It is amazing that in this era of rapid secularization and religious desensitization, religious traditions are experiencing an unexpected revival. In particular, Roman Catholic traditions are experiencing a renaissance, indeed a grand revival, in Pampanga. Thanks — of all people — to the youth.
Parish churches mount their “monumentos” — temporary altars to the Blessed Sacrament — for the traditional “Visita Iglesia” after the all-important Maundy Thursday afternoon holy mass: the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s institution of the eucharist. For the longest time and up to the present, Betis town always has the most remarkable, the most spectacular, sometimes very modern “monumento,” with a large budget allotment, that makes it a destination for pilgrims from other Pampanga towns, Bulacan, Tarlac, Bataan, and even Zambales. In the late 1990s, a very traditional, very elegant, and most magnificent “monumento” entirely in antique silver was assembled in the lahar-ravaged Bacolor church by Thomas Joven and Jerome de Jesus from their private collections. Joven and de Jesus are two Bacolorenos famous in elite circles for their expertise in the ecclesiastical arts. Since then, the traditional Bacolor “monumento” [ not assembled every year ] — which rivals the annual Vigan cathedral “monumento” entirely of magnificent 18th century silver — has set the standard for all other Pampanga churches during Maundy Thursday, and so there has been a quiet but massive return to the sense of religious splendor during the Spanish colonial era.
There was a time in my childhood [ the 1970s ] when the traditional Good Friday processions in Pampanga, including ours in Apalit, were in sorry states. Heirloom images were neglected [ thankfully not ours ], dressed shabbily, antique “carrozas” unkempt and unpolished, their lighting erratic or plainly nonexistent, the attendees lackadaisical and bored, and a general distaste for religious matters prevailing in the air. Secularization was very in, and disco was preferred over the divine.
But it’s a different matter altogether now. There is a renewed interest, surprisingly spearheaded by the youth, in all matters religious, including processions and other rites. In all the old Pampanga parishes and even the new, Lenten processions have taken on a new luster, which 30 – 40 thirty to forty years ago would have looked “outta synch” and downright ridiculous.
Driving around Pampanga towns on Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, one will see antique, ornate “carrozas,” mostly silverplated from the 1900s to the 1920s, being assembled, polished, and decorated with flowers in residential driveways. Inside those houses, the antique images are being carefully dressed by the ladies of the family in well-preserved, traditional embroidered vestments, some of them original from the 1800s. Some affluent families even pin a genuine gold and diamond brooch or two, or earrings and rings, to the female “santos” as signs of their devotion. Some “pasos” will be processed during Holy Wednesday evening, the others on Good Friday, still others on Easter Sunday.
The traditional Pampanga Good Friday procession unfolds most beautifully and elegantly in lahar-inundated Bacolor town, once, and in a sense still, the seat of all that is patrician, noble, and grand in Pampanga. Guagua, the traditional Chinese mestizo economic powerhouse, comes in a close second, despite the unsightly commercial district where the procession passes. Santa Rita also has beautiful Good Friday rites; the Holy Wednesday procession is remarkable for the number of antique “pasos.” One is surprised by the fishing town of Sasmuan: it has an astonishing number of antique, silverplated “pasos”; its 1800s “calandra” of the “Santo Entierro” is truly remarkable for the magnificently-worked silver “arana de luces” chandeliers and the sheer number of antique “virinas” glass shades. On the opposite end of the province, Arayat town has a most atmospheric Good Friday procession: 5 five of the beautiful antique “pasos” are still candlelit, returning one to the times of Maria Clara and Ibarra, of Capitan Tiago, Tia Isabel, and Padre Damaso…
I’m so glad that the time has come. I am so fortunate to see a renewed appreciation and reestablishment of the meaningful, and beautiful, religious traditions of our forefathers in my lifetime.