The period of Lent is that time of the year where soul-searching, piety, and religiosity are at their extremes where Christians and a time they are reminded of their mortality and the essence of embracing the belief that the extreme sacrifice of Jesus being nailed on the cross at Golgotha was to save mankind from eternal damnation to give an assurance of an eternity being spent with their Creator.
The Holy Week leading to the solemn remembrance of Christ journey to His death to fulfill a sublime mission on earth is a period of purification for many Christians who perform practices as a way of honoring the extreme sacrifice made on their behalf.
The Philippines’ Semana Santa – from Palm Sunday or Domingo de Ramos where worshippers carry palm fronds to church to be blessed by the priest to the triumphant Easter Sunday that commemorates Christ’s victory over death marks a series of events that add up to a feeling of spiritual rejuvenation.
In between two Sundays of the Holy Events are religious observances that culminate in the explosion of practices some of which are only peculiar to the Filipino traditions that were fused with practices from the Spanish rituals and assimilated over the years.
The Philippines becomes eerily quiet, on Tuesdays of the Holy Week with TV and radio stations going off the air. Pious Catholics cease eating meat, as a form of personal abstinence in honor of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross. They turn to fish instead and for the deeply religious, they fast to cleanse their bodies and prepare themselves for spiritual nourishment.
The traditional pabasa (the “reading” or chanting of verses about the suffering of Christ) starts on Sunday and ends on Maundy Thursday, which is the day when the washing of the feet is celebrated.
Good Friday marks the crucifixion and death of Christ. This is the day of the year that many streets are deserted and the faithful become one in remembering the supreme sacrifice of their Savior for their sake. In many parts of the Philippines, religious figures are carried out in processions in beautiful carrozas (carriages). The religious images and statues are veiled in black as a color of mourning for the death of Jesus.
The Semana Santa is a period where seeing blood has become an “expected spectacle” with the gory sight of Filipino penitents whipping themselves red as a form of atonement for sins committed and “ as a method of gaining favors from God”.
The reenactments remind of the torture and punishment inflicted on the body of Jesus Christ on the way to the Cross more than two thousand years ago to die for our sins.
This bloody spectacle of being nailed on the cross has become an attraction to foreign tourists who marvel at the penitents’ dedication to engage in the rituals. Tondo in the City of Manila has the distinction of having most of these flagellants with Pampanga and Nueva Ecija north of Luzon coming in close.
Good Friday, (Biyernes Santo) is also observed with solemn street processions, the Way of the Cross, the commemoration of Jesus’ Seven Last Words (“Siete Palabras”) and staging of the traditional Senakulo (a Passion play).
The marathon chanting of the epic narrative of Christ’s life, passion, death and resurrection in the Pabasa in many parts of the country also concludes on this day.
Pasko ng Pagkabuhay on Easter Sunday is a joyous celebration marked by a dawn commemoration of the “Salubong” or meeting that reenacts the “reunion of Christ and His Mother” after the Resurrection. In this ritual, the statues of the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried by the faithful in two separate processions and meet at a designated area (called Galilea) in the plaza fronting the church. The moment is marked by pealing bells and fireworks, followed immediately by the Easter Mass.