By Modesto P. Sa-onoy
Today, Holy Wednesday begins in earnest our commemoration of the Passion and Death of Christ. These next three days are full of traditions that are inspiring as well as evocative of the meaning of the mystery of our salvation.
There is one tradition in the Philippines that has been cancelled, one of those that the advocates of the “cancel culture” movement want to erase. These practices had for generations taught our Catholic faithful of what Jesus had to undergo during this commemoration of His plan for the redemption of man.
On Wednesday afternoons, the Catholic tradition depicted the treachery of Judas Escariot against Jesus with a kiss. While today’s Gospel does not narrate the actual act of treachery, it mentions the betrayal by Judas. This betrayal will be read in subsequent Gospels.
There is the traditional commemoration of that betrayal on Holy Wednesday called Tinieblas when the lights inside the church are put out and plunged into darkness (the English word for tinieblas). Then the people shout and the clappers begin their tumultuous sounds, to highlight the commotion among the crowd that witnessed the arrest of Jesus. This dramatization evokes images that the priest would then explain in his homily. I wonder how many churches continue with this graphic representation of man’s betrayal of Christ.
The lockdowns in Metro Manila will cause the stoppage of many Filipino traditions related to the Holy Week. Even outside of the metropolis, there will be a reduction of attendance at the commemorations of the institution of the Holy Eucharist tomorrow and the processions. I wonder whether there will be the re-enactment of the washing of the feet and the kissing of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Will the farmers still bring their seeds for blessings on the vigil of Easter Sunday and the people their water containers and religious images for the new holy water? Perhaps some but considering the restrictions of attendance most would be unable to do so.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David has reasons to “slam the Duterte government for banning religious gatherings while allowing gyms and spas to run on a limited capacity for two weeks in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces.”
The bishop could not hide his anger as he wrote in all caps on Monday, March 22 posted on his Facebook page: “IN SPITE OF OUR ADHERENCE TO STRICT PROTOCOL YOU LOCK DOWN OUR CHURCHES DURING THE HOLIEST TIME OF THE YEAR AND ALLOW 70 PERCENT CAPACITY IN FITNESS CENTERS AND 50 PERCENT IN ESTABLISHMENTS FOR PERSONAL CARE SERVICES, INCLUDING SPAS?!!! ALL RIGHT. MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOULS!”
The government imposed only a 10% allowance for church-goers as it classified attendance at these religious services as “social gathering.” I don’t know if those who designed the guideless go to Mass or the religious celebrations but the assemblies are hardly “social gatherings” as dances, parties, club meetings, mall visits, and sports events. People don’t go to Mass to socialize – they pray and when done go home or proceed elsewhere.
Maybe these officials go more frequently to spas, massage parlors and other personal care services where contact is direct that they considered them as essential while going to church is non-essential. Indeed one can read their mindset and habits. Consider for instance the excuse of presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, “Holy Week is also a time for vacations. Given the long weekend from Maunday Thursday to Easter Sunday. Staycations within the “bubble area” are allowed.” Holy Week is for penance and reaffirmation of faith, not enjoyment.
This is the time for repentance that the Lord may lift our suffering.
Bishop David ask: why forbid our religious gatherings? Isn’t this a violation of religious freedom?” It is but, who’s going to defend the Church and the Constitution? Fear, to paraphrase Hamlet has “made cowards of us all.”
There are many traditions that will be affected, like attendance at Mass that will be virtual. It helps but not complete.
Some traditions will probably be no longer continued even after this pandemic that can last for several more years. Indeed, the fear will be prolonged, so the government can continue to impose its control over our lives.
Continued next week.