Clarifications on the Celebration of the Religious Processions During Holy Week ( Diocese of San Pablo)

Una Fides

Clarifications on the Celebration of Religious Processions During Holy Week(P.No. DCL-007-11) 
There is one faith, one baptism, one Lord of all.  The call of the bishop to all clergy and laity alike is the voice of Christ that calls the flock into the one sheepfold. This call for unity is found in its utmost expression in the celebration of the liturgy most especially the Paschal Triduum. In the past the former pastors of the diocese had labored hard so that the celebrations and expressions of devotions held most especially during holy week be in accordance to the norms of true liturgical life. Though important and still valid, another consideration is to be added to the former. This consideration is in the mind of the present shephered of the diocese so that those who desire to interpret the past pronouncements may be able to fully understand it in light of the true Spirit of the liturgical norms. Sacrocanctum Consilium states; “Devotions proper to individual churches also have a special dignity if they are undertaken by the order of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully approved.”[1]  This clarification is sent so that other valid cultural as well as historical expressions not be lost from the local liturgical life of the diocese.

The earliest processions having a religious tone, would already be seen in Holy scripture such as the march around the walls of Jericho and the solemn entry of the ark of the covenant into the city of David, the liturgical procession per se will only enter the life of the church during the age of the Byzantine imperial court. It is in this church age where many of the imperial trappings would be taken over by the bishop of Rome, one such important feature is the solemn processions that would constitute the celebration of the divine liturgy. From its functional beginnings during the liturgy, the procession would enter a period of various developments most especially in the realm of pilgrimages and later on the religious processions. The liturgical procession would no longer only be in the confines of the use of the celebration of the eucharist such as the case of the stational masses of the bishop of Rome but would be directly attached to various devotions such as the veneration of the relics and images of the saints. These processions in honor of the Saints would be so popular in the Iberian continent that they would indeed be important spectacles most especially in Seville and other parts of Spain. It is, this heritage that our colonizers transplanted in our native soil. 

Up to the writing of this document the popularity and power of processions is still closely linked with the fervor and simple faith of our people. One must only witness the processions of the Black Nazarene and the Virgin of Penafrancia to conclude that indeed the procession in the Philippines is here to stay. In our own diocese the annual Turumba festival and the long lines to Lolo Uweng in Brgy. Landayan and the various holy week processions are manifestations of the power of Christian iconography on our faithful. Though there have been abuses in the past that have made this valid expression of faith into an occasion of revelry and superstition, the spiritual benefit of the procession as a whole outweighs the negative aspects. 

Thus the bishop as the liturgist of the Diocese has decided to draw up guidelines and clarifications so that the abuses which are caused because of ignorance of the faithful as well as some pastors regarding the proper implementation of the liturgical procession be corrected. This document will be of great help for pastors as well as lay faithful to use the procession as a means of evangelization as well as a deepening of the common people’s understanding of the faith.

This document will try to address most importantly the processions of holy week in particular and parish scenarios that is common within the Diocese of San Pablo, namely century Old parishes that have traditions, Old parishes that have traditions needing revision due to inconsistencies with the liturgical norms and newly created parishes that have celebrations of recent origins because of the introduction of the pastor.                 

The Processions of Holy Week
Holy week is an important time not only in the liturgical calendar but also to our culture as Filipino Catholics. Not only in the celebration of the liturgy is the faith expressed but also in the various expressions of devotions.    

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s passion

During Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, the liturgy begins with a blessing of palm branches and a procession to commemorate the Lord’s entry to Jerusalem. Its origins can be seen in the accounts of the travel diary of Egeria and the place of origin is the city of Jerusalem where you have the holy sites. In the course of the development of the roman rite the blessing and procession of Palm branches got fused with the Roman tradition of solemnly reciting the Passion of the Lord on Palm Sunday hence the reason for the official title of this day.  Filipinos are fond of Mimesis (bringing to life the events of the past with actions of the present rites and symbols.) and so in some parishes during the procession some priests even ride a horse in the procession while ladies lay cloths in the path. Though the intent is laudable the use of a horse would run contrary with biblical tradition that a donkey and not a horse was used.[2] Some parishes also make the use of the paso (scene) of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem though its use would lessen the impact of the priest as the one who acts as Christ during the procession. With the necessary considerations, the following recommendations are given: 

  1. First in parishes who make use of the animal in the procession the mule or donkey is to be used and not the horse.
  2. Second in parishes that already have a long tradition (fifty years onward) of using the paso of Christ entry into Jerusalem, if it is possible that the pastor can convince the owner of the image to transfer this paso in the procession of holy Wednesday if not, the sensibilities of the faithful is to be respected. For new parishes it is better that the inclusion of this paso during the liturgy of Palm Sunday not be permitted.
  3. Third the rite given us by the Roman Sacramentary provides that the blessing of palms be celebrated before the celebration of the mass and not after. Thus the formulary of blessing can only be done during the celebration of the liturgy. For parishioners coming in late a simple non-liturgical blessing with the use of holy water may be given outside the church. The blessing and procession at the beginning of mass should not be changed just because many parishioners are coming late for the celebrations.

 Station of the cross

This popular devotion has easily taken root in our country all age brackets and levels of society easily relate to its prayers. 

  1. In Parishes the stations of the cross may be done preferably on Fridays of Lent. It can also be done on Good Friday morning but not on Holy Thursday evening for the focus of the liturgy of the Church is the gift of the eucharist and not yet the sacrifice of the cross that is the focus of Good Friday.
  2. In latter years the traditional station of the cross which starts form the trial of Pilate to the burial of Christ was given another option that tries to encapsulate the whole of the paschal mystery. It starts with the establishment of the Eucharist and ends with the resurrection. Though this newer version of the way of the cross is generally used it in no way abrogates the older set of stations which even up today is used by the present pope. Whatever option is used one must be aware that in setting up the stations outside the church the cross is the essential part of the station and not the meditative pictures that accompany it, though the accompanying iconography is an effective aid to each station.
  3. In some parishes, the youth conduct mini plays at each station to make the story of the passion more apt for the present situation of the people. Though laudable the pastor must strike a balance so that the original intent and traditional prayers may not be lost to other agendas not in keeping with the true spirit of the liturgy. The use of music and Christian Art may also be employed provided that they do not run contrary to authentic church teaching.          
Holy Wednesday

The procession of Holy Wednesday most especially in older parishes of our diocese focuses on the various depictions of the Lord’s life ministry and passion.

  1. It is laudable if the order of the images are arranged according to the events of the Lord’s life, ministry, passion and the various saints that are directly connected with the events of Holy week. Other images that are not in keeping with the liturgical season are to be removed from the line up.
  2. In order that these processions to be truly instructive, carrozas may be equipped with appropriate name plates so that the people may be able to understand the paso or image that is depicted in the participating carrozas.
  3. A brief celebration of the liturgy of the word may be held before the start of the procession to help the faithful to enter with full understanding regarding procession that they are taking part in. The use of holy water and incense for the veneration of the sacred images is to be retained.
  4. The pastor or his collaborators both clergy and laity is to give instructions and if possible conduct a talk regarding sacred images and their importance in the spiritual life of the Christian at least weeks before the start of Holy week.  This is to be done in parishes where there are sodalities, groups and families that take care of the sacred images for holy week. It is an important apostolate of the parish so that the owners of the images and their heirs may be able to appreciate better their role in edifying the faith of their brothers and sisters in the parish.
  5. Christian art is done for the glory of God and is meant for the edification of the faithful. True beauty is to be fostered and mediocre forms of art and materials must be avoided in our processions but we must also careful not to turn this processions into extravagant displays that are no longer instructive but may cause scandal to the sensibilities of the faithful.
  6. The importance of prayer is to be emphasized and given priority. In parishes where there is no standing tradition of Wednesday processions the parish celebration of Tenebrae[3] is recommended after the afternoon mass of Holy Wednesday.
  7. In some century old parishes most especially with the case of Paete, the format of their procession that depicts the story of the passion in a more dramatic form is to be respected and preserved as both a cultural and spiritual treasure of our local church.

 Maundy Thursday  

The solemn transfer of the eucharist after the communion rite in the mass of the Lord’s Supper though short in comparison to other processions of holy week is significant. From the middle ages the solemn transfer highlights the church’s regard to the eucharist as the greatest gift of Christ to his church.

  1. We again remind all that this is a solemn transfer and so signs of honor such as incense candles and even the traditional Eucharistic canopy or umbrelino is laudable and is to be used.
  2. The solemn transfer is integral to the liturgy of the mass of the Lord’s supper and is not to be transferred or even deferred to a latter time.
  3. This is a transposition of the blessed sacrament not an exposition. Thus the eucharist is to be placed inside a tabernacle during the vigil in one of the side altars or chapels of the parish church. The use of the monstrance or ciborium that has only a cloth cover and is not placed inside a closed tabernacle is forbidden.    

 Good Friday

Good Friday centers on the price with which Christ paid for the liberation of mankind from sin death and division. 

  1. As a standard norm, the procession of Good Friday primarily depicts the death and solemn burial entourage of the Dead Christ. This will be mandatory for our parishes that already have grown accustomed to this practice and to parishes that are newly established and do not have a century old tradition.
  2. In some parishes that do not have a Wednesday procession the other images of Christ’s ministry and passion may be included in this procession provided that they follow the following order namely the life and ministry of Christ, the passion and death of the redeemer, and last the image of the dead Christ with the burial entourage. It is to be noted that this last part of the procession is to be given highlight and priority.
  3. Some parishes have the tradition of another procession of the sorrowful mother after the procession of the burial of Christ. This procession is commonly called the procesion del silencio or pagbabagtas which commemorates the sorrowful meditation of the blessed Mother after the work of redemption was accomplished in the cross. This procession is to be continued and respected wherever it has been observed.
  4. Like the Wednesday procession a short liturgy of the word would be appropriate to open this solemn procession if it is feasible. The use of liturgical banners and nameplates that placed on the carrozas may be effective instruments of evangelization and catechesis. A commentator may also be assigned to give short introductions and appropriate scriptural passages to lead the people in a spirit of prayer.
  5. The use of incense and holy water for the veneration of the sacred images are retained. The image of the dead Christ after the procession may lay in state inside the church for the veneration of the faithful and remains there until Holy Saturday morning accompanied at the side with an image of the sorrowful mother. They are then kept afterwards before the start of the easter vigil Any form of fanaticism and superstitious beliefs involving these images are to be corrected.

The procession that ends the Paschal Triduum in our country is well attended and is also a great moment to evangelize our people.

  1. The traditional Encuentro is the meeting of the image of the Risen Christ and Our Lady. Before the actual encuentro, the entourage of the risen Christ is marked with signs of festivity (eg. musical band and festive lights.) while the entourage of our Lady is a little bit somber.
  2. In the case of some parishes that have a long standing tradition other images of the apostles Peter and John, Mary Magdalene and the other women are included so that the Easter story is unfolded in its entirety. These are also not in opposition to the central event which is the meeting of the image of Christ and Mary and may continue as long as they serve to instruct and edify the faithful.
  3. The encuentro replaces the introductory part of the mass, we are to follow its instructions as stated in the Ordo. During the whole easter season the Regina Coeli is sung or prayed in place of the regular Angelus.           
Having presented these options and clarifications, it is our hope that the true Spirit of the Liturgy as expressed in the prayers and numerous devotions of holy week may unite our people rather than divide them. In like manner the document Summorum Pontificum of our current pope is not only a document on liturgy, it is essentially about the church’s mission to be mater et magistra. The mother who gathers all her children in the unity of faith and teacher who instructs them of the richness and the diverse expressions of their faith. It is our hope that these clarifications may allow our faithful to guard and nourish the faith and traditions that are passed unto them. May He who is conqueror of sin and death unite us into the joy and peace of the resurrection.                      

Rev. Fr. Christian Edward L. Abao
 Director, Diocesan Commission on Liturgy

Most Rev. Leo M. Drona, SDB, D.D.
 Bishop of San Pablo

[1] Vatican II  Sacrosanctum Consillium  (Costello Publishing Company)13,7.[2] The donkey was used by Christ and not the horse for he came not as a general to destroy his enemies but to save the people from their sins. He came not as violent general but as a humble servant being led to his place of sacrifice. He was the redeemer of souls and not the liberator of Israel from the temporal empire of Rome. For better accuracy a donkey or ass is to be used when the priest indeed decides to make use of an animal during the procession.[3] Tenebrae a word which means darkness, it is the celebration of Vespers or office of readings accompanied with the gradual extinguishing of the candles of the Tenebrae hearse in the sanctuary.