Observing Holy Week Traditions in Pampanga, Philippines


One of the most important seasons for Roman Catholics in the Philippines is Mahal na Araw, also known as Semana Santa or Holy Week. It is a highly significant ritual in Filipino culture since it commemorates Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday are all part of it. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are regular national holidays in the Philippines. The observance of holy week traditions in the Philippines is a powerful expression of Filipinos’ religion and passion for religious practices. Aside from fasting and abstinence, most devout Filipinos grew up with many other religious practices. Many holy week traditions in the Philippines are observed, particularly in the province and, in particular, in Pampanga.

This year’s holy week will be observed a little different from the past two years when the National Capital Region (NCR) and surrounding provinces have been placed under lockdown owing to an increase in the number of COVID positives. With the progressive relaxation of pandemic restrictions around the country, the year 2022 has provided the Filipinos, with a welcome shift. And, it is comforting to know that we may all enjoy our holy week traditions in the Philippines with only a few precautions; allowing a greater number of people to attend public events while following basic health procedures under the following constraints: 1) Everyone is expected to adhere to the government’s severe “Social Distancing” policy and 2) to wear face masks during religious services. Church staff shall continue to sanitize their churches after liturgical festivities and supply alcohol for the sanitation of our believers.

Pampanga is one of the Philippines’ provinces with particularly colorful (and, at times, violent) Holy Week rites and ceremonies. It’s also pretty near to Manila. As a result, it’s a great site to spend Holy Week, Mahal na Araw, or Mal an Aldo. During this season, activities such as reenactment, reliving the life, and participating in the passion of Jesus Christ are popular. Aside from its preserved Holy Week traditions, real estate investment is emerging in this province. There are affordable house and lot for sale for you to check out while you are in Pampanga:

During this time, many of our devoted citizens observe particular holy week traditions in the Philippines:

1. Domingo de Ramos / Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Filipino families usually would go to church, dressed in their Sunday best, carrying palm leaves for blessing. Usually, palm leaves are sold outside the church, vendors would chase you and sell their palm leaves making sure you have one before entering the church. During the Holy Mass, together with other churchgoers, they raise their palaspas or palm leaves into the air as the priest blesses them with holy water. People take their palaspas home after the service and pin or attach them to their doors or windows, or they set them on the altar. It is thought that blessed palm leaves remove negativity and bring good fortune into a home. Filipinos retain the palaspas pinned to the door or window for a year as a ritual. Going to Church in the province always meant you’d run across a relative from the next town, so be prepared to “mano” (place the elder’s palm on your forehead) every Tita, Tito, Lola, and Lolo you see.

2. Fasting and Abstinence

Another common holy week traditions in the Philippines is fasting and abstinence. During Holy Week, Catholics try to avoid certain vices, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, even for practicing young Catholics, the excessive use of social media or online games. They also fast and avoid eating their favorite meals, such as pizza, hamburgers, or anything containing meat, especially on Fridays. Meals should consist of fish, fruits, and vegetables as much as feasible.

3. Pasyon / Pabasa

During Holy Week, another Catholic devotion is Pabasa or Pasyon. It is a poem or religious writings that tell the story of Jesus Christ’s passion and death. During Holy Week, the faithful assembles in the homes of those who host the Pasyon to partake in the book’s sing-song reading. For some, this begins on Palm Sunday afternoon and continues persistently (24 hours a day) until the book is done. For others, it begins immediately following the Palm Sunday mass. It is also observed from Holy Monday to early Maundy Thursday morning. It concludes at approximately noon on Good Friday. The pabasa can be sung or played using a variety of musical instruments. Some of the younger age would join the pabasa and compose music to accompany the reading of holy texts. Pabasa is extensively practiced in several parts of Luzon and Visayas.

More often than not, Food will be plentiful during a Pabasa, as it is at any other Pinoy event. Steaming bowls of lelut (lugaw or rice porridge with hard-boiled egg) and a never-ending supply of coffee will keep you up and energized while you belt it out on the microphone. Hearing the old voices singing so passionately from a distance seems unsettling and soothing in the silence of the night.

4. Penitensya

During Holy Week, Pampanga becomes unusually renowned for penitents who self-flagellate in the streets or carry a wooden cross as a form of repentance for their sins. Thousands of visitors, both international and domestic, visit Pampanga to see this long-standing Filipino tradition. Many of these Lenten penitents may be seen in Magalang, Pampanga, in the town of San Agustin. This practice includes reenacting Jesus’ agony by being nailed to the crucifixion. Penitensya begins on Maundy Thursday in Pampanga, with penitents covering their faces and lashing on the self-inflicted wounds on their backs with a set of bamboo sticks linked together and attached to a rope. On Holy Friday, people flock to San Fernando’s Barrio Cutud to see men willingly nailed to the cross in a reenactment of Jesus’ execution. It is preceded by a cenakulo representing Judas’ treachery for 30 pieces of silver before Jesus’ arrest and demise. Judas’ regret and final suicide are always the highlights of the cenakulo.

However, for the third time, Mayor Edwin Santiago would enforce a prohibition on crucifixion, self-flagellation, and any act simulating Jesus Christ’s anguish as ruled in his executive order issued on March 28. Violators will be arrested and sanctioned. 

5. The Washing of the Feet

On Maundy Thursday, a Holy Mass for the Lord’s Supper includes time for the washing of the feet. Twelve men are chosen to represent the disciples in this sacred ceremony, while the priest represents Jesus Christ. While kneeling on the floor, the priest washes the feet of the 12 people one by one. It reminds the faithful of the scene in the Bible after the Passover feast when Jesus washed the feet of his followers, symbolizing His humility and attitude of service that we should all emulate.

6. Visita Iglesia

For most Filipinos, this is a yearly Holy Week ritual. Visita Iglesia is a tradition that takes place on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, during which one visits at least seven different churches, ideally with his or her family. St. Philip Neri headed a 16th-century Roman tradition that gave birth to this practice. The goal of Visita Iglesia is to pay homage to the Blessed Sacrament and to seek atonement for one’s sins. It is thought that if a person can visit seven different churches, his or her request would be realized. Stations of the Cross are often observed during church visits. Some churchgoers would pray at two stations for each church, or they would visit 14 churches to fulfill the 14 stations.

The habit of visiting at least seven Catholic Churches to reverence the Blessed Sacrament is popular not just in the countryside but even in Metro Manila. It becomes a social activity among families and friends, whose company makes walking from one Church to another more tolerable. On Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, this is customarily done.

Pampanga has numerous lovely churches that you should visit as part of your Visita Iglesias.

Here is a list of 7 Churches to visit in Pampanga for Visita Iglesia:

1. San Guillermo Parish Church, Bacolor Pampanga

The San Guillermo Parish Church, named after Bacolor’s patron saint, was constructed in 1576 but damaged by an earthquake in 1885. It was renovated in 1886 with the assistance of Fr. Alvarez, Eugenio During the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, the Lahar buried part of the church. Before the catastrophes, the church was already a well-known tourist site, and now both local and foreign tourists come to the chapel’s surviving features.

2. Betis Church, Guagua Pampanga

Betis Church, also known as St. James the Apostle Parish Church, is a parish church in Guagua, Pampanga. It is well-known for its Baroque architectural design and has been classified as a National Cultural Treasure for its exemplary and reproducible architecture.

3. San Agustin Church, Lubao Pampanga

This Neo-Classical Church, located in Brgy, was erected in the 17th century. San Nicolas I Church in Lubao, Pampanga, is composed of Spanish stones and bricks and has been classified as an Important Cultural Property.

4. Holy Rosary Parish Church, Angeles Pampanga

The old Santo Rosario Church, now called Pisambang Maragul (Big Church) by the locals, is located in the center of Culiat. It was constructed in 1877 and has been declared a National Historic Site by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.

5. Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church, Porac Pampanga

This Baroque-styled church was erected in 1872 at Poblacion, Porac, Pampanga. It is presently part of the Ecclesiastical Province of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Fernando. The major focus point is the rose window on its front, which has a stained-glass picture of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

6. Santa Rita de Cascia Parish Church, Santa Rita Pampanga

Its fading Solid-brass front with Baroque features was constructed in 1839 and completed 29 years later, in 1868. The church houses a holy relic of flesh from St. Rita de Cascia.

7. Metropolitan Cathedral, San Fernando Pampanga

His Neo-Classical cathedral, originally known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, was built in 1754 and serves as the Archdiocese of San Fernando’s seat.

7. Crucifixion Stations

On Good Friday, the faithful commemorate Jesus Christ’s death by doing the Stations of the Cross. The stations are made up of fourteen pictures that illustrate Christ’s suffering from the time he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane until the moment he is laid in the tomb. At each Station, the faithful pause to contemplate and pray.

8. Seven Final Words

Catholics regard the last seven words said by Jesus on the Cross before his death as the Seven Last Words. On Good Friday, priests lead the faithful in meditation and reflection on the significance of Christ’s teachings.

9. Santo Entierro Procession

During Good Friday, the Santo Entierro Procession takes place, when antique and life-size carved figures of saints are lined up for the long procession. These portraits are typically carried by a carozza, which is lavishly decked with flowers. Saint statues are typically adorned in bejeweled and embellished velvet. This is the climax of Holy Week tradition in the Philippines when a big crowd gathers around the church for the late afternoon holy procession. Only the elderly, crippled, and sick Catholics are “exempt” from taking part in the parade.

10. Easter Salubong / Salubong de Pascua

Christ died on Good Friday and was resurrected from the dead on Easter Sunday, according to Christian belief. Salubong is an Easter Sunday tradition that begins around 4 a.m. It is a vigil commemorating the reunion of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ following His resurrection. This also functions as a welcoming ceremony for God’s Son. The rite is often initiated by two distinct processions from opposite ends of a town, with Jesus at one end and Mary at the other. The two processions will then meet in the middle, where an angel (played by a little girl) will pull the black veil, which represents mourning, off Mary’s face. It denotes the end of her grieving since Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Families then prepare feasts to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection, enjoying foods that they had refrained from throughout Holy Week.

In the Philippines, Roman Catholics commemorate Holy Week as a form of penance, devotion, and prayer to God and His Son. It is a custom ingrained in the hearts of Filipino Catholics. Whatever the circumstances, even during the pandemic, the Filipino devout sees to it that the holy week traditions in the Philippines are observed. Allow this year’s Holy Week to reconnect you to God and rekindle your faith through the customs and traditions.

Written by Ruby Baclid