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The Practices of Lent
by The FHL Research Team
Date: 4/2/2004

Lent is one of the two liturgical seasons in the Philippines, the other one being Christmas, that has been celebrated with much fanfare and frenzy by most Filipino Catholics. A time dedicated to the remembrance and contemplation of the passion and death of Christ, Lent has inspired its own genre of art, music, cuisine, and practices. For most, Lent represents the core of Christian doctrine and tradition. Yet ironically, it has also inspired traditions and practices which are remarkably contradictory or not contained altogether in traditional Church doctrine.

These traditions and practices can be classified into four kinds. The first is the Church's paraliturgy, which refers to public activities and rituals that are not part of the Church’s official liturgy, but have been developed to aid the common people in grasping religion. Examples of this include religious processions and the traditional Senakulo, a theatrical narrative of the story of Christ. The second consists of activities that involve non-official, popular liturgy developed by the laity itself, such as the Pabasa, a lyrical narration of Lent’s story, and public flagellations. The third kind includes non-official, private belief and rituals, like the procurement of the mutya from the heart of the banana plant on Holy Tuesday and Good Friday. And while Good Friday is regarded as the apex of the Lenten celebration, it is quite peculiar that this day is also believed to be the most potent day to perform kulams or hexes (ironically with the aid of Christian prayers and chants). Finally, there is Lenten-inspired art, such as drama, music, sculpture and cuisine, such as the Morion masks of Marinduque, a full-headed mask of centurions during Christ’s time.

We can say that given these extra-ecclesiastical activities, the season of Lent has taken a dual character, polarizing to both extremes of the spiritual spectrum. While it is an extensive exercise of the core tenets of the Christian faith, the persistence of non-Christian practices and rituals presents an irony to the its otherwise pristine religious character. Yet it is this set of rituals that gives Lent its distinct Philippine flavor. The unusual yet seemingly compatible fusion of secular and Christian beliefs and practices makes our observance of Lent a more moving and meaningful experience.

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