– Miguel Augusto (*)
The Novena of “Our Lord Bom Jesus dos Passos,” and the procession that follows, is much awaited by the local Catholic community. This devotion heralds the approach of the liturgical feast of Lent. The faithful prepared to immerse themselves in the Passion of the Lord in April, remembering and living more closely that dramatic moment, not only for those who follow Jesus but for Christ Himself. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord – God made man – alongside with His Nativity, opened in the history of humanity a new chapter. Such was and is its importance, for He is the Lord of time, space, and history.
Every year in the territory, the religious community of Macau begin preparations for the novena and procession of “Our Lord Bom Jesus dos Passos.” This year, moreover, the program includes a night with the living God (Eucharistic Adoration).
The novena will begin on February 28 (Thursday) in the church of St Augustine, next to the Seminary of St Joseph, relatively accessible to the faithful in general. This novena begins early in the morning, at 7:45 AM in Chinese, and later at 5:30 PM in the Portuguese language. In any case, everyone is invited to take part in the novena regardless of their nationality or language. The novena will be held every day at the same time in the church of St Augustine until March 8 (Friday). After the novena, we will have the “Procession of the Cross” scheduled for March 9 (Saturday) starting at 7:00 PM from St Augustine and heading for the Sé Cathedral Church. After the procession, there will be evening Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, beginning at 8:00 PM, in the church of the Sé Cathedral. The vigil will run all night until 7:00 AM the next morning, March 10 (Sunday). On this same day, the program of celebrations culminates with the “Procession of Our Lord Bom Jesus dos Passos,” beginning at the church of the Sé Cathedral at 4:00 PM to the church of St Augustine. The procession has been practiced for more than four centuries. Tradition says that it was introduced in Macau at the end of the sixteenth century by Augustinian friars who would have arrived here at that time.
The origin of novenas
The origin of the novena is a spiritual treasure of our Church. The Old Testament does not indicate any nine-day celebration among the Jewish people. On the other hand, in the New Testament in the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension of the Lord, Jesus tells His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, of which He said: “for John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). In the narrative of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we read further: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city, they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:12-14).
When the day of Pentecost came (fifty days after the Resurrection of the Lord), all were gathered together in the same place: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:1-4).
Perhaps this nine-day period of prayer of the first Christian community in communion with the holy Apostles, and in the presence of Mary Most Holy, is the basis for the novenas (not counting the day of the Lord’s Ascension). Many Christians saw in these nine days of prayer a pattern and developed devotions that consisted of nine days – or months – of prayer for a specific intention or for a particular saint. This number was thus seen divinely inspired and so the “novenas” – from the Latin word “novem” meaning “nine” – were seen as a perfect way to pray.
The Enchiridion of Indulgences remarks: “A partial indulgence is bestowed upon the faithful, who piously participate in the pious exercise of a public novena before the feast of Christmas or Pentecost or the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The “Novena of Pentecost” is called the mother of all novenas. It is identified as a liturgical novena, instituted through a Papal Decree inserted in the Encyclical Divinum Illud Munus, of Pope Leo XIII, promulgated on May 9, 1897.
The Processions in the Church’s Tradition
After the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine in the 4th century, public processions seem to have come into vogue soon.
The private manifestation of faith in the procession becomes public, and the streets become an extension of the church. The houses and the roads are decorated, and silence prevails in every corner. People even inside their homes participate in devotion and unite in prayer.
Each procession has its own particularities since each place has its traditions that have been incorporated into the Christian cultural heritage. However, most processions are the same, or at least very similar, and practically all follow a very marked pattern. The first element is the announcement of the procession, with someone leading the way, usually ringing a bell or a rattle, symbolising the passage from a profane place to a sacred place. Elsewhere, instruments such as drums mark the rhythm of the arrival of the procession in a solemn march.
To participate in a procession means a homage and public recognition to Jesus, to Our Lady or to the saints who are carried on the shoulders of the faithful.
In Holy Week, in addition to devotion, there is a penitential motive: penitents participate in the procession to redeem themselves from their sins and publicly show their repentance. The candles they carry show that they are walking towards the light that is Christ; and, being a public act of faith, is one of the most sublime external and public manifestations of fervour. Nothing is improvised and, although the images are the central axis of the cortege, it is the penitents – pilgrims in the faith – that are structuring the procession.
Our Lord Bom Jesus dos Passos, have mercy on us.