Fasting and Feasting
Part two of a
nostalgic series of essays and stories on growing up in the grim shadow of the
Church...a lot of Vitriol with a dash of humour in this one..
|"Nostalgia (n) regretful or
wistful memory of an earlier time
" Oxford Dictionary.
|The Catholic Church has
always been good at both fasting and feasting. The fasting is probably a relic
from the Jewish origins of Roman Catholicism (The Sabbath and that sort
of thing) with some influence from the Ramadan of the Muslims and is
just a token gesture and nothing more. Just like not eating meat ("Muss") on
a Friday. I could never understand the connection between Fridays and meat
eating, or rather not eating meat. True, Jesus Christ did die on a Friday. So
what? We only want to eat animal flesh not indulge in cannibalism!
fish? Why is it OK to eat fish? Why only Muss? Why not prohibit the
eating of green vegetables that we all used to hate as kids anyway?
Pathola for a start!
The very first
time I ever ate meat on a Friday as a kid, surreptitiously of course (Pardon me
God I did sin!) I did worry a little bit about going to hell. These days I am
not too worried about going to hell. Ranji would say that I have already
gone there but my consolation is that by the time I go to hell lots of others
including members of the clergy would have preceded me!
THE CHURCH FEAST
Feasting is a far more serious business than
fasting. The actual feast of our church should have been the Feast of The
Holy Cross but this was never a box-office success.
The Blockbuster was of course the
Feast of The Immaculate Conception (of Mary: original name Miriam). This
feast is usually some time in February and is a sort of a carnival. The whole
business was held out of doors with the stage being the Grotto of our Lady of
Fatima just outside the church. Pilgrims from all parts of the country would
turn up which boosted the income of the church. Vendors would set up stalls and
the streets would be decorated. The Archbishop of Colombo would make a
dramatic entrance halfway through the proceedings and after several hours of
Vespers and bell ringing the statue of Our Lady would be carried in a
procession which would provocatively go as far as the Buddhist Chaitya.
BUY YOUR WAY INTO
philanthropists would foot the bill for a spectacular fireworks display (no
doubt in an effort to buy their way into heaven), money that would have been
best spent on the poor people of the parish such as Rose Amma. The
preparations took several days but the actual proceedings would start around
sundown. By this time the place would be heaving and since it was actually held
outside the church people felt free to chat and gossip. Young men would take
the opportunity to chat up girls.
The proceedings would
generally start off with Gramophone records of a religious nature played at
high volume over a system of Tannoy type loudspeakers. Prayers and hymns and
incense would follow. After the dramatic entrance of the Archbish,
things would quickly come to a climax. Fishing boats decorated with
multicoloured electric lights would appear in the lagoon. The fireworks would
start off. A few rockets and Roman Candles at first but later followed by
spectacular star shells.
OF THE PEOPLE
The statue of Mary
would then be carried down the steps (the church was on a hill) and placed on
the top of a vehicle decked in flowers and electric lights (The power was
provided by a rather noisy generator on a following pushcart.) Three altar boys
carrying a cross and two candlesticks of a very heavy guage would head the
procession. It must have been like that in the Crusades 'till the Turks
The girls from the convent boarding
school and the nuns would follow the altar boys. Next came the hoi polloi. All
carried candles and sang hymns. The local majority Buddhist populace would line
the streets to politely watch this spectacle. There was no TV those days.
The "Holier-Than-Thou" crowd and the
self-appointed-custodians-of-Mary took the rear end and as close as possible to
the vehicle carrying the statue of OL in yet another silly effort to get to
heaven by the back door. Priests and the Archbish were however conspicuous
by their absence. The misguided faithful would wend their way along the
street and turn back around the clock tower near the famous Salgado Hotel to
make their way back to the church.
Tired but happy altar boys would return to the
sacristy to hand over the weapons (i.e. the cross and the candlesticks) after
the Crusades and would hear the laughter and sounds of merriment from the
"Mission House". The Archbish and
assorted priests would be wining and dining. They always dined on
chicken (Kukul Muss) a luxury in those days.
I have this information from the highest
authority: That of the then Sacristan a Tamil guy called Xavier.
The proles sang their praises to
Miriam and carried her statue along the streets whilst the clergy
gorged themselves on chicken carcasses!
Poor old Rose Amma! She could have done with a
bit of chicken!
© Gyan Fernando
2001. First written on the 14th of May 2001
|"Religious suffering is,
at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest
against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the
heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. IT IS THE
OPIUM OF THE PEOPLE." Karl Marx. 1844
"Whisky is cheaper than opium, safer
than both religion and opium and is far more fun." Gyan Fernando.
I | Erik Solheim & I | My
Part in the Census | Census Again! |
Not Cricket! | I Crossed The
Line | My Part in my Funeral |
The Gamarala and the Temple |
Gamarala and the Puhul | Two
men and the bear | Incense and Candlewax |
My Father & The Devil