A SETTEFRATI , UN TEMPO .....
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SERMONS DURING LENT
In Settefrati, during the evenings of Holy Week, the Passionist Fathers used to come to give the sermons for the occasion and attracted many faithful to the church.
With us was a Missionary Father, dressed in black with a big cross on his chest and long beard, used to come to us. For that occasion the church was full of people: men, women, young and old.
It was cold inside the church and the grandmothers came with shawls that covered their head and their shoulders. Wealthy men wore long circular shaped cloaks with fur collars, while the others simply had on woolen sweaters that were all patched up. It did not matter if it was new or old: the important thing was to be protected from the cold and attend the services.
The Father who was to give the sermon would step up on the pulpit and look out at the faithful; then he would wait a few moments and then with large sweeping gestures, he would make the sign of the cross and with him, all the faithful would do the same.
A Lordís Prayer, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be while he was stroking his beard and then, in a booming voice, he would start the sermon.
He invited everybody to reflect on significances of the serious sins they had committed. He exhorted us to confess and to repent of all the evil we had done and of the sins we had committed that had sentenced Jesus to death on the cross. During his speech he described how the nails of the Cross had pierced the hands and the feet of Jesus.
The father exhorted us to observe the Precepts of the Church and to make penance if we did not want to be condemned to an eternal life of pain in the flames of hell. His thundering voice rumbled in the dark church. As he was talking, the older women would make the sign of the cross and would wrap their shawls tighter around themselves as if to ward off evil. The men pretended that they did not care, but from their eyes it was clear that he had frightened them as well.
And letís not even talk about what I and the other girls felt when envisioning ourselves burning in the fires of hell or nailing Jesus to the Cross.
I would search through my mind to find all the serious sins I had committed, such as stealing a pinch of sugar when my mother was not there and putting it on a piece of wet bread. Or maybe the jealousy I had felt when one of my friends had a dress that was nicer than mine. These were the serious sins against the Law of God that had to be confessed.
I knew that Penance would have consisted of at least 10 Lordís Prayers, 10 Hail Mary's and 10 Glory Be's that I had to say on my knees at the steps of the altar.
Now I cannot believe that the souls that were in the church had sinned so much.
(Not all the faithful would sit in front of the pulpit. The girls that came in late, after the sermon had started, would stop in the back of the church, next to the little side door which was not in the light, so that they did not disturb the service. I believe that there was also another reason to stay in the back, near that door in the darkness. After a little while, one or two of the girls would silently go out to meet with their boyfriends behind the church or behind the old tower. They really could care less about the Sermon from the Preaching Father or about the punishments of hell; they would come to the church to be in the throes of love. They knew exactly how long the sermon lasted and simply came back to the church just a little before the end. When they came back, the light of their eyes enlightened that safe shelter. But happiness did not last too long. Invariably, some woman with the desire to gossip would see the girls leaving the church and would tell their mothers. They knew very well why the girls left the church because they had done it themselves when they were young. The following night, those girls would sit in front of the pulpit, in the light.)
The rite with the sermon lasted until Holy Thursday. The last night was the culmination for the preacher. He had prepared an even better sermon than the previous nights it was the last opportunity he had to terrify the faithful and he would put his heart and soul as well as his deep resonant voice into that.
With a voice that boomed inside the church, he would go over the sermons of the previous nights.
Occasionally, he would take a long pause. He would take a look at all faithful, arching his eyebrows looking from side to side and stroking his beard; then he would extend his arm and with his finger he would point at everyone, shouting that all our sins caused the death of Jesus our Lord.
It was as if all the souls that were there each was solely responsible for each nail that had pierced the Body of Jesus.
The following day, the lines of the faithful for confession were long and two priests were necessary for confession. The Preacher had done his job.