The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a festival as a “a special day or period, usually in memory of a religious event, with its own social activities, food, or ceremonies.” The parish festival we will hold beginning this coming Friday is not so much about remembering an event as a person, the patroness of our parish, St. Mary Star of the Sea, whose protection and patronage it is our honour and privilege to enjoy.
Her actual feast day is September 27th, but we are allowed to move our patronal feast to the nearest Sunday so that the whole parish can celebrate it. The festival this year is like a novena of celebrations, going from Friday 16th, the Feast of St. Ninian, to Sunday 25th, when we celebrate the closing Solemn Mass. I have put together a simple novena for the Festival which you will find at the back of the church and on the parish website.
If we consider the programme for the festival, it fits the dictionary definition.
First, there will be a number of religious ceremonies. These begin with the Children’s Mass on Friday 16th. There will then be a 7am early bird Mass especially for workers on Tuesday 20th, a Mass for the Sick on Thursday 22nd and the concluding Solemn Festival Mass on Sunday 25th at which we will hold a procession with the statue of St. Mary Star of the Sea, and crown both her and the child. One very special celebration of Mass during this year’s Festival will be on Sunday 18th at 10am when our very own parishioner, Sir James MacMillan, the renowned composer and conductor, will direct the music for the Mass, which will include some pieces of the Elizabethan composer William Byrd, the motet “Ave Maris Stella” composed by Sir James himself and other congregational pieces which are very familiar to us all. On the evening of Sunday 18th at 6pm, we will have our Songs of Praise with the nine most voted favourite hymns by Largs’ churches plus a tenth hymn chosen by St. Mary’s Primary children.
The second thing a festival has are social activities, and we will certainly have a number of those. There is the dinner-dance in the parish hall on Saturday 17th September for which all tickets are sold out. There is the evening concert for one hour in the church beginning at 7pm on Wednesday 21st to which all are invited free of charge. On Thursday 22nd, children from St. Mary’s will have an eco-litter-picking experience in the morning, with a snack in the hall afterwards. On Friday 23rd, the parish has paid for a bouncy castle at the school; that same evening, there is a family fun night in the hall at 6pm for children and parents of St. Mary’s school. On Saturday 24th, from 12 Noon to 5pm, there will be a Garden Fete in the church hall and grounds with eleven stalls, a treasure hunt for the children and the whisky and gin tasting for those who have pre-booked their slot.
The third thing a festival has is food, glorious food! First up is the hot buffet at the dinner-dance; then breakfast in the hall after the early bird Mass; then we have teas in the hall after the concert, the Mass for the sick and after the two Sunday Masses which fall within the novena of days.
All of these ceremonies and activities will give immense pleasure and joy to our Blessed Mother, not to mention to ourselves, So, I hope we will take part in these events in great numbers and with true gusto. When we honour Our Lady like this, not just with our souls but also with our voices, laughter and fun, She will not be outdone in generosity. If you look closely at the sculpted stone statue of St. Mary Star of the Sea by the façade of the church outside, you can see that her right arm is stretched downwards with her right hand fully open. Resting against that open palm of her hand is the back of the right hand of her Son, raised in a gesture of blessing to all who come here, and even to all who pass by. It’s as much as to say that her hand is permanently filled with the blessings which her Son desires to give to us.
Well, I firmly believe that our collective efforts to honour her and thank her for her love will be met with an outpouring of the blessings of Her Son which She holds in her hand. Those blessings will be for our whole parish, for each one of us and for all our loved ones, no matter how we are or where we find ourselves in our lives.
One last thought. See the Parish Festival as a victory celebration over Covid. It has sought to kill us, weaken us, separate us from each other and ruin the social fabric of our parish as well as of society itself. Our Festival is a round and definitive no to that, and an exultant and joyful yes to life together in ceremony, song, dance, fun and food. Covid the coward has been defeated by our defiance!
So, I encourage everyone to be roused and to take a generous and active part in the Festival, to bring a friend or two along. We do it in honour of the Mother and for the glory of the Son. And may both of them be with us now and always.