Holy Week is just a few days away, and I can’t help but compare the observance of this solemn period in Michigan with that in the Philippines.
The reason is, I sorely miss the old Filipino ways of remembering the passion of Christ. Here in Michigan, I feel the spirit of Holy Week only while I am attending mass in church. In the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, one can feel the Holy Week spirit in every home or in public places.
Many years ago when I was growing up in the Ilocos, the faithful adhered to the strict observance of the Holy Week and followed to the letter the edict issued ages ago by the Catholic Church. The observance took a somber tone on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) when the people attended mass during which their artfully arranged palm leaves were blessed.
On the following days, a somber silence reigned, marred only by the chanting of the “pasyon” in houses. The faithful participated in the nightly procession of statues of the saints. Young men, mostly farmers, carried on their shoulders the heavy, life-sized statues placed on wooden platforms. The procession started at the church, snaked around the town and returned to where it began – the church. People following the statues prayed the Holy Rosary.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the observance was deeply somber. The women wore black clothes and veils as people mourned the death of Christ on the cross. Easter Sunday was a really glorious day as the faithful marked the celebration of the resurrection of Christ capped by the “salubong.”
In other parts of Luzon, similar religious activities were also done. In Pampanga, two or three men were actually nailed to the cross on Good Friday to atone for their sins.
In Pasig City (a former town of Rizal Province), the believers engaged in flagellation, a bloody ritual which involved the beating by the flagellants of themselves with sharp sticks or whips with broken glasses at the tip.
The half-naked men assembled at noon on Good Friday at a high place and beat themselves on their back as they hiked towards a chapel some two kilometers away. Most of the men were heavily tattooed, some them ex-convicts. It was their way of repenting for their sins, and onlookers wondered what grievous sins they had committed.
The sight of the men whipping themselves was queasy and gory as their backs were bleeding profusely due to the constant beating.
In the chapel, they fell on their knees as a priest blessed them with holy water. Afterwards, they went to the Pasig River where they washed themselves.
Aside from flagellation and crucifixion, Filipino faithful marked the Holy Week observance with the holding of the nightly “pabasa,” which was the continuous chanting the “pasyon” for several hours. With the chanting accompanied by guitar music, the “pabasa” would start in the afternoon of Holy Thursday and end at 3 p.m. on Good Friday.
We learned that there were a few gifted chanters who could memorize the entire “pasyon” which is more than 200 pages. One old man from Quezon Province was said to be a most-sought-after chanter.
When we were still residing in Taguig City in the early 1980s, we organized a “pabasa” which since then had been conducted every year. It was participated in by people who could not go to their home province for the Holy Week break for one reason or another.
When we transferred to Bacoor, Cavite in the early 1990s, we also organized a “pabasa” which was continuously held for several years.
Chanting the “pabasa” was a profound experience: You could feel the spirit of the passion of Christ and appreciate His immortal words.
The “pabasa” was similar to the “pasyon” in the Ilocos. The difference was that the “pasyon” was chanted in the home by one or two persons. When I was a child it was my mother who did the “pasyon.”
In the Ilocos, there were superstitions related to the observance of the Holy Week. One such superstition was about the supposedly supernatural power of a lizard’s tail. At noon of Good Friday, you were to catch a large lizard and cut its tail which you were to dry under the sun. Afterwards, you were to wrap it in small piece of cloth.
You were to keep the lizard’s tail in your pocket when you go somewhere. It was some kind of “anito” (amulet) that is said to drive away witches such as “mangkukulam” and “mannamay.” It could also make you lucky in gambling.
I don’t know if the lizard’s tail was really effective because I never had it.
All these memories flood me as we approach the celebration of Holy Week. The next effect on me is that I am terribly homesick.