Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Holy Week beliefs

Holy Week beliefs


Posted 00:54am (Mla time) Mar 23, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service



Editor's Note: Published on page A13 of the March 23, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer


WITH THE THREAT of terrorism looming in the background, I was told that our parish cancelled the traditional Holy Week procession and Easter Sunday "salubong." We have been warned that the Abu Sayyaf plans to bomb churches this week in retaliation for the killing of their cohorts who tried to escape from prison. Most people I have talked to ask aloud why the terrorists would pick on churches when there are other targets to choose from.

Holy Week is not the time for vengeance, but some hotheads suggest that if churches are bombed this week, maybe the same thing should be done to mosques during Ramadan. Unfortunately, the picture is oversimplified into a holy war, and in the process we forget that the Abu Sayyaf are plain bandits with no political or religious issues to promote.

Holy Week has indeed changed from what I knew as a child in the days before cable TV and malls. In those Jurassic days, you could not watch anything even slightly entertaining on TV, except re-runs of Fr. Patrick Peyton's "Holy Rosary Crusade" which seemed to have been filmed originally in Spanish and dubbed in English because the mouths did not quite coordinate with the speech. Most memorable is that Christ's face was never shown and all the viewers had to guide them into prayer was the back of his head with long black hair with curled ends-obviously a cheap wig.

Movie houses took the opportunity to re-run Cecil B. DeMille's classic "Ten Commandments," whose special effects will make viewers today yawn or, much worse, laugh. (One wonders if we will have reruns of Gibson's bloody "Passion" movie.) With all business establishments closed, there was very little diversion available and people could go home or bond with each other on the beach.

Frankly, it was not till I lived in a monastery that I realized how rich Catholic liturgy could be. When I was a child, Holy Week was spent on a beach, or playing with my cousins in Pampanga. We would attend a Wednesday procession in my father's hometown, watch flagellants in San Fernando and hear the wailing of "Pasyon" [Passion] everywhere.

This year, Instituto Cervantes in Manila has taken on the Pasyon tradition and will have a marathon oral reading of the entire Don Quixote over a number of days to commemorate a Cervantes anniversary. Perhaps a marathon reading of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation can be attempted, though I wonder if one week would be long enough.

With the change in Holy Week habits, there are many beliefs that are also beginning to change or be extinct. For example, we were told not to bathe on Good Friday. I didn't know what this was all about. When I asked for a reason, the reply was like a Zen koan: "Patay ang tubig." How can water be dead? We were not allowed to go to the beach or even play at 3 p.m. on Good Friday in commemoration, I guess, of Christ's death.

That, along with fasting and abstinence, was what was most memorable about Holy Week in my childhood. So when I was going over Fr. Francisco Demetrio's two-volume "Dictionary of Folk Beliefs and Customs," it reminded me of Holy Week in the past.

It was believed that accidents usually happened in Holy Week. Frankly, it had nothing to do with the season. It was just that you had an unusually big number of travelers and people returning to hometowns so accidents happened. These days on the expressways, we have rest stops and gas stations. In the North Luzon Expressway, you actually have swift assistance from tollways police who provide a phone or water for an overheated car.

There was also a belief that if an animal or insect bit you during Holy Week that bite was poisonous. The rest of the year these bites were harmless.

You were also warned to be extra careful because if you were wounded during Holy Week, the wound would take longer to heal. We were told the exact opposite about flagellants who were all bloodied, because they cut their backs with razor blades or specially made paddles with spikes, and when they were finished with their penitential rite, they bathed in the river and everything healed quickly.

Fashion also changed during Holy Week, because there was a taboo on wearing red on Good Friday, but nobody seemed to mind the Nazareno of Quiapo and his devotees who did wear red.

Roasting food on Good Friday was said to cause freckles or, even worse, turn the face soot black.

Other things you shouldn't do on Good Friday were: sweeping, spending, over-eating, laughing, traveling, working, walking about, using sharp objects, etc.-the list was quite long.

Most interesting is the underside to folk customs that state that magicians, witches, shamans and similar types recharge their powers during this time. Amulets, or "anting-anting," are also created or recharged during Holy Week.

The catalogue of Holy Week beliefs, as recorded by Demetrio, makes for interesting reading today because many urban people have outgrown them. There must be a logical or anthropological reason for all these beliefs and practices, and one can only hope that researchers compile current practices so that we can compare and contrast our present Holy Week beliefs and customs with the past.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.

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