Where have the novena songs gone?
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - March 8, 2019 - 12:00am

If you are in Cebu in the Philippines, today, Friday, is novena day at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in honor of the Holy Child, Senor Santo Niño. But unless you are of a certain age, or a witness to a particular experience, you would probably think the novenas of today are what they ought to be and find no cause to raise an eyebrow, much less a concern.

 

But I belong to a generation that grew up in the ‘60s. And for the whole of that decade, I was blessed to go through a life-defining experience as a student of the Colegio del Santo Niño, whose then-mostly-Spanish priest-administrators also ran the affairs of the church.

The novenas in those times were celebrated separately from the Masses. The prayers and songs were said and sung alternately. Now, the novenas have been incorporated into the Masses. And because the Masses are scheduled every hour and a half, the songs, but for a truncated one, have all been eliminated.

I truly miss those songs, most of which were in Latin, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. Gone is the opening hymn “O Salutaris Est Hostia.” Gone, too, is that other beautiful Latin song “Tantum Ergo.” So, too, are the English hymns “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” and “O Sacrament Most Holy.”

These songs can now only be found in the novena booklets that continue to be sold in their original format. But to follow the format and still be able to sing the old songs, you have to do your novena by yourself, probably in your own home. Because the novena as printed is no longer the novena that has been incorporated into the Mass.

Not only do I miss the novena songs, which helped to make the novena itself so beautiful and meaningful (as students, we heard the novena every 11 a.m. on Fridays), but I also miss the solemnity and earnestness with which the prayers themselves were said.

Now, because the novenas have been incorporated into the Masses that are held every hour and a half, the solemnity and earnestness of the prayers have inadvertently fallen victim to the need to keep time and stick to schedule. The result? The prayers are said in a rushed, mechanical, and impersonal way. Not what I imagine a devotional prayer to be.

And this saddens me because I have a whole decade's worth of actual participation and experience in how the devotional novena to the Santo Niño should be, compared with present practice. It is painful to think how the Santo Niño, from whom everything good about the Cebuano faith largely sprung, is reduced in such a manner when people now gather in His Name.

SENOR SANTO NIñO
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