Thursday, December 31, 2009


The first time I attended a padasal was on the first anniversary of my grandmother's death, in November of 2005. I had no intention of attending it at all, though; the appointed time was at eleven in the morning, to be preceded by a Mass at her grave at about eight thirty or nine. The drive to the province from Manila would take at least two hours, which meant leaving the house at five thirty. All this, in addition to my disdain for folksy, rural practices more akin to superstition than anything 'right and proper' in the Church's eyes, made me all a bit deracinated.

First, an explanation. A padasal is the commemoration of the death of a loved one, where an abundance of prayers are said for the repose of the soul of the deceased. If you follow traditional Filipino custom, a padasal is held on the anniversary of the death of the deceased, as well as thirty days after the death, and also on the fortieth. It is a time consuming, even monotonous, procedure, one which is invariably more popular with women than with men (there is a reason why food is always served on padasals; it is to keep the men from raising a ruckus and disturbing the concentration of the the mangdarasals). We eventually arrived at the cemetery in the nick of time. The Holy Mass was celebrated by a second cousin of mine, Fr. Erwin, of the Diocese of Lucena. As usual, the Mass was short and sweet; and I recall being righteously proud of the fact that I alone knelt on the moist grass during the Consecration (admittedly most of the attendees were seniors...).

The drive back to my father's house took little over ten minutes. I am always pleasantly surprised at how quickly it takes to navigate cities, even provincial capitals, in the province. There was none of the excruciating traffic so common in Manila, and what little there was could have been negligible. And just as well, as I had not eaten breakfast yet. We arrived home, and already the caterers were posted in the veranda. Among the dishes I noticed were morcon (meat rolls), chicken lollipops, spaghetti, sinigang na baboy (pork cooked in sour broth), as well as some servings of corn soup and rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish)for the health conscious. Inside, clustered in a circle in the living room, were a group of women ranging from middle aged to the snowy-haired, all immaculately dressed in white. They were whispering amongst themselves and simultaneously drinking coffee. So these were the mangdarasals-- church ladies, who, it seems, are solely preoccupied with structuring their daily activities for prayer. One of them took Fr. Erwin's hand and put it to her forehead, which was followed by several more, until he himself took the hand of one lady-- a rather short and plump schoolteacher with slightly cropped hair.

Breakfast, or should I say brunch, commenced almost half an hour after eleven. At that time I was formally introduced to Fr. Erwin, and yes, 'I was the one who knelt', I proudly told him. We continued talking for about an hour until there was a sudden hush-hush in the living room, and I knew that the padasal had begun. Curious, I excused myself from the table and proceeded to the ghostly group. My mother and father were already there, standing in the corner, while two of my cousins were seated next to an aunt, herself a member of the mangdarasals. The lady whom Fr. Erwin blessed, the schoolteacher, closed her eyes, and produced a rosary from her pocket. Holding the crucifix, she pressed it to her forehead, and in a solemn voice, she began: 'Sa Ngalan ng Ama, at ng Anak, at ng Espiritu Santo.' 'Ave Maria purissima, sin pecado concevida.' 'Bendita sea tu pureza, y eternamente lo sea...'

The words escaped her lips like water falls from a cliff. The steady drone of half-whispered, half-sighed prayers swept over me in all their strangeness and unfamiliarity. Words which were never tossed around in church sermons in the city anymore formed a heavy chain which, I admit, made me uneasy. I knew my grandmother to have been a virtuous woman, who prayed the rosary and read Scripture daily. But purgatory and hell pick no favorites; and eternity has a way of making us remember even the little details of our lives which me would like to think have been buried forever under a slew of psychological coping mechanisms.

They recited all fifteen decades of the holy rosary, ending each series of mysteries with a psalm, a hymn, and especially the prayer of St. Gertrude the Great, said to release a thousand souls from Purgatory every time it is said. At the end of the last series of mysteries (I don't think they prayed the Luminous Mysteries), they sang the hymn 'No mas amor que el Tuyo', followed by the Filipino counterpart of 'On Eagles' Wings', 'Hindi Kita Malilimutan.' Then followed a prayer which was totally alien to me. At a certain point in the prayer, the old lady who led the group instructed two of my aunts to cover their heads; there were no veils handy, so they had to make do with some napkins with cartoon characters printed on them. Apparently, this was supposed to bring good luck and prosperity to the family. This, too, ended. The Litany of Loreto, or perhaps some other litany still unfamiliar to me, was said. After about an hour and a half, the padasal was nearing its completion; the prayer leader took the crucifix into her hand, and, kissing it, began to press it into her forehead again: 'Santong Diyos, Santong Makapangyarihan, Santong walang hanggan, kaawaan Mo po kami at ang buong sanlibutan.' Thrice she did this, before following it with another 'Bendita', and an 'Ave Maria purissima.'

The padasal was finally done, and I saw the old lady take a much needed drink of water after that. The lights were blown off the makeshift altar erected in the living room. It was a simple affair-- a crucifix practically suffocating from garlands of sampaguita, several images of the Virgin, the Santo Nino dressed in its brocade robe, St. Joseph with its garlands of rosaries around its neck, and two huge candles to the side. The ladies in white took off their veils (the one or two who wore them at least)and finally streamed into the dining area, there to make light-hearted 'chismis' (gossip) about the parish priest or a wayward parishioner. At around 3.30 in the afternoon, they left the house, but the fragrance of candle wax and rosaries dipped in rose oil lingered around.

I'm told the format of a padasal can be flexible; and to be honest, I am now not too sure about the exact sequence of prayers uttered that November day some four years ago. But I do remember the enchantment, the strangeness, and yes, the dread mood that came and went with the padasal. I had brought my catechism with me that day, in the hopes of starting a scholarly discussion on the padasal. I never got around to doing that. There was still so much to learn, and I might have just gotten a few laughs thrown at my direction if I did.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All The Queen's Men

Just a photo from the Grand Marian Procession held in Intramuros a couple of weeks ago. Sorry for the lack of updates, I have been very busy lately. I will have something up by the end of this day, though, hopefully.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Marcelo Adonay - Gloria, from the Pequeña Misa Solemne

Read his biography here. As is mentioned in the site, Adonay is often called the 'prince of Philippine liturgical music'; in life, he served as choirmaster of San Agustin church in Intramuros, certainly one of the most illustrious and venerable churches in all the country. It is really surprising that his works are not performed more often. This performance was held in the Church of the Risen Lord, a Protestant chapel in the University of the Philippines two months ago, and sung by Novo Concertante Manila under the direction of choirmaster Arwin Tan.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Padre Pio's Rosary

On the first Sunday of the month of December, the city of Manila holds a grand procession in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This tradition was revived some thirty years ago and is one of the most popular Catholic events in the city. Socialites come in droves, 'fighting' for the honor of who gets to be Hermano and Hermana Mayor. The procession this year included some 80 images of the Blessed Virgin Mary; however, despite this, the one detail that really caught my attention was the following story. From the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

For the first time, a reliquary containing the Rosary of St. Padre Pio will be part of the carroza of the Virgen de la Verdad, to be brought by Gaudencio “Boy” Ponce for the procession on Dec. 6. The Rosary was given to Boy Ponce who was l3 years old when his grandmother Fortunata Balingit Ponce brought him to San Giovanni Rotondo in April l963. Remembering that time, Boy told me that the Mass to be said by Padre Pio was at 5 a.m. He went with his lola early wearing the St. Anthony habit, since he was dedicated to the saint as a child.

One of the priests saw him and asked if he spoke Latin (which he did) and if he could serve in the Mass. It was an experience of a lifetime. Even now, Boy remembers every detail, as they waited patiently while Padre Pio said the Mass. It took all of two hours. After the Mass, Padre Pio, out of the blue, gave Boy his Rosary, which he has kept to this day. The Rosary has been borrowed several times by sick friends, and it helped in their healing.

What an honor is must have been for Mr. Ponce!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Extinction of Virginal Roles

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I found this article while flipping through the morning paper, in the showbiz section of all places. It's definitely worth a read. Also, something absolutely humiliating happened to me today. Please pray that I may forget all about it soon. You may also read it through the website of The Philippine Star, which printed the article.

The extinction of virginal roles
by Butch Francisco, The Philippine Star

Today is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception and this is a major holy day of obligation in the Roman Catholic Church calendar. Here in the Philippines, Catholic schools don’t hold classes on Dec. 8 and all over the country a lot of fiestas are being celebrated in various parishes dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Also expect churches to be bursting at the seams today because devotees will be trooping there to hear mass from morning till evening.

Among Filipinos who lived through the brutality of the Second World War, Dec. 8, 1941 is one date they will never forget because that was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor
(although it was only Dec. 7 in America that time).

In this predominantly Catholic country Dec. 8 should always have a personal significance because most school children receive their First Holy Communion on this day. I had mine Dec. 8 and the days leading to that was important because of the preparations: Purchasing the all-white attire and the black bowtie, the photo session at Bob’s studio — plus the daily practices on how to properly open the mouth to receive the Body of Christ. I hope I don’t sound sacrilegious, but I consumed packs after packs of paciencia — that tiny round cookie — a week before the actual First Communion just to get the ritual done right.

But outside of the fact that Dec. 8 is the communion anniversary for most of us (I don’t even know of anyone who celebrates that), this day is important because of our devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Maybe if I had the power to change my date of birth, I would have preferred to have my birthday on Dec. 8. The truth is, my mother actually started having labor pains on this day — around late afternoon — but I refused to come out of this world until practically 24 hours later.

It was a difficult delivery (sorry, Mom!) and my mother made sure I was aware of that while I was growing up. The story was that my head had already popped out, but my block of a body got stuck because obviously I was already top-heavy even at birth.

When I finally came out (head and body), it was already way past the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but was still in time for the feast day of Our Lady of Loreto. My parents, however, still didn’t bother to attach a Marian name to mine — unlike Lorna Tolentino and the late Rudy Fernandez, who named their son Renz Marion because their youngest child was born on Sept. 8, the birthday of the Blessed Mother.

Among the girls, a lot of Connies — from Concepcion — are celebrating their birthday today. And the Immas, too — although they should have been Inmas since the correct Marian term is Inmaculada Concepcion and not Immaculada Concepcion.

I am not sure if parents today still name their Dec. 8 born baby girls Concepcion — or the misspelled Immaculada. Perhaps they find the name too old-sounding by now — although they should remember that this is in honor of the Virgin Mother.

Times have really changed. Stage, movies and television hardly carry religious themes these days. While ABS-CBN airs daily the soap May Bukas Pa, which imparts moral values, I am honestly not comfortable referring to our Christ Savior as Bro.

And since we’ve stopped recreating religious tableaus in the entertainment landscape, there is no casting for Virgin Mary roles anymore. To begin with I can’t even think of a name among young female stars today who would fit the role.

In the past, we’ve had Norma Blancaflor (in Ang Messiah where a one-year old Tirso Cruz III played Baby Jesus), Gloria Romero (on stage and in films), Boots Anson-Roa (the late Rita Gomez would always kid her that she had all her children by immaculate conception), Charito Solis (in a Christmas episode of the old ABS-CBN’s drama series The Charito Solis Show) and even comedienne Aruray (I believe in a stage show when she was so much younger).

But what became of our young actresses? They’re not necessarily immoral, except that they have to be interesting to the public to stay in the race. It’s not their fault, except that some don’t listen to Ricky Lo’s perennial advice to celebrities: “Behave! Behave! Behave!”

Is media responsible for erasing the virginal image of most of these women? In a way, yes, because most movie reporters now have become so comfortable asking single female celebrities if they are still virgins — a no-no in the past and supposedly even in today’s polite society (but that population has considerably shrunk).

But you can’t blame everything on media. I believe it’s in the changing of the times — and technology: Cell phones where lascivious acts that are supposed to be kept private are recorded and shared with the whole world via MMS.

With all the competition, everyone should have something new to offer. In the process, values and sense of decency are sacrificed. An actress who can’t maintain lead status has to go sexy — with matching breast augmentation to flaunt around.

Unlike in the days when it was the norm for women to remain virgins until their wedding night, the female race of today gets embarrassed to admit that at age nearing 30, “they’ve never been kissed and never been touched.” It’s like a stigma to still be virginal at 25 for women nowadays. I can’t exactly pinpoint who is spreading this false notion, but truly we are sending the wrong signal to the public and to the young people.

Again, I am not moralizing because I can never talk about that with authority and conviction. But as a media person, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to remind young women — and the young men as well — that there is nothing wrong about being pure, chaste and immaculate