Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2007

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Our new Gothic inspired solid hardwood Marian processional canopy, complete with spires and topped by a cross, minus the gilding.

Last Saturday, the 8th of December 2007, my parish celebrated its Patronal Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Within our parish bounds, we have the inter-diocesan major seminary, the Capuchin Friary, and the FMDM convent. Theoretically, as this is their parish too, we should have had, at a minimum, one archbishop emeritus and 8 priests plus several sisters and seminarians joining in the celebrations of their parish feast. But unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, we only had 3 priests.

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Blogger Mark, the main organizer, in front of the processional canopy.

Much work has been put into the organization and preparation of the feast day celebrations. For one thing, a new processional canopy for the statue of Our Lady was commissioned, designed and fabricated, all in about 2 weeks.

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Mark's brother Evan who's studying design, turned an idea and a sketch from me into a manufacturable architectural drawing. Great job! [PS: If you have a design need, you can commission Evan through this blog for his services]

More on this in a separate post. Secondly, it’s a founding principle of Unam Sanctam (if you read the sidebar), to have public processions which brings the faith and its symbols out into the world. In previous years, the processions were only held within the Church compound. This year, despite stiff opposition from certain quarters (you know who you are) whose intentions will be judged by God alone (it’s not going to be pleasant), the parish priests and the pastoral council was convinced to allow an application for a police permit for a public procession in the streets. This took many trips by Mark, our Liturgical Committee chair, to accomplish. We first approached our local police station with a signed letter and map of the proposed route only to be told that we had to go to the State Police Headquarters to make the application. Fortunately, Penang is a small place =)

At the Police HQ, we were told that a letter was not enough. We had to fill in a form, not in triplicate, but seven copies of it. And we also had to provide a list of ‘committee members’. Other things to fill include how many speakers we’re going to use and how many crosses we would be displaying. The following trip elicited the condition that a full list of pastoral council members were required. A subsequent trip generated the request of the full addresses, contact numbers and identification card numbers of said pastoral council members. There just seemed to be more and more conditions and time was running out fast. The application finally got bumped up to the Special Branch.

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The altar. The Advent wreath previously featured on these pages was also designed by Evan.

When we finally got approval, it was the week before and so posters (which could not be printed until we knew whether we had the permit or not) was hurriedly designed and distributed to the surrounding parishes.

Before the big day approached, we had several problems to solve such as training people to carry the new canopy (which was rather on the heavy side), last minute changes of statue (for which the base had been designed for), unreasonable demands being made and even the replacement of the traditional rosary before Mass with ‘Charismatic Intercessory Prayers’ and other minutiae. Several people stepped up to act as stumbling blocks, putting obstacles in the path of this event every step of the way. This greatly frustrated the people working to make it a success.

Finally, however, the day arrived, the people gathered together to honour the Mother of God and the Mass began. The newly ordained Fr. Stanley Anthoni was invited to preach.

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The Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Mark Michael, our assistant parish priest, and Fr. Decroix MEP. It was celebrated in Mandarin, Tamil and English with an English homily delivered again in the Black Speech, surprising us all. After that, we waited with bated breath to see whether encores in Mandarin and Tamil were forthcoming. Thank God for small mercies. I have several comments and observation about that homily which I’ll have to post on later.

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Fr. Mark, Fr. Stanley and Fr. Decroix, above.

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After the Mass, the people made their way out of the Church, and led by the crucifer, thurifers, servers and flower girls, processed with the statue of Our Lady, enveloped by clouds of incense, out into the streets of Penang.

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The bearers were members of the state Society of St. Vincent de Paul, our own Catholic youth and Tamil Youth from the Hong Seng Chapel.

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Throughout the procession, the Holy Rosary was prayed, interspersed with Marian hymns at the end of each decade. After that, the Litany of Loreto was prayed. We hired a generator to power an amp and some speakers to ensure that the prayers and songs could be heard by the people in the procession.

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My experience from attending various other processions such as the one in St. Anne’s was that the crowds simply walked along, chatting or distracted. This defeats the whole purpose of the procession. However, I’m glad to say that for this procession, the use of speakers and amps allowed a prayerful atmosphere to prevail and many of the people joined in the prayers and the songs fervently.

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The celebrations ended with the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and some light snacks were served after.

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Finally, in the streets after so many years. I'm not happy about the incense though. I can still see the canopy and that means that not enough incense was used.

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Overall, it was a great celebration and certainly the most prayerful I’ve joined in years. Many people came together to make this a success and a reality. Much work was put in. In the end, I thought it was all worth it. To them (especially the Hong Seng folks), I wish the blessings of Almighty God and the protection and intercession of Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God.

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My grandma, with Our Lady

4 comments:

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Wow! You really know how to celebrate a Feast over there!

Si Fractus Fortis said...

Fantastic procession - but, forgive my ignorance, what is the Black Speech?

Andrew said...

That we do, Mrs. Parkes, that we surely do =)

SFF, the Black Speech here refers to the Malay language spoken by the majority ethnic Muslim Malays. Many of us have a distinct dislike for it, especially as a language used in the liturgy for it has a lot of historical baggage. Though I cam very fluent in it, having studied in a Malay language school, I just can't picture myself praying in it and neither can many others who have come to associate it with Islam and oppression. For a sermon to be delivered in a multi ethnic parish, where almost everyone understands English, in that language was not a very smart thing to do.

war in the pocket said...

Ah, Father Stanley. Met him at the seminary when he was still in studies. His vocation story was really funny. Praise the Lord.