Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cuaresma: Palm Sunday

Image of Jesus riding a donkey to the City of Jerusalem in the Cathedral of Imus
The bells toil as flocks of people clad in different colors wave palms -- a priest cloaked in red walked among them and with his giving of blessing the crowds and the choir sang the hymns of old latin, a somber echo of the Spanish colonial times when the Palm sunday mass, or any mass for that matter, is celebrated in Latin.

"Hosanna Filio David!" Sang the choirs and the crowds, rejoicing as the priest walked at their center and to the altar... blessing both the faithful and the leaves they proudly wave like banners. But then there was a change of tone, the smiling faces now shouted for death, punishment, jeers and insults. Shouting as a whole the words: "Crucify Him!"

No, this is not a play... this is actually the Palm Sunday celebration here in the Philippines, where the catholic faithful re-enact the story of how the Christ was joyfully welcomed into the city of Jerusalem as their king and the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Deep in symbology... the mass represents how the crowds, then as now, praise God first then condemn Him for His "failures" to them. 

In most provinces, like in Cavite, the priests re-enact the verses... with some even coming in on a donkey. There are areas in the Philippines wherein the priest rides a donkey around the town-parish and then enters the door of the church by first knocking at it with the end of the palms. The choir normally gives a dramatic tone to the mass, acting out parts in a mini version of a passion play. 

Supernatural Spirituality: More than leaves


One of the fascinating things that surround the Filipino piety is that it is peculiarly and yet interestingly mixed with beliefs that are considered by many as taboo to the faith. 

For instance, the palms that were blessed during the mass are, more often than not, displaced at doorways and windows to ward off demons and evil spirits and with some even feeding the leaves to cocks used in the famous sport of cockfighting so as to make them lucky, a practice condemned by the officials of the church in the local area. Practices like this, though, still persist despite the warnings.

Generating a market of their own, the palms are actually sold by street vendors at a cheap price, taking advantage of the large catholic demand for the leaves -- with some families buying three to six palms for their homes.

Palms, commonly known as "Palaspas" in the common language in this country, are actually representations of the welcoming of Christ by the faithful and the acceptance of the people of Jesus being their King. Just like banners, they are symbols of being part of the kingdom of Christ and of His unending mercy and unbounded love.

The mass, beyond the leaves, is a fascinating one -- a curious mix of the typical mass with the passion play and marks the beginning of the holy week, a time dedicated to the deeply embedded catholic faith in the nation which brings out the most fascinating and curious expressions of faith around the world.

Pabasa, the traditional singing of the whole life of Jesus (another version is the story of the Bible) is started to sung from this day onwards to Maundy Thursday.


Cuaresma is a series of notes on traditions of Filipinos during Holy Week
All pictures are taken in Imus Cathedral during the Palm Sunday Mass of 2013
No copyrights. Feel free to use them as long as they are not used for commercial purposes.