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What is Pabasa ng Pasyon done by Filipino Catholics? [Mahal na Araw]

Pabasa ng Pasyon done by Filipino Catholics Mahal na Araw

Pabasa ng Pasyon is one of the activities done by Filipino Catholics to commemorate Christ’s suffering and death. 

The pabasa ng pasyon is the chanting of the life, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The commonly used text for the pabasa is the “Pasyong Mahal” or “Mahal na Passion ni Jesuchristong Panginoon Natin na Tola.” Written by Gaspar Aquino De Belen in 1704, it is the first dated “Pasyon” text, consisting of 980 verses. Another popular version is the “Pasyon Henesis” or “Pasyon Pilapil” written in 1814.

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera suggested that the first version by de Belen, while original and written in Tagalog, had its influences from Spanish poetry due to its association with "Spanish verse accounts of the Redemption." Nicanor Tiongson, on the other hand, theorized that it draws from the Old and New Testaments and the Christian legends featured in the awit (song). 

The pasyon emerged as an enduring example of 18th-century Christian-themed Tagalog literature. It has since been translated to other languages, such Kapampangan, Ilokano, Bikol, Hiligaynon and Cebuano, as the practice of the pabasa spread across the islands. 

The pasyon is chanted in a style called tagulaylay, according to Filipino scholar Reynaldo Ileto. This refers to the singing of each stanza in one breath in a distinct mournful melody marked by droning high and low tones. However, in recent times, tunes of pop music, modern ballads and rap are utilized to entice the younger generation in continuing this tradition.

The pabasa is usually conducted in a chapel, a house, or even a multi-purpose hall decorated with a makeshift altar and an image of the suffering Christ. The mambabasa (chanters) are usually the elders in the community who participate in the pabasa as a panata (vow). They usually encourage the younger members of the family to join in the singing. 

A full-length pabasa lasts for several days, usually culminating on Good Friday. Thus, the mambabasa carries out the continuous singing of the pasyon in shifts.  Each shift may have at least 10 to as many as 30 chanters.

Due to its duration, this tradition entails an expensive cost to cover meals and venue rental. In some instances, a shortened pabasa is done to lessen the expense. Only 20 to 40 pages of the pasyon are read on these occasions, according to an article by Elena Rivera-Mirano in 1984. In some provinces, the pabasa is also done to mark special occasions such as graduation and anniversaries, or during the wake of a deceased family member.  

The organizer or host of the pabasa usually owns the house where the chanters gather and provides them with meals. But these families serving as host voluntarily take on these responsibilities as a panata (vow) in exchange for a wish and as thanksgiving for blessings received or a wish already granted. 

With the onset of COVID-19 last year, the pabasa, as well as many other Holy Week rituals, has been conducted in a limited capacity and has been confined to each family’s homes. Nevertheless, the quarantine restrictions have not deterred the chanters who adjusted to be able to continue this yearly tradition. For these chanters, the pabasa is a reflection of their devotion, a way to personally share in Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. 

Good to Know

The Passion Flower

Passion Flower

As Christians recall Jesus’ death by crucifixion during this Holy Week, we also feature a plant that symbolizes the ‘Passion’ (suffering and death) of Jesus Christ. 

Passion flowers (Passiflora spp.) are prolific woody vines and the vast majority of its species are native to neotropical countries including Mexico, Central, and South America. Most species that occur in the Philippines are non-native plants but were able to reproduce in their new environment. 

Different parts of the plant were believed to suggest features of the Passion of Christ. The leaves and tendrils represent the hands and whips of the people who tormented Jesus. Some priests believe that the tendrils symbolize holding firmly to his purpose, supported by God’s love. The anther as the sponge doused in vinegar used to moisten Jesus’ lips. The rounded fruit represents the world that Jesus saved throughout his Passion.  


Observe the flower below to see more parts that are believed to symbolize other events in the passion of Christ. 

While the passion flower is believed by Christians to symbolize the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, its beauty is a reminder of the miracle of our natural world. Let us use this Lent period to keep safe and not make unnecessary trips out to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. It will also contribute to allowing our environment a chance to regenerate and heal from the previous heavy foot traffic and exploitation. 

In this challenging period brought about by the pandemic, learn more about the connection of nature and culture through our #MuseumFromHome series.


"Pabasa" Text by NMP Ethnology Division

Photo by Anton Carabeo

©The National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

"Passion Flower" Text by Botany and National Herbarium Division

Photos by Daniel Nickrent in Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines (

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