Lenten season is the time when Christians — Catholic and other religious denominations — remember Christ’s passion (his suffering and death) and resurrection.
Ash Wednesday (40 days before Easter Sunday) marks the beginning of this season, it is when you will see Catholics with ashes smudged on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.
Holy Week is from Palm Sunday to Black Saturday, then Easter Sunday. It is traditionally a solemn occasion, most commonly known as Semana Santa in the Philippines and other countries.
Priests and religious statues are dressed in purple to symbolize gloom. Devout Catholics go to church every day; some fast as a symbol of respect and faith while the born-again Christians just pray directly to God without worshiping statues or saints. Although different, these practices convey the same message.
This time of the year commits people to fulfill their vows, to ask God for forgiveness or favors, such as cures for health, personal and financial problems.
Palm Sunday commemorates the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Filipino Catholics bring palaspas (palm fronds) to church to be blessed by the priests. Then, they bring the fronds back home with them.
In the Philippines, for most of the week, especially after Tuesday, the towns are eerily quiet with TV and radio stations going off the air and no loud noises or revelry whatsoever. Catholics stop eating meat, turning to fish, and the more devout ones go on a completely liquid diet. Many businesses are closed, so make sure you have supplies, especially food, stocked up.
The traditional pabasa (the “reading” or chanting of verses about the suffering of Christ) starts on Sunday and ends on Maundy Thursday, which is the day when the washing of the feet is celebrated.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Christ. On this day, you will see religious figures being carried through the towns on top of carrozas (carriages). religious images and statues are veiled in black in mourning of the death of Jesus.
Now the tourist spot and the most striking feature of the Holy Week celebrations in the Philippines is the sight of Filipinos publicly whipping themselves. These are reenactments of the torture and death of Jesus. Some of the hardcore devotees not only whip their backs into a bloody mess, they also have their feet and hands nailed to a wooden cross. Tourists come from all over the world for the sight! Tondo in Manila is the place to see these flagellants. Outside the capital, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija are famous for their flagellants who cover their faces with white cotton hoods. Crowns of thorns are placed on their heads to cause blood to drip.
I remember one of the superstitions on Good Friday is the prohibition against children playing. This is because they might injure themselves and not have their wounds heal. You will always be reminded that during this time that Jesus is dead, and so everything is awry and bad things are apt to happen.
Black Saturday is when Christ is entombed. Filipinos spend the day preparing for the night vigil leading up to Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. At four o’clock in the morning, Filipinos do a ceremony commemorating how the Virgin Mary met her son Jesus who has come back to life. Her image will be brought to the image of the Christ at the local church. Flower petals will be rained down on them. Everyone is happy that Jesus is alive again and that the world is back right.
In contemporary times, these Philippine traditions are slowly disappearing. Young Filipinos now use the Holy Week to vacation at the beach, while socialites and members of the upper class fly to out of Manila or go to another country. In my experiences of Holy Week, it truly is the time to renew our faith and feel the lords suffering for mankind.
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