By Br Anush P D’Cunha
Sep 8: As the feast of the Nativity of Mother Mary is celebrated on September 8, I am reminded of a beautiful Konkani hymn, 'Sokkodd Sangata Melleam, Sokkodlagimsoriam, Amchetalleiekkoriam, Moriekhogollsiam'. This traditional hymn reminds all to come together as a family, bring together all that they have and sing in one chorus – praise the Mother of our Saviour. This feast is dearly known as Monthi Fest. The nine days of novena prayers in honour of this feast, however, mark the festive mood in all the people of the coastal belt of Karnataka. It is so impressive to see children carrying flowers arranged on a plate or a tray to offer to Mother Mary.
Monthi Fest has religious symbolism. Anna, the mother of Mary was barren till she was very old. The birth of Mary is thus considered to be a feast of the human journey from barrenness to first fruit. This rationale is vividly expressed by celebrating the feast as the New Corn festival.
Traditionally, on Monthi Fest day the mature branches of paddy corn on stalk are brought to the church. They are blessed and offered to the congregation.The blessed stalk of new corn is taken home.The de-husked corn is powdered and mixed with milk or a special dish made out of coconut milk; it could be even payasam. It is taken with a great sense of reverence. Seven to nine varieties of vegetables are cooked for the festive meal.
This traditional way of celebrating the feast is, however, cannot be followed this year. The Liturgical Commission of Mangalore diocese, keeping in mind this helpless pandemic situation, issued a set of guidelines to follow strictly, such as physical and social distance. The procession is called off, offering flowers too has to be done with extra care and so on. In the family circles, the external celebrations are expected to be at a lower tone. Family Novena prayers are circulated to maintain the spiritual atmosphere of the feast. I am sure this year there will be less variety in dishes to sympathize with those in any way affected by the pandemic. Will this be a new tradition in this new normal?
What is the feast of the nativity of Mary mean for us during this critical situation?
We have been witnessing around us a lot of uncertainties. Plans and projects have turned topsy-turvy. Millions have lost their job, migrants are left on the streets and the list of helpless situations can go on. At this critical time, we turn to our heavenly mother who is an icon of hope.
An icon is a sacred image, which is a medium that allows us to be in contact with a holy person. The holy person gazes on us through the icon; we reach up towards the holy person through the icon. Mary was born into a culture of hope, into the groups of the poor of the Lord, such as her cousins, Elizabeth and Zechariah and the elderly prophets Simeon and Anna in the Temple. I want to speak of Mary as an icon of hope. Mary is a source of hope. The beautiful prayer is worth recalling, “Hail Holy Queen. Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.” We look to Mary’s life and mission to grasp the meaning of hope; we look to her in glory as our Mother, our Sister, our Friend, and our Guide to be led deeper into the experience of hope. At the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), Mary stood as an icon of hope. She interceded for the family to maintain the dignity and honour of the family. At this time of trial, we too need to turn to Mother Mary that one day our suffering is turned to joy; and feasting might return.
Pope Francis’ prayer to our heavenly Mother during this pandemic:
O Mary, you shine continuously on our journey as a sign
of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross you participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that you will provide, so that,
as you did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform ourselves to the Father’s will
and to do what Jesus tells us:
He who took our sufferings upon Himself,
and bore our sorrows to bring us,
through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection.
We seek refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our pleas – we who are put to the test
– and deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
May this prayer be ours during this difficult time. May Mary our Mother intercede for all those who are suffering, console the families who have lost their near and dear ones and all those who are affected in any way by this pandemic. Let us be in hope that this too shall pass and all will be well.
Br Anush P D’Cunha SJ is studying Theology at Jnana-DeepaVidyapeeth, Pune. He is now residing in Jnanajyothi, Karnataka Regional Theological Extension Center, Bengaluru.