Rorate Caeli

Holy Week (1962 Missal) in the Philippines: A Personal Account

This past Holy Week, the Parish of the Lord of Divine Mercy (PLDM) in the Diocese of Cubao celebrated the principal rites of Palm Sunday and the Sacred Triduum according to the Missal of 1962. A few other ceremonies were celebrated according to the Missal of 1970, but in the spirit of the “Reform of the Reform.”

The celebrant was Fr. Michell Joe Zerrudo, a young priest who has regularly celebrated the Traditional Mass since 1997 and who has been the parish priest of PLDM since 2007. Since September 2007, Fr. Zerrudo has effectively transformed PLDM into a biritual parish. Daily Low Mass and Sunday and Feast Day Missa Cantadas according to the 1962 Missal are celebrated in addition to the regular daily and Sunday schedule of Novus Ordo Masses, the latter celebrated with worthy vestments and on a “Benedictine” altar.

The decision to celebrate Holy Week according to the 1962 Missal was made shortly before Passion Sunday. As far as we knew, no regular parish in the Philippines had celebrated Holy Week according to the classical Roman Rite since 1970 – and now, we had little more than a week to plan everything! Fortunately, we had the advice of the elderly Msgr. Moises Andrade, a great lover of the Traditional liturgy, and of an ex-SSPX seminarian who acted as MC. Our Sunday TLM cantor, Felix Valenzuela, had a great love and knowledge of Gregorian chant and was able to train other singers in time to form a schola for Holy Week. I myself acted as crucifer and as one of the main servers during the ceremonies, while helping to visualize and plan the ceremonies beforehand.

The “Traditional community” and the regular parishioners of PLDM had led separate lives (so to speak) up to this time, save for the fact that they were served by the same priest. Since this Holy Week was going to be for both communities, a modus vivendi to enable the regular parishioners not to feel left out was reached. Roles were assigned to representatives of both communities: for example, after the chanting of each Latin reading from the Epistle side of the sanctuary, an English translation of the same was read from a side lectern (outside the sanctuary) by one of the regular lay lectors. While most of the propers were chanted by the schola for the Traditional Mass, the regular parish choirs sang a few of the propers as well Latin hymns for the Communion rites. Finally, for the Easter Vigil, the schola and the parish choirs sang as one. Servers of both the TLM and the regular parish NOM joined forces for the ceremonies of Holy Week. Given that many of the latter group had not even seen a Traditional Mass before, this was no mean feat. The parish office also printed hundreds of special missalettes with English translations of the ceremonies. Since not everybody could have a missalette, the text of some of the ceremonies were also projected on a screen to the right of the altar.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday’s procession and principal Mass was celebrated in the morning according to the 1962 Missal, but with the Gloria Laus ceremony at the door of the church inserted into the rites. (This ceremony had been removed in 1955.) Since the choir for the procession was made up of young girls dressed as angels, the decision was made to make them sing only selected antiphons (in Latin) from the processional chants, using simplified melodies belonging to the Tridentine-era Philippine tradition of sacred music. This was one of the “compromises” that had been decided on, so that both communities could take part in the Rites. In accordance with centuries-old Philippine tradition, the churchgoers brought their own palms, which Fr. Zerrudo blessed by going around the whole church sprinkling the palms with holy water; only coconut leaf crosses (to be affixed to the palms) were distributed at the altar rail during the blessing of palms prior to the procession.

A few minutes after this Mass ended, Fr. Zerrudo celebrated a second Palm Sunday Mass according to the 1970 Missal (in English), but ad orientem and with a glorious Roman chasuble.

Every night from Palm Sunday to Holy Wednesday, penitential processions with life-sized statues of saints, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Lord in His Passion were held in the streets surrounding the parish church.

Maundy Thursday
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays in the Philippines, and as in other parishes, the PLDM church was packed to overflowing for the principal rites. It was a relief to note that the use of Latin had not scared people away, and even attracted additional attendees.
The foot washing was no mere ceremony: the twelve viri selecti (or apostoles, as we call them) were very poor men whose legs were encrusted with dirt and mud, and their right feet really had to be scrubbed with soap before being kissed. For a quarter of an hour, these men were the most important in the whole parish. Afterwards, they had the honor of holding the canopy for the Blessed Sacrament during the procession to the altar of repose. After the procession to the altar of repose, people began leaving the Church. I had to run to a lectern to tell people that the ceremonies were not yet over, whereupon the crowd obediently went back to their seats. Soon afterwards, the Stripping of the Altars was held. The night was spent by the faithful doing the traditional Visita Iglesia (visiting the traditional seven churches on Maundy Thursday night) to venerate the Blessed Sacrament in various altars of repose.

Good Friday

Good Friday was the best-attended ceremony, with the crowd flowing out of the church and way into the streets around it. The Passion was chanted by Fr. Zerrudo, Fr. Froilan Rivera (of the Prelature of Infanta) and the cantor Felix Valenzuela (who sang the role of Cronista). In the Philippines it has ever been the custom for laymen (even prior to Vatican II) to act as deacons of the Passion and even to vest as deacon and/or subdeacon for the chanting of the Passion. This was due to the severe shortage of clergy with which our country has always been afflicted. In consultation with Msgr. Moises Andrade, we decided to follow this custom in the case of the Cronista as we couldn’t find a cleric able to take on this role. However, the cantor vested only in cassock and surplice, not in alb (as would have been the practice prior to Vatican II). Fr. Rivera was completely new to the Traditional Rite, but after a whole night of rehearsing and of rigorous tutoring by Mr. Valenzuela, was able to sing the role of Synagoga very well.

Initially, we servers tried to get the people to do the traditional genuflection before kissing the feet of the Crucified. However, due to the size of the crowd (there were nearly a thousand people that day) a surge forward to venerate the Cross was inevitable, depriving the people in front of any space in which to genuflect. To our amazement, the people in front – without any prompting – spontaneously began to crawl on their knees to the cross. This had the effect of slowing down the surge while allowing people to express their reverence to the cross. Many people also left their footwear at the pews and went barefoot. The adoration of the Cross took so long that, after singing all the prescribed chants in the 1961 Liber Usualis, the schola still had the time -- and the excuse -- to sing the Vexilla Regis (whose liturgical use in Good Friday disappeared in 1955). After Vexilla had been sung, we told the large number of people still crawling on their knees to go back to their seats and to adore the Cross after Communion. Some went back, but others continued to crawl to the Cross – how can you stop such piety? And so the schola chanted another Crucem Tuam, after which a substantial period of silence ensued to let some more people adore the Cross.

In a traditional Philippine Holy Week, all of Good Friday is taken up in devotional and paraliturgical ceremonies, and PLDM was no exception to this. The only difference is that the priest vested in black cope rather than in red. While some people resumed venerating the Cross after the service of Good Friday, a penitential procession with the purple-robed “Santo Entierro” (a recumbent statue of the Dead Christ) accompanied by richly vested statues of the Mater Dolorosa and the saints of the Passion (SS. John, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and others) started on its way. After the long procession ended at nearly nine in the evening, the Santo Entierro was venerated inside the church, to be followed almost immediately by a second procession with the Mater Dolorosa (the “Soledad” procession) with all the participants including Fr. Zerrudo going barefoot along the asphalt roads. The first procession had commemorated the Burial of Christ; the second procession commemorated the Blessed Virgin Mary, alone and grief-stricken, going home to St. John. The second procession ended with the recitation of the Stabat Mater and the incensing of the Mater Dolorosa. The night ended with Fr. Zerrudo hearing confessions.

Easter Sunday

Easter Vigil began at 12:15 AM of Sunday and ended at quarter to four in the morning. Because of the lateness of the hour, there were markedly less people in attendance. Nevertheless, the regular lay lectors turned out in full force, such that after the chanting of each Prophesy (and of the Epistle) in Latin, there was a different lay lector to read the English translation. [Remember the "modus vivendi" I had written about.] We had the joy of witnessing the reception of a convert into the Catholic Church, who had the additional blessing of being baptized according to the Traditional Roman Rite.

Fifteen minutes after the Vigil ended, the last major ceremony of a Philippine Holy Week began: the "Salubong" (literally “Welcome” or "Encounter"). The Salubong began with two processions – one of men accompanying the statue of the Risen Christ, and the other of women accompanying a statue of the Blessed Virgin veiled in black – meeting in front of the church. To the sound of brass bands and the cheers of the large crowd, the two statues met, whereupon a young girl dressed as an angel was lowered from a crane onto the statue of the Virgin. The “angel” lifted the black veil, revealing the Virgin Mary all radiant in white and blue. Why the Virgin, and not Mary Magdalene? This is because Philippine piety has always considered the Mother of God to be the first witness of the Resurrection, and this belief is enshrined in the Salubong ceremony. In 1971, the Congregation for Divine Worship allowed the first morning Mass of Easter in the Philippines to have the “Salubong” as its Entrance Rite. And so Salubong was followed by Fr. Zerrudo intoning the Gloria and the celebration of a Novus Ordo (English, ad populum, but very reverent) at an altar set up in front of the doors of the church. With that, Holy Week 2008 ended -- and what a historic week it was for us!

This was the first time that a regular Philippine Catholic parish had celebrated a Tridentine Holy Week since 1971, and mistakes and less-than-ideal situations were inevitable. The lack of personnel familiar with the rites and the chants also forced us to resort to certain customs that, while old and not unknown, were certainly less than ideal (for example, having a lay cantor chant the Epistles and Prophecies as well as the part of "Cronista" during Good Friday). And, to our great regret, we were not able to sing Tenebrae. It would have been brutal to make our poor cantor sing ALL of that (as the rest of the schola wasn't as yet up to the task.)

Nevertheless, judging from the feedback we got, we had succeeded in our main task: to bring the entire parish community to a deeper appreciation for the Traditional Roman Rite. While not a few were perplexed by the length and intensity of the rites and the use of Latin (a common question being: "will the sermon also be in Latin?" -- asked not in jest, but in all earnestness), others were loud in their appreciation for the reverence, solemnity and grandeur of the rites. I remember, walking by the side of the church after the rites of Maundy Thursday, hearing a woman saying aloud: "napaka-solemn, napaka-ganda" (so solemn, so beautiful!). And lest anybody wonder about the impact of the schola on everyone present: they got an invitation to sing at the birthday Mass of the local vice mayor!
By the way, I'd like to thank my friend and fellow server Gerald Cenir, from whose blog I borrowed the pictures for this post. (Gerald was thurifer for all the Holy Week ceremonies mentioned here.)