Filipino Catholic Traditions During Holy Week

Holy Saturday or also know as Black Saturday. This was the day Jesus Christ’s body lay in the tomb after His crucifixion and death, as what Christianity believed. Every year, during Holy Week, the Roman Catholic world commemorates the life of the Christ from the last supper, the day He was crucified and left the earthly world up to the day He was risen from the grave to be with the Father.

In the Philippines, a lot of Catholic devotees are genuinely remember this kind of event. But due to pandemic, it’s been the second year of holy week without the usual traditions and services and mass religious gathering are also prohibited. As I always say, I’m not a religious person but I grew up witnessing different activities held annually in the country. I summarized some the most common Filipino traditions and practices during Holy Week:

Linggo ng Palaspas (Palm Sunday)

This Holy Week tradition is celebrated to commemorate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. It is done on Palm Sunday, as the beginning of the Holy Week. In the Philippines, Catholics trooped to churches carrying their palm fronds to be blessed by the priest during mass. The blessing rite recalls the story of Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry to Jerusalem.

Pabasa ng Pasyon (Reading of the Passion of Christ)

A traditional Holy Week ritual of Filipinos involving an interrupted chanting of an epic poem narrating the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was started way back in 16th century when Spanish missionaries in the Philippines adapted the European biblical tradition to melodic form. The first book was written in Spanish but later on translated to Filipino language. The ‘Pabasa’ usually starts in the afternoon of Maundy Thursday and ends either at noon or afternoon of Good Friday without any interruption. It is sung acapella but there are some who uses musical instruments.

Visita Iglesia (Seven Churches Visitation)

Visita Iglesia is another practice of Filipino Catholics during Holy Week. It is one of the most popular sacred vow of some Catholic devotees. Visita Iglesia is done by visiting at least seven different Catholic churches during Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Some of the devotees walk barefoot from church to church and there’s a few cases where they even carry a cross as a way to share Jesus Christ’s sufferings. Many believe that their prayers will be granted once they completed the stations.

Prusisyon (Procession of Statues)

One of the highlights during Holy Week is the procession of life-size statues and scenes in huge carriages/floats, depicting the life of Jesus Christ. My own town of Baliuag in the province of Bulacan has the longest Lenten procession in the country held during Holy Wednesday and Good Friday. With the total of 121 grandest floats up to date carrying huge statues of different Bible characters related to Jesus. I remember when I was growing up, I’ve never missed a Holy Week watching this procession.

Senakulo (Passion Play)

This Holy Week Catholic tradition is a stage or street play about the life and passion of the Christ, takes place in many communities in the country. Some Catholic devotees participated in a street ‘Senakulo’ in which they walk on the street barefooted carrying a wooden cross while some are doing their own sacrifice by whipping themselves. They believed that re-enactment the sacrifices and passion of Jesus is a form of showing their repentance of their sins. Some of them even let themselves to be nailed in a cross standing uphill.

Salubong (Welcoming the Risen Christ)

‘Salubong’ is an Easter tradition to welcome or to meet the Christ as He resurrected from death. Here in the Philippines, this event starts before the dawn of Easter Sunday. During the ‘Salubong’, the images of the resurrected Christ and the grieving Mother Mary covered with a veil have two different processions. These two images will meet at a certain point, usually in the church grounds where a shower of petals will come down after Mary’s veil is lifted. Children usually play as angels, as one of them lifts the veil from above. A short play of ‘Salubong’ is also held in the church.