Holy Week 2014

Today is Thursday and its all quiet here in Metro Manila. It is Maundy Thursday.

The celebration of Holy Week in the Philippines has remained the same. However, Let me qualify that by saying two things. First, Yes in the Philippines Holy Week is celebrated every year. Second, the way people celebrate Holy Week has remained the same and different. Meaning there are aspects that remain the same and certain aspects that have changed, depending on the individual one speaks to.


Nor every Filipino is Roman Catholic and not all Filipino Roman Catholic are the same – some are more conservative and some are more liberal in the way they follow tradition and practices. For non-Catholics Holy Week is one of those long weekend vacations. As early as a week or fortnight before Holy Week vacations plans are implemented, wether it is a holiday out of the country, in the countryside or inside the comfort of one’s home. The traffic of Metro Manila moves and transforms into the traffic of the South Super-Highway and the North Super-Highway: An exodus out of the Metro.

Personally, I like to stay in Metro Manila during the Holy Week. First, to avoid travel stress caused by a great mass of people leaving the Metro. This is one of three times a year to drive and go around the Metro stress free – Almost no traffic, save for those roads leading and leaving the churches. Second, to guard the house against thieves who prey on unmanned houses during this period. Third, It is one of the few times of the year the streets of Cubao, Quezon City become blissfully quiet – gone are the trash sounds of tricycles, whose drivers remove the silencers of their motorcycles. This is the time you know it is Holy Week or Semana Santa.

But I digress.


Of course Filipino Roman Catholics are not immune to the call of vacation and zoning out. For years it has been the habit of most to go to their provinces to dp their annual Lenten retreat so to speak. Tradition vary from family to family and from person to person.

Take for example the Bisita Iglesia and the Station of the Cross. If one were to seat inside a church and observe the different people praying the Stations of the Cross one would see different ways of praying. Some would have little booklets bought from the shop in a mall or from the vendor outside. The prayer would be in English or Tagalog. There are those who knew the prayers from heart – something stamped into memory from one s childhood, acquired by years of practice. The end result is a multi-coloured robe of prayers worn by the Filipino Roman Catholic Community.

Some would call it Folk Catholicism. Some would probably linked it to the Castillian brand of Roman Catholicism. It is an interesting social phenomenon. It ranges from lenten observances like the Pabasa, Bisita Iglesia, Salubong, Senakulo, Moriones and some like self-flagellation and self-crucifixion – which I do not want to witness and participate in.

Bisita Iglesia: Pilgrimage or to Visit the Church to do any of the following – pray a simple prayer; contemplate and pray on the Stations of the Cross; or to hear confession.

Pabasa: Reading of the scripture almost non-stop. Something done within the vicinity of one’s home. The practice has come into contemporary times with the use of a karaoke or microphone system.

Senakulo: Dramatization of the last days of Jesus Christ. Think of Jesus Christ Superstar sans music. The Lenten play is staged at the local level, although in past years this has been staged at the Folk Arts Theatre and even on local television.

Moriones: The festival is staged outside of Metro Manila and features interesting masks of Roman Soldiers. Focuses on the story of Longinus.

Self-Flagellation and Self Crucifixion: This is self explanatory. This is something that I would rather not want to see nor participate in. Personally, I think it is a needless and very archaic. At its best it is an individual’s way of showing devotion or repentance. At its worse it is a gimmick to attract tourists.

But Holy Week is a plethora of activities not necessary religious anymore. As I said it is also a time gf vacation, not only Holiday – Holiday of Religious Obligation.


It starts with Ash Wednesday, when you see people with crosses written with ash on their foreheads. From there every Friday it is expected that you do not eat meat or poultry. Then Palm Sunday heralds the incoming Holy Week with the blessing of the palm or pashas – re-enacting the entry of Jesus Christ into the City of Jerusalem. Slowly the usual busy Metro Manila falls into a state of sleep – the streets would be nearly empty and most shops and restaurants would be close by Holy Wednesday. The faithful would then troop to the churches on Maundy Thursday – for Bisita Iglesia, Station of the Cross, Confession and for some the Annual Lenten Retreat. This would pour on to Good Friday where people would visit the different churches and possibly listen to the Seven Last Words, oh and most of the Faithful would Fast on this day. As Black Saturday descends almost nothing is done except at midnight the Salubong when the status of the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary are the head of the two processions that goes around the parish and meets up. This ia=s immediate;u followed by Easter Mass.

And that is the rough gist of what happens during Holy Week in the Philippines, but over the years practices and beliefs have change.

Before you would not find an open restaurant or shopping mall open. Now, there are some open, wishing to get punters coming from the churches. Before there was no regular programs on Television, Now you had cable television with a variety of programs available 24 hours 7 days a week; where in one channel they were looking for a lost religious relic : The Foreskin of Jesus Christ. No Thank You, I rather watch something else. Fasting and penance take on an individual meaning … was it should be.

This seems to be one of those sum total of the Filipino Culture: our culture, where the past and present: the old and new; the liberal and conservative: different beliefs and faith do a waltz on the dance floor of history.

Today is Black Saturday. The tricycles are back with a vengeance. Things are going back to normal.

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