinless Eve.” This is a direct reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is celebrated throughout the Catholic world on December 8. Several churches/chapels are placed under the patronage of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. In Goa itself, there are some churches/chapels named after Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
One such church is the Panjim Church which is named as the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception whose feast is celebrated with great religious fervour on December 8 by the Panjimites.
Atop the main altar of the Church, a statue of Mary is placed in the wooden niche. This altar is dedicated to her. Another wooden panel of Mary is fitted to the ceiling of the church right in the centre of the roof. It was so done on December 8, 1864 on which day the feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated by the President Andre Camilo de Mello. Below the picture of Mary are inscribed in Portuguese the following words: “Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição Rogai por Nós” (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Pray for Us.)
In Panjim Parish, a due spiritual preparation of nine days, known as novena, is held during which the parishioners as a community come together to prepare spiritually for the celebration of the feast. The preparation consists of the Holy Mass animated by the members of zones and based on a theme for spiritual enhancement of the faithful. The priest in his reflection unfolds the salient features of Mary’s exemplary life, in whose steps the faithful are called upon to walk.
During the nine-days, the parishioners pray the Rosary, a prayer that Mary asked every family to pray as she revealed to the three little shepherd children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, with a promise that all those who pray the Rosary would be delivered from the fires of hell. The Rosary is a biblical prayer. It is the compendium of the entire Gospel: It aims at promoting Christian life and apostolic commitment.
The little children dressed up as angels take part in the Salve. They come in a procession carrying the flag with the embroidered picture of Mary on it, the plates with petals of flowers, and sprinklers. Along with the angels, the confrades, dressed in opa and murça, walk down the aisle of the Church led by a confrade, who carries a linen draped silver cross, and the president coming last, holding a silvery vara (staff). A priest wearing a goldish white cape and carrying the statue of Mary then joins the procession and occupies a special place at the main door of the Church. Towards the end of the Salve which is sung by the angels, the priest then intones a prayer in honour of Mother Mary and blesses the congregation, who line up to reverently kiss the statue of Mary. A final hymn, Immaculata Conception sung by the choir and the faithful bring to an end the day-to-day novena service.
On the Feast day, Masses are held throughout the day, beginning at 5.30 am and the last one at 5 pm. While four Masses are held outside in the Church compound, the remaining ones are celebrated inside the Church. People from different faiths and walks of life pay obeisance to Mother Mary in the evening of the feast day.
Mother Mary is highly esteemed and revered by the Panjimites as their patroness, who grants them their favours and pleas, and is hailed as an outstanding shining model of Christian life.
(Fr Walter de Sa is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, Panjim.)