When the Portuguese came to Goa, centuries ago, they also had their food, culture, dances, plants, dressing styles and more, in tow. It is they who introduced Christianity to Goa, and several customs connected with it. Many of these customs no longer exist, while others have undergone modifications with time.
The observance of the forty-day period of Lent, which precedes Easter, is one of the customs, which is followed in Goa to this day. In the past, the Lenten season was a solemn one, where the rules of the Catholic Church were strictly followed, including abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent, as well as fasting on certain days, which included Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The penitential season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. In Goa, the Santos Passos (enactment of the Holy Passion of Christ) is held in all the parishes and even some chapels, generally on a Sunday in Lent.
The first such enactment is held on Ash Wednesday at Our Lady of the Rosary Church (in Curca, Tiswadi), while the last one is held on the last Tuesday of Holy week, at the St Inez Church (in St Inez, Panjim).
During this enactment, a huge image of Christ, clothed in purple vestments, and carrying a huge wooden cross on His shoulders, is taken around a fixed route in a procession.
There are regular halts during this procession, which are called descansos. Generally, three descansos represent the three falls of Jesus on His way to Mt Calvary. These Descansos (meaning "rest") are also an opportunity for the confraternity members (who carry the tableau of Jesus with the cross) to take a short break.
Later, the tableau of Our Lady, mother of Christ, joins the procession, which then proceeds towards the open space (allro) at the church.
A girl, standing there sings the hymn Veronica, which focuses on Christ’s final moments at Golgotha. As she sings, she unfurls a picture of His face, re-enacting the moment when Veronica wiped the face of Jesus (who was on His way to Calvary), and an image of His face got imprinted on the cloth.
After she finishes singing, the priest delivers a sermon on the sufferings of Christ, following which, the tableaux are taken inside the church and kept for veneration.
PURPLE & PASSION PLAYS
On Passion Sunday (the fifth Sunday in Lent), the images in the church, especially that of the Crucifix, are covered with violet fabric. Some people follow this practice in their homes, too. Most Catholics also wear purple, black or other sombre coloured clothes when they attend church services from Palm Sunday till Easter day.
During Lent, passion plays are enacted in every parish. A curtain is put up near the main altar of the church, and every Sunday, the Passion of Christ is depicted on a stage behind this curtain. Every Sunday, a different scene is depicted.
The evening mass is the main service during Lent. Back in the day, the priest spoke Latin words during the sermons. At a given time, during the sermon, the curtain is opened.
Every Friday in Lent, people assemble in a church, or chapel, to participate in the Stations of the Cross in front of a portrait, and re-live the Passion of Christ.
This practice of Lenten pageants, or tableaux, accompanied by processions, is unique to Goa. The pageants (Santos Passos) were held for the first time by the Jesuits in the College of St Paul. The other orders ie the Augustinians, Franciscans and the Confraternity of Charity (Misericordia) as well as the parish churches adopted this Lenten practice from the Jesuits.
Attending these Lenten services is a duty mentioned in the constitution of all the confraternities in Goa.
Special customs are also followed on Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday (Nimanno Brestar meaning 'last Thursday', in Konkani), Good Friday (Nimanno Sunkrar meaning 'last Friday', in Konkani) and Holy Saturday (which will be featured in this space in the run up to Holy week).
These processions are held during Lent in every village in Goa. If you would like to witness, or participate, in one, you can contact the local church in any village for details of timings etc.