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Mahal na Araw - Philippine Traditions

by Ann Tatoy

The Philippines is a nation that greatly values religious traditions, and one of the most important Catholic festivals in the country is the Holy Week or Mahal na Araw. It is a week long period in which several practices are done in different parts of the country in remembrance of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

I grew up in Malibay, a barangay in Pasay City. Here in this small community, they celebrate Mahal na Araw in total solemnity and many rituals. I still remember how people here observe this long week religious festival.

The celebration begins on the morning of Palm Sunday where people go to church and bring palms to be blessed by the priest. These blessed palms, believed to ward off evil (according to the elders) will then be placed on the windows or doors of the houses. Then on the evening of Palm Sunday, people rush to the plaza to watch the Senakulo, a play about Christ's life and passion. Many families during Holy Week hold a Pabasa (a chanting of the Pasyon or the narrative text about the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus) in their houses. Families who host the pabasa prepare food for anybody who would come to sing the Pasyon.

In our family, we usually hold Pabasa on Holy Monday until Tuesday. It was a 24-hour ritual with no rest in between. As a child, I enjoyed listening to the different melodies of the Pasyon. Sometimes, it would sound somber, sometimes joyful, sometimes monotone. During Holy Wednesday, there is a Kumpisalang Bayan in the Church or mass confession of Catholics. On Maundy Thursday, people in the church are very busy preparing for the Mass commemorating the Last Supper.

This is my busiest day during Holy Week because our choir (where I sing) is in charge of singing during the mass. Although it starts in the afternoon (around 4 p.m.), we go to the church as early as 7 am to practice not just the songs but also to prepare for the other rituals such as the reenactment of the Washing of the Feet. After the Mass, groups of people, usually barkadas, families, organizations will start their Visita Iglesia (Visiting several churches) and perform the Stations of the Cross (a prayer ritual).

In the morning of Good Friday, the streets of Malibay would become crowded and busy as people including foreigners, gather to watch the Penitensya or self-flagellation. Men walk down the streets without shirt, whipping their own backs with bamboo sticks till blood is drawn and flesh is torn. They do this as an expression of penance. A lot of people especially the priests do not favor this act, but it is still being practiced here because it is part of our culture.

At 12:00 noon, we go to the church to listen and reflect on the Seven Last Words. This will end at 3 pm in the afternoon, the time of death of Christ and will be followed by the Veneration of the Cross where people actually kiss the Cross. Good Friday ends with a procession. Black Saturday is usually quiet. The activity starts in the evening, where people participate in the Easter Vigil Mass. It starts at around 9 p.m. and ends at 12 midnight. At the beginning of the Mass, all lights are turned off. People are just holding candles. It is during this time that the priest blesses the paschal candle and the water.

Unlike the usual mass, there are many scripture readings and psalms being sung during the Vigil. And when it comes to the part of the Gloria, all the lights will be turned on and people will sing a joyous song chanting the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. At 4 am, there is a Salubong. This is done in a procession where the men and women are separated and coming from different directions. But they eventually meet in front of the church. There are "angels" (little girls) who remove the lambong (veil of mourning) of the Blessed Mother shortly after processions, signifying the resurrection of Jesus. After this, the parishioners will gather to eat lugaw, pandesal and other foods prepared by the Church's staff. It is like a fiesta. Everyone seems very happy and renewed. Until now, despite the many developments in this barangay called Malibay, these traditions and rituals are still being practiced and observed.

I left Malibay when I got married. And during Holy Week, I can't help but miss this place.

Photo credits:
Holy Week Lenten Pabasa in GenSan - GenSan News Online Mag
Video credit:
cardonainaction of youtube
Thinking where the book pabasa come from? Read it here.

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