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.