Aside from being one of the most solemn religious events in the Philippines, Holy Week or Mahal na Araw is a colorful display of Philippine culture and religious fervor. Here are some cultural practices you should not miss:
Today is Palm Sunday so we won't be able to witness these events again until next year. There were unique palm processions in Sta. Isabel in Malolos, Obando and Baliwag in Bulacan; as well as in Gasan, Marinduque. In Sta. Isabel, an image of the Humenta or Christ on a donkey joins the palm procession as women spread their tapis or traditional aprons as the priest walks by. In Gasan, the priest himself rides a real pony on the way to church.
Many procession are held on this day. Check out the folk Baroque images in the Laguna towns of Pakil, Majayjay and Paete. In Paete, it is said that the images for the Catholic Wednesday and Aglipayan Thursday processions move and speak in archaic Tagalog. In Pampanga, some of the best heirloom carrozas are brought out in Betis, Sasmuan and San Fernando. Also check out the processions in Baliwag, Malolos, Barasoain (Malolos), San Pablo and Molo (Iloilo City).
In churches around the country, the Mass of the Last Supper will be celebrated in the evening. After this Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is enshrined in an Altar of Repose or monumento, and churches remain open for the visita iglesia. But some people do the visita iglesia while the sun is out though in order to see the lavish colonial churches in daylight. I have an old post on visita iglesia suggestions at Visita iglesia routes for Holy Thursday. But I'll have another entry on churches to visit soon.
Around the country, the chanting of the pabasa continues. In San Fernando and Guagua, there are colorful puni or pabasa stations with a fiesta atmosphere. Also check out the cordero or Lamb of God rituals in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga and Morong, Rizal. A lamb sculpture made out of mashed potatoes or kamote (sweet potatoes) is the center of this practice.
There is so much to see on this day. There are public self-flagellations in many towns around the country. In San Fernando, Pampanga; Pulilan and Hagonoy, Bulacan; and Navotas, they use wooden slats attached to ropes to whip their backs. In Hermosa, Bataan; Sasmuan, Pampanga; and Pakil, Laguna, flagellants use chains. In Kalayaan, Laguna penitents wear fronds and flowers. While in Infanta, Quezon, penitents wear hoods embellished with flowers to invoke fertility.
In Magalang, Pampanga and other parts of Pampanga, penitents crawl on the ground or carry crosses made out of banana trunks. In San Pedro Cutud in San Fernando, about a dozen penitents are nailed to wooden crosses after a traditional play called the Via Crusis. Check out the entry Good Friday in San Fernando, Pampanga to get detailed information on Good Friday practices in San Fernando.
The moriones, with men dressed as Roman soldiers, are held in General Luna, Quezon; Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro; and Boac and Gasan, Marinduque. The one in General Luna is said to be the oldest moriones event in the country. There is also amulet hunting and testing as well with shaman assemblies held such as those in Calabanga, Camarines Sur where hooded shamans pray at the Holy Bier at 5 a.m. In Pakil, Laguna, check out the Turumba procession of the Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Turumba.
In the towns of Sta. Rita and Sasmuan in Pampanga; as well as Tayabas, Quezon and Boljoon, Cebu, the sermons on the Seven Last Words of Christ are followed by the Tinieblas, a theatrical ritual marking the death of Christ with the banging shut of the church doors, the wailing of women and the hammering of church roofs to symbolize thunder. The body of Christ is brought down from the cross by two men dressed as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. In Boljoon and Sta. Rita, they are assisted by people dressed as the Marys and St. John who all deposit the image on the lap of a woman designated to be Mother Mary. She wails loudly for several minutes. In Sasmuan, the town orchestra plays the Stabat Mater as a choir sings. This is followed by a public veneration of the image Christ's body or the Sto. Entierro.
Some of the most lavish processions of the Sto. Entierro are held in Lingayen, Pangasinan; San Fernando, and Guagua, Pampanga; Malolos and Baliwag, Bulacan; Binan and San Pablo, Laguna; and Argao and Carcar, Cebu. In Carcar and Sorsogon, Sorsogon, the Soledad procession is held late at night.