Sunday, May 31, 2009

Despedida - Repost

A repost of a hymn to the Virgin which I originally posted in January. Nick Joaquin, one of the greatest Filipino writers and a loyal son of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, was said to have praised this Despedida as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, religious song of Spanish Manila. It was composed by a certain P. Hernandez almost four hundred years ago, and was sung on the novenario and leading to the great Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. For 10 straight days it was sung after each Mass; at the part when the choir sings 'dame tu bendicion', all in the church kneel while the image of Our Lady is incensed. Upon reaching 'Madre Amorosa, prenda mi amor', the image is veiled by the heavy curtains that used to be present in the old retablo mayor of Santo Domingo church, keeping Our Lady from view until the next day of the novena.

Despedidas, though, are not unique to the Santissimo Rosario; on May pilgrimages, too, they are sung at the great shrines of Mary in the Philippines, and presumably the rest of the Spanish colonies as well. However, this version is unique, in that it has remained relatively unchanged for almost four centuries now. In singing it, then, we are singing the same song which San Fernado de las Capillas, San Lorenzo Ruiz, and San Vicente Liem de la Paz sung in honor of the same Grand Dame, and which countless other Dominican friars sung before embarking on their great endeavor to spread the Gospel in these parts of the world. It is only fitting that we end the Mary month of May with it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

San Agustin's Colonial Treasures: Solid Gold Cartagloria

This solid gold sacra or cartagloria is one of the most treasured liturgical accoutrements of venerable San Agustin church in Manila. The words of the consecration are etched on a field of solid gold, and it is only brought out on the Feast of St. Augustine. After the Mass it is immediately returned to the sacristy. From the book 'San Agustin: Art and History 1571 - 2000' by Fr. Pedro Galende OSA and Regalado Trota Jose comes the following excerpt.

"... but the most precious liturgical item which has survived all these turmoils is a sacra, a plaque with the words of the Consecration, o fpure gold mounted on wood. Possibly a 17th-century piece, it formed a part of the treasure evacuated to Pampanga in 1762, just before Colonel Draper's men looted San Agustin. This sacra was brought out only for the feast of San Agustin, and immediately brought back to the vault after the ceremony. It is an excellent and exceedingly rare example of the gold which left Manila aboard Acapulco-bound galleons."

It should be remembered that, from 1762 to 1764, Manila fell under British rule. The Spanish maintained a counter government in Pampanga under the brilliant general Simon de Anda y Salazar. The convent of San Agustin, being the oldest and richest of Manila's monasteries then, was looted by the British. An unfortunate casualty of that episode in history is a 9-ft. tall monstrance made of pure silver, of which no image survives today.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Holy Week Rituals - Paete

Traditionally, the most solemn of all Good Friday processions in the Philippines has always been that of the Holy Burial-- the Santo Entierro, as it is popularly known here. In the Tagalog region, Laguna is remarkable for its elaborate rituals for the Santo Entierro; I have already blogged about the rituals in Pakil, and now it is Paete's turn. Paete and Pakil are 'sister towns' in that they are quite close to each other; both have churches more than a hundred years old, and both take great pride in preserving the traditions of old.

The photo above was found in one of my favorite weblogs, Sidney Snoeck's My Sari-Sari Store blog. You may also view the full set by following this link: Paete's Holy Week Rituals. If you are wondering about how the Senor is seated on a chair, it is because it hearkens back to an earlier time, way before the Spaniards ever set foot in the Philippines. Traditionally, pre-hispanic Filipinos celebrated their dead by sitting the corpse on a chair; the family of the deceased would eulogize him and sing songs of lamentation around him, while their friends and subjects (if the deceased were a datu) came to pay their respects to the corpse. In some places in northern Philippines the dead continue to be buried in jars in a seating position.

Now, I know that the images can be quite 'disturbing', so here is a note on the matter. In the Philippines, and presumably Spain and her other colonies as well, it is considered rude and impious to refer to images of the saints as objects; they must always be referred to as if they were real persons. That said, devotion becomes more than a mere tradition, but a living, breathing, action, so to speak. Saints and images of the Virgin and Our Lord are bathed, sometimes with rose water, and as in the case of Paete, a mixture of lambanog and cologne (just like Pakil's Entierro). They are smoked with orange blossom, lanzones, and even incense in some areas; they are perfumed, manicured, and even have their hair done. I know of one case where a certain family commissioned one of New York's top salons to create a wig for an image of the Lord. Perhaps the most visible ornament of the 'santo', though, are its clothes. They are made of the most expensive materials available and embroidered with sublime artistry. In many cases, and if the family can afford it, gold thread is used generously, as are pearls and semi-precious stones. The cost of such gowns and robes can climb into the hundreds of thousands of pesos.

There, too, are the aureolas, the 'halo' of the santo, which are often of silver or gold, plated if the family's means cannot afford it. Crowns of the Virgin are the most elaborate, while images of the Lord are given the 'tres potencias', three rays jutting from His head, which, depending on whom you ask, represent either the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, the Three-fold ministry of Christ, the Paschal Mystery, or the qualities of the human soul.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mea Maxima Culpa

"The problem, then, is not sin, but the self-absolution and self-justification of our sins… and also a total lack of honor and responsibility when it comes to sin’s consequences. Modern people like to make beds, large beds, but they don’t like to sleep in them. That is the difference between the bad Catholics of yesteryear, and even the “good Catholics” of today. Bad Catholics back then knew they were bad. They had a sense of shame. They would go to Mass, stay in the back, and slink off before anyone could see them as they went back to live with a significant other who wasn’t their spouse, or to continue living their sinful lifestyle. It wasn’t ideal, and it wasn’t edifying, but at least they had a modicum of dignity about it."

Read the full post here.

I remember back in the day when the Clinton - Lewinsky scandal first erupted, our old parish priest made a comment in his homily condemning the former U.S. president-- not so much for cheating on his wife, but for choosing such an ugly substitute. Of course, he was telling it in jest, but I can't help but think he made an important point: Why sin when you can't even enjoy it? In the Philippines, it is almost a given to expect husbands to cheat at least once on their wives. It's also common for men of all rank and age to keep a mistress, if he can manage it; in my own family I know of several relatives who kept a mistress or two at one time or another. It's not a pretty thought, but really quite common.

But what is the point of this post? Lest anyone make such a mistake, I am definitely not advising you (especially you, male readers) to take a mistress or two just because it is common. I guess my point is, people should grow a pair and start dealing with their own problems, instead of sucking up to the Church and throwing a hissy fit when She disagrees. I'll admit, I'm a bad Catholic, I hate going to confession and if I had the choice, I would much rather sleep in till noon on Sunday than wake up at 8 to go to Mass. But then again, I would be a much worse person if I opted to follow myself than face the consequences of my actions. I am thankful, at least, that the Church in the Philippines has not shed its in-your-face attitude yet when dealing with these things.

I've met too many bad Catholics to know for sure that it is impossible to live one's life without having at least one major f--k up. Perhaps it's because I grew up in a Catholic culture that I don't ever expect the Church to budge on the issues She holds dear. This is a country where divorce is (thankfully!) still illegal, although the issue has been raised to court many times already, the earliest in the 1930s. It did not work then, and it will not work now, not only because of the massive political clout the Church still wields, but because, infidelities and illegitimacies considered, the hearts of the people have not yet lost the sacred sense of matrimony. Ultimately, I am but dust and ash, and to presume that I have the right to break my vow before God would be the ultimate impiety I could commit.

In the old days, when the time for the sermon at Sunday Mass had come, the priest would order a few of his acolytes to lock the church doors from outside, since the men would choose this time to go out of the church (presumably to avoid being chastised). They would come back in time to witness the consecration, and again exit once their wives and children had received Communion (if any did). Despite the 'impossibility' of Church praxis, however, no one in their right mind would ever think of breaking with Her. She may be a hard woman to please, but ultimately, She is a forgiving Mother to us all.

And here now is the most disturbing comment for us today: we no longer have the honor, dignity, and dare I say, the balls, to call ourselves sinners. That should be cause for concern for all of us.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

May is Mary's Month!

Lest we forget, the merry month of May is our Blessed Mother's month. In a time when all seems lost, we must never be tempted to despair; we have the Mother of God on our side. I've posted this video before, almost if not a little over a year ago. Still, it's a timely reminder for us Catholics. These are but 50 reasons; there are plenty more. What is yours? Mine is simple: Why not? And why not indeed!

Also, here's a 'sequel' to the one above.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Very Timely Article

Like any Catholic, I have a list somewhere detailing all the churches I would like to visit in my lifetime, both in the Philippines and abroad. In recent years my curiosity has been ignited by the many renovations happening in churches throughout the country; to me, this is a most welcome development, if only to 'balance out' the more negative things about the local Church here (including a dwindling number of priests, an eroding sense of continuity, lax practice, etc). Be that as it may, a lot of churches-- including historical ones-- have suffered much in the Philippines. In Cebu, for example, the centuries old church of Argao had its retablo coated with spray paint per the whims of the parish priest; in Bohol, three hundred year old cantorals were torn out and used as fish wrap, and in Manila, ground zero of liturgical progressivism in the country, the situation is sometimes too difficult to bear.

This article appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday, and is a timely reminder and warning to those foolish or naive enough to junk the Church's heritage at the expense of nationalism, 'progress', or indeed any other ideology. It is not just the heritage of Spain or Europe or colonization that we are junking, but our most tangible link to the past, a past that reaches all the way to the Apostles. Yes, colonization is never perfect, but to discard that experience completely would be tantamount to junking our nationhood, our history, and our memory.

Read the article here.

‘Disneyfication’ of RP ruins Church heritage'

By Augusto Villalon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:14:00 05/04/2009

Filed Under: Religion & Belief, Art and Crafts

MANILA, Philippines – The Heritage Conservation Society hosted a second lecture on Church heritage conservation at the Museo ng Maynila. Speaker was Father Milan Ted D. Torralba, canon lawyer and heritage advocate.

Ivan Henares prepared a summary of the lecture and questions that are reprinted here.

There have been several pontifical statements on the importance of church heritage conservation. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Inde a Pontificatus Nostri (25 March 1993) says, “Indeed, by its very nature, faith tends to express itself in artistic forms and historical testimony, having an intrinsic evangelizing power and cultural value, to which the Church is called to pay the greatest attention.”

Torralba pointed out that among the underlying causes for the depreciation of Philippine ecclesiastical cultural heritage are: Misinterpretation of Vatican II or misreading of the objective intent of the Council Fathers that led to confusion, neglect and miseducation; “McDonaldification” or “Disneyfication” of the Filipino; and the mystification of tourism as end-all and be-all. Torralba quoted Richard Engelhardt, “The falsification of authenticity in favor of tourism is a very serious issue.”

Torralba also quoted Czech historian Milan Hübl, “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture new culture, invent a new history. Before long, the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”

Torralba said that a Filipino priest once asked, “Why preserve or restore Philippine colonial churches when these are symbols of oppression, inequality, and injustice?”

So here are some FAQs of church heritage conservation on the side of the Roman Catholic Church discussed in the lecture:

What is the cultural heritage of the Church?

The cultural heritage of the Church is that essential part of her religious patrimony or legacy handed down from its very source and summit, Jesus Christ, to which such heritage is directed. Its pastoral function is to serve the Church of Christ as effective means of catechizing and evangelizing, as affective instruments of fomenting the sense of the “Last Things.” In a sense and to a certain degree, it is (quasi-) sacramental and ecclesial.

Who are accountable for Philippine ecclesiastical cultural heritage?

1. The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his primacy of governance, is the supreme administrator and steward of all ecclesiastical goods (Can. 1273).

2. The Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

According to Art. 99 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, 20 XI 199: “The Commission has the duty of acting as curator for the artistic and historical patrimony of the whole Church.”

Also “Art. 102—The Commission lends its assistance to particular Churches and Bishops’ Conferences and together with them, where the case arises, sees to the setting up of museums, archives and libraries, and ensures that the entire patrimony of art and history in the whole territory is properly collected and safeguarded and made available to all who have an interest in it.

“Art. 103—In consultation with the Congregation for Seminaries and Educational Institutions and the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the Commission has the task of striving to make the People of God more and more aware of the need and importance of conserving the artistic and historical patrimony of the Church.”

3. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is the permanent organizational assembly of the bishops in the Philippines exercising together certain pastoral offices for the Christian faithful of their territory through apostolic plans, programs and projects suited to the circumstances of time and place in accordance with law for the promotion of the greater good offered by the Church to all people (cf. Can. 447; Vatican II, Christus Dominus, No. 38, 1; John Paul II, Apostolos Suos, No. 14).

What is the role of the CBCP Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church?

The Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, according to Sec. 10 of the By-Laws in the CBCP Statutes (21 October 2000), shall:

1. Promote the cultural heritage of the Church as an invaluable aid to evangelization and catechesis;

2. Foment research on and understanding of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage;

3. Serve as a consultative body on the scientific conservation of cultural ecclesiastical goods;

4. Initiate and sustain collaboration between the Committee and similar government and/or civic agencies involved in the care, conservation and appreciation of the cultural heritage of the Church;

5. Act as official liaison with the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church in the Apostolic Sec 6. Undertake projects in different dioceses or prelatures upon invitation or authorization of, and collaboration with, the ordinaries (bishops) concerned.

Can the CBCP reprimand, or even call the attention of, bishops and/or priests who are perceived to have neglected the care of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage? Can the CBCP order the immediate stop or termination of renovations of ecclesiastical heritage structures presently on-going in the dioceses and parishes in the Philippines?

No. Please see the related question below on the process of filing legitimate complaints with the Roman Catholic Church. Note that you can also file cases in the proper courts based on the laws of the Republic of the Philippines since all colonial churches are, at the minimum, declared by the National Historical Institute as Classified Historic Structures under NHI Resolution No. 3, 22 October 1991. That’s if the priest and the bishop don’t scare the judge into believing that Saint Peter won’t let them in Heaven if they decide against the Church.

Article 428 of the New Civil Code provides that “the right of an owner over his property is not absolute but is subject to certain limitations established by law.”

Can the CBCP create a comprehensive list of all heritage churches in the Philippines in aid of information?

A qualified yes (“I hope,” said Father Torralba, “that the CBCP starts this list.”)

Can the CBCP Plenary Assembly empower its Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church by giving it the sole authority to approve any restoration, construction or further improvements of heritage churches, and by granting it the mandate to order the stoppage of any restoration, construction or further improvement that it deems damaging to a heritage church?


Who then has the final say on the proper care of the cultural heritage of the particular churches in the Philippines?

The diocesan bishop who will base his episcopal decisions on Canon Law governing the proper care and wise use of the ecclesiastical cultural goods of his particular Church, and on concrete pastoral exigencies circumscribed by time and place.

And so, if there are legitimate complaints against the judgment or decision of a priest or the diocesan bishop as regards the care of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage in his own particular church, to whom can the said complaints be lodged?

1. Against the decision or action of a parish priest—first to the parish priest. Otherwise, appeal and recourse be lodged with the diocesan bishop;

2. Appeal against the judgment or decision of the diocesan bishop should be lodged with the authority placing such judgment or decision, which is the diocesan bishop himself;

3. Hierarchical recourse against the decision or action of the diocesan bishop can be brought before the metropolitan (or archbishop) of the ecclesiastical province, or directly to the Holy See (You can copy-furnish your complaints to Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, Via della Conciliazione 5-7, Rome, Italy 00193, fax no. +39 0669884621, or e-mail

What now then is the role of the CBCP in protecting and curating the ecclesiastical cultural heritage of the local Church in the Philippines?

1. The CBCP can gently remind the bishops of the universal canonical legislation on the care of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage as a pastoral service assisting them in this emergent apostolic action of the Church that does hold a primary priority;

2. The CBCP, through its Permanent Committee, assists the diocesan bishops in their task of superintending the ecclesiastical cultural heritage in their respective sees by promoting the work of their diocesan commissions for church heritage thereby helping these to assume their proper obligations on heritage care and utilization;

3. The CBCP promotes awareness, sensitivity, appreciation, and valorization of the ecclesiastical cultural heritage by precisely advancing and supporting the non-formal formation activities of its Permanent Committee expressed through the conduct of the biennial national conventions, regional fora, symposia, and such like settings, and the publication of its journal on cultural heritage studies, the Pintacasi;

4. The CBCP can formulate complementary norms (local canonical legislation), manuals, policies, or guidelines to govern the proper care of the cultural heritage of the particular church in the Philippines.

The initiative began with the International Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of the Philippines on the Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church in the Philippines signed on April 17, 2007 and which entered into full force on May 29, 2008, following the exchange of the instruments of ratification.

What is the philosophy behind Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage Management?

We conserve heritage—ensuring its security from theft, survival from disaster, and safety from mishandling—for the primordial purpose of maintaining and perpetuating its faith (religious/theological) significance by which such heritage is valued.

The line that links the artistic-cultural processes of Christian inspiration and Faith itself is the reference to Jesus Christ.
He is culmen et fons (culmination and source) of all heritage of the Church.

The Miraculous Crucifix of Pakil ( - Updated - )

No one knows how the town of Pakil, in the province of Laguna, got its name exactly, nor can anyone, for that matter, pinpoint when and where their centuries-old parish acquired the life-sized crucifix in the photo above. Local lore says that, at least two hundred years ago, an old man came knocking at the church and asked to speak with the priest. The parishioners, their curiosity piqued by the strange appearance of the man, immediately summored the cura parroco. The old man would not say much of his business in Pakil, but asked for some carving tools, a room in which to work, and a day's ration of bread and water. The priest, baffled at the man's unusual request, immediately ordered that the man's needs be accommodated at the soonest possible time. When all of this was done, the man shut himself in the room, locking it from within and out.

Each day, the parishioners would hear pounding noises, and being familiar with the craft of the sculptor, they guessed that the mysterious man was a sculptor. But what was he building? At every occasion they could, the people who brought food for the man would try to look inside his makeshift workshop, but they would always fail to see what the man was working on. Finally, on the seventh day, the parish priest noticed that all was quiet in the room. The men decided to check on the man, fearing the worst had happened. When they reached the room where the mysterious man had stayed, the door, which had previously been sealed, was left ajar, and the people fell prostrate as a magnificently carved image of the Crucified greeted them. The carving tools were laid neatly on one side, looking as if they had not been used at all. When they tried to find the man in order to thank him, they couldn't find him anywhere. The people of Pakil were convinced that he disappeared under their very noses.

Stylistically, the crucifix seems to share a lot of the characteristics of Mexican Christs. The features are certainly not Asian; the defined ribs and whirls and whorls that form the pattern of the image's blood are certainly uncommon in Philippine religious art. The hair, too, is carved, although one cannot see it because of the wig (which is, OTOH, a common trait in Filipino Christs). The image is enshrined in the parish of San Pedro de Alcantara, which is also home to one of the most beloved Virgins of the Tagalogs, NS de los Dolores de Turumba (Our Lady of Sorrows of the Dance; I'll post about that in the future).

- Addendum -

Apparently, the corpus also serves as Pakil's Santo Entierro. Come Holy Wednesday, it is taken down from the cross, and brought to the house of its caretaker. The arms of the image are articulated, meaning they can be folded up on its sides. This was a common practice in the Philippines up until the early to mid twentieth century. Once the image of the Lord reaches its destination, it is given a bath; no water is used, but rather, a mixture of lambanog ('cane vodka' for lack of a better term) and cologne. Lambanog is known for its powerful kick, having, on average, 80 to 90 proof variations (when my great granddad used to drink the stuff, it was up to 200). After the bath it is laid out on a banig or straw mat; below the mat, a cauldron containing several lanzones fruit is burned. The odor of coming from the cauldron serves to 'perfume' the Senor, and as the townsfolk of Pakil believe, symbolizes the prayers of the faithful rising up as smoke before the altar of God.

Come Good Friday, the image is carried in the solemn procession of entombment; it is carried on the shoulders, and not wheeled around on a carrozza, as is popular in these parts. Behind the image follow musicians, singing a song of lament. Finally, the image stops on several occasions, while the town-crier wails mournfully, 'Senor, misericordia Senor!' The people repeat his acclamation; all in all this happens three times, after which the procession resumes its course.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Bato Balani Sa Gugma

The Cross entered the Philippines borne atop the golden globe held by tiny, wooden fist of the image of the Holy Child. The strange Visitor, worshipped as a powerful rain god by the Cebuanos long after Lapu-lapu had chased off the paltry few still left alive of Magellan's crew, was feasted with song and dance-- a tradition that had been firmly entrenched when Spain once set foot in the Philippines nearly five decades after Magellan's world-changing voyage. Bato Balani Sa Gugma is a song of the Cebuanos, one of their most beloved, which they sing with hearts on high whenever the Feast of the Holy Child draws near. The words are difficult to understand, and practically incomprehensible to myself, a Tagalog speaker (Cebuano is much closer to Bahasa than Tagalog is) but the song remains powerful, sublime, divine, nontheless.