Indeed, the phoenix has risen from the ashes. I decided to watch the Good Friday Santo Entierro procession in Bacolor, Pampanga by chance since there was no Good Friday procession in Guagua this year due to ongoing road construction around the center of town. It was very encouraging that the Bacolor procession is back to its old grandeur.
Over a decade ago, Bacolor was buried by lahar from Mount Pinatubo. It was a great loss for Pampanga being the province's former capital and heritage town. But one thing I like about Bacolor is the resiliency of its culture. One of the first things they raised from the buried town, even before rebuilding schools and other structures, were their monuments. The three ornate retablos in the half-buried Bacolor Church were also dug up and restored to their original glory.
It was 8 p.m. when I arrived at the Bacolor Church (Update: It now starts at 5 p.m.). The Good Friday Santo Entierro procession had not started yet since people were still lining up to venerate the crucified Christ. The halls of the church reverberated with the solemn Stabat Mater performed by local musicians and singers of a town which was once the center of arts and culture in the province. It was a very touching scene.
The procession begun with 152 pasos in black cassocks and white mozzettas, their faces covered by black veils and with wreaths on their heads, carrying symbols of Christs death and messages from Jesus' passion and death in various languages that included Kapampangan, English, Latin, Spanish and even French.
This was followed by one of the grandest Santo Entierro carrozas in the entire country. I found out that the carroza actually belonged to our family, the Joven-de Leon clan of Bacolor, and I was invited by my cousin Tom Joven (who is very much responsible for restoring the grandeur of Bacolor's church, Good Friday procession, and many more town traditions) to join the carroza for the procession.
The saints of the passion story beginning with San Pedro, and scenes from Christ's passion came in next. Although Tom told me that previously, the tableaux only came out during the Holy Wednesday procession since the Good Friday procession is a funeral participated in only by the carrozas of the individual saints. In fact, some of the tableaux carrozas, like those of the Valdes clan, only come out for Holy Wednesday.
No doubt, the Bacolor Good Friday Santo Entierro procession is one of the best examples of a traditional Filipino Holy Week procession. It's quiet and solemn. And there's no pipe-in music and prayers blasted through sound systems in the carrozas, just the voices of small groups sincerely praying the rosary along the way. The carrozas are elaborate, grand and elegant. There were no pick up trucks, owner jeeps or cars in the procession. If you want to witness a traditional Good Friday procession, I highly-recommend that you visit Bacolor, Pampanga.
At the end of the procession is the Mater Dolorosa. She is preceded by the angelic voices of a local choir and musicians who play various versions of the Stabat Mater. A solemn drum beat reminds us that this is actually a funeral dirge.
As the Mater Dolorosa returns to the church, her carroza is brought face to face with the carroza of the Santo Entierro in front of the gates of the church, a symbolic positioning signifying the Sorrowful Mother mourning over her Son.
Other processions worth visiting in Pampanga are the ones in Santa Rita, Guagua and Sasmuan. I haven't seen the one in Santa Rita and plan to witness that next year. In Guagua, I remember they had violinists who accompany the Sto. Entierro and Mater Dolorosa. The violins are something that disappeared in San Fernando after the change of priests.
As I previously mentioned, it's sad that these priests forget that they stay only in a parish for a few years. And yet some go on the rampage and destroy architecture and traditions that have been there even before they were born. Even the traditional order of carrozas of the Good Friday procession in San Fernando had been changed in deference to the whims of the new rector. I hope things go back to normal soon!