Monday, July 16, 2012:
Towards an Evaluation of Festa San Ġorġ 2012
Every year, as the heat of the Maltese summer begins to leave its effect on all of us and the school-days are numbered, the spirit of many of us experiences a sort of top-up; I would even dare to say that our very raison d’être receives a new impulse and as it gets strengthened, it tends to instil joy in all those who happen to be around. This can only occur where there is what we in Victoria, Gozo and in Ħal Qormi, Malta have reasonably nicknamed demm Ġorġjan. It is definitely a rare type of blood which has not yet been subjected to analysis by the science of blood types!
Many would agree that July has established itself as the core-month of the summer season. With its very high temperatures grades and its name tracing itself to the architect of Rome’s glorious empire, July has now become summer’s most popular month. Considering that the preceding month overlaps into beautiful spring, and the month following it sometimes features the first hints of rain, the above argument is not likely to be contradicted. This makes the Feast of St George, the feast par excellence of the Gozitan festa season. There is no need here to quote the now quite renowned quotation by A. Tabone calling St George’s Feast “la festa più popolare del paese” since as the Maltese proverb goes, “reason is in no need of force”. This year’s festa was no exception. It has proved itself another worthy exhibition of the love of the Gozitans, and especially of the island’s town’s love towards him whom the Greeks refer to as Tropeoforos – a Greek word meaning “The Trophy-bearer”.
The external feast celebrations
A decent but objective evaluation of this year’s feast should not turn itself into a eulogy. And a eulogy it will certainly not prove to be, since all that glitters is not gold! There are aspects of the festa that are certainly not to be admired, nonetheless imitated. Considering that as the ancient dictum goes “nemo propheta in patria sua”, I will not hesitate to present what I believe to be a healthy criticism of this annual appointment celebrated with such enthusiasm in our town of Victoria. The leading out of the niche of the titular statue of St George is one activity which I believe leaves much to be desired. I was present as this unique expression of euphoria took place within the Basilica while the wooden statue of the martyr-saint was taken around the church while various hymns were sung. I noticed that the Kurunella lil San Ġorġ Martri that used to by recited at least up to five or six years ago by the parish priest himself together with the community after the titular statue finds itself in its proper place has not been said. The Tuesday evening activity focusing on the titular statue could easily be transformed into a spiritual moment through which the entire parish community – even those who are not physically present but who would be in touch through the parish radio station – focuses on the presence of God which should be the raison d’être of the feast and of all feasts celebrated in honour of our patron saints. The saints are what they are because of Jesus Christ, the “Holy One of God” par excellence; therefore it would be more timely to bring out the Blessed Sacrament of the Basilica at that very moment when the people are congregated in the church as the statue finds its place rather than wait for a specific time to introduce in a formal way a meeting directed to the youth of the parish. At this moment on Tuesday evening or rather Tuesday night, it is the entire parish community that should benefit of the presence of the adoration of the Eucharist rather than the youth from just one part of the wider parish community.
Later on at night, I witnessed to the march accompanying the statue of the youthful St George (Austin Camilleri, 1991) being paraded in the streets and being led to St Francis’ Square where at about midnight it was erected upon its high pedestal. Who would contradict me if I were to say that at particular moments in time before the final singing of the popular Ġorġi Tagħna hymn, I did witness what can be considered not just a spiritual anti-climax but a controtestimonianza as the Italians would call it! To lift high a statue representing him who is perhaps the greatest of the Church’s martyr-saints and at the same time sing songs containing rude, vulgar words directed to rival partisans is certainly not Christian behaviour! One may try to justify the unjustifiable, however as the English proverb goes “to err is human, to persist is diabolical”. I have to say that I do prefer the other proverb coined by Alexander Pope that says “To err is human; to forgive, divine”. On the other hand, to be fair to all, it is even less Christian or rather not Christian at all, to consider oneself a Christian and mimic the saint of God!
A glorious Triduum
I have no words for the three-Triduum homilies preached by the young but wise Fr Richard N. Farrugia, a priest who hails from Xaghra but whose family used to be my own family’s next-door-neighbour at Sir Paul Boffa Street in Victoria. There is no doubt that the demm Ġorġjan I mentioned earlier in this writing, does flow strongly in his veins. Adjectives are abundant in the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare but honestly enough, I do not know which ones to choose and which to omit as I attempt for a decent description. Undoubtedly the secret of their success was the Christocentric element which characterised them from beginning to end. A sense of meticulous preparation and in-depth study was what made them so sharp and appealing. Without abandoning the aspect of praise that is worthy of the martyrs-saints of God, Fr Richard managed to bring together the third-century context of the persecuted Christian Church and the clear message that St George is still radiating in an almost post-Christian society such as ours is fast becoming. He found time to present the context in which the young George was born and bred and even died as well as flowingly justifying the reason why such an early Christian saint is still speaking to us, urging us to be disciples of Christ in a fast-changing world. His reference to St Augustine’s explanation of the subtle distinction between the lion and the dragon during his second homily did express in the most solemn of manners the sharp-wittedness of our young preacher. I think it is a shame that from among the faces of many of our adolescents and youth who produced such merry-making in the streets and squares of Victoria during this third week of July, I could hardly number a handful at church during the delivery of these three panegyrics. I believe that we priests and people responsible for the organisation of such a grand festival in honour of “the Great Martyr” will have much to answer for if we do not invent a strategy through which we can attract our young people and convince them through the grace of God that their presence at church during this festive week of weeks is not a choice but rather a necessity. Who on earth would want prophet Amos’ words revealed by an angry Old Testament God, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me”, to be applied to our festive season?
The 40°C temperatures that have already characterised this summer 2012 should not only become part of our Maltese history but should also earn words of praise and appreciation for the fervent members of the Għaqda Armar Festa San Ġorġ of our town. Their sense of dedication and service is to be emulated. Without their constant work “behind the scenes” the Feast of St George celebrated in Victoria every third week of July would certainly not be what it is today. The unique festive atmosphere that reigns in our 125-year old city during the Festa of St George is something that goes beyond literary description and asks for the service of poetry. When art enters the service of religion, it is paradise on earth that we witness to! The Feast of St George in Victoria is the very epitome of this! A Magna Maxima… Very well-said!
A word of praise goes to Mr Mario Casha together with Mr Michael Formosa and Mr Francesco Pio Attard for their input in favour of the Programm Festa San Ġorġ 2012, the annual publication that so many of us take for granted but which definitely is the result of so much work, most of it “behind the scenes”. This publication is another feather in the cap of those who work on it since it provides not only timely information regarding the feast celebrated in that particular year but is also in a very informal manner “the proceedings of a historical year”. Dear editors, keep it up!
Mentioning publications, I cannot leave out the translation made by Francesco Pio Attard from Cornelia Mary Bilinsky’s book in English entitled The Saint Who Fought the Dragon with accompanying illustrations made by Theresa Brandon. The book was published by Klabb Kotba Maltin together with St George’s Basilica and must have been paid by benefactors as an unexpected text message that arrived on my mobile can clearly prove. Ideally, the book should have been sponsored by an interested entity! However, the book or booklet still makes for an interesting publication; it is beautifully presented with wording that can be understood even by our youngsters who every year fill the Basilica for the Novena preceding the festive third week of July! I’m not sure why the word “għarkupptejh” on page 4 is written in that way; it would have sent the late lover of the Maltese language Frank Mercieca into a fit! More than once he explained to me why the Maltese equivalent of “on his knees” should be written “fuq għarkobbtejh” since – he used to tell me – the word “irkobba” is derived from the verb “rikeb” with a ‘b’ rather than a ‘p’!
Vestis Honoris is the name of a sumptuous publication by the Għaqda Armar Festa San Ġorġ of Victoria. I have to say that I was quite shocked as soon as I put my eyes on the booklet’s title since it reminded it of the beautiful Marian litany that Saint George Preca wrote before the titular painting of the Immaculate Conception in the Cospicua Sanctuary and which is recited by the members of the Society of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM) every 7th, 17th and 27th of the month! As everybody knows, we all have first reactions! My first reaction was one of one of repugnance! But then, on second thoughts, I was perhaps more reasonable in my own thoughts! I thought to myself: perhaps the Latin scholar or connoisseur who advised in favour of this name was not familiar with the Society of Christian Doctrine at all! And then let’s say it, who has any monopoly on the usage of the ancient Latin language; the title of the publication does really fit the contents! All in all, it was wise to come out with such a publication! It is certainly prove itself of high historical value! Another ‘first’ from the first musical society of town to be listed in the long directory of firsts that the La Stella can boast of! I would have liked to see the presence of a spiritual director on the photo on the back-cover of the booklet! A bond between the Basilica and fast-growing Ghaqda Armar Festa San Ġorġ is indispensable! Any volunteers…?
The feature on Thursday night at Savina Square was inspiring! I liked the introduction and the way in which the author contextualised the history behind the old bond between the La Stella Band and the Feast of St George. This audio-visual presentation on Thursday before the third Sunday of July has now become part and parcel of the festa package! The old photos featuring the procession and the La Stella Band are little treasures in themselves! I found the constant use of the Maltese term imberkin a little irritating since I imagined myself witnesses to the coining of a new set of evangelical beatitudes! But with a pinch of salt, the meaning comes out clearly! The La Stella Band did go through a lot to establish itself as the main pushing force behind the Feast of St George! The crowd that gathered that Thursday at Pjazza Savina was something beyond description! The feature experiment has certainly been a success and is already being imitated by other feasts over the island.
I was so tired on Friday that I didn’t manage to watch the feature that was organised at Independence Square with reference to the newly restored plinth for the statue of San Ġorġ ta’ Barra. I will eventually look out for a copy in order to be able to watch it!
The Feast-Day and Procession
The climax of the feast is the feast-day itself, the day of the Solemnity. It was quite a hot day considering the lovely north-westerly breeze that we had on Friday and Saturday morning. But then, that is what makes for a successful feast! Mro Joseph Vella’s Mass in D continues to be a crowd-puller and no other Missa on the island can beat it! As to the Bishop’s homily which is quickly distancing itself from the traditional panegyric, it was more of a conference about the importance of the gift of life, which as the Church has always taught and will continue to teach, should be defended from its natural beginning to its natural end! The Bishop quoted half a dozen authors ranging from contemporary philosophers to Christian thinkers, the first among them being the renowned Scottish academic Alistair McIntyre. There is no doubt that since the Bishop continues to deliver the homily during the festive Masses of our titular feasts, he deems it more important to preach about such contemporary even if sometimes controversial issues rather than give the chance to local preachers to deliver a eulogy of praise in honour of the particular patron saint, thus continuing to attract criticism – sometimes of a vociferous nature – from our traditional congregations! I still believe that more and more members of our younger generation should make it a point to be present for this Mass – I have a terrible fear that within less than a decade our interior festivities in honour of St George will be suffering greatly from the absence of this section of our Christian community: our future lies with our young!
The procession in the evening is very popular; there is no doubt about that. Both the exit and the entrance of the statue in the Basilica are moments of high expectation as the huge crowds that fill the square at both moments show. One should however keep in mind how difficult it has becoming for our elderly canons to make it to end! Some of them are already opting out! A solution must be found urgently to such a reality! To put the point in question under the carpet would be next to folly! I don’t have a rapid solution but I suggest – though I know this will meet with strong opposition – that the clergy does not walk the entire, prescribed length! Otherwise I can see the day when the number of members of the clergy marching in the procession goes down to a dozen or less! Prophet of doom you call me! Still, eppur si muove!
This is by no means a scrupulous evaluation of the Feast of St George 2012. Many will frown at it; others will go out of the way to ignore it. There will also be those who will reserve to themselves the right to feel offended. I have left out certain items, I have not covered all aspects of the feast, I might have even forgotten to mention people or things who/that would sleep better tonight had I not left them out or mentioned them. Political correctness is not my strength! Throughout this writing, I have not tried to be consistent or systematic in any way. Perhaps it is not my style. And then, is there anything quite objective in this sinful world of ours (except the teaching of Mother Church of course!). “Try to be fair”, a child’s mother once shouted at me. “Is there anything fair upon this earth?”, was my brisk answer. So do take everything with a pinch of salt! “The world’s a stage and we the men and women merely players…”. Back to the conclusion!
The idea of the feast coming to an end with the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is in my opinion a very good one indeed! That’s why I think there should be Benediction while the entire congregation is still in church on Tuesday night immediately after the bringing out of the titular statue from its niche into the church! The moment preceding Benediction after the procession has entered the Basilica is intense! As everybody is still feeling excited, emotions are mixed! A long period of festivity is coming to an end! Strong moments of gladness come to their climax! The great martyr-saint present to us mere humans in the representation of a sculpted masterpiece seems to embrace us all as he holds us together with his heavenly gaze affirming the certitude of a life more true and real than the one that we now still experience. Who would want such a moment to flee our grasp! But then what is there in this world that does not pass. Another Feast of St George is submitted to the history books but the intense moments of joy will leave their mark upon our hearts! I just hope that this feast will have brought us a step nearer to Him for whom the martyrs lived and died. O Amicus Christi, as St Brigit of Sweden hailed you, may you transform us into better friends of Christ! Amen! Hallelujah!
Photos from Festa San Ġorġ 2012: Mario Casha, Toni Farrugia, Andrew Formosa, Can. Tonio Galea, Tony Galea.
Since the windows are never opened in the small church, the congregation is oppressed by the noise, the sweltering heat, the inadequate ventilation and the hard seats which are not compatible for a two-hour plus session.
I would listen to the Missa in D Major ad infinitum especially the "Posuisti super caput eius....."
Since the windows are never opened in the small church, the congregation is oppressed by the noise, the sweltering heat, the inadequate ventilation and the hard seats which are not compatible for a two-hour plus session. I would listen to the Missa in D Major ad infinitum especially the "Posuisti super caput eius....."
The Triduum sermons make up beautifully for the discrepancy of the Panygeric proper. With due respect to the Bishop, I prefer the old style where the Saint's virtues and feats are praised. I would want the orator to throw verbal roses and laurels at the feet of my hero saint. I guess I am too low brow to to strive mentally upwards where Mgr Grech wishes us to go. I am sorry, but I wish for the old style to be back.
Another thing , while I am still at it. Why is it that the bells are rung during the evening masses? I can hardly hear myself think. I have to strain to hear the priest; It cannot be me for I can almost hear the grass grow!!
And the vestments? Those are winterwear. Poor priests..... Surely some funds can be raised for the purchase of lightweight vestments
These are a few things I mention humbly in the hope that something can be done to improve things a little.
We thank Dorrie for her comments about this year's Feast. Readers must appreciate that we choose to upload such comments even if they do not always correspond to our official position. It is in our nature to be auto-critical, even if we are aware that this may not please everyone - a generation which does not know how to criticize itself is poor indeed! That's why we believe that self-critique is the way forward to excellence, as we have been achieving year after year in St George's Feast.