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

Semana Santa Mahal na Araw Holy Week Philippines

Biyernes Santo (Good Friday) is an annual observance of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. It is perceived as a day of sorrow, penance, and sacrifice. Throughout the Philippines, Catholics observe the Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) and commemorate Jesus’ Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words). They also participate in the traditional procession of religious images, primarily the Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows) and the Santo Sepulcro (Holy Sepulchre) or the dead body of Jesus Christ, on garlanded carrozas or floats. In Baliuag, Bulacan, more than a hundred massive carrozas showcasing life-size dioramas of Biblical scenes are paraded around town during Holy Wednesday and Good Friday, thus becoming a highly anticipated attraction among local and foreign tourists.

For some devotees, Good Friday is the day to convey their sacred panata (vow) through varying degrees of sacrifices. Some Filipino Catholics either fast and/or abstain from eating meat or delicious meals. Others perform various acts of self-flagellation to show compassion to Christ by experiencing and sharing in His suffering. For devotees, the panata is not only a form of penance, but also of thanksgiving for good health, successful life, or bountiful harvest or catch.

In San Fernando, Pampanga, penitent men volunteer to be nailed to the cross to re-enact the crucifixion of Christ. In Cainta, Rizal, men dressed as Nazarenes carry life-sized crosses while scourged by male participants. In Marinduque, male devotees engage in antipo or self-flagellation using small pieces of bamboo sticks tied to the string or rope while repentant females  join the Good Friday procession through a ritual adorning the head (pagsusunong) with a heavy crown of leaves known locally as pupuwa (Polyscias fruticosa [L.] Harms). As they walk barefoot hiding their identity in long black robes, these women participants represent death while their faces are covered with the crown of  leaves, which they believe symbolizes Jesus Christ’s koronang tinik (crown of thorns). In some areas in Batangas, the women who practice the same tradition are called hudeya, perhaps a reference to the female Hudyo or Jew. 

The adherence to these various forms of annual panata signifies the penitents’ strong belief and devotion to their faith and may indicate a practice that preceded Christianity in the Philippines. With the health and safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we can use this period of yet another community quarantine as we abide by the directive to #staysafe by #stayinghome and consider not socializing at this period as our sacrifice or our #panata to curb infections.

The Salubong

salubong holy week Philippines semana santa

A practice by Filipino Catholics during the eve of Black Saturday until dawn of Easter Sunday

The salubong (Tagalog term for meeting or encounter)  is a popular devotion that marks the start of Easter Sunday in the Philippines. It is a reenactment of the meeting or encounter of the Resurrected Christ and Mary after he has risen from the dead. Traditionally, it is performed at dawn on Easter Sunday or Pasko ng Pagkabuhay. In recent years, some parishes do it earlier, sometimes even right after the Easter Vigil Mass. 

Easter Vigil Mass is held on the eve of Holy Saturday (also known as Black Saturday or Sabado de Gloria), marking the end of Lent and the start of the Easter Season. After the mass, devotees gather in front of the church to prepare for the procession. Male devotees gather behind the carosa (carriage) of the image of the Risen Christ while the female devotees gather behind the image of the Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother), covered with a black veil which symbolizes her grief on the death of her Son. Each image takes a separate route but  will eventually meet outside the church or a plaza near the church. The performance of the salubong commences once the two images meet. 

In some parishes in Bataan, a child dressed as an angel sits on a swing while being suspended in a kubol, a high arch made of bamboo and decorated with coconut leaves and fresh flowers. The child sings as he or she is being lowered to remove the veil of the Sorrowful Mother as she meets her Risen Son. The choir and the attendees sing Hosanna or Hallelujah upon the removal of the veil. 

In Angono, Rizal, the devotees make an elaborate structure called puso (heart), symbolizing heaven from where the angel-like child is suspended as he/she sings while sprinkling confetti or petals. Devotees from Pampanga also make a similar structure with the same purpose called pusu-puso. In Nabua, Camarines Sur, the tradition is locally called ton-ton (to suspend or to descend). A structure within the church complex which was originally used as a bell tower or chapel was repurposed for this event. 

In the towns of Angono in Rizal and Boac in Marinduque, a dance, called the bati (greeting), is performed to celebrate the turning of Mary’s sorrow into joy. A pair of male and female dancers lead the bati in Boac while two female performers lead the bati in Angono: the tenyenta dances the bati while the kapitana sings.

While the meeting of Jesus and Mary on Easter Sunday is non-biblical, Filipino devotees would like to believe that it was Mary to whom Jesus first appeared to take away her sorrow and share with her the joy of His resurrection; just like how in the Filipino culture, a son would always run to his mother. Happy Easter!


"Biyernes Santo" Text by the NMP Ethnology Division

Photo by Pepito Frias in Mabalacat, Pampanga (2008)

©The National Museum of the Philippines (2021)


The "Salubong" Text by the NMP Ethnology Division

Photo by Robert Lim at the Last Supper of Our Lord Parish in Las Piñas City (2013)

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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