I was not able to see the Wednesday procession this year. Got stuck in office work and came home quite late. When I was growing up, I distinctly remember that there were four processions during Holy Week - the first was on the morning of Palm Sunday; second was on the night of Holy Wednesday; third was on Good Friday; and the last was the dawn procession for Easter Sunday. I miss those days. Sigh!
Palm Sunday Procession
Young girls and their families look forward to this one. Makeshift balconies were set up in selected places in the procession route. Little young girls dressed up like angels threw flower petals and sang the alleluias as the priest passed by their dainty towers. People followed the priest and waved their palm fronds in the air, while the manangs laid their veils on the pavement - never allowing the priest's feet to directly touch the ground. All these were the re-enactment of the biblical narrative on how the Lord triumphantly entered
I remember one year in particular, when this event was especially more poignant for the family of my mother's elder sister. Her youngest daughter, Amy, just passed away. She was diagnosed with leukemia and bravely fought for her life. She was excitedly looking forward to her eldest daughter's turn to mount one of those balconies and sing praises to the Lord. It was always an honor for a daughter to take on the role of one of the angels, an honor that she missed by a few days. So while her mother lay in state, the little girl did her part - with a faint smile but tears in her eyes. It was a fitting tribute to a mother who loved her children till the very end, and scene that left tears in the eyes of not a few who knew the story behind that day's event.
Sadly, we lost that tradition along the way. I cannot remember when the last alleluias were sung by the little angels. While walking along the town proper, it suddenly dawned on me that the balconies were gone. Gone were the little girls, with their eyes still droopy and sleepy, as they gingerly await the arrival of the priest. How could have we lost such a tradition so steep in meaning and drama? In other towns, bigger and more progressive, they even get the priest to ride horses or donkeys for some added reality. Please tell me this tradition will be back next year!
Holy Wednesday Procession
This procession presents the tableau of the Lord's ministry and suffering, specifically from the time he entered
In the eighties, this procession was done away with. Instead, I remembered that all the carrozas were made to join the Good Friday procession, which of course swelled the number of people joining the procession. Thus, we had the spectacle of the first carozza already entering the church after navigating the entire procession route while the Mater Dolorosa, the last image in the procession, was still waiting for its turn to leave the church patio! It just does not make sense for a town so small to try and get all those carozzas into the streets. Fortunately, the Church has brought back the Holy Wednesday procession.
Good Friday Procession.
The piety is gone, gone, gone. In the days gone by, a hush would fall on the entire town at of Good Friday. Then people flocked at the church for the evening procession, often leaving their shoes and slippers at home or in stores near the church. Yes, people walk the entire route barefoot, just like the many women dressed in black, with faces covered in black veil capped by imitations of the crown of thorns. They carry symbols of the Lord’s passion and death on the cross. Yes, it looks eerie, but it does evoke solemn emotions that befit the commemoration.
These days, we don’t see barefoot people on the procession anymore. Gender equality has allowed men to join the previously all-women group of what we fondly call “mumos” (ghosts), albeit still donning the all black long dresses and veil. I wonder why they can’t wear black shirts and pants instead. They have breached the gender divide anyway, so why not go all the way? They have nailed women on the cross in barrio Cutud in Pampanga, haven’t they?
This year, I also noticed some of the old images have been replaced by newer ones, such as that of Maria Magdalena. I did not see the Wednesday procession, so I do not know if the older image was used in that procession. They say that the number of images in Holy Week processions indicates the wealth of the families in the town. Does that mean that our town economy is actually improving? In other towns, families who have converted to other religions adverse to catholic traditions destroys their centuries old images so that they could no longer be a cause for people to commit the hideous sin of idolatry. Different folks, different strokes!
Easter Sunday Salubong
This dawn procession can be well considered as a good barometer of the town’s economic condition. The early salubongs I remember were simple. The images of the Virgin Mary, now in resplendent white but with the head still covered in black veil, and the Risen Christ starts off in separate ways. One would go around half of the town through Barrio Aguho, and the other one taking the other half through Barrio Tabacalera. They would then meet again at the church patio where a little angel lifted the veil off the Virgin’s head to reveal a tear-less face. The women joined the Virgin’s entourage while the men joined the Risen Christ.
At sometime during the 70’s they made some changes so that the other barrios can be involved. The starting points for both the Virgin and the Risen Christ were rotated among the different barrios. Then later on, even the place were the salubong will take place was also moved from one kapilya to another. Then in the nineties, a grand tradition was started, that of building a grand tableau in the church patio, with each year depicting a chosen theme. The salubong then took on the identity of a grand theater production, complete with lights, sounds and smoke. Each year was different from the last and people actually looked forward to the grand spectacle even if they had to wake up early to see it. The downside is that less people were joining the procession because they wanted to get good positions on the patio to get a better view.
This year, I noticed just a simple wooden stairway leading to a balcony from where I presume the little angel will lift the Virgin’s veil. It is a stark contrast to the grand designs of years past, so times must be really bad these days. Or maybe the organizers had been struck with conscience for spending obscene amounts of money on a one-day affair while many of the parishioners could not even afford to have more that one meal a day.
However we celebrate the Holy Week, I am still glad my little town has somehow managed to retain its many traditions, albeit with some changes here and there. The hopeless optimist in me still dreams of a time when we can go back to the old traditions that has given our town its character, but as progress marches on it has become increasingly difficult to do so. But the memories will leave on, if only to remind the future generations of the faith and piety of their forebears.
Happy Easter to all!