The Significance of the Season of Lent in Goa

“You are dust and to dust you shall return…” chants the priest as he smears ashes on the foreheads of Catholics who begin their day in churches all over Goa on Ash Wednesday.

SO begins the Season of Lent, a period of forty days where the people can mend their ways, seek forgiveness for ones sins, be purified and return to God. It is much like the Ramadan month of the Muslims or the Shravan month of the Hindus, months of fasting, alms-giving and prayer. The season of Lent is a period of preparation for the greatest event in Christianity…the resurrection of Lord Jesus – that is Easter. 

If there was no Easter, there would be no Christianity. During Lent in order to help the faithful to turn away from sinful ways, the church focuses their attention on the suffering of Jesus, caused by the sins of mankind. This is done by conducting the Way of the Cross, every Wednesday and Friday in all churches. The Way of the Cross is marked by fourteen stations, each punctuated by a picture of the passion of Jesus. As the altar boys move from one station to the next, the stations are read out along with a short relevant reflections. 

These stations depict the following scenes: 

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus carries the Cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

There is a hillock behind the Sanctuary of St. Joseph Vas at Sancoale were the Stations of the Cross are sculpted in life size. People flock there on Wednesdays and Fridays and trudge up the hill, meditating the passion of Jesus. At other locations in Goa like in Anjuna and in Siolim, the devotees walk up really steep hills, carrying a heavy cross during the Way of the Cross in an attempt to empathize with the suffering Jesus.

The Santos Passos are dramatic events that punctuated the last two days of the life of Jesus Christ. Translated as the Holy Steps, these are painful episodes that begin at the garden of Gethsemane and end on the hill at Golgotha. Each of these seven steps takes Jesus closer to the cross and to His extremely painful death. 

The Catholic Church in Goa celebrates these Santos Passos during the season of lent. During each of the Friday or Sunday of lent, the church recreates these Passos to bring before the eyes of the people the passion of Christ and make them grasp completely the extent of suffering that Jesus went through in pursuit of His cross. It is an age old tradition at the Rachol Church to celebrate all the Santos Passos. 

The tableaus made there during the Passos using life-sized images were a sort of a visual presentation of Christ’s suffering. People still come in great numbers for the Passos and very devoutly venerate the images of the passion of Christ. The church at Rachol celebrates the first Passo on the _ rst Friday of lent. The garden of Gethsemane is recreated and life-sized statue of Jesus is shown kneeling and praying. This is the first of the Holy Steps: the Agony in the garden. 

The season of lent culminates on Good Friday with the seventh Passo, which is the crucifixion of the Christ. On this day, most of the devotees observe a strict fast. All churches in Goa present the death of Christ on the cross. Some churches like Benaulim, Margao and Chandor carry out this event at a chapel on a hillock in their village. In Benaulim, the crowds gather on the Montir Hill at dusk where the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is located. The crucified Christ looks almost real, looking down upon the crowds gathered. The priest climbs up on the pulpit and delivers a long sermon. Then the image of Jesus is lowered from the cross. 

The hands and the legs which have Flexible joints give an appearance of a real man being lowered from the cross. Church bells do not toll this day and special wooden clappers are used instead. After laying the image in a coffin, it is led by a long candle lit procession into the main church below. 

The members of a confraternity wear white robes and also cover their heads as they bring up the rear of the procession carrying the coffin, a velvet canopy sheltering the open coffin. The faithful queue up for final veneration and head home in prayerful silence. The next day, on the eve of midnight, they will gather again at the church to usher in Easter.

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Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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