Good Friday is never a day of pleasure. On this day, Filipinos are open to sacrifice. They will choose the more difficult penance than any other day of the year. This day seems to be the hottest, even if it is not confirmed by PAGASA. They would forego cravings for a cold refreshment or a desire for rest and relaxation. In Culion, Palawan, all videokes are mute. Because on this day, every individual leaves their usual chores to share and imitate the suffering and death of Christ.
The rituals of Good Friday is communal. The day begins early morning for participants of Alay Lakad, the long walk for God to the Shrine of the Nuestra Senora de Bienviaje (Our Lady of Good Voyage) at the Cathedral of Antipolo, Rizal. Some begin walking the night before. Popular to the young, the long trek combines physical rigor and human company. It is at once a time for God as a time with friends; a time for atonement as a time for enjoyment.
In fact, Good Friday is a multi-layered experience. On this day, the smell is earthy: the smoldering road is combined with human sweat. The sight of devotees whose hands are clasps in earnest prayer reminds us that this day is holy. When the hour of Christ’s death strikes, the atmosphere then turns to be dry and dreary. Good Friday is a long day, but we don’t mind.
And when every thing is brown and bare, we know that it is the perfect time to show, even for once, that the God who died for us, deserves our attention. And so we focus on the Via Dolorosa, the road of sorrow. Families and friends visit holy places to do the Stations of the Cross. Those who visit churches will move from one station to the other, reciting every episode of the Passion and kneeling every time they utter, “For through the holy cross, you have redeemed the world.”
But some take it to heart. They prefer the longer penance: the longer the trek to the last station, the better. So people trek mountains or climb hills to get to the top where the last station is. Now, our penchant for the hardest is satisfied with an additional station ecclesiastically approved by the Church. Like the additional Mystery of Light in the rosary, we now have an additional station: the Resurrection. The Church teaches that we cannot separate the cross from the resurrection; there are sufferings at the back of every triumph. Thus, climbing Mt. Hibok-hibok in Camiguin Island off the coast of Misamis Oriental is a challenge but also a test of one’s fervor. The person who reaches the top experiences Easter.
At around eight in the morning, the sinakulo, a play about the passion and death of Christ is acted in some towns until three in the afternoon of Good Friday. The roles of each character is gladly taken by townsfolk that those who are part of the cast begin to prepare themselves with some sacrifices before they assume their roles.
However, in most towns and now in cities, the passion and death of Christ is not acted, but read or sung. In Manila, you hear the Pasyon being chanted. It’s music ranges from the archaic to the tune of “One Way Ticket” of Boney M. In fact, one of the melodies of the Pasyon is the tagulaylay. The tagulaylay is the chant that nears the crucifixion scene. Its “melody” is difficult to put into a musical score because it does not have a time signature or a tempo, but it is sung like the a warbler’s call: like someone in intense pain.
As you walk the streets of towns, you’ll be lucky to meet local Kristos, male and female, in penitensiya, clad in the purple garb of the Black Nazarene with a hood and a crown of thorns on their head. In Pampanga, Bulacan and Rizal, these people wear a crown of branches and leaves; but in Kalayaan, Rizal, they decorate the crown with flowers, called the haplit. Perhaps this is indeed the meaning of Good Friday. For a person who suffers in the carrying of one’s cross, one can already see the triumph of Easter. Just as we know that a student who burns the midnight oil is guaranteed to graduate; so too we know that when we carry our own crosses in following Christ, salvation is granted. Christ said that those who take up their crosses and follow Him will gain eternal life. It is what the haplit teaches us: the crown of thorns will soon come to full bloom.
At the peak of the day, people begin to flock to the church for the Seven Last Words which commences around one in the afternoon. After the prayer remembering the words of Jesus on the cross, a 20-minute reflection follows. All these end at three.
In whatever form of sacrifice we take, or whatever event we participate in, everything stops at the holiest of hours. At three-o’clock in the afternoon, Christ dies.
At this hour, the official liturgy of the Church begins: the Good Friday Service. It is not a mass because God is “dead.” All crosses and images of saints are covered. There are no altar cloths, candles, flowers, bells and even the final blessing until Easter Sunday. And just Jesus have been stripped of His garments, so too all altars of churches are stripped bare. Priests prostrate themselves on the floor while people join the long line to kiss the cross of Christ.
After the service, people pour out of the church and begin choosing which among the images they like to follow for the procession. Led by the image of St. Peter, the people including the machos who don’t attend Sunday masses carry candles. To these people, Good Friday is the only exception to show their soft spot. But the center of the procession is not St. Peter, but the Santo Entierro, the image of the dead Christ. The procession pauses when the Santo Entierro passes a station designated around town by the parish priest. At dusk, the procession ends in the church where many would fight for the flowers of the images. They believe that these flowers are like amulets; they could ward off evil.
In Bicol and in the island of Culion, Palawan, the event does not end here. The Mater Dolorosa, the image of Our Lady of Sorrows, again embarks on a journey of her own, taking the processional route but beginning from where it ended. That is why it is called, Soledad. The belief is that in her sorrow, she retraced the steps of her Son alone, thus sharing the suffering He underwent. The Mater Dolorosa then ends her journey in the church. Those who followed her in Soledad, also followed her in silence. No words or music can console the Mother of the dead Christ. Theology teaches us that the one and only person who shared most intimately the suffering of Christ is His mother.
As the church end its para-liturgies, there are individuals who take Good Friday as a day of magic. They would spend time at the cemetery to find amulets and “live stones” (buhay na bato). It is said that on Good Friday, one finds visible a ball of fire that leaves stones that could ward off evil. In Culion, Palawan, the Church of the Immaculate Conception is situated on a cliff facing Coron island. Fr. Florge Sy, SJ, the parish priest, attests that from the church, one sees tiny lights appear around the numerous islands off the coast of Coron, traveling to the tip of its mountains. People believe these lights are from another dimension.
Good Friday then is indeed multi-dimensional. We find the magical mixed with mortification. We find animistic elements embedded in the practices of Christianity. We find in the depth of friendship, the fire of faith. On this day, the Church celebrates community. Just as funerals bring together families and friends, Good Friday builds Christ’s Church. Community is forged by a common sorrow.
That is why the pleasures people let go of on Good Friday can be easily refrained from. By mortification, the faithful follow the Church in atoning for their sins. Disciplining the body makes us more sensitive to the Spirit—until next year.
At the end of the hottest day of the year, the common person may be too tired from all the rituals, that they are more than happy to hit the bed — but without taking a bath. Why? Bathing is a cultural pleasure. Foregoing one’s pleasure on the day of the Lord’s death is an abnegation of the will.
So, even if we find it uncomfortable to sleep without the usual cleansing, we are content to think that we too are doing our own version of the penitensiya to the last drop.
However, this is good if we sleep in our own room.
But many Filipinos sleep together. While we indeed share Christ’s death, we are reminded that Christ who died said that charity is over and above everything. So, the people whom we are with do not have to suffer too from our smell.
So as a priest, I will tell you with all my conviction: take a bath. It’s good on Good Friday.