Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Feast of St. Anne 07

Some of you might have started to wonder whether this blogger has departed this life. I apologize for the lack of posts these few days as several things came up, not the least of which is the Feast of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I had previously posted about this Church in several posts.

The Stations of the Cross. The life sized stations are placed all around the Church grounds.
The Shrine Church. The Old Church of St. Anne. The High Altar and sides altars are still intact and Mass is still said there once a month.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Beautiful, quiet and prayerful.
The Chapel of Reconciliation. The great grandmother of all Confessionals.

This post is about the Feast of St. Anne, celebrated last week.

The statue of St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The relic of St. Anne is in the golden reliquary.

In Malaysia, we do not have great Shrines such as those in Lourdes or Fatima. Though several localized Feasts such as the Holy Cross in Tanjung Malim and St. Peter and St. Francis Xaxier in Malacca do attract significant participation, the closest Malaysia has to a national Shrine is the Shrine of St. Anne in Bukit Mertajam, with visitors and pilgrims from all over Malaysia and from neighbouring Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia as well. Many come year after year after having their prayers and petitions answered by God through the intercession of St. Anne.

The old hilltop Church of St. Anne, the Shrine Church

The new Church of St. Anne

We in Penang are very fortunate because the Church is located only about 45 minutes away from the island. So, on Thursday, the actual Feast Day and on Saturday, the transferred Feast, I was at the Shrine as a pilgrim.

The Santuary of St. Anne consists of 2 Churches, the main new Church, built with it's roof in the traditional Minangkabau style which lets lots of natural light in and the old hilltop Church which is also known as the Shrine Church.

The feast, as I mentioned, attracts huge crowds of Christians from all over the region. On the Saturday that I was there, the final day of the nine day novena, a carnival atmosphere had descended over the place. This is what I saw.


The normally busy Kulim Road in front of the Church had been transformed into a huge street carnival. There were stalls selling fruits and food and candles and religious items and all sorts of things stretching as far as the eye could see.


The photos above and below show the 2 sides of the street from where I was standing.


Here's a what it looks like from the gate at about 3 PM, 5 hours from the main Mass at 8. Actually, Masses were going on continuously since morning, both at the Church and at the Hall, opposite the road. There were Masses in English, Mandarin, Tamil, Thai and whatnot to cater to all the pilgrims who had made their way to the feast.


There were also pilgrims praying the Way of the Cross at the 2 sets, the life sized one around the compound and the stations up the hill. Both Churches, above and below, lie beneath Bukit Mertajam or Mertajam Hill which is the highest peak in that area.



The pilgrims try to make their way into the old Shrine Church and there to lay their petitions or their offerings of candles or flowers in thanksgiving at her statue. The photo below shows the old high altar, one the few remaining intact in Penang. Mass is actually celebrated here on the first Saturday of the month.


To get to the Shrine, one has to pass by a long line of official beggars. During the feast day celebrations, the Church used to have a problem of beggars trying to fleece the pilgrims. So the Church's solution was to get volunteers to beg instead! So they stand in a long line while pilgrims drop coins and cash into their baskets or scarves. The money collected goes to the Church and funds stuff like the haemodialisis centre. Pilgrims normally bring lots of change to give these 'beggars'.


The Shrine Church is nestled on an elevated platform. Behind the Church is Calvary, the 15 stations of the Cross placed up the hill. At the top is another Shrine to St. Anne. The hill also has a spring whose cool, refreshing waters are drunk by the pilgrims to quench their thirst after a hard climb.



We were there after the rains so the hill is still enveloped in mists.


A furry friend rests at the door. All creatures great and small are welcome at God's House.


The high altar in more peaceful times.

The New Church in more peaceful times.

I then made my way to the main Church to attend the 6 o'clock Mass which I had expected to be in Latin as it was in previous years.


The processional statue of St. Anne was placed in the sanctuary for the veneration of the faithful.



When I arrived, the Mandarin Mass was still going on, presided by a young priests who sang the Eucharistic Prayer in Chinese. Cool. We also spotted his cassock and surplice at the gift shop. Mark asked whether it was for sale only to be told that it belonged to Fr. Simon. I haven't the foggiest idea what it was doing there.

The Church of St. Anne is the largest of the Catholic Churches in West Malaysia and seats about 2 thousand. The photos below give an impression of the scale of this Church. Note the natural lighting that filters through the roofs.


View from the back of the Church.


View from the front.


Here's some photos from the Mass on Thursday when I sat much closer to the altar. The flower girls for the procession were in front of me.



No, we did not have an earlier pre-motu proprio celebration of the usus antiquior. The place was so packed that Mark and I could not get a seat in any of the 3 wings and had to settle for separate seats behind the altar. Our former parish priest was presiding over the Mass with Msgr. Stephen Liew, the Vicar General of Penang and parish priest of St. Anne's concelebrating.


Surprisingly, despite the huge crowd, there were only 10 extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, somethign truly extraordinary as in my parish, with these numbers, they would have probably trotted out 50 of them. The distribution of Holy Communion took about half an hour and all the hosts including those from the Tabernacle was used up. Hosts had to be broken up to give Communion to those present. The turnout was huge for an auxiliary Mass. I had wanted to ask Msgr. Stephen how many hosts were used throughout the Feast but did not get a chance to see him. Previous estimates put the number at 100,000, repeat visitors inclusive. The local newspaper placed the figure of those who attended the final Mass and procession on Saturday night at 10,000.


Another Mass in Tamil was going on in the parish hall opposite the Church. It was packed to overflowing too.


As I exited the Church, the priests, all vested in chasubles, were preparing to enter to celebrate the main Mass of the day.


His Lordship, Bishop Antony Selvanayagam of Penang was the main celebrant.


Anyway, since I did not attend the procession on Saturday, I'm present you with these images of the procession on Thursday, the real day for the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne.

The people gathered in the narthex of the Church as the statue of St. Anne makes it's way out.


The procession was led by altar boys bearing banner and flower girls.



The procession then slowly makes its way round the Church grounds.



Followed by the people. The procession usually ends with Benediction in the Church.


Finally, before I left for home, I snapped these photos of the multitude make their way into the Shrine Church atop the hill bearing flowers and candles.



Till next year, St. Anne, ora pro nobis.

Previous posts:

The Stations of the Cross.
The Shrine Church.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
The Chapel of Reconciliation.

I plan to do a couple more posts on the architecture of the new Church and the Stations of the Cross on the Hill as well as the hilltop Shrine.


M@rK said...

As you can see in one of the photos (the 8th one from the bottom if I'm not mistaken), the bishop was comparing his crozier with the walking stick of Fr. Francis Chao, the old Chinese priest. They were comparing "tongkats" and the bishop offered Fr. Chao his crozier in exchange for his walking stick, to which of course Fr. Chao politely declined... Well, it was just one of those moments... or was the bishop keen on trying out something different... imagine the bishop walking in with Fr Chao's stick and vice versa...

MMajor Fan said...

What wonderful pictures! I feel like I was there and can imagine all the surroundings. I can see a great faith. Thank you for sharing.
(And I liked the traditional architecture for the new Church, the natural lighting is extraordinary.)

Anonymous said...

My middle name is i liked your post very much!

Adrian Mathews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

thank you so much for all lovely pix. i am search the net to look for St. Anne's church. i planned to visit. some one had told me that i can ask for her help. only ask. but itis too late. still i want to visit a place. it would be great if there is a downloaded map.
thank you so much

Andrew said...

Hi Nong,

You can find a map here.

If you find any trouble, do feel free to contact me. My gmail address is the same as my blogspot user name.

May St. Anne pray for you.

Unknown said...

thank you andrew,

this is a real help.

May St.Anne pray for you too.


Anonymous said...

Greetings Andrew,
Those pictures of St.Anne's Feast are awesome. I will be making my first trip there on the 26th July 2008.

God Bless