The annual Novena procession invariably draws large crowds. File Photo

Father Paul Pang, CSSR

My memory of the Novena devotions stretches back to over 60 years when I was still a non-Catholic. They were conducted in a parlour in the Redemptorist House, with about a dozen people. As the number of devotees increased, the devotions were transferred to the tiny chapel adjacent to the priest’s residence.

And, the numbers still continued to grow and the chapel had to be demolished to make way for a larger one. Eventually, it became necessary to build the two side wings. Today, because the Church was declared a conservation project, we were not allowed to demolish it to make way for the new Church. So the right wing merged with the new Church.

What attracts the large crowd of people of different races and religions to the Novena devotions? Redemptorist Fr Juan Campos, who spent many years of his life in China, said: “It is not we who draw the crowds. It is Mother Mary.” Fr Kevin O’Shea, a visiting Redemptorist, said the people flock to the Novena because we all need a mother figure in our life.

When I was studying in Australia, the Redemptorists conducted a procession which was held in Jalan Besar Stadium. I like to think of Mother Mary as the “jalan besar” (highway) that leads us to Jesus. Many in their letters of petition had asked for material favours such as passing their exams, getting a job. But, these favours were also signs of her motherly loving care. Mother Mary, by answering our petition for material favours, leads us to love her and her son.

Mary is all powerful with God because she is his Mother. St Alphonsus Liguori said: “Mary has only to speak and her Son executes all.” (Glories of Mary p 156). And, he quotes an Abbot Godfridus: “that although Mary obtains favours by asking, yet she asks with a certain maternal authority, and therefore we ought to feel confident that she obtains all she desires and asks for us.” (Glories of Mary p 157)

With what compassion and desires she prays for us? St Alphonsus quotes the devout Blosius (a Benedictine abbot and spiritual writer in the 15th century): “Sooner would heaven and earth be destroyed than would Mary fail to assist anyone who asks for her help, provided he does so with a good intention and with confidence in her.” (Glories of Mary p 111)

Fr Paul Pang.

When we gaze at the Icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help, we see in her eyes a profound sadness. She is sad because her Son is grievously offended by our sins; she is sad because her Son is to make expiation for our sins by suffering and dying on the cross; she is sad because sinners refuse to repent and will end up in the fires of hell for all eternity.

St Alphonsus said: “Salvation is our only business in this world.” Obstinate sinners reject the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42). Our devotion to Mary is not just a lot of fanfare, not merely being lifted up by coming to an astonishingly beautiful Church like the new Novena Church. We must always bear in mind that Mary leads us to Jesus who died and rose again to bring us the one thing necessary, SALVATION.

Standing beneath the cross, Mary surrendered her maternal rights by giving us her son’s life for our salvation. Having given her son, she gained the human race as her children represented by John: “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26) and to John who represents us, Jesus said: “Behold, your mother.”
When Pope Pius IX gave the Icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists, he commissioned us: “Make Her Known”.

You can share in this mandate of the Pope to make her known. In the Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St Alphonsus prayed: “I love you, O most amiable Lady. For the love I bear you, I promise to serve you always, and to do all in my power to make others love you too.”

So, be loving children of Mary by bringing others to the Novena devotions on Saturday and to the procession on Sept 2. Bring especially those who are suffering, distressed, troubled who as yet do not know Mother Mary’s love for them.
Remember the consoling words of St Alphonsus, the Marian Doctor: “No true child of Mary can be lost.” 

Fr Pang, 82, is the first Singaporean Redemptorist priest.

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