The Holy Week in Philippine Catholicism is of one of the highest points, if not the highest point, of the religious culture of our country. It is packed with so many religious activities which are dear to the people. Palm Sunday is very lively with the majority of our Catholics bearing beautifully twinned coconut leaves from the church to their homes. These leaves will stay in their family altars or be attached to their doors as reminders of the welcome they give to Jesus in their lives. From Holy Monday to Wednesday, there are many activities to remind them of God’s marvelous actions for our salvation. In not a few places, the Cenaculo is presented. These are plays or dramas depicting the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Many still have the reading of the Pasyon. In reality, it is the singing of the history of salvation with a stress on the last three days of the life of Jesus. In the parishes, recollections are being organized to help the parishioners reflect on certain aspects of their faith. Confessions or Kumpisalan ng Bayan are offered so that people can have the opportunity to receive the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Confession.

Then on Holy Thursday morning the Chrism Mass is celebrated by the bishop in his cathedral to bless the Chrism to be used for Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination, and the Sacred Oil for the sick. During this mass too the priests renew their ordination commitment to serve God’s people under the leadership of the bishop. In the evening of the same day the Mass of the Last Supperis celebrated during which the Last Supper of Jesus is being remembered with the ceremonial washing of the feet. The Last Supper is commemorated as the institution of both the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and of the Holy Orders. Jesus moved to the Garden of Olives in Gethsemani after the Last Supper. So also the people are invited to stay with Jesus to pray before the Altar of Repose till midnight. In many places this is also the time for the Visita Iglesia. People move to pray from church to church.

Good Friday is markedly solemn. It is a day of penance and prayer. People fast on this day. They make the Way of the Cross to follow the last steps of Jesus to his death. The air of solemnity and silence is palpable in all places on this day. Even the radio and TV have religious programs. At noon the Siete Palabras, or the Seven Last Words of Jesus, become the center of meditations in all Churches. At three o’clock, the parishes have the Commemoration of the Lord’s Death. This is the only day in the year in which no mass is celebrated. This commemoration is done with the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and the reception of Holy Communion. From this time on, people come to the Church to pray and venerate the Cross. In many parishes, in the evening there are processions of the Santo Entierro, that is, the image of the corpse of Jesus.

Holy Saturday is a quiet day. Preparations are made for the most solemn celebration of the whole year – the Easter Vigil Mass. This is done between sundown of Saturday and sunrise of Sunday. There are four moments in this vigil celebration which in ancient time would cover almost the whole night. First, there is the celebration of the light outside of the Church. This powerfully manifests the triumph of light over darkness, with the procession of the lighted Paschal Candle leading the way into a dark church. This is followed by nine readings from the Bible which recalls the history of salvation, covering from Creation to the Resurrection – from Genesis to Jesus. Then follows the celebration of Baptism. It is in this solemn night that adults are baptized and the rest of the faithful renew their baptism. The joyful Easter Eucharist follows.

For us Filipinos the Holy Week celebration will not end without the Salubong. This shows the Marian faith of people. We believe that Mother Mary, who suffered most at the suffering and death of her Son Jesus, is also the first to be consoled by Jesus when he rose from the dead. So there is the Encuentro or Salubong of the Mother and the Son, with the angels, represented by the children, singing the Alleluia at this joyful meeting.

All these religious practices are already part of Filipino culture. They awaken the faith of the people which may have lain dormant during the rest of the year. These devotions are all Christ-centered. They present the Paschal Mystery very vividly, which is the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. All Christians participate in the Paschal Mystery by their baptism. We too die and rise with Jesus. This indeed is our Christian life – dying to our old self so that the new self, patterned after Jesus, may now be our life. All these celebrations give us joy because we firmly believe that no matter how dark our situation may be, light will ultimately come. Life triumphs over death. Goodness overcomes evil, and truth outlasts falsehood.