As a child, I’ve learned about the events of Christ’s final week on earth from the various church activities during lent, the pabasa, visita yglesia, via crucis, siete palabras, and in the almost daily processions beginning Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday.
As recounted in the New Testament, the events culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus occurred in the week of the Passover sometime in the year 30 A.D.
The Palm Sunday Procession and the Versatile Palaspas
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a Sunday with the 12 apostle and they were acclaimed by a crowd waving branches. This event is reenacted in the Palm Sunday procession where the priest astride a horse (instead of a donkey) bless the decorated the palms or the palaspas.
The blessed palaspas were brought home and place on the window or hung over the door with the belief it wards off evil spirits and shields the house from lightning and natural calamities.
The sanctified palaspas from the previous year are burned to make ash for Miercoles de Ceniza which starts the 40 days of lent. But there are some who refuse to turnover their old palaspas believing that (like with all blessed objects) it attracts good fortune.
The Don’ts of Mahal na Araw and the Traditional Pasyon
With Holy Monday began the don’ts of Holy Week. Meat is prohibited. Fish, seafoods and vegetable dishes bec0me table staple until Friday. No loud music and as children, we were warned not to raise our voices and to avoid boisterous laughter so as not to compete with the eerie wail pouring out of speakers from makeshift chapels in the neighborhood.
The pabasa -a marathon chanting of the life and passion (or pasyon) of Christ usually begins on Holy Monday and continues unabated until Good Friday. The pasyon is also performed on stage complete with lavish costumes and props in the passion play called the cenaculo.
Rites before the Processional Rites
Holy Tuesday is a busy day for the owners of heirloom life-size tableaux and holy images. From stockrooms, they would open several wooden chests containing the rich costumes and jewelry that will be worn by their family’s sacred icons on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday processions.
The carroza that will bear the image or tableaux has been rolled out of storage several days earlier to be polished until the silver glistens and the wood mirrors the deep beauty of its age. On procession day, the carroza will be dressed with fresh flowers.
Holy Wednesday Procession
The procession on the afternoon of Holy Wednesday consists of images and tableaux showing the key events leading to the Crucifixion. It begins with the parade of the 12 apostles and then followed by the lead characters in the passion of Christ.
I can easily identify San Pedro when the image is holding a key and a rooster on its side, San Mateo for the feather and an angel, San Andres for the X-shaped cross, Sta. Martha carrying loaves of bread, Sta. Maria Magdalena carrying a bottle of perfume, Maria Salome with an incense burner and so many colorful characters.
The tableaux showing the events in the passion of Christ are next in queue. At this point, the number of images on the carrozas increases as the procession progresses. It begins with the Humenta -the image of Jesus on a donkey while blessing a crowd waving palms. The climax of the Holy Wednesday procession is the Station of the Cross or Via Crucis which ends with the image of the Pieta -the image of the sorrowful Mother Mary embracing the dead Jesus.
Visita Ylgesia and the Via Crucis
On Thursday, Jesus and the apostles sat down for supper in celebration of the Passover. On that evening, Christ instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, washed the feet of the apostles and revealed that He would be betrayed. This occasion is celebrated in the mass on Maundy Thursday where the Body of Christ represented by the Holy Host is enshrined in the Altar of the Repose.
By evening, pilgrims start moving from church to church to perform the Visita Ylgesia. This Lenten tradition goes back to the time of the early Christian church. Catholic pilgrims visit the Blessed Sacrament in the seven basilicas of Rome. In the Philippines, pilgrims visit a total of 14 churches to contemplate the Via Crucis.
In continuing our family’s tradition, we attend the Maundy Thursday ceremonies at the Manila Cathedral and begin the First Station of the Cross in the old Sagrario -a side chapel in cathedral where the reposed Host is brought in after a solemn procession led by the Archbishop of Manila.
Siete Palabras and the Procession of Santo Entierro
On Good Friday, the Sanhedrin (Great Council of the Elders of Israel) found Christ guilty of blasphemy. He was brought to Herod only to be mocked for failing to perform miracles. He was sent back to Pilate and was presented to the people where the crowd decided to set the criminal Barabas free and Jesus to be crucified.
Christ was scourge, crowned with thorns, and made to carry a cross through the streets of Jerusalem. When He reached the hill called Golgotha, place of skull in Latin where He was nailed to the Cross at the third hour or 9:00 in the morning. By this time, my family have already settled at the Santo Domingo Church for the Seven Last Words or Siete Palabras sermons led by the Order of Preachers.
At the ninth hour or three in the afternoon, Jesus expired and He was taken down from Cross to be buried in a rock tomb. A couple of hours before evening, the solemn procession of the Santo Entierro emerges accompanied by the same tableaux and images from the Holy Wednesday procession, onyl that they are dressed in black or in their mourning costumes. The Santo Entierro, the image of the dead Christ laid on a bier, cap the procession in remembrance of the saddest night in Christendom.
Sabado de Gloria and the Blessing of Fire and Water
In the morning of the next day, Saturday, an outburst of bells pealing from churches marks the end of great silence and no romping. As a child, I was told to jump high to grow taller faster. Meat dishes resurface on dining tables. At afternoon we take a long siesta as preparation for the pre-Easter ritual called the Blessing of Fire and Water.
In some churches, the ritual blessing of fire and water is still practiced. For the first time since the start of lent, glorious music is played again. For this ceremony, all lights inside the church were turned off. The dark and cold church interior is illuminated by flickering flames and soft glow from the candles held by the faithful.
It is Sabado de Gloria but the most glorious event is yet happen at the break of dawn the next day – on Easter Sunday.
Before the break of dawn on Sunday, the men folk gather in one place to accompany the image of the Risen Christ while the women march apart with the image of the Blessed Mother. The two groups met at a makeshift stage in front of the church under a giant heart.
While the choir sings the Regine Coeli, the giant heart opens. A child dressed as an angel descends to remove the black veil covering the Virgin’s face. Everyone in the crowd hail Alleluia! Christ has risen!
Have a Blessed Holy Week.