Holy Week Traditions in the Philippines

30 March 2022
Holy Week Traditions in the Philippines

Despite cultural and religious diversity, the Philippines is a country where a strong emphasis is placed on religious and spiritual development. So, the Philippines is still the "bastion of Christianity in Asia" and the fifth largest Catholic country on Earth for this very reason.


Semana Santa, Spanish for Holy Week and Mahal na Araw in Tagalog, is an important religious festival in the Philippines for the country's majority Catholic population, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente or the Philippine Independent Church, and the majority of Protestants. One of Asia's few predominantly Christian nations, the country's 80 percent Catholic population makes the Church a powerful social and political influence.


The Lenten Season

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, which lasts until Easter. Catholic processions, for example, are common in many places where the faith has been impacted by Spanish colonial traditions. There are various superstitions linked with this holiday, as seen by the ceremonial behaviors that the Catholic Church does not officially sanction.


Easter Triduum, which starts on Maundy Thursday through Black Saturday, is a statutory holiday in the Philippines. The majority of companies and banks are closed or operating for shorter hours during these following days. 


As a general rule of thumb, local terrestrial television and most radio stations go off the air during the Lenten season, although religious and inspirational programs, as well as news coverage of various religious ceremonies and rituals, may be found on stations controlled by different religions. 


This is not the case with international cable television channels that have been disseminated in the Philippines, which continue to transmit their usual programming, except for those international channels that air horse racing and cockfighting. These particular shows temporarily go off the air for the length of the season.


Every year, the Philippines celebrates Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which is a time of somber reflection on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In truth, it's just as significant as any other holiday season, particularly for Catholics who follow tradition to the letter. 

And since the Lenten season is here and most areas in the Philippines are now in Alert Level 1, we've compiled a list of some of the Filipino customs and activities that you can observe and participate in during this Holy Season:


1. Palm Sunday or the Arrival of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem

It's the final Sunday of Lent and the Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. During this time, Jesus Christ's victorious entry into Jerusalem as a savior and king is remembered and celebrated on this day. People in the Philippines go to Church on Palm Sunday and have their woven palm fronds or palaspas blessed by a priest in order to participate in the Palm Sunday Mass. The typical practice of waving palm fronds when the priest enters the Church is a reenactment of Jesus's arrival in Jerusalem.


2. Fasting and abstinence

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Catholic Church commemorates a day of fasting and abstinence to commemorate Jesus' death and resurrection for the sake of humanity. Whether it's a strict meat-free day or a general fast, many people observe the Holy Week by doing this. One meal a day, plus two smaller meals which, if combined, would not surpass the main meal in amount, is how the Church describes this. Liquids were never addressed during the Lenten fast, although alcoholic drinks seem to be at odds with the practice of penance.


3. Joining the Pabasa or Pasyon

There are still individuals who want to participate in this age-old ritual of "Pabasa ng Pasyon (Reading of the Passion)," even though most of us would rather be at the beach. A 16th-century epic poem about Jesus' life, passion, death, and resurrection, the "Pasyong Mahal," is chanted incessantly by devoted Catholics in the Philippines throughout the Holy Week.


4. Major Holy Wednesday Procession

Paete, Laguna's 53 Holy Week images depicting Christ's life and crucifixion are paraded around the city every Holy Wednesday. The holy week procession makes its way through the town's small streets on its way to the Church. 

To make space for three depictions of Jesus' passion by "moving saints," the procession stops three times to give way to the Salubong or meeting. The first one is the meeting of Christ and Mary at the church patio followed by Veronica wiping Jesus' face at Plaza Edesan. This ends whenVeronica meets the Virgin Mary and shows her the miraculous imprints of Christ's face on her cloth. This event in Paete to observe Holy Week is usually held in the town plaza.


5. Seven churches visitation

For many years, the practice of visiting seven different churches during Lent has been referred to as "Visita Iglesia." A typical tradition and a significant religious observance among Filipino Catholics is to visit seven churches on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in memory of Christ's death.


6. Pagtaltal in Guimaras

Every Good Friday, the people of Jordan, Guimaras, put on a holy Lenten production called Ang Pagtaltal, which is modeled by Oberammergau in southern Bavaria, Germany. The term "Pagtaltal" means to remove in English. As a result, the play concludes with Jesus Christ's corpse being taken down from the crucifixion and placed in the arms of his mother, Mary, in a scene known as the "Pieta."


As a result of Jordan's large Christian population, the country's first festival was recorded in Pagtaltal in Jordan, Guimaras, which was a Good Friday spectacular. As a dramatization of Jesus' sufferings, this account surpasses all others of a comparable kind in terms of its depth of spirituality, realism, theatricality, and general appeal. People from across the world brave the summer heat to see Pagtaltal every year. This is a clear indication of the festival's popularity.


7. Senakulo

The Spanish word cenáculo, or "site where Jesus Christ shared the Last Supper with his apostles," is the origin of Senakulo term in Filipino. This is a local theatrical drama about Jesus' life and death that has already become a tradition and was made as a Holy Lenten Presentation staged during Holy Week in the Philippines.


8. Moriones Festival

It is a celebration of Longinus, a Roman centurion who is said to have converted at the foot of the cross in the Province of Marinduque. Performers in the said festival wear masks and helmets or moriones, symbolizing Roman soldiers, and celebrate the Holy Week in a far more upbeat way which is kind of rare in the rest of the nation.


9. Easter Sunday Procession and Celebrations

As one of the few majority Christian countries in the world, the Philippines welcome Easter with lots of happiness and fun activities in the community:


10. Salubong

It is customary in the Philippines to perform a Salubong ritual on the morning of Easter Sunday. Men carry the figure of Christ in one procession while women follow the picture of Mary, draped in a black mourning robe, in the other two. The fabled reunion of the rising Christ and his mother is depicted in this ceremony.


11. Saboy

Girls in Las Piñas, Metro Manila, perform the Saboy, a traditional Easter dance, on Easter Sunday. The "mourning" segment of the dance is followed by the "joyful" portion.


The first dancer is the Salubong Angel, who is usually adorned with enormous wings and a black veil. Second are the white-clad Hosanna Angels, who form the bulk of the dancers and carry baskets of rose petals.


Another group of three older girls dressed in pink and carrying a basket is known as the Tres Marias or the Three Marys in English. Last is the Tinyentera or Female Lieutenant, that swings a thurible and while the Kapitana or the Captainess is identified by her enormous blue flag as the last pair of female officers.


Also Read: Movies to Watch during Lenten Season with your Family


Join these Spanish-influenced Catholic rituals and be always on the go by getting your own space where the actions are!


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