Holy Week in the Philippines

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Holy Week in the Philippines (Filipino: Mahal na Araw; Spanish: Semana Santa) is a significant religious observance for the country’s Roman Catholic majority and most Protestant groups.

It begins on Palm Sunday and continues on through to Black Saturday. Many communities observe Spanish-influenced Catholic rituals such as processions, that have been syncretised with elements of pre-Hispanic beliefs. This is evident in some ritual practices not sanctioned by the universal Church and the many superstitions associated with the occasion.

During the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday until Black Saturday), businesses are closed for part or all of the three days. Local terrestrial television and most radio stations usually go off the air. Those that remain on air (such as stations owned by various denominations) operate on shorter broadcasting hours, and feature seasonal programming such religious films and news coverage of various services and rites. Cable television channels in the Philippines, however, continue to broadcast their normal programming.

Palm Sunday[edit]

A priest blesses palms on Palm Sunday in the church of Plaridel, Bulacan (2012).

On Palm Sunday (Linggo ng Palaspás, Domingo de Ramos, “Branch Sunday”), worshipers bear ornately woven palm fronds to church for blessing by the priest before or after Mass. Many Filipinos then bring the fronds home and place these on doors, lintels or windows, in the belief that the blessed palms (considered by the Church as sacramentals) can ward off demons and avert lightning.

Some places hold a procession into the church before the service, a common starting point being an ermita/visita (chapel of ease) several blocks away. The presiding priest either walks the route or, in imitation of Jesus’ triumphal entry, is led on horseback to the church. Sometimes a statue of Christ riding a donkey (known as the Humenta) is used instead.

Whether a statue or the priest is used for the procession, a custom in some parts is for women to cover the route with special, sometimes heirloom cloths or aprons known as tapis (literally, “wraparound”). This is to recall how the excited Jerusalemites spread their cloaks before Christ as he entered the city.

Upon reaching the church or some other designated spot, children dressed as angels sing the day’s antiphon, Hosanna Filio David (“Hosanna to the Son of Davíd”) in Latin or the vernacular, and set to traditional hymn tunes.

The blessing of palms and the intonation of the antiphon often occurs in the church’s parvise, its parking lot, or the town plaza (which is usually adjacent or near the church in most Philippine settlements).

Holy Monday[edit]

Before the Second World War, the Recollect Order in Manila held its famous Procession of the Passion of Christ on Holy Monday (Lunes Santo). The most famous image was that of the purportedly miraculous Black Nazarene.

After the Recollects’ church was destroyed in the 1945 bombing of the city, only the Black Nazarene image survived and was transferred to Quiapo Church.

Holy Wednesday[edit]

In the provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and in the Ilocandia, a long procession of the Passion of Christ is held in the evening on Holy Wednesday (Miyérkules Santo). Except in the Bulacan towns of Baliuag and Pulilan, the Passion tableaux are excluded from the Good Friday Procession.

Maundy Thursday[edit]

Maundy Thursday (Huwebes Santo) is a public holiday, and marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum.

Prior to reforms in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the Procession of the Passion of Christ was held on Maundy Thursday. This was later transferred to Holy Wednesday for Latin Rite Catholics, with the Philippine Independent Church retaining the Maundy Thursday date. Among the most famous processions of the Philippine Independent Church are those of Concepcion, Malabon, Santa Cruz and Paete, Laguna.

The first rite of the day is the Chrism Mass, in which parishioners join their parish priest for morning Mass in the cathedral, especially in the large dioceses and archdioceses. Many priests[who?] consider this to be the day when they renew their priestly vows. This Mass, over which presides the bishop of the diocese, is when the Chrism, oil of catechumens and the oil for the sick are consecrated after the homily. Priests bring the oils to their respective parishes after the service and store these for future use.

The main observance of the day is the last Mass before Easter, the Mass of the Lord's Supper. This usually includes a re-enactment of the Washing of the Feet of the Twelve Apostles, and is followed by a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, which is placed in the Altar of Repose. Churches remain open until midnight for those who want to venerate the Blessed Sacrament, with others going to one of several priests on standby to confess their sins.

One of the most important Holy Week traditions in the Philippines is the Visita Iglesia (Spanish for "church visit", also known as the Seven Churches Visitation).[1] Throughout the day, worshipers pray the Stations of the Cross inside or outside the church, while at night after services, the faithful may also pray before the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar of Repose.[2]

Good Friday[edit]

Good Friday, (Biyernes Santo) is the second public holiday of the week. It is observed with solemn street processions, the Way of the Cross, the commemoration of Jesus' Seven Last Words (”Siete Palabras”) and the Senákulo, which in some places has already begun on Palm Sunday.

Mass is not celebrated during this day but the people gather at the church for the Veneration of Cross and the Mass of the Presanctified. The service begins at three in the afternoon, the time Jesus is said to have died. As the Mass of this day has no Anaphora (liturgy), the Communion given to congregants was already consecrated during the Mass of the Lord's Supper.

In some communities (most famously in the province of Pampanga), the processions include devotees who self-flagellate and sometimes even have themselves nailed to crosses as expressions of penance, in fulfilment of a vow, or in thanksgiving for a prayer granted.

The pabasa, or continuous chanting of the Pasyón (the Filipino epic narrative of Christ's life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection), usually concludes on this day. Television and radio stations also air Siete Palabras services from large churches in Manila, usually beginning at noon.

Santo Entierro[edit]

The usual highlight of Good Friday is the Santo Entierro ("holy interment"), which is both the name of the rite itself and of the statue of the dead Christ used in it. Comparable to the Eastern Orthodox practice of processing the epitaphios, the calandra or bier carrying the Santo Entierro is brought around town, normally followed by images of saints connected to the Passion narrative such as Peter and John the Evangelist. Tradition dictates that the image of the Virgin Mary, dressed in black and gold as the mourning Mater Dolorosa, is always the final image in the procession.

Some places accord the Santo Entierro traditional, pre-Christian funeral rites such as washing the corpse, laying the body in state, or seating it in a funerary chair. In Paete, Laguna the icon of the Santo Entierro is smoked over burning lansones peelings: during the procession, the calandra makes several stops, and each time is placed over the burning peelings. At each pause, a crier turns towards the bier and shouts, "¡Señor! Misericordia, Señor!" ("Lord! Mercy, Lord!"), to which the congregation responds, "¡Misericordia, Señor!" ("Mercy, Lord!").

Among the famous biers of the Dead Christ can be seen in Paete, Guagua, Sasmuan, Agoo, San Pablo, Molo, Iloilo, Baliwag, Vigan and Silay. Some are century old and commissioned from the famous talleres of Asuncion and Maximo Vicente.

In Alimodian, Iloilo the Santo Entierro is interred at the door of the parish church to enable veneration, usually by kissing the icon's feet. There is also a large crucifix before the altar for people to venerate and kiss. At night, young girls dressed and the Mater Dolorosa, barefoot and bearing lit candles, hold a procession around the town square to meditate and mourn Christ, reenacting the burial rites Christ's female disciples gave him.

Popular culture[edit]

Several taboos are customarily observed on this day, such as an avoidance of excessive noisemaking, and in older times bathing (except for health reasons). The prohibitions are usually effective after 15:00 PHT, the hour of Christ’s death according to scripture, and begins a period of ritual mourning. Children, in particular, were traditionally discouraged from outdoor play, with elders cautioning that since “God is dead”, evil spirits are freely roaming the earth and ready to harm people.

The ritual mourning and generally somber mood attached to this day gave rise to the Tagalog idiom "Mukhâ kang Biyernes Santo." Literally translating to "You’ve a face like Good Friday," it refers to a sad person's demeanor resembling that of the suffering Christ.

Easter Sunday[edit]

Easter (Linggó ng Pagkabuhay) is marked with joyous celebrations, the first being the pre-dawn rite called Salubong in Filipino and Sugat in Cebuano and Hiligaynon (both calques of the rite’s Spanish name Encuentro, "meeting").

The ritual is meant to depict the apocryphal reunion of Christ and his Mother, the Virgin Mary, after the Resurrection. Statues of both are borne in two separate processions that converge at a designated area called a Galilea (“Galilee”), which is often any open space near the church. Depending on the size and wealth of the congregation, the processions include statues of any or all the Myrrhbearers, particularly the Three Marys (Mary, mother of James, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Salome), along with Peter and John the Evangelist. By custom, the two processions are sex-segregated, with male worshipers following the Risen Christ, twelve men in costume as the Apostles, and icons of male saints, while female congregants accompany icons of the Virgin Mary and female saints. Those in the procession hold lit tapers, and often recite the rosary as a brass band plays hymns and joyful music.

The icon of the Virgin Mary, still called the Mater Dolorosa, is clothed or draped in a black veil (Tagalog: lambóng) to show her bereavement. An “angel” (often a small girl in costume) stands at or is suspended in mid-air from the Galilea (which may be a permanent or temporary scaffold, or even a house’s window festooned with flowers). From this lofty perch, the angel chants the Regina Coeli in Latin or in the vernacular, sometimes accompanied by similarly dressed children representing the angelic choirs.

The high point is when the principal angel dramatically removes the veil from the Virgin’s icon, signalling the abrupt end to her grieving and the period of mourning. The veil may simply be pulled off the statue, or tied to balloons or doves that are released into the dawn sky. The sorrowing Virgin is thus ritually transformed into Nuestra Señora de Alegria ("Our Lady of Joy"); in celebratory veneration, the angels throw flower petals at the icons of the rejoicing Mother and her Risen Son while confetti are thrown into both images. The moment is punctuated by bells pealing, brass bands playing, and fireworks. The reunited congregation then gathers for the first Mass of Easter in the church.

In some parishes, this rite is held earlier at midnight on Easter Sunday immediately following the Easter Vigil proper, but with the same format.

Notable observances and pilgrimage sites[edit]

Cities and towns with famous Holy Week celebrations include:

Via Crucis[edit]

During Visita Iglesia, the Pilgrims also pray to the Stations of the Cross inside the church. They are contemplating on the sufferings of the Christ.

Tondo, Manila[edit]

Caridad or Pakaridad is a way of giving or sharing food (especially ginataan or suman) to the neighbors or to the local church or chapel to be given to the crowds of people who attend the Good Friday procession. A complimentary drink of water is also given by local residents living along the processional route.

Black Nazarene[edit]

The Black Nazarene icon, brought from Mexico during the Galleon Trade era, is enshrined in Quiapo Church, and is considered miraculous by devotees is brought out for procession every Good Friday. The statue is borne on the shoulders of male devotees in a slow, difficult procession around the narrow streets of the district, a score of men struggle to keep the image moving on. Thousands more try to muscle their way to touch the Nazarene as if carried by a powerful tide in an ocean of humanity.

Amulet hunting[edit]

It is a folk belief that anting-anting (traditional amulets) are especially potent if collected, made, or imbued with power on Good Friday. In Sipalay, Negros Occidental many albularyo (witch doctors) search for anting-anting in unexplored caves.

Procession of Statues[edit]

On Holy Wednesday, a procession is held with Paete's 53 images of Christ's life and death. The procession goes through the town's narrow streets en route to the church. It stops three times to give way to the Salubong (meeting) which depicts three scenes of Jesus' passion and in which Paete's "moving saints" take part. These are: the meeting of Christ and Mary, held at the church patio; the wiping of Jesus' face by Veronica, which takes place at Plaza Edesan; and finally, the encounter between Mary and Veronica where the latter shows the miraculous imprints of Christ's face on her cloth. This is held at the town plaza

In San Pablo, the Good Friday procession consists of huge, century-old statues bedecked in fresh flowers. In the old times, the famous processions were that of Saint Bartholomew of Malabon, Binan, Laguna, Pateros and Tuguegaro. Unfortunately, the Holy Week Images from Cagayan were destroyed by the war and similarly the Tres Caidas of Binan. In the seventies, the Holy Week Procession of Malabon consisted of 30 silver carrozas. The highlight was the Tres Caidas either from Talleres Maximo or Asuncion. It no longer join the procession of Good Friday. The most famous procession in Manila during the inter war period was of Santa Cruz. Almost all images were obliterated during the liberation of Manila

Passion plays[edit]


Many towns have their own versions of the Senákulo, using traditional scripts that are decades or centuries old. A version is held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, sponsored by the Department of Tourism. Popular film and televisions stars often join the cast of the play. In Taguig, they popularize the modern version of Jesus Christ Superstar reshown at the Fort Santiago Amphitheater for the benefit of Manileños. In Mexico, Pampanga and Dinalupihan, Bataan, the actor portraying Jesus has been actually nailed to the cross to simulate Christ's passion as best and as painfully possible. Similar shows are also held in Makati and in the Santa Ana District of Manila.

Pagtaltal sa Jordan[edit]

In the Visayas, the passion play Ang Pagtaltal sa Jordan is performed in Jordan, Guimaras and in Barotac Viejo, Iloilo every Good Friday. In recent years, the play's audience included locals as well as people from the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Canada, and other countries.[citation needed]

Moriones Festival[edit]

The Moriones Festival in the island province of Marinduque commemorates the story of the Roman centurion, Longinus (Tagalog: San Longhino) and his legendary conversion at the foot of the cross. The townsfolk of Boac and Mogpog are dressed in masks and helmets (moriones), depicting Roman soldiers, and unusually for the country, observe Holy Week in a much more joyous manner.


Ang Bati[edit]

Salubung in Pasig[edit]

The famous Salubong of Pasig Immaculate Church

In one book written by an American, the author observed that the Easter Sunday Procession of Pasig was the most beautiful one. Since Pasig is older than the other towns of the former Province of Tondo, it was suggested, Makati, Paranaque and other Augustinian Towns copied their traditions from Pasig. Two processions emerged from the church and met in front of the Plaza. Mother and Son greeted each other to the tune of Regina Coeli.


The Saboy is a traditional dance performed by girls on Easter Sunday in Las Piñas, Metro Manila. The dance is divided into two parts, the "mourning" section and the "joyful" version.

The first dancer is the Salubong Angel, who often has large wings and bears a black veil. Second are the Hosanna Angels dressed in white, who usually hold baskets with rose petals and comprise a majority of the dancers.

Third are the Tres Marías (English: Three Marys), three older girls dressed in pink and also bearing baskets. Last are the blue-clad Kapitana (Captainess) and Tinyentera (Female Lieutenant); the Kapitana can be distinguished by the large banner she waves, while the Tinyentera swings a thurible.

Sayaw ng Pagbatì[edit]

The Salubong is also held in Parañaque City, but with the Mass followed by different renditions of the Sayaw ng Pagbatì ("Dance at the Greeting").

San Pablo City[edit]

Celebrities and movie stars from Manila and neighboring provinces join the procession organized by Don Ado Escudero of Villa Escudero.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Vila, Alixandra Caole (April 2, 2015). "IN PHOTOS: A look at churches where Filipinos spend Visita Iglesia". The Philippine Star. philstar.com. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  2. ^ BARTOLOME, JESSICA (April 1, 2015). "Doing the Visita Iglesia in Metro Manila". GMA News.