|LA ULTIMA CENA OF ANGELES CITY. Holy Week evening procession, 1950s.|
Such annual Lenten scenes provide contrasting sights— penitents walking in abject misery, stripped of their clothes, covered with grime and dust, with bodies bruised and bloodied. On the same road, one will also find santos resplendent in velvet vestments, wearing their silver halos, adorned with dazzling lights and flowers.
Though starkly different, these Lenten practices stem from a common personal objective—of fulfilling a vow, a “panata”-- a solemn promise made to God—in gratitude for answered prayers and for favors still waiting for divine intercession: a plea for for miraculous healing, for cleansing of one’s sins, for repentance.
Both practices---deep-seated in our culture—require days, weeks and even months of preparations. Both have also become highly-organized family traditions. Dressing up santos for the kwaresma (40 days of Lent) involves at least 2 or 3 generations of families, who gather on such occasions to do their share. It used to be that ladies of the house prepared and arranged the images' garments, but now, even men have become adept at dressing manikin santos.
The Mercados of Sasmuan, who own a Sto. Entierro in a spectacular calandra (a glass casket) , have organized themselves by assigning specific tasks to family members. One branch of the family is responsible for the upkeep of the antique silver components of the carroza (processional carriage), while another branch is in charge of Christ’s garments.
The closely-knit Panlilio family of San Fernando have always taken pride in caring for their Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother), a tradition that began way back in the late 19th century. Every year, scattered family members make the trip back to their ancestral “bahay na bato” to help in preparing the image’s carroza, and in dressing up the image in her black velvet gown embroidered with gold threads. The family would then earnestly pray the rosary before the life-size image of their dolorous Virgin.
“Like many traditions,” said one descendant Criselle Panlilio-Alejandro, “the Good Friday procession involving the Mater Dolorosa is more greatly appreciated as one grows older.”
On the other hand in old Pampanga, to be a magdarame was purely a personal choice, an individual decision based on his relationship with God. It was not uncommon to find a cross-bearing penitent, his face covered in anonymity, trodding down dirt roads all by his lonesome. If, by chance, he meets a fellow magdarame along the way, he joins him quietly in his walk of faith.
In recent times, more and more people are drawn into this bloody rite—to include whole families--brothers, sisters, wives and friends--who accompany the penitent as they intone prayers, whipping him to inflict more pain, propping him up when tired, providing water when thirsty, and taking occasional photos for posterity.
In Mabalacat, the practice of pamagdarame is organized with clockwork efficiency—the platoon of magdarames who crowd the city streets and the churchyard on Good Friday are dressed in similar Nazareno robes, equipped with professionally-made crosses, all uniformly painted with their designated barangay chapter.
Times may have changed, but religious traditions endure. The belief in penance and salvation remains, but to many Kapampangans steeped in the practices of their colonizers , there are divergent ways to achieve them. One, is to be unified with Christ in his sufferings, as flagellants do, in an extreme display of physical mortification. The other is to contemplate on the Passion of Christ through staged processional scenes that depict the way of his Cross, involving mourning santos.
The gory and the glorious. The pain and the pageantry. Sinners and saints. All these merge and converge on Pampanga’s roads once a year, only on Holy Week. May our traditions remind us that we are ransomed not by perishable things—like silver or gold—but with the precious blood of Christ.
A BLESSED HOLY WEEK TO EVERY ONE!