Holy Week in the Philippines : Then and Now

“Semana Santa” or Holy Week has become a part of Filipino culture since the First Holy Mass celebrated on Limasawa Island on March 31, 1521.


Visita Iglesia

This religious event taught by the Augustinian friars brought by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan under Spanish flag was widely practiced by the converts in Luzon, Visayas and later in Mindanao in the 400-year colonization of the archipelago by Mother Spain.

In early days, Christianized Filipinos were indoctrinated in their respective parishes that the observance of Holy Week highlighted the passion and death of the Son of God (Jesus Christ) in the hands of the Jewish priests and their followers now more or less 2,0l0 years ago.

When the Church observes Ash Wednesday by mid-March, that is the signal now of the coming of Holy Week. After Palm Sunday, a commemoration of the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are followed by Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, three days away before Lent will be over by a jubilant feast of Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, is the most somber in the Holy Week. People are asked to do some reflections and repentance of their varied lapses and sins on Earth.

But, alas, the practice of Holy Week in Mindanao has not been as fervent in Cebu and other places in Luzon.

Back in my hometown in Maribojoc, Bohol in the late l950s, our parish observed vividly the humility of Jesus Christ in the “pabasa” or washing of the feet ritual, usually involving community leaders, and “Siete Palabras” or “Seven Last Words,” the penultimate of which is allocated to the parish priest.

In lieu of Masses after that, the parishioners were enjoined to participate in the group prayer before stations of the Cross usually within the church hall.

In some neighborhoods, old folk, especially the conservative old women, would also say novenas and sing psalms on the sufferings of the Son of God from the court of Pontius Pilate to the way to the Cross at Golgotha.

As the years rolled by, Holy Week, by and large, deteriorated somehow in intensity and pageantry, including among others self-flagellants who whipped their bodies, Cross-bearers and those who risked being nailed on makeshift Crosses as greatly encouraged in Pampanga for the sake of tourism value.

Gone were the days when the religiousity of the Lent tradition was vicarial and contagious.

What replaces them are non-religious activities in place of “Visita Iglesia,” “Way of the Cross,” abstinence and fasting and religious retreat.

While the Diocese of Davao maybe leading some “Way of the Cross” and staging of “Seven Last Words” of the Lord from midday to 3 p.m. on Good Friday, they are shadowed by mundane weaknesses of many Southeastern Mindanao faithful who prefer to go to beaches, mountain resorts and other places.

And the greatest display of indifference to the somberness of Holy Week 2010 in this part of the archipelago is the horde of trekkers to the country’s highest peak, Mount Apo, in the common border of North Cotabato, Davao del Sur and this city.

Even some candidates for the May 10 elections have contributed to the muddling of Holy Week by failing to hold a ceasefire to their sorties in this supposedly sacred moment. (PNA Features)

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