Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country. In fact we’re so catholic that we are the only remaining country on the globe that makes divorce unlawful. My thoughts on that matter is so wide, varied, plenty and colorful that I think I’ll write that on another post.
Anyways, Holy Week. If you’re no stranger to Catholicism, you’d know that this is part of the celebrations on the culmination of Lent, wherein the church commemorates the sufferings of Christ on the Cross and his triumphant Resurrection, and if you’re not really that keen on religion, there’s a bit of FYI here.
The Holy week celebration begins with Palm Sunday when Christ entered the gates of Jerusalem astride a donkey and people welcomed him with chants of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.. ” Psalms 118:25-26, laying palm leaves and their cloaks on the path he rode on. The palm blessing is a symbolic gesture for Catholics, it was a re-enactment of an event two thousand years ago, in recognition of Christ as the promised messiah. The Saviour to whom the scriptures, written before his time, was referring to. His people became aware of that, thus the frenzied welcome of his entrance to Jerusalem. It was also the beginning of the an evil plot to bring down an innocent man primarily because of jealousy and misunderstood hate. You know, with all the human drama, misery, frailty and hope, even love stories, the Bible is one of the best books ever written in human history.
I can remember my mother taking us to church with my brothers, buying brightly woven and decorated coconut palm leaves to be blessed during the Holy Mass. When everyone was raising the palm leaves and shaking them to be blessed by the passing priest, me and my brothers would nudge and jockey up each other, besting whoever could hold the palm up and shake it for the ceremony. I usually never won. I was the smallest and the only girl but never really acted like one. I would always match my brothers on every bullying and trash talk they could dish out. I maybe small but I was no weenie, and dresses never really looked too girly on me, specially on Sundays.
On this particular Palm Sunday, not to be outdone because this time I wanted to hold the palm for blessing, by the time that my brothers were finished with their wrestling and as the winner held the palm on top of his head, I snatched the decorated twig, stood up on the pew, waved it more rigorously than anyone else at the church showing a gap in my front teeth where a milktooth has fallen the night before. The matronly woman in front of me glared, my twig had snatched a couple of strands from her hair, ruining her stiff bob held in place by a hair net.
Whack! my bottom was stinging, then followed by an all too painful familiar skin pinch by the sides as my mother literally picked me up by the skins she held on the side of my belly. She brought me down from the pew, I was grimacing in pain. I couldn’t cry out because I knew that if I did, more pain would follow suit, if not now, it would be by the time we get home. I just whined a little in reaction to the twisted skin, luckily my whimper was drowned out by the “hossana” chanting of the congregation.
The old now nest-looking-hair-like matron in front us kept looking back and gave me flashes of stare kill, wanting me to die right there and then. My brothers were grinning from ear to ear trying to keep still not wanting to have what I was given. My mom held my wrists in iron hold, up until the mass ended just to keep me still. After the mass, we all went home walking silently besides Mom, none of the rambunctiousness that usually marks our being together in one place. We were behaved as if the holy water that were sprinkled on us during mass and carrying the blessed palm back home had expended all evil disruptive behavior from us, that was Palm Sunday.
The Holy Week would be followed by more hot summer afternoons of Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday. I thought then in my small mind, that all cows born on those days was the origin of the expression, but I never ventured to ask how the “Holy cow” came about. Nope not in my country, if it were up to us, we would have made it “holy carabaos”. Hey look, we’re a big fan of that sturdy creature, we even named him out as our national animal, what’s stopping us from making him holy.
The Holy Monday and Tuesday’s weren’t that eventful. It was usually like ordinary summer vacation days for us where we would disappear on ends of the long hot afternoons playing outside, catching frogs, climbing trees, flying kites and would only come home when stomachs were grumbling or because of bruised elbows, blood stained knees or near dislocated shoulders.
Holy Wednesday was a sort of singing culmination of the Pabasa. It’s a catholic tradition of reading the life story of Christ in verses, weaving music and tones within the verses and singing it out loud on public address systems or boom speakers for the whole of the community to hear. Usually to the tune of what the pasyon singers would lead to, nowadays, they even try to sing it in rap. This was to be done continuously without break up until the book of Pabasa was ended. The elders said that if the Pabasa was broken, it meant bad luck for the community who held it, so there were shifts in the course of the bible singing verses. It was usually held in the local chapel, or the hermana mayor’s residence (the local district’s religious elder) or on barangay town halls. It would last for two days, longest would be three, but needs to be finished by the afternoon of Holy Wednesday so the religious women (who oftentimes looked like relics to me) would be able to prepare for the more “heavy” holy week celebration, the Triduum.
Holy Wednesday was memorable, because the Hermana Mayor’s gate would be open and there was free food inside for everyone who took part of the Pabasa. Me and my brothers would gate crash the melee, pretend we were honorable and respectable kids all bathed and combed hair, walk up to the banquet table, eat our fill, and stuff our pockets with sweet goodies, smiled at everyone else, after we’re done, we walk away. I don’t know why no one minded us pretty much except for the hermana’s nerdy looking son who would befriend us and make us part of the celebration. Maybe its his way of ensuring his “protection” if he ever ventured out of their high gated walls.
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday, the Paschal Triduum, in all of the Holy week celebrations, these days were the most confusing part for me. My mom would make me go with her in the church activities of long procession while chanting rosaries and doing the “Way of the Cross” all on the fourteen stations that ended with a mass at five pm commemorating the “Washing of the Feet”. My brothers usually weren’t with us because more often than not, they were grounded. We never really liked Holy week, we were forced to stay indoors and meditate on our inner faith. I was a child of eight, somehow meditation was not one of my greatest virtues. Mom was laying the guilt trip on us by recounting how Christ was now suffering and that we should feel the same anguish he felt during those moments of self-sacrifice, and that playing and having fun should be the least things on our mind. Oh well, there goes those tadpoles, tomorrow they’d turn into frogs and I don’t get to catch one so I can mark their progress, not that they usually die or escape during the night so I really don’t get to see them turn into frogs.
Since we could never go out during those days, we watched TV. There was no internet then and most radio stations would be off air in observance of the season. So TV programming would be reruns of Dino de Laurentiis film on Moses, Passion of Christ, (nope, not the Mel Gibson movie, he still wasn’t an actor back then) and some tear jerker dramas. If all those movies you watched during Good Fridays didn’t make you remorseful and everything I do not know what would. This was one of the most effective way of laying guilt trip on a catholic conscience.
On TV also, were footages of people flagellating themselves with real scourge. Then there were others who would literally re-enact the “Way of the Cross” and actually have themselves nailed! Now that made me really confused, If staying indoors meant that I would not be nailed on the cross, I promised mom I’d just lay still for the whole of Good Friday. My parents however were quick to point out that these were devotions of some people in fulfillment of a promise made to God, or a way of atoning for their sins. I didn’t know Yoda back then, but I knew I said to myself – meditate on this, I must.
I was so disturbed by the thought that I even prayed to Jesus, “you already died on the cross for our sins right? you said so yourself, would you want me to go through that same ordeal?” I asked, and I cried, I keep imagining that Mt Golgotha was very far away, pretty rocky and was a very high climb, specially with a cross on your back. Good Fridays was traumatic for kids like me who never had the handles of separating our imagination with what was the real score in life is.
Then I grew up. I never imagined Crucifixion took on many different forms. 😦