Potpourri and the Fourth Week in Sicily

These days I’ve been focused more on the cultural and traditional aspects, as this week is important for Catholics: Holy Week (Settimana Santa). Other than that, we’re striving to finalize our work for this week’s deadline: Grundtvig assistants, accreditation for the European Volunteering Service, SVP projects (Senior Volunteering Projects). But, I took a bit of a time to learn about the Easter holidays, religious rites and secular traditions.

In Sicily, Easter (Pasqua) is celebrated for two days, this year being quite early for them, on 31st of March and 1st of April, which is also called the Day of the Angel (Pasquetta or Giorno/Lunedi del Angelo). Good to know is that Catholic traditions are the same everywhere, with few exceptions in some regions, this not affecting the essence of the religious events. In all the regions in Sicily, there are various traditions, each having something specific that is worth knowing about. All of them are a mix of national and religious traditions, starting from the byzantine rites up until today. I will shortly present the traditions in Messina, even though I am not be able to attend any of them, because I will be in Calabria celebrating with my flat mates, Maria and Laura. So I can speak more about the Calabrian traditions. I’d like to mention that this presentation was also made thanks to Salvatore, from AUSER Association, and Maria, my colleague, who offered me detailed information (I don’t know Italian that well yet). Messina and Calabria are places that individualize certain aspects of the secular rite. I will talk about each day in part, starting with the Palm Day, presented in the previous article.

The Holy Week, preceded by 40 days of fasting, started with the Palm Sunday (Domenica delle Palme). In that morning I attended the service at Maria Dello Spirito Santo, a church where I received olive branches (as they don’t use willow branches) and palm leaves. Then, the priest went outside in front of the church to bless all the olive and palm branches that everyone held up, and kept a short speech about the significance of this day. After that, the priest, together with the parishioners, went walking on the street to another church called Santuario Parrochia S. Maria del Carmine, where the actual service took place for about an hour (differs very much comparing to ours), with another blessing over the branches and the final sermon of the priest and parishioners’ holy communion (Eucharist). The street procession symbolizes the triumphant entry of Christ in Jerusalem, being acclaimed by people holding up olive branches, and the symbolical remaking of Jesus’ glorious and dignified itinerary to death, by walking from a church to another.

            So, starting with Sunday the entire island commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ during the Holy Week. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday there are no significant religious events, but there are services and prayers for mercy (also called Rosario) taking place every morning and evening, according to each church.

            The main processions started on the Holy Thursday, when the Three Easter Days (Sacro Triduo Pascale) begun. The Holy Thursday is considered the Eucharistic day, for priesthood and charity.

            In the morning, in the Dome Cathedral (the most important in Messina) took place the celebration service for the Holy Communion and priesthood (Messa del Cresma) in the presence of the Archbishop and over 200 priests from the dioceses of Messina Province. This was one of the main manifests and was the moment when the priests renewed their sacred vows on their mission in front of God. The worship lasted for two hours, from 10:00 to 12:00, and had three parts, starting with an introductory part of forgiveness prayers, followed by Gifts, when the priests brought three big recipients of oil and distributed it to the other priests for their churches, together with bread and wine, which are also blessed. The wine  and the bread become Jesus’ blood and body. The Holy Communion was firstly received by the priests and then by all the Christians in the church.

            In that day, it was the Archbishop to keep the service, accompanied by an organ and a chorus, in the presence of hundreds of parishioners and priests. In the end, I also received the Holy Communion, because they don’t have it like us before we eat, but after an hour after we ate.

     During the evening, there was another important religious event called the Last Supper (Messa vespertina in Caena Domini), which celebrated the last dinner of the apostles and Jesus, and the moment when Jesus washes the feet of 12 apostles.

            I went actually in two churches. The service lasts for about half an hour and I had time for both. It usually starts at 18:00, when 12 parishioners are chosen and the priest washes their feet. In the first church, the priest washed the feet of 12 children; in the Dome Cathedral, there were 12 condemned persons, and in Basilica St. Antonio, there 12 persons with disabilities.

Starting with 22:00, the churches were opened up until midnight for the Community Adoration (Adorazione Communitaria), when the people came to pray. Then, all the churches closed and were re-opened on Good Friday at 15:00, when Jesus died.

On Good Friday, after the Commemoration of the Passion of Christ, there was a spectacular manifest called Processione de la Barette (Statues Procession), a traditional religious event dating back in 1610. The statues are made out of wood, paper and chalk and represent the Passion of Christ. In Messina, the statues were kept in the church of the New Oratory of Peace, and were displayed during the Good Friday, being worn by certain families who do this for generations. This procession stands for the Via Crucis (the Road of the Cross) and the stops made by Jesus; it was conducted by 11 drummers and members of the Holy Crucifix brotherhood. It is a day when people don’t consume meat and eat less than usual.

I attended the procession from Molochio village in Calabria, where it lasted for about 2 hours,  from 18:30 to 20:30. We walked on the streets, following the priests with lighted torches and making 14 stops. Unfortunately, I lost the pictures I took during the procession, so I attached some I found on the internet, one of the pictures being taked in Messina.

The processions were initially aimed for people who did not have access to the religious services that were kept in Latin. Through these public processions, people could go and pray in their language or dialect, and it was also a chance to socialize. In the past, during the processions there were sold toys, food or fireworks.

During the Holy Saturday there was the service for Ressurection (Veglia Pasquale), similar to ours, starting at 11 at night. I attended this service in Molochio village, where I also spent Easter. Here all started with the lit of fire in front of the church at 22:45. The priests list the fire in some kind of grill and the parishioners’ candles and then everyone went inside the church  were everyone read 7 passages and sang 7 psalms from the Old and New Testament. Meanwhile, all the lights were off. At midnight, all the lights were turned on, the bells sound started and everyone sang “O, Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” equivalent to “Christ is Risen” the one we sing in our churches. They also unveiled the statue of Jesus (until then it was covered with a white veil symbolizing the Jesus’death), and from then on it started the service for the Resurrection, which lasted until 1:30 at night.  The speech I heard mentioned the respect of the Catholics for the Orthodox and the importance of being united through religion and to bring back home to our families the joyful news about Jesus ‘resurrection.

The next day, on Easter Sunday, in Molochio the service was held twice from 9 (for the older people) and from 11. In Messina, on Easter Sunday in the morning there is the „Spampanati” fest representing the Union or the meeting of Virgin Mary with Jesus (Incontro della Madonna e di Gesu Risorto con il volo delle colombe). All over Messina, people have a statue of Virgin Mary and Jesus, and they meet in Dome Square, where pigeons fly out of the Virgin Mary’s clothing. Thereafter, families gather and quietly eat together without going out or having any noisy events.

The traditional dishes are lamb, painted Easter eggs, the traditional chocolate eggs, Colomba (some kind of sweet bread in the shape of a pigeon represting a traditional desert) and Sciusceddu (Easter recipe with meatballs, curd, eggs and parsley).

I myself had a really nice salad at my friends’ place, but they had lasagna, tiramisu and other delicious dishes with lamb that I only admired. But I had to taste Zguta ( bread baked with the whole eggs) and really yummy pies with ricotta (curd).

The seconf day of Easter (Pasquetta), it’s the picnic day, family and friends visits day and eating out. We spent this day together with our friends, Laura, Maria, Francesco, Silena and Agostino, in a really nice restaurant in the mountains, where we had a special menu with around 9 varied dishes for each person. Of course, I had just green salad and fruit salad, but the menu had other such as appetizer (antipasta), two kinds of pasta with mushrooms, meat with potatoes, other two kinds of meat, salad, potatoes, fruit salad and a marmalade tart. These are special holiday dishes that one cannot have usually, and we spent about three hours in order to taste all of them.

So that’s the story of the Easter Holidays I spent this year. In Sicily, the family is very important, everyone being close to each other. At my friends’ house they welcomed just as if I was at home and I felt extraordinary! Their place was just wonderful and it all felt like a dream!

I hope I managed to make you feel the emotions and joy during the Sicilian Easter Holidays, and that I correctly told you all the information (as far as I understood from the religious services and from my friends). All the pictures are mine, except those from the Good Friday at Barette procession, and I hope you like them…

Buona Pasqua! Gèsu e risorto!


Translated by Oana Zlatovici – Potpourri member studying in Sweden