Thursday, 16 July 2009

I went to church to pray yesterday, and as I walked in, four people had just started praying the Rosary out loud in English. Why not, I thought? Even though I intended to spend 20 minutes in silence, the Lord may have wanted me to get to know His mother better, something we ex-protestants are always in need of...
It was very special. This unplanned-for Rosary praying reminded me of Maundy Thursday in Valletta this April. The Maltese have a tradition of visiting seven churches on Thursday night or Friday morning during the Holy Week. The Body of Christ is carried to an Altar of Repose that is usually decorated with flowers and statues and candles. After the Mass, the faithful would go to make seven visits to any of the Altars of Repose, spending any time from a couple of minutes to a quarter of an hour or longer before our Lord.
In Valletta, where I stayed, the number of churches far exceeds seven, so we never had to go anywhere far for the visits - which I thought were a good tradition to imitate. I wasn't prepared for the power of the moment, though.
The first church I entered seemed incredibly noisy. I am used to adoration, but I am also used to silence in church. This place seemed to buzz like a beehive. What an unusually talkative population we've got here! I admit thinking. Then, when my eyes and ears got used to the sounds and symbols around, I noticed a pattern in the noise. It sounded like prayer.
Oh but of course! The people were not chatting leisurely, they were praying the Rosary. Aloud. Two middle-aged British gentlemen behind me prayed a decade in English together and left for another altar. A family with a pram squeezed inside. Some were kneeling, some were standing, and reciting a decade, usually in pairs, husband and wife, mother and daughter, taking turns to say the Hail Mary, then perhaps linger awhile and leave to give space to the newcomers.
The Republic street was surreal that night. Filled with tourists by day and completely empty by night it looked like a scene from a typical pigrimage site that Thursday. Men, women and children with rosaries in their hands, candles on the ground, the buzz from the open overpacked twenty-something churches.
We took turns to pray the last decade in St.Dominic's just across the street from our house. Feeling sad that it was only seven visits, and not twenty-seven, I contemplated the two angels placed in fromt of the altar. One was holding a cluster of grapes and some wheat while the other was holding a cup. It was a beautiful thought that in his omniscience Jesus, the Incanate Word, may have drawn strength from our prayers during that hour at Gethemane that began His sorrowul passion...

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