Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Holy Week Pabasa

The religious practices of the Filipinos were greatly influenced by the Spaniards who ruled the Philippine Islands for over 300 years. One of those is the Lenten practice of the Filipinos. The Holy Week celebration starts on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday commemorates the end of Jesus' private life and the beginning of His public life and entrance to the Holy city of Jerusalem. People bring palm leaves to church to be blessed by the priest. Some palm leaves are intertwined, braided, and beautifully decorated and are preserved in homes, as well as in private altars of the Filipino people. They venerate the palm leaves for salvation, believing that they will be delivered from evil. Palm leaves symbolize the triumph of Jesus over death, death He suffered on the cross to save us, sinners. Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus' passion and death prior to his crucifixion on Golgotha, to rise again on Easter Sunday.

"Pabasa" is traditionally held in barrio chapels. The public "Pabasa” is a tradition among Filipinos; an invitation is extended to the local people, including those from the neighboring barrios. It usually starts immediately after the first Palm Sunday mass. The book of the passion of Christ is chanted in many different ways, melodies, sung or chanted in harmony. Readers (men women, even children continue reading/chanting the book of passion of Christ from start to finish). The book is written in 5-line verses and although it depicts the life of Jesus, birth, death and resurrection, the book starts with a prayer to Almighty God and to the Virgin Mother, followed by the creation of the world. The host of the public "Pabasa" sets up the altar and provides two books for the readers. One group of readers reads or chants one verse and the other group of readers reads or chants the next verse. This is a community effort of the townsfolk, because the passion readers come not only from their own barrio but also from different places or towns. The people set up a "pagoda" or a temporary tent, shelter or "kubol," where they serve the readers food. They, not only prepare snacks and drinks, but they also cook native dishes for the readers and other guests coming to participate in the readings. Readers have scheduled reading times throughout the day and night. At times, the host holds a contest and gives prizes to the best readers.

Other barrios hold their "Pabasa" on another day, so that the town’s people can participate in this glorious event. On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, there are flagellants (mandurugo), making their own sacrifices like that of Jesus' for the forgiveness of their sins. Men are usually the ones doing this form of sacrifice although there are some women who also get crucified to the cross. Men get their backs cut, (bloody), their eyes are blindfolded, crowned with branches and leaves, usually guava leaves, enduring the heat of the sun, and walking on their bare feet many miles. When they get closer to where the "pabasa" is taking place, or even in front of a house where someone is reading the passion of Christ, they stop facing the chapel or the house, kneel down, make the sign of the cross and lay on their stomachs to be whipped on their buttocks and feet by their companions. This is a practice that, even if the church leaders do not agree to, is tolerated, to respect the belief of the Filipinos about personal sacrifices and salvation. However, this form of self-sacrifice does not replace the sacrament of penance. Some carry a cross wearing a garment like that of Jesus' and would do the same thing the "mandurugo" do. At this time, the other people would hold the cross in order for the man carrying the cross to be able to kneel down and be on his stomach to be whipped. "Pabasa" usually ends on or before Good Friday and is followed by "Siete Palabras," the Seven LastWords of Jesus before he died on the cross. The recitation of the seven last words is nationallybroadcast. The entire Philippine Islands is in mourning; it's the most solemn, saddest, and quiet time of the year. In the late afternoon, the dead body of Jesus is processed on the street while the people follow the procession to bury the dead body of Jesus.

Some families hold private "pabasa" in their homes inviting only a few relatives and friends. They don't necessarily have to finish the passion of Christ book at one sitting; they allow breaks and the host family finishes reading the book, even if takes more days to finish reading it. The Way of the Cross is also reenacted by constructing fourteen Stations of the Cross in front of 14 houses throughout the town or barrio. There is a procession on the street led by a priest, while people continue to chant the Passion of Christ. As the procession goes, people go to the stations in numerical order and contemplate on that particular station of the cross. While some religious go with the Stations of the Cross on the street, others attend the Stations of the Cross held in the church or chapel.

"Sinakulo" is a stage reenactment of the Life of Jesus. This is held in some barrios and the actorsand actresses are the town's people. Participants chant the verses as in the Passion of Christ book. Early in the morning, before dawn of Easter Sunday, a double procession starts on either end of townor barrio. One procession has the Risen Christ and the other has the sorrowing Virgin Mother and Mary Magdalene carrying a bottle of perfume followed by marching bands. The processions meet in front of the chapel or church. At this time, an angel, suspended from a roof top or tree top removes the black veil covering the face of the Virgin Mary, while the other angels sing "Alleluia." The congregation then proceeds to the church for the Easter Sunday mass. This takes a lot of preparation, timing, and coordination because the two processions must be in front of the church at a specific time. (This procession only takes place once, just before the first mass on Easter Sunday.) In other parts of the country, the procession of the Risen Christ is accompanied by young boys and men while the procession of the sorrowing Virgin Mother and Mary Magdalene is accompanied by young girls and women of that town or barrio. This is a practice in Isabela, Philippines.

After the procession, an effigy of Judas, hanging on a tree, is burned. Children enjoy this activitywith great excitement because of the coins that fall down from the effigy. The coins symbolize the 30 pieces of silver Judas received from the Jews in his betrayal of Jesus.


1. As a rule, the public "pabasa" is done continuously. The readers continue to read the book nonstop. Anyone can read the book of Passion of Christ at home anytime. This is, infact, recommended by older people because of the many passages in it that have so much effects on our daily lives. To them, the book is a bible.

2. In various parts of the book of passion are the following letters
"A R A L" - and may also be chanted as


Ang unang letra'y Anunsasyon
Ikalawa'y Resureksyon
Ikatlo ay Adorasyon
Ang ika'pat ay Lamintasyon
ng Mahal na Poon.



Ang unang letra ay "A"
" Ere naman ang pangalawa
Ang pangatlong letra ay “A”
"Ele," pang-apat na letra
ARAL sa taong lahat na.

By: Laura B. Corpuz (

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