SOUTH AFRICA, Tapiwanashe Manhombo •
When my dear sister Evadne told me to save the date for the celebration of the feast of the Assumption in Lansdowne, I hadn’t put much thought into it. In my mind, this was going to be another one of those great days where we get to gush about Mother Mary – it would be beautiful but ultimately another one of those routine celebrations. Or so I thought… —
I arrived almost an hour before the ceremony began. This gave me time to take in what was happening. There was a buzz of activity all around me: liturgical dancers were practising, microphones were being checked, the band was up in the choir loft, rehearsing. The excitement was almost palpable, and for the first time it hit me – this was going to be no ordinary Marian feast day.
Prayer and Diversity in the Church
Just before the celebrations started, we recited a decade of the rosary, meditating on – you guessed it – the fourth Glorious mystery, Mary’s assumption into heaven. This was particularly fitting as the rosary is a central feature of Marian devotion. Each Hail Mary was preceded by a petition which reminds us that Mary, our mother, is always present and forever ready to intercede on our behalf before her Son, Jesus Christ.
The proceedings began with a regal procession made up of young persons carrying the flags – the South African flag, the papal flag and the Schoenstatt flag – different societies are always welcome to bring up their flags as well. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and the Knights of Da Gama carried a beautifully decorated statue of Our Lady and right at the end of the procession was Bishop Stephen Brislin, who would be giving an address later on.
We had two readings, one in Xhosa and one in Afrikaans. South Africa is made up of a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities, making it one of the most diverse countries in Africa. To have at least three of these different cultures represented at such a celebration testifies to the universality of the Catholic Church. After all, the word Catholic literally means universal.
Facing Our Challenges Head-On
Once we had heard from the Word of God, we watched and heard an interesting skit on the challenges facing the church today.
The first problem they talked about was the youth’s disinterest in Mass. This scene showed us that much of this disinterest stems from not fully understanding the miracle that happens at the altar each time. As parishioners, we need to inform ourselves about the importance of Mass and its significance in our lives. Priests and catechists could do more in helping young people understand the Mass better and they will be more inclined to pay attention to what is happening.
Another challenge raised was that of prayer in the family. For some Catholic families, it is practically impossible to go to Mass on Sunday. Work may get in the way, as was the case with the family in the skit. Another reason could be a chronic illness or some other issue which prevents one from going to mass. It is nevertheless important that the family members that can make it to Mass do so and pray for their family. We may not see the fruits of our prayers immediately, but we must trust that God always hears us and is working for our good. In addition, adults in the family must not shy away from questions raised by their children but must encourage them and in this way help them to understand and come to love their faith.
The abuse scandals in the church were also highlighted as someone expressed their disbelief that some ordained priests could even consider abusing children. This grotesque scandal has ravaged the church, making her lose credibility in the eyes of many disciples and would-be disciples. It can prove very difficult to keep the faith when the people we trust to lead us in our journey to Christ may be the same ones committing such atrocities. It is important to remember that this is not the first time the Church has been involved in terrible scandals. Throughout our history, we have battled the evils of the world that have eroded the very fabric of our church, trying to tear her apart from within. God has, in such times, always made sure that such actions were exposed and weeded out.
At the same time, saints have been raised up precisely in such times to lead us back to God. We must take courage and believe that Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18 is true and that no matter how hard the devil tries, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Finally, we presented all these challenges to our Patroness and asked her to change the water of all our sinfulness into the wine of new beginnings and new hope.
After the skit, Bishop Brislin gave his address. He touched on each problem presented in the skit. The bishop acknowledged these challenges and also pointed out that we need to be credible witnesses not just uttering a ‘bunch of words” as one skit participant said – that have no meaning to us. He urged us to persevere in the faith and to keep praying fervently for God to clean up His church and restore the credibility that has been tarnished by these scandals.
Soon after his address, the liturgical dancers performed a beautifully choreographed routine to the popular hymn, As I Kneel Before You. The flowing white dresses, blue veils and ribbons they wore swirled around in mesmerising fashion, while the dancers’ facial expressions were sincere and angelic. It looked to me as though I was witnessing a form of prayer I didn’t know existed. I imagine this is probably how the angels and saints dance in heaven as they bring our petitions to the Father with their flowing robes swirling like incense. We had Benediction thereafter and some quiet to reflect on the skit, the Bishop’s address and the dancing while giving thanks to Mary’s Son on the altar. The celebration was concluded with a vote of thanks from a member of the Schoenstatt family, and we filed out of the church to a groovy song from the band.
I’ve attended many celebrations for Mary’s feast days, all of them beautiful in their own right. However, this particular celebration really moved me. It was expertly organised, precise in its execution and spiritually rich in all of its content. Perhaps it’s because we faced the challenges of the church head-on, which is not something I experience every day in the church. Or maybe it was the dancers and their flawless routine that did it for me. Maybe it was the Bishop’s earnest address. Maybe the Blessed Mother used all this to gently nudge me closer to her Son. Either way, I sincerely hope this little account of mine draws you closer to God. May God bless His church. Amen.
Source: https://schoenstattsouthafrica.org.za – With due permissions