The life of every Catholic Goan revolved around the Roman Catholic religion and the Holy Mass. Everybody went to church on Sunday – a ritual that they felt would keep them in good standing with The Almighty. But among them were a few religious zealots who went a step further; they attended Mass daily, come hell or high water, which in Goa meant the dry ‘hot season’ and the wet monsoons.
I, too, went to the chapel every morning, but it was only during the school holidays when I’d serve Mass as an altar boy. Back in those days, there was a certain amount of prestige in being an altar boy because Mass was said in Latin, and any kid who could memorize and recite all those prayers in Latin was rated above average.
Most priests said Mass at a normal pace, but there were a few who couldn’t wait to get it over with. One such priest was Pde. Belarmine who was a man of means and a retired teacher of religion at Mater Dei School. He loved his ‘feni’, and he made full use of the wine at Mass. I often wondered if his mumbling and bumbling at Mass was the effect of his indulgence in the ‘unholy spirit’ or his anxiety to get home in a hurry for more of the

image001Another oddball priest was Padre Paul, the chaplain of St. Anne’s Chapel in Murdavaddi. He was an eccentric who lived in the only house on the hill separating Pilerne and Saligao and next to the Saligao Seminary building that was abandoned halfway during its construction. I was told that he was the construction supervisor when work was stopped, and he had vowed not to move from that site until the Seminary was up and running. He was tough, impatient, and short-tempered, and these characteristics manifested themselves in his speedy masses and short sermons.

I served his mass only once, when he substituted for our regular chaplain. And I had to really hustle. But what was memorable was his reaction to my grand aunt’s confession that he heard before Mass.

Now, chapels did not have the conventional cubicles as confessionals, but just a chair at one end of the communion railing with a 2’ X 2’ slatted screen on the railing separating the seated priest from the kneeling penitent. And it’s here that my grand aunt Ann Marie, more popularly known by the nickname bokdi (female goat), knelt to make her daily confession. Since Ann Marie was a short and overweight woman in her seventies who painfully shuffled along with the aid of a cane, I often wondered what sins she could have committed to warrant a confession every day. Anyway, no sooner had she gone through the daily recitation of her sins, than Padre Paul shot off his chair, pointed towards the main door and hollered in Konkani: “Is THIS what you came to confess? Vasimbora (Get lost).” The old woman was so humiliated that she just cast down her head and meekly limped back to her pew. However, the next morning she was back at the confessional happy to see the return of the regular chaplain. But something tells me that from then on she had some novel sins up her sleeve just in case Padre Paul ever returned to the chapel.

A few months later, I had an embarrassing experience myself when an old priest from another village had to sub for the chaplain. He was of my dad’s generation – a period in time when it was the custom to have kids gather around the chaplain before mass for catechism. Well, this priest got about five of us youngsters to stand around him in the nave while he sat on a raised platform in a carved, high-backed, armchair from which priests would deliver the esteçao (homily) on Sundays. The pulpit was used only on feast days and other solemn occasions to deliver the fiery sermão (sermon).

Anyway, the old priest started by asking us to make the sign of the cross. The other boys crossed themselves in the Goan traditional way in which they used the thumb to make a sign of the cross on their forehead, followed by a similar sign on their lips and then one on the chest before crossing themselves again as English-speaking Catholics would do. Well, when it was my turn and I crossed myself just once “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”, the old priest thought that I was playing the fool. He scowled and exclaimed in Konkani “Did your mother not teach you how to pray?!” Stunned, I began to mumble an explanation when the sacristan mercifully interrupted me to signal the priest to get ready for Mass. As he strode away towards the sacristy, I lowered my head in shame, only to see through the corner of my eye my teacher, Miss Mabel, suppressing a chuckle as she looked on with amusement.

Attending mass was an integral part of village custom, yet it was the only one that did not subscribe to Goa’s laid back susegad ambience. Goans could be expected to be late at baptisms, weddings, funerals, soccer games, parties, dances, or just about any other event, … but NEVER at Mass

As kids, we believed that if we were late for mass, not only would there be hell to pay, figuratively speaking, when we got home… but spiritually, too, in the netherworld.