Friday, 10 June 2016

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

-Brian Mendonça

After many years I got the opportunity to go to the imposing seminary of the Society of Pilar, at Pilar. The occasion was the Priestly Ordinations 2016 of four deacons. The ordinations were conferred by Most Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas, sfx, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi in an open air service overlooking the hills. He was beaming with happiness, blessing the people, as the solemn entrance procession of about 100 priests made its way to the altar.  What struck everyone was his youth. He celebrated the Mass in Konkani. He was based at Ranchi yet he was supremely confident in his mai-bhas.

The opening hymn sung by the Pilar choir was the magnificent ‘Ecce Sacerdos Magnus’ which means ‘Behold a Great Priest.’ The motet sung in Latin was composed by the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese of Linz, Austria in 1885. Two years later the Society of Pilar was formed in Goa.

The full translation of the motet from Latin is: ‘Behold a great priest who in his days pleased God./ Therefore by an oath the Lord made him to increase among his people. / To him He gave the blessing of all nations, and confirmed His covenant upon his head. /Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.’

After the Mass we were all given a snack box by Mi Casa. Perched on a balustrade I tucked into the patties with my son. During the service he had been playing with his angry birds cards and making shapes with the colourful hymns docket. I was glad to see so many of the Pilar Fathers in their cassocks. Nowadays it is sometimes difficult to spot a priest in the market in Goa because the cassock is missing and so is the cross.

I had reviewed a book on the Founder of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier by Fr. Sergio Mascarenhas sfx. It was titled Leading Teams of Leaders: Fr. Bento Martins, S.F.X.: A Zealous Missionary. (2013) I noted it was ‘an important book to understand the history of the church in Goa, and more specifically the genesis and endurance of the Society of Pilar.’ The next year Fr. Sergio was called to the Lord.

At the time of offertory the aarti was performed. Flower arrangements from the mission at Nagar-Haveli were presented after the Mass to the priests on the altar. The rituals to indigenize Christianity took me back to to my earlier visit to Pilar, where an exhibition of paintings on biblical subjects was on view in 2007. I was inspired to write the poem below.


Christ in kaxti
Or in jeans
The somnolent smell
Of the caju tree
Warli paintings
The finding in the temple
Magdalene prostrates
Before the feet of Jesus
Batim to Pilar
For the early morning Mass
Filii tui India administri tibi salutis.*

(Pilar seminary, 2007)

*‘Your own sons India, will be the ministers of your salvation’ – Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) Poem included in A Peace of India: Poems in Transit  (2010) by Brian Mendonca. Pix courtesy

This article published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 29 May 2016.

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