During the time of the Catholic Lent in Mauritius, a 40-day period of penance is observed. There is an existing religious tradition but no longer practiced in other parts of the world namely the “XL Heures” (XL hours), which dates from 1873. 40 is a number that often appears in the Holy Scriptures and has great significance for Christians. The “XL Heures” dating from the 15th or 16th century in Europe, according to which the Blessed Sacrament (golden ostensory containing a host previously consecrated during a mass) is exposed during 40 hours in churches and chapels across the island. It’s a time when the Catholic devotees roam across the island to go and pray. What makes our island so special is that you may also find people of other religious beliefs joining in with keen interest and fervor.
The “XL Heures” is a must for many people who flock to churches throughout the day, and even in the evening for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. According to customs, some people place a candle there. Many believers in Mauritius make a pilgrimage to 14 churches (representing the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross of the Passion of Christ) during a whole day. For this occasion, the members of the same family or parish, rent a vehicle which takes them, as a group, from church to church across the country to adore the Blessed Sacrament. Children and adults, in all piety, hop in and off during the many stops at the 14 churches. It is therefore common during this period, especially on weekends, to come across large groups of devotees near churches in different parts of the island. Despite the constant comings and goings, the atmosphere in these places of worship is one of meditation and silence.
Generally speaking, the “XL Heures” last throughout Lent to end a week before, what Christians call, the Holy Week, the one preceding Easter, one of the most important and oldest Christian feast.. Sacred Paschal Triduum starts on Thursday evening of this particular week, followed by the Passion of Christ on Friday evening, ending with the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. During this week, most Catholics observe a vegetarian fast and attend several religious services held in their parish. In the homes, Easter preparations are on their way. The Easter Sunday menu is drawn up so that the whole family may gather around a nice meal, after Easter Sunday mass. It goes without saying that tasty Mauritian meals are top in mind. It’s a feast for the little ones when the egg hunt (which is still practiced nowadays) takes place. The very popular Easter picnics draw crowds to our beaches, when families enjoy time sharing scrumptious meals (as, it is important to note that during Lent period, many people observe special diets and avoid rich meals and alcoholic beverages)! As the Lenten season also announces the end of celebrations of all kinds, parties such as engagements, weddings, birthdays… can start all over again and be celebrated lavishly… Mauritian style!
Surprisingly, as for most festivities in Mauritius, Mauritians from all religious beliefs also join Christians in offering Easter eggs to their children. This is a clear proof that we, as a multi-cultural nation, can also join together in diversity and fraternity.