Holy Week in the Philippines is celebrated with religious fervor. Here is an excerpt from “The Iron Butterfly”.
During Cuaresma (Holy Week), from Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) to Pasko ng Pagkabuhay (Easter Sunday), Catholic rites in the Philippines were infused with special fervor. It was a time for street pageantry and spiritual cleansing with processions, flagellantes, and passion plays. On Palm Sunday, the devouts brought palm branches to church to be blessed as symbols of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In rural areas, the palms might be dried and ground as a medicinal ingredient. Ceremonies reenacting the washing of the feet of the apostles were held in churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday was a very solemn day. It was also marked by a vigil and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In churches, priests expounded on Christ’s seven last words spoken on the cross. During Lent, tradition calls for either the reading or singing of the Passion, a book of verses from the creation of man all through Christ’s resurrection, either by an individual or a group as a devotional prayer.
Easter Sunday marked the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the purple cloth of mourning was removed from the religious images. Church bells pealed and alleluias were sung. The salubong (meeting) took place. The Easter celebration started at dawn around five o’clock with a procession heralding the resurrection of Christ and his reunion with his mother, Mary. After the mass at dawn, twin processions left the church; one led by statue of Mary, the Sorrowful Mother followed by women and the other led by Resurrected Christ followed by men. The two processions went in opposite direction around the town plaza and then met in front of the church on the way back.
As choruses were sung, the statues “met”, meaning placed side by side beneath an arch adorned with flowers in front of the church. A little girl dressed as an angel, with wings and a halo, will remove Mary’s black veil with a long handled hook. Its removal was connected with superstitions about the harvest (e.g. a smooth unveiling meant a good harvest, a fallen veil drought). It put so much pressure on the little girl who was doing the honor.
When Adelaide was little, she was selected to take part in the Easter early morning ritual when the Blessed Virgin Mary met the resurrected Christ in a procession that went around the block next to the church. Both the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus were covered with a black cloth which the young girls would unveil. The four young girls would climb an elevated platform. Adelaide and her counterpart each held the pole with a hook and the other two girls held a basket of flowers. Adelaide was to take the black veil covering the image of the Blessed Virgin while on the other side of the walkway the other girl would take the black cloth covering Jesus. After the unveiling, they sang Hosanna, a hymn of praise and adoration and sprinkled petals of fragrant flowers to the crowd as people followed the procession back to church.
Easter was also marked by many other customs related to growth and renewal: the sick were lifted from their beds to receive new vigor; the short jumped and stretched to gain height; parents tossed young children in the air, believing they will thrive; plants were shaken so they will grow well. The fast of Lent ended with a lavish Easter feast.
Until next time. Stop and smell the roses.