The period of Cuaresma or Mahal na Araw is a great time of the year where Filipinos join Christians throughout the world in preparing believers through prayer, penance and self-denial in a solemn commemoration of the most tragic event in religious history.
The forty-day period magnifies the gloom of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that begins on Ash Wednesday that reminds of man’s mortality and him “coming from dust and returning to dust.”
Lent recalls the tradition and series of events in the New Testament that began on Friday of Sorrows and climaxing on the fateful crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Golgotha more than two thousand years ago. The ashes come from palm leaves woven into “palaspas” that were used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.
During Lent many Christians commit themselves to activities of that deny physical pleasures to prepare themselves spiritually for the event and as a way of identifying with the sufferings of Jesus Christ on his way to the Cross to become the soul instrument of salvation for those who believe. Fasting or giving up certain luxuries serve as a form of penitence to draw themselves nearer to God.
Lent, which in Tagalog is a derivative of the Spanish Cuaresma (Mahal na Araw or Beloved Days) is a tradition that lasts for 40 days in commemoration of the 40 days which Jesus spent fasting in the dessert before the beginning of his three-year public ministry as described in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke of the New Testament.
The Bible has many references for the number 40. Moses spent 40 days in Mt. Sinai in his encounter with God; the Prophet Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb; the Great Flood was caused by the 40 days and nights of rain; the Hebrew people who were released from slavery in Egypt spent 40 years wandering in the dessert en route to the Promised Land; Jonah gave the people of Nineveh where he sent on a missionary journey 40 days in which to repent or be destroyed in his prophecy.
Before his public ministry, Jesus retreated to the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and where he was afterwards tempted by the devil and overcoming the temptations by citing scriptures.
Denial of earthly pleasure such as in fasting has become a spiritual cleansing practice that Jesus did and advised his disciples to do “when the bridegroom (meaning him) shall be taken from them referring to his Passion.
The traditional 40 days of Lent are customarily marked by fasting from foods and festivities and other acts of penance. During this period of extreme piety, many people give up activities considered to be vices and add something believed would bring them closer to God and give the time or money as an act of charity.
Another common practice added to this set of rituals is observing the event singing the Pasiong Mahal (Passion of Christ) where the faithful take turns in translating into songs the passion of Christ at community chapels or private residences and has become sort of a “panata” that’s transferred to the succeeding generations. Hosts of Pasiong Mahal (Pabasa) engage in the tradition as a way of reverence and to thank God for answered prayers.
The Pasiong Mahal has drawn people together as a community and has become an occasion to satisfy the religious and charitable natures of many believers.