Top Adsense

What is Pabasa ng Pasyon done by Filipino Catholics? And Other Mahal na Araw (Holy Week) Traditions In The Philippines

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. 


"Pabasa" Text by NMP Ethnology Division

Photo by Anton Carabeo

©The National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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.


"Passion Flower" Text by Botany and National Herbarium Division

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



The Catholic Church commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ through the Lenten Season. During this season, Filipino Catholics partake in numerous rites and traditions to commemorate Christ's sufferings on the cross.

See Also: Semana Santa: Religious and Traditional Practices Among Filipino Catholics During Good Friday [Holy Week in the Philippines]



Fasting and abstinence are the two canonical forms of penance during Lent.

From Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, Catholics are expected to comply with the Catholic Church’s teaching on Lent, which includes the penance or act of mortification.

Fasting is one of those two means of Lenten penances which canon law obliges (the other being abstinence).  In canon 1251, fasting is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  In canon 1252, fasting binds those who have attained their majority.

When fasting for Lent, only one full meal is allowed per day. Having up to two light meals is also permitted to maintain strength. Taking liquids including milk and fruit juices in between meals is likewise accepted.

However, eating between meals is prohibited.



"Reading of the Agony" (Pabása ng Pasyón in Tagalog) is a Catholic devotion common during Holy Week in the Philippines that involves the continuous chanting of the Pasyón, an early 16th-century epic poem recounting Jesus Christ's life, passion, death, and resurrection. Based on the Bible, the verses are said during Holy Week.


VISITA IGLESIA Manila Cathedral

Roman Catholics have a Lenten practice known as the "Visitation of the Seven Churches," in which they go to seven different churches on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Blessed Sacrament is put on the Altar of Repose after the Mass of the Lord's Supper in order to be adored. It is common for the faithful to visit seven or fourteen churches during the Seven Churches Visitation to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each location. Seven churches on Holy Thursday may have begun in Rome as visitors performed penance by visiting the seven basilicas.

See Also: Maundy Thursday and the Catholic Practice of Visita Iglesia | Semana Santa (Holy Week)



Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, which celebrates Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem just days before his crucifixion.

To commemorate the entrance of Christ in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, devout members of the church are given palm fronds. According to the Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey, and the people greeted him with adoration, tossing cloths or possibly palm branches in his direction as a gesture of respect. People who held a high regard for you were expected to behave in this manner.

Palm branches are traditionally used on Palm Sunday as a sign of triumph and peace.

VIDEO: Palaspas lecture by Mr. Elmer I. Nocheseda, Independent Scholar / Author


The osana, from the Latin "hosanna," is a liturgical playlet that reenacts Jesus Christ's triumphant arrival into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Additionally, it is referred to as osanahan, which means "the site where the osana is held," and humenta, which means "donkey." This custom, which is observed in the majority of Catholic and Aglipayan parishes throughout the country, embellishes on the original Roman Catholic ritual of palm blessing and procession by bringing the procession outside the church and adding songs.

The Palm Sunday osana in Santa Isabel, Malolos City
The Palm Sunday osana in Santa Isabel, Malolos City, 1990 (CCP Collections)

On Palm Sunday morning in Malolos, Bulacan, after blessing a forest of adorned palaspas or coconut palm leaves in church, the priest picks up a massive palaspas and uses it as a staff as he walks down the church aisle into the patio. Women put out overskirts called tapis along the priest's path throughout the procession, in imitation of the women of Jerusalem who laid out their cloaks to welcome the Messiah.

Each corner of the church plaza is surrounded by a kubol, a raised wooden balcony draped in cloth and adorned with flowers and palaspas arches on the sides and top. The priest walks from the church to the first kubol, where young girls dressed in white sing a secular rendition of the Palm Sunday antiphon "Hosanna Filio David, Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini" (Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord), accompanied by a local band. The girls pick handfuls of flower petals from their baskets and shower them on the priest while they sing. There is a wild rush for these petals, which are either used as medicine or planted alongside rice seedlings to ensure a successful harvest. Following the song, the procession proceeds on to the second, third, and fourth kubols for additional renditions of the "Hosanna," before arriving at the church's main doors, which are initially closed to symbolize the Pharisees' rejection of the Messiah. The priest knocks three times on the door with the bottom of his palaspas, the door opens, and everyone enters for Palm Sunday liturgy.

The osana is also known as the humenta in some Bulacan parishes because the karo (float) with the image of Christ on a donkey follows the priest during the procession. The palms are also blessed here, although not in church, but in a nearby bisita (chapel), from whence the procession weaves its way to the church, which is about a kilometer away. Certain processions occur in the early evening.

Tiongson, Nicanor G. 1975. Kasaysayan at Estetika ng Sinakulo at Ibang Dulang Panrelihiyon sa Malolos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

———. 1978. “Osana: A Colorful Reception Line.” In Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation, edited by Alfredo R. Roces, 9:2424-27. Manila: Lahing Pilipino Publishing Inc.

Huling Hapunan

Huling hapunan, a reenactment of the last supper, Gasan, Marinduque
Huling hapunan, a reenactment of the last supper, Gasan, Marinduque, 1987 (CCP Collections)

The huling hapunan or ultima cena—literally, "Last Feast" in Tagalog and Spanish—is a real supper commemorating Christ's final supper with his apostles on the night of the first Holy Thursday. Following the Maundy Thursday rites in the early evening, the priest proceeds to the house of the hermana (female sponsor), where local food—typically fish, vegetables, and rice—has been spread out on a large table, or to the parish priest's convento, where they partake of a lamb-shaped loaf of bread.

In Gasan, Marinduque, in 1987, following the Maundy Thursday rites, the apostles proceeded to the hermana's house, sat on opposite sides of a long table, and listened as the priest at the head of the table spoke about the Last Supper's importance. The priest explained that the paschal supper was originally observed by the Jews in gratitude for their deliverance from Egypt; that it was centered on the lamb, whose blood was originally smeared on Hebrew doors to protect the firstborn of Israel from the Angel of Death; and that this lamb had evolved into a symbol of Christ, who gave his life so that every human being's sins could be forgiven. Following the homily, the priest and apostles shared the table while a group of ladies chanted verses from the Pasyong Genesis, describing the Last Supper events. The remainder of the guests dined on their own.

In 1988, in Baao, Camarines Sur, the priest and apostles dined peacefully in a chamber in the hermana's house, while candles burnt in front of a painting of the Last Supper at one end of the table. Before the 2013 earthquake in Loon, Bohol, the 12 apostles sat six to a side of the parish priest (who represented Christ), on one side of a long table facing the people (evoking da Vinci's masterwork), with their backs to the altar. Following the vegetarian supper, the final Holy Week liturgy was held in the evening of Holy Thursday (Cordero-Fernando and Zialcita 2000, 123-25).

Every Holy Thursday, the cordero tradition is observed in Morong, Rizal. The hermanos mayores (main sponsors), who are often a couple chosen by the Parish Council about a year in advance, lead a procession of family members, friends, neighbors, and devotees dressed in formal clothes from their home to the Morong church. The couple's cordero—a white lamb representing Jesus Christ ("the Lamb of God") reposing on a tray or large bible, with the pole of a little flag showing a cross tucked beneath one of its legs—is the procession's highlight. Mash potatoes and sweet potatoes are used to make the lamb. The priest blesses the cordero at the church altar in front of 12 male parishioners dressed as apostles. Following the blessing, the cordero is split up and its numerous components delivered to the apostles and devotees present. The hermanos then lead the procession back to the house, bearing the cordero's head, which they will later offer to the next hermanos as a sign of the cordero's responsibilities being transferred to the latter. In the early evening, the hermanos preside over a community feast. At the center of the covered social hall is a long table laden with food, where the hermanos sit quietly alongside the priest and the 12 apostles, eating a supper in commemoration of Christ's final supper with his apostles, thereby affirming or confirming the hermanos' higher status in Morong society.

Cordero-Fernando, Gilda, and Fernando Zialcita. 2000. Cuaresma. Makati City: Bookmark Inc and Bungang Araw.


The Senakulo (or cenaculo) is the staged re-enactment of Christ’s passion and death

The Senakulo (or cenaculo) is the staged re-enactment of Christ’s passion and death. It is also known as pasyon y muerte, passion play (Rizal, Bulacan, Bataan, and Pampanga); centurion or hudyuhan (Laguna); tanggal (Bicol region); and pamalandong (Leyte). The performance of the Senakulo is traced to the late 17th and early 18th centuries when the first Pasyon text was written. Unlike the Pasyon which is chanted in a mournful tone called tagulaylay, the Senakulo aims to dramatize scenes while also deriving from the contents of the Pasyon.

Drawing from the text of the newer Pasyong Henesis or Pasyong Pilapil, which became popular among the folk community in the early 19th century, has caused the Senakulo to be lengthier. In some provinces, the traditional performance of a Senakulo may last from 7 to 8 days. Shortened versions however have been staged during Good Friday, beginning only from the agony of Christ, particularly in the urban areas.  

The town or church plaza, as well as the streets, serve as the venue of most Senakulo performances. In some instances, during the early 20th century, it has also been performed in sabungan (cockpits) in areas near Manila. As with other Holy Week traditions marked by community participation, the staging of the Senakulo is no different. Senakulo actors would prepare the props and sew their own costumes in anticipation of the Holy Week while the stage is built in the plaza using scaffolding and wooden boards, which are painted to serve as the backdrop. While the stage is central to the performance of main scenes such as the crucifixion, many episodes of the Senakulo are performed while going around the town streets. After which, they circle back to the plaza where the stage is located. As the plaza is usually located in front of the church, the end of the Senakulo will serve as a transition for the viewers to attend the succeeding activities such as the Seven Last Words or the procession of the Santo Entierro (image of the dead Jesus Christ) around the town.

Text and poster by the NMP Ethnology Division
Photo courtesy of Michael Dalogdog (2018). 
© 2022 National Museum of the Philippines

Siete Palabras

Siete Palabras Betis, Pampanga
Siete Palabras, 1990, Betis, Pampanga (CCP Collection)

Siete palabras — literally, "seven words" in Spanish — dramatizes Christ's final three hours of agony on the cross, when he speaks the Seven Last Words.

In Catholic churches, the focal point of this custom is typically a life-size wooden image of Christ (with movable head and arms) nailed to a cross erected in front of the main altar on a platform covered in alagaw leaves and flanked by crucified images of Dimas on Jesus's right and Gestas on his left. Occasionally, the images of the Mater Dolorosa (the Sorrowful Mother) and San Juan are made to stand or are parked on their karo (floats), respectively, on Christ's right and left.

Between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm, a priest/priests or layperson delivers homilies on each of Christ's statements, leading the community in prayer following each homily. As each of the Seven Words is spoken, the head of the Christ image moves (strings are pulled from behind the cross) and lightning strikes (liquid gas is blown into a candle; or sunlight is caught by a mirror flashing onto the image from outside the church's main door; or fireworks explode beside the cross). At 3 p.m., the Christ image drops its head "in death," amidst a fury of thunder and lightning and many tears. Following this electrifying moment, two guys dressed as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea ascend two ladders leaning against the back of the cross and gradually remove the INRI, crown of thorns, and nails in order. Then, draped in a white shroud across Christ's breasts and armpits (the image's arms are movable), they gently lower the body to the helpers, who stretch it out and cover it with a white/red blanket. Following that, the body is placed on a catafalque flanked by four candles in front of the altar mayor (high altar) and/or central aisle. During the "wake," the faithful form a line to wipe and kiss Christ's hands and feet and to deposit monies in a collection box. Later that evening, the same image is placed in the glass coffin atop a karo for the Santo Entierro (Holy Burial) procession.

There are numerous variants of the siete palabras. In Betis, Pampanga, the crosses are built on a small hill beside the church, and Christ's "body" is carried into the church in procession around one block. In Santa Rita, Pampanga, the figure of Christ was traditionally removed and placed on the lap of a lady dressed as the Virgin, who spoke certain phrases in the Pieta posture. In Buhi, Camarines Sur, a middle-aged woman dressed in white and black chants a poignant sorrow over Christ's body carried out on a stretcher, using the words of Mary in the Pasyong Bicol as she weeps over her slain Son's wounds and hair. After Christ's body is removed from the town square, the faithful rush to pick alagaw leaves, which are considered therapeutic.

Due to the fact that all Christian Filipinos are familiar with the siete palabras, artists committed to social change have reinterpreted Christ's words in light of present political and economic reality. Al Santos's Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Tagalungsod (Calvary of the Urban Poor), 1988–92, connects each of the Seven Words to an urgent issue affecting the urban poor, both through massive murals framed and mounted on jeepneys for the long and winding procession and through the street drama in which the 13 Christs (who wear enormous papier-mâché masks modeled after the face of the Quiapo Nazarene) use each of the Seven Words to answer the seven accusations of the three Pilates. 

Tiongson, Nicanor G. 1975. Kasaysayan at Estetika ng Sinakulo at Ibang Dulang Panrelihiyon sa Malolos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

———. 1989. Dulaan: An Essay on Philippine Theater. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.



The Good Friday procession imitates a funeral rite by featuring the image of a Dead Christ, as well as dressing disciples, saints and the Sorrowful Mother, in mourning attire. It ends with the “pahalik” (kissing of the Dead Christ).

For the occasion that is meant to remember the burial of Jesus Christ, the procession focuses on two life-size images: the Sto. Entierro (Dead Christ) and the Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother).



Before dawn on Easter Sunday, Filipino Catholics gathered for the traditional "Salubong," which commemorates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. The dramatization of the encounter between the Virgin Mary and the risen Christ is the subject of this particular legend.

The salubong, derived from the Tagalog word for "meeting," dramatizes the first Easter Sunday morning meeting of the sorrowful Mater Dolorosa or Sorrowful Mother and the Risen Christ. Easily the most popular of all Lenten playlets, the salubong is also referred to as sabet in Ilocano, padafung in Ibanag, abet-abet in Pangasinan, pagsugat in Ilonggo, sugat in Cebuano and Waray, and encuentro or alleluya in a number of other Catholic and Aglipayan parishes.

At the crack of dawn, two processions, each with its own karo or float, wind their way through opposite parts of town—the first, for the image of the Risen Christ; the second, for the veiled Mater Dolorosa, which is typically preceded by the images of San Pedro, Maria Jacobe, Maria Salome, Maria Magdalena, and San Juan. At the allotted moment, the two processions converge in front of the galilea, a vibrant four-post bamboo or cement structure from which hangs a massive inverted heart-shaped "bud" with four petals from its "heaven" (i.e., ceiling) (heart). As the band performs, these petals are opened one by one (often by colorful wooden birds), revealing a small child dressed as an angel. The Mater Dolorosa is lowered slowly beneath the angel while she sings the Easter Sunday antiphon, "Regina Coeli, laetare, alleluia, alleluia" (Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia, alleluia). At the conclusion of the song, the small angel takes the Virgin's veil and removes it, signaling the end of the Virgin's grieving. The angel is then redirected to "heaven." The two pictures then proceed joyfully to the church for Easter Sunday Mass.

Numerous variants of the salubong are found in various places. The bati or pagbati (greeting) is a significant feature of the salubong in many Tagalog towns in Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Quezon, and Marinduque. It dramatizes the meeting of the Virgin and the Risen Christ (prior to the actual unveiling) through the lively dance of a young woman holding the Virgin's flag and a young man holding the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) of Christ. In Angono, Rizal, which has one of the most elaborate salubong in the country, a tenienta (female lieutenant) dances while waving a flag; then, the capitana (female captain) reads a poem narrating Christ's Resurrection, followed by the swooping of huge colorful birds on the galilea, opening the inverted "bud." In Bustillos, Sampaloc, a pigeon linked to a cluster of roughly 50 balloons clutches the Virgin's veil with its claws and flies away with it (aided by the balloons), even as hundreds of balloons are released in unison over the region to accompany the band's triumphal march. In Gasan, Marinduque, the Aglipayan salubong concludes with a poem declaimed by a young woman to the Virgin, imploring her to rejoice that Christ has risen from the grave and to pray for the country's freedom to do the same. In Vigan, the inverted "bud" may open with a shower of roses and a flurry of pigeons' wings after the angel removes the veil. Additionally, inVigan, the curtain between Christ and the Virgin is drawn back only after the angel has removed the veil. In Santo Tomas, Pampanga, the salubong angel leads a procession carrying the Virgin's black veil through the town's streets, escorted by other small angels and preceded by 12 young ladies dressed in vibrant long gowns who sing and dance to the lilting melody of a violin at more than 20 designated stages throughout the town.

The tenyenta and the kapitana dancing the bati in the Easter Sunday salubong, Angono, Rizal
The tenyenta and the kapitana dancing the bati in the Easter Sunday salubong, Angono, Rizal, 2016 (Lotus Blaze and Lara Villaruz)

In Minglanilla, Cebu, around seven to nine angels "decend" from the breast of what appears to be a massive bird atop the galilea. Additionally, in Minglanilla, the effigy of Judas is burned before to the revelation, while the figure of the Risen Christ (riding on a platform with an arch) is hauled up through the galilea's ceiling and then "ascends" to heaven (the church tower) by a cable. In the majority of towns, the chief angel is accompanied by a slew of other angelitos strategically placed within and around the galilea.

Several cause-oriented theatrical companies in Metro Manila have presented their own modernized version of the salubong. Peryante staged Salubong sa Maynila (Meeting in Manila) on top of a truck at a protest in Liwasang Bonifacio in 1984. The all-female cast, lead by Inangbayan in the role of the Virgin Mary, wore long veils, "weeping" masks, and black T-shirts as they told the litany of the people's sufferings. From 1988 until 1992, Al Santos's Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Tagalungsod (Calvary of the Urban Poor) was performed on Good Friday by the urban poor on the streets of Manila. It depicts numerous Christs who are charged by the authorities of seven offences. They are "crucified" in front of Quiapo Church after carrying their crosses. On Black Saturday, a workers' parish on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City reenacts the resurrection and the salubong play.

Tiongson, Nicanor G. 1975. Kasaysayan at Estetika ng Sinakulo at Ibang Dulang Panrelihiyon sa Malolos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

———. 1978. “The Easter Salubong.” In Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation, edited Alfredo R. Roces, 7: 1847-48. Manila: Lahing Pilipino Publishing Inc.

———. 1984. “The Easter Sunday Salubong: Freedom Rising Like the Lord.” Veritas, 22-28 Apr, p. 17.

———, ed. 1984. The Politics of Culture: The Philippine Experience. Record of the proceedings and anthology of essays, poems, songs, skits and plays of the MAKIISA I People’s Culture Festival, Dulaang Rajah Sulayman, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, 28-30 Dec 1983. Manila: PETA and PRC-PARUD.

See Also: Moriones Festival » Unique Lenten Festival You Need to Experience

No comments:

Got Something to Say? Thoughts? Additional Information?

Powered by Blogger.