The Redemptorist Church in Baclaran is one of the most popular religious shrines in the Philippines. Every Wednesday, a great number of devotees flock the National Shrine Our Mother of Perpetual Help to make a novena to the miraculous Byzantine icon whose replica is mounted on the high altar.
However, this phenomenon is not as old as the devotion to the Black Nazarene in Quiapo which dates back centuries ago. In fact, the popularity of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help as an object of devotion in the country only began some 60 years ago.
The Beginnings of the Baclaran Phenomenon
In 1906, the Redepmtorist fathers brought the replica of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines. But its popularity did not launch the way the Perpetual Novena did when it was introduced in 1948.
Contrary to popular belief, the Perpetual Novena did not start in Baclaran but in Iloilo at the Redemptorist Church of San Clemente. After witnessing the devotion of the Ilonggos to the Perpetual Novena, Father Gerard O’Donnell introduced the Novena to Baclaran. It was Father Leo English who conducted the first Baclaran Novena on June 23, 1948 with only 70 participants.
But it is not later that the small wooden Redemptorist church that dates back in 1932 had to be replaced (enlarged) to accommodate the growing number of devotees. The present church building of Modern Romanesque style is the third to be built on the same site. In December 1952, the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help has been constructed. It has become one of the largest churches in the Philippines and the Our Mother of Perpetual Help to be among the most venerated Marian images in the country.
To accommodate the growing number of devotees, the Wednesday Perpetual Help Novena has been observed in most Catholic churches all over the country. But for Our Mother of Perpetual Help devotee, nothing can be more sacred than a Wednesday pilgrimage to Baclaran.
Unlike with the Señor Nazareno which explains the main draw to Quiapo Church on a Friday (as in remembrance of the Lord’s sufferings on Good Friday), there is no historical definitive answer why Wednesday has been identified as Baclaran Day.
During the pre-war years, the practice was to have a devotion to Saint Joseph on Wednesday. The same devotion was given to San Antonio de Padua on Tuesday, Our Lady of Lourdes on Saturdays and so on. Perhaps it is because June 23, 1948, the day when the first Baclaran Novena was conducted fell on a Wednesday and the tradition continues to this day. Nevertheless, the crowd drawer in Baclaran is the Our Lady of Perpetual Help who is believed to have granted the prayers of those who have been devoted to the Perpetual Novena.
Father Luis Hechanova explains that a novena is a series of prayers said over nine days or nine weeks consecutively, usually in preparation for a major feast or to ask for a special favor. The ordinary novena stops after the nine occasions until it resumed the next time a around, often the following year when connected with feasts, or whenever a devotee decides to resume it privately.
A perpetual novena on the other hand, is a series of nine occasions of prayer but repeated continuously. When one series is finished, it begins again. In practice it becomes an unending series of weekly sessions, usually associated with a particular day of the week, not necessarily Wednesday.