May is the month of Mary, and in the Philippines May is always a month of fervent activity and prayer. In Antipolo, pilgrims from all across the land make their way on foot, to venerate the image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. The pilgrimage is an ancient one, attended by both pleb and patrician; it was, and still is, customary to walk all the way to that hallowed shrine, and during Holy Week the number of pilgrims can swell up to nearly a million, with hundreds of thousands arriving on Good Friday alone. The Santacruzan is another popular tradition, which is a pageant commemorating the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena; she is often escorted by a young boy in a faux ermine cape and crown, Constantine. This is a tradition is still observed religiously in every part of the country, though variations in local practice do occur, some more... "Creative" than others (prompting the Archbishop of Manila, HE Cardinal Rosales, to state outright that transvestites were not to play the role of St. Helena under any condition).
That being said, I most associate May with a hymn, sung in farewell to the Blessed Virgin. Since the month has already come to a close, I thought I would post this video. The "despedida" is a hymn common to practically all of the former colonies of the Spanish Empire, which speaks volumes of the depths of Marian devotion extant therein. MY favorite despedida is the one in honor of Nuestra Senora de la Santissimo Rosario de la Naval, which is posted above-- once called the "gran senora" of the Philippines, no doubt for the extravagance of her jewels and the great role she is said to have played in securing the Philippines from the Dutch and the British-- and therefore, keeping her Catholic to this day. From the video:
The Despedida a la Virgen, said Nick Joaquin, was probably the greatest religious song of Old Manila, and was composed by a certain P. Hernandez centuries ago.
Recently arranged by the late Maestro Lucio D. San Pedro, it was sung in the old days by the Tiples de Santo Domingo in public only for 10 consecutive days in a year, that is during the Novenario and the Fiesta of La Naval de Manila in October. Their rendition of this haunting song is unmatched to this very day...
One unique feature when the Despedida is sung, when the tiples come to the part "dame tu bendición, Madre del Salvador!" the entire congregation kneels as the main celebrant incenses the Virgin.. It brings to mind the practice in the old days when the Santo Rosario is triumphantly brought out in procession on the streets of Intramuros, the people would kneel down in homage to La Gran Señora de Filipinas and stand up only until her cortege has passed by them.
In the old days too, when the coro de tiple reaches the last lines "madre amorosa prenda de amor..." the heavy curtains on the central niche of the main retablo in the old Santo Domingo would roll down to cover the Santo Rosario from view until the next day.. Until recently, this practice was continued in the new Santo Domingo..
For the Dominican missionaries however, it was more than just a religious song for the novena in October. It was the song of farewell that they sing to the Virgin before they leave for the missions, of which a number of them are never to return alive or would die as martyrs for the Faith.
"permiteme que vuelva tus plantas a besar.." - the Despedida was a prayer of entrusting, a prayer of hope, and a prayer of love, a fervent wish to be able to return again to her throne and to kiss her feet..
So guys, especially those devoted to the Santo Rosario, learn to this song by heart or at least try to understand its meaning. So that when we sing it to her this October, whether from memory or holding and reading our copies, we can sing it with our heart. The Despedida a la Virgen is the most meaningful and sweetest song of La Naval tradition..
We are indeed lucky that the move then to have it translated and sung in Tagalog did not pushed through lest we lose the poetry and the lyrical quality that goes with the song which is not achieve when a translation of a song is made.. You may get the tune right but the original thought suffers in the process..
As Providence would have it, we are still singing the same song to the Santo Rosario in the same way that San Francisco Fernández de Capillas and his companion martyrs, San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila and his companion mayrtrs, San Vicente Liem de la Paz and his companion martyrs sang it in front of the very same image, yes, in front of the Santo Rosario, inside the Church of Santo Domingo, then in Intramuros!