Holy Week in the Philippines is a significant religious observance for the Roman Catholic majority and most Protestant groups.
Beginning Maundy Thursday, businesses in the Philippines either shut down operations until Black Saturday or have later opening and earlier closing times. During this Holy Week, many local (free) television and radio stations sign-off (except radio stations owned by the Catholic church and pay-cable channels). Those that do operate truncate broadcasting hours feature religious programming, films, news coverage of religious ceremonies and deviates from regular programming.
Beginning on Palm Sunday, worshipers carry palm fronds to church to be blessed by the priest during Mass (liturgy). Many Filipinos bring them home after the Mass and place these on door lintels or windows, in the belief that the fronds can ward off evil spirits and avert lightning. In some places a procession is held towards the main church before the service, sometimes starting from an ermita/visita (chapel of ease), with the presiding priest riding on horseback. Other parishes would have the priest bless palms in a plaza fronting or near the church. In the provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan, Rizal and Laguna, a procession of the Passion of Christ is held in the evening of Holy Wednesday.
Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the Triduum, and represents the build-up of events for the week.
The first rite of the day is the Chrism Mass, in which parishioners join their parish priest for morning Mass in the cathedral, especially in the large dioceses and archdiocese. Many priests in the country consider this to be the day when they renew their sacerdotal vows. This Mass, over which presides the bishop/archbishop of a particular diocese, is when the Chrism, Oil of the Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick are blessed after the homily. Priests bring the oils to their respective parishes after the service and store these for future use.
The main observance of the day is the last Mass before Easter (commonly called the Mass of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper). This usually including a re-enactment of the Washing of the Feet of the Apostles, and is followed by the procession of the Blessed Sacrament before it is placed in the Altar of Repose. Throughout the day, the faithful observe the pious custom of “Visita Iglesia“, which usually involves going to seven or more churches to meditate on the Way of the Cross; by evening this includes a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the Altar of Repose.
Good Friday is a public holiday, commemorated with solemn street processions, the Way of the Cross, the commemoration of Jesus’ Seven Last Words and a traditional Passion play called the Senákulo, which in some places is a week-long affair. In some communities, the processions include devotees who self-flagellate and sometimes even have themselves nailed to crosses as expressions of penance, in fulfilment of a vow, or in thanksgiving for a prayer granted. The pabasa or marathon chanting of the Pasyon usually concludes on this day.
The ritual mourning and generally somber mood attached to this day gave rise to the Tagalog idiom “Mukhâ kang Biyernes Santo.” Literally translating to “You look like Good Friday,” it refers to a sad person’s demeanor resembling that of the suffering Christ. Several taboos are customarily observed on this day, such as the avoidance of excessive noisemaking and, in older times, bathing (except for health reasons). The prohibitions are usually effective after 3 PM and are done to mourn Christ, who is said to have died at that hour.
Easter morning is marked with joyous celebration, the first being the dawn ceremony called the Salubong that re-enacts the imagined reunion of Christ and his mother after the Resurrection. Statues of the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary are borne in two separate processions that meet at a designated area called a Galilea, usually in the plaza fronting the church. Some locales include statues any or all of The Three Marys (Mary of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Salome), Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist in the processions.
The Virgin Mary is veiled in black to express her bereavement. A girl dressed as an angel, positioned on a specially constructed high scaffold or suspended in mid-air, sings the Regina Coeli in Latin or in the vernacular, and then dramatically removes the black veil to signify the end of Mary’s grieving. This may also be done by other “angels” who pull off the veil, or tie it to balloons or doves and release these into the dawn sky. The Virgin is then called the Nuestra Señora de Alegria (“Our Lady of Joy”) and confetti and flower petals are showered on the statues. The moment is marked by pealing bells and fireworks, followed immediately by the Easter Mass.
Until next time!