The season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday , holds a special significance to each Catholic, particularly to a Goan. The 40 days of the Lent represent the days Jesus spent within the wilderness, enduring the temptations of Satan and preparing to start out his ministry.
In Konkani, Goans use the term ‘Korazm’, which is derived from the Portuguese word ‘Quaresma’, which simply means 40 – evidently signifying the 40 days imitation of Christ’s sojourn in the desert.
Christian are called to prepare for this time through prayers, reflection, penance and charitable work during the Lent season. The important part of Lent is that the ‘Santos Passos’, which is observed traditionally in Goa, more particularly in villages.
Santos Passos, which suggests “Holy Steps”, could also be a ‘depiction of the ordeal’ and ‘contemplation on the sufferings of Jesus’ as he journeyed to mount Calvary where he was crucified.
According to Fr Francisco de Souza, who is that the chronicler of the Society of Jesus, says that the origin of Santos Passos is attributed to Fr Gasper Barzeo, who was a Dutch Jesuit priest within the Jesuit College of St Paul in Old Goa back within the 15th century. He made use of this ‘theatrical spectacle’ to strengthen the devotion among the faithful.
Fr Barzeo instituted the procession of ‘flagellants’ (public flogging) every Friday to stay up this fervor. He would preach on the words of the Psalmist: “multa flagella peccatoris”, which suggests that tons of are the scourges of the sinner, followed by a period of silence wherein the faithful can reflect on their past life.
He would then represent another half hour on some passage from the eagerness of Christ. This was followed by the display of the Cross to the people, who successively would cry and scourge themselves.
From then on, sermons, representations and processions became a practice during the Lenten season. At the top of the Lenten weekly programme, some scene from the eagerness was displayed on a stage within the church, followed by a procession.
Initially, some religious orders in Old Goa raised objections against this practice in Lent. But later, seeing the ‘wisdom’ of the custom, they, also because the parish churches, adopted it.
These pious tableaus portraying the lord’s suffering were accompanied by the singing of peculiar Lenten songs, which took on a special form, known as ‘mote’. It is interesting to note that Fr Gasper Barzeo was a close assistant of St. Francis Xavier. Hence, one cannot forget the contribution of our beloved Gõycho Saib within the Santos Passos and thus the genesis of the Goan ‘Motet’.
The rendering of those somber and awe-inspiring chants was inter spaced with reflection on Christian life and morals within the light of the scriptures, delivered by a priest. A young female of the community was trained by the village choir master to sing the hymn of Veronica standing on a height and while doing so she would enroll an imprint of His face, to enact the scene of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus on his because of Calvary. Here, the priest would preach a homily on the suffering of Jesus .
The tableaus are then taken to the Church and kept for public veneration.
Earlier, the Santos Passos was persisted every Sunday of Lent altogether churches of Goa, but now, most churches have it on one particular day during Lent, leaving only a couple of churches to follow the tradition. These are arranged in such how that the faithful can participate in additional than one Santos Passos, if their devotion prompts them.
On the day of Santos Passos, the Irmãos or Confrades, that is, the members of the Confrarias, wear Opa Mursa, a red and a white cape, carry on their shoulders along the designated route, the life-sized image of Jesus clothed in purple vestments, with an enormous wooden cross on His shoulders.
On the way, they might make three halts, representing the three falls Jesus had on the thanks to mount Calvary. During the past, at every halt, they would play or sing motetes (hymns related to the Passion of Jesus). As the procession moves back to the Church, another tableau of Our Lady, dressed up in a mantle of blue joins the procession and together they are taken to the Church.
Over the years, attendance for the Santos Passos has greatly reduced and therefore the primary reason for it might be the opposite modes of Lenten prayers, like the Lenten Tiatrs, written and performed mostly by priests during the Lenten season on the stage.