This is the third installment of my Semana Santa series where I feature rituals and traditions observed in certain places during this most solemn week in the Catholic calendar. Click on the image at the right to check the rest of the articles.
The heightened religious fervor, the devotion and the age old practices just come together and intertwine to produce one of the spectacular Semana Santa (Holy Week) observance that I have seen. Lucban in Quezon is one of the must go to places to witness such events.
The hazy yellow green sea of palms sway in all directions blanketing the plaza at the church grounds as the faithful is gathered while a priest blesses. A few minutes later, the old banal (holy) women, are racing (I was amazed at the vigor and quickness they displayed) with each other to place their tapis or shawls along the priest’s path as he winds his way to the church trailed with his apostles and the people.
While in other places across the Philippines especially in Luzon and Visayas, the Pabasa (ritual chanting of the life and passion of Jesus Christ) is done in archaic dialect in an equally archaic rythmic singing, the one in Lucban is, at first amusing, surprising and different that just makes you realize that after all the centuries of devoutness, one practice actually has adapted to the times. Their Pabasa is usually performed along the street fronting the owner’s house topped by a tent accompanied by modern rythms emanating from karaoke equipment. Again, unlike in other areas, the mood is lively and festive with young children singing along with the adults.
I was taking photos in and around the church when suddenly, a group of men entered the main portal dressed in everyday clothes carrying a cross and an image of the Christ. These men were rehearsing for the drama that will be held the next day, Good Friday at around 1500H. It was the first time I saw a Christ image with hinged shoulders that is primarily used for the Pagpapako and Pagtatanggal (crucifixion and removal from the cross) rituals.
The actual Pagtatanggal done by the men that I saw rehearsing the day earlier but this time, fully robed in white. A few minutes later, the faithful will form a line to the altar to venerate and kiss a crucifix. Then the procession will start. The carozzas richly decorated images of the saints and scenes from the Passion are either pulled and pushed or borne on the shoulders of men.
Late afternoon and the first carozzas arrives back to the church. The number of these processional images are many, more than twenty, and as it arrives, people rush to get the flowers decorating these.
Between 1500H of Good Friday and before the Salubong (meeting) procession, bells and anything made of metal falls silent except for bamboo clappers that these young men vigorously manipulate at the choirloft. Made from long pieces of bamboo, it is split three fourths of the way with a hole bored at the end. As the image of the Señor moves out and arrives back to the church, these clappers are used. The rythm and the sound produced by these instruments are one-of-a-kind.
One thing I found about the Good Friday procession in Lucban are the tasks apportioned to the sexes. The men takes charge of bringing the processional bier from the church and around town where fanatical devotion paralleling the Black Nazarene ritual frenzy in Quiapo, Manila occurs (top most photo). After it arrives back, the women take charge and brings the carozza back to the Rañola house.
The eve of Easter Sunday and the faithful again are gathered inside the church for the vigil. At one point, the new fire and water are blessed and suddenly, all the lights are put off. From one lighted candle, to the next, the church slowly lights up again with the flame of a hundred candles. The scene is magical.
Unlike the Salubong or in my Cebuano language, Sugat, that I am acostumed to back home in Cebu, the Salubong is done at midnight, just after the Black Saturday evening mass. This is the ritual meeting of the Mater Dolorosa and the newly risen Christ. In this town, there is a funny side here. You would be surprised why some people are bringing umbrellas when it is a few days into the dry season. Suddenly, an impassioned plea from the emcee breaks out from the loudspeakers not to hurl immediately the water bombs the youths have been preparing and concealing at hand.
The Salubong breaks the ritual taboo of not taking a bath during Holy Week. Not that the people still adhere to these (but some may still do), but in Lucban, just as the ritual meeting procession ends, water bombs in the form of plastic wrappers filled with water are playfully flung to the parishioners. So the use of the umbrella comes in handy. In other provinces, Easter Sunday is a trip to the beaches and resorts. Here, being a landlocked municipality, the streets are busy with the water wars. Anyone walking the streets are not spared. Drinking, merriment and celebration can be found everywhere. On my part, I brought a jacket and politely asked people not to douse me as I’m taking photographs. But I cannot refuse the many offerings of a shot of lambanog (coconut vodka).
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