Holy Week arrives on Palm Sunday, and catholics carry palm branches to mass to be blessed by priests and taken back home. As Holy Week progresses, great solemnity spreads across the land. Many fulfil vows that they uttered to God in exchange for a favour like recovery from sickness or help during a difficult financial situation. You will also see statues draped in purple to symbolise the gloomy atmosphere, and the most religious Catholics will attend mass daily and fast strictly.
As meat is forbidden during Lent, and especially during Holy Week, fish, eggs, and vegetables are eaten frequently during this time. Some even take up a liquid-only diet or fast from food entirely. Some popular dishes eaten during Lent include: sabaw isda paksiw (sour fish soup), relyenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), fried or sauteed tilapia, sardines on rice, tuyo (dried fish), lumpiang (spring rolls with local vegetable fillings), adobo string beans (instead of pork or chicken), and eggplant omelets.
Maundy Thursday is the start of the main Easter celebrations in the Philippines, which is part of the larger Holy Week celebrations. According to Biblical tradition, Jesus was crucified on the Cross on a Friday (hence, “Good Friday”), and Maundy Thursday commemorates the events leading up to the Crucifixion.
Maundy (also known as the “Washing of the Feet”) is a religious rite. A re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet are often observed on this day. Filipinos traditionally visit either seven or 14 churches (this tradition is called visita iglesia or “to visit churches”) where this re-enactment is held.
Good Friday is part of the Christian Easter Week celebrations (also known as ‘Holy Week’). Good Friday is two days before Easter Sunday, which normally coincides with the March Equinox and may also coincide with the Jewish Passover.
Good Friday in the Philippines is a national public holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion is symbolised by the Cross and, according to the Biblical Gospels, it was by this ancient form of death penalty that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself and died so that he could save humanity from their sins.
Easter is a solemn holiday season and many Filipinos abstain from activities they may deem as ‘worldly’ (e.g. drinking alcohol). On Good Friday, many choose to abstain from eating meat and often pray and fast as part of their religious traditions.
Masses are held in the early afternoon to commemorate and reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion. According to Christian scriptures, Jesus died on the cross at 3pm, so it is at this time in the mass that people become silent and meditate on Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Catholic Filipinos observe the Stations of the Cross as part of the Good Friday mass. These ‘stations’ are often paintings or sculptures that depict specific moments of Jesus on his way to be crucified. They are also often re-enacted by actors as part of an Easter procession. In the Philippines in particular, some people even go so far as to crucify themselves on a wooden cross to symbolise their devotion, as part of their penance or vow.
On “Black Saturday,” preparations are made for the late-night Easter vigil at church. There, the Gloria is sung, and some call it “Glorious Saturday.” In some places, an effigy of Judas is hung and burned up, though sometimes, he is blown to pieces by firecrackers. At midnight, the fasting and mourning ends because it is finally the day on which Christ arose from the grave in victory.
A 4am on Easter Morning, a ceremony commemorates the meeting of Mary and Jesus after the Resurrection. The black-veiled image of Mary is unveiled by one or more people dressed up like angels, and sometimes, the veil is tied to balloons or a dove to be carried away in the air. The image of Christ also is unveiled, and flowers and confetti fall down on the statues of both Mary and Jesus. Bells ring and fireworks explode in the sky. Legend has it, however, that if the veil is removed only with difficulty, bad luck will accompany the year to come.