Sunday, April 08, 2007

Jueves Santo

Maundy Thursday is my favorite day throughout the entire Holy Week-- the drama is palpable, and it is always a joy to do the traditional visita iglesia, where one visits seven churches to keep vigil with Our Lord. There is something truly awesome about walking into a dimly lit church along with a sea of other people, all silent, kneeling, praying and keeping watch against any possible threat. In the Philippines, this is a very popular custom; literally thousands will swarm into churches all the way till midnight, and in some provinces, the vigil lasts all the way until the first rays of the sun. It is an incredibly moving experience, to say the very least.

We visited seven churches that night, all of them in Manila. Though the altars of repose were all very beautiful--and jam packed with people-- I could not help but think they lacked the vitality of provincial churches. Here in urban Manila, although the sight of multitudes of people adoring Him was enough to melt even the hardest of hearts, there seemed to be something lacking. It all seemed too suburban. In the provinces, the sight of veiled women occupying the first five rows, the Adoracion Nocturna chanting their prayers, men and women alike prostrating themselves before His Presence, and sheer, unadulterated devotion are a common sight. But we make do here in the city; I saw some sights that night that have left their mark on me forever.

Our first stop was Stella Orientis oratory, a chapel in an Opus Dei run university. As expected, the crowd there was unabashedly middle class to upper crust; the priests, all Spaniards, wore exquisite gold vestments for the Mass of the Last Supper; the Pange Lingua was chanted beautifully during the translation, and the altar of repose itself was top notch, a liturgical thing of beauty to shame even the most hardcore traditionalist chapel. Next, we headed to Manila itself; the Shrine of Jesus, Malate church, Ermita church, the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin church and Sta. Cruz church were all in our itinerary.

The first church was finished only five years ago, but is slowly establishing a name for itself. Malate church was a gem from Spanish times, and is home to Our Lady of Remedies. It was a beautiful church, filled to capacity; I noticed a lot of nuns and other religious crowded along the altar of repose, and priests were hearing confesssions from what seemed like at least a hundred people (Malate church is quite small). Ermita church is also a shrine, this time to Nuestra Senora de Guia. Ermita was famous as a red-light district in olden days; in many cases this is still accurate, as the number of putas parading in that area can attest to. The church itself was charming; the altar seemed to have been gutted in the 60s, but luckily, the ceiling survived; the altar of repose itself was gorgeous.

Manila Cathedral is obvioulsy the seat of the Archdiocese of that city. I've attended several liturgies here before, and even for cathedral worship, it is very solemn and traditional. As can be expected, the altar of repose was elegantly arranged: no excessive baroque frillery or shitty modernistic arrangements here. The repose was located in a side chapel,which housed some seventy five people. But that was not the moving part about the church: we had to approach it on foot, as the plaza and road leading to it were clogged by a sea of humanity. It was an especially emotional sight, seeing these men, women, and children walking on their knees to approach the Sepulcher.

San Agustin church, which I have a special love for, moved me most. As I entered that church, I was immediately struck by how dimly lit it was-- I'm not talking about candle light here, just good old indandescent light. It lent a stark and dreary feeling to the whole church, and the sight of the opened tabernacle was quite haunting. The people were quietest in this church; I also saw some people venerating the three hundred year old crucifix near the church's entrance. And the fact that some people even approached this chuch barefoot, and the sight of sleepy yet dutiful altar boys guarding the side entrances, were the only reasons I needed to stay Catholic all my life. I wasn't too fond of the last church we visited, Sta. Cruz. While the exterior was reminiscent of old, Spanish colonial churches, the interior was just... ghastly. Where a reredos should have been was a mosaic of Christ as the Agnus Dei, although you couldn't really tell that It was; It looked so much like a bird on one angle, a lizard on another, and even a bug on yet another. The only consolation was the massive number of people that trooped to that church; though the square leading to it can be crossed under one minute, the sheer number of worshippers prolonged this to ten agonizing minutes. I could smell the sweat and stink of unwashed bodies, the scent of burning wax and scented rosaries all coalescing in one noxious ball of stench. But it is a stench that edifies, not divides.

All in all, it was a very good experience. I felt like a kid again, visiting all these churches. And perhaps, that was the best thing that happened to me that night.


Andrew said...

If you would like to see what the celebrations looked like in a non-Catholic, Muslim majority country, the check this out. The parish of the Immaculate Conception, Penang.

Archistrategos said...


Thanks for that, you have a beautiful blog (great pics, too!). My grandfather lived in Penang for two years back in the 80s, and I've always wanted to visit there. Maybe when I have money of my own, hehe.