Saving Semana Santa: Tradition Transitions

Amidst the heavy traffic and anticipation of crowded pilgrimage sites are people that have come to involve themselves in the busiest period of Lent – Semana Santa.

Holy week is a time commonly known for devotion and prayer but underneath these are various traditions that have been around for as long as anyone can remember and have also changed from time to time. The Paschal Triduum, which ranges from the evening of Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, represents the build-up of events for the week wherein prayer devotions have evolved into one of many treasured traditions passed down by Filipinos since the Spanish era.

However, the trouble which this generation faces is found in the preservation of these traditions. Is it an issue of succession or simply the refusal of acceptance?

Processions, Plays, and Prayers

From Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, there are many prayers and customs that Filipinos have come to observe every year. The Stations of the Cross, which is particularly observed during Visita Iglesia, is done while visiting at least seven churches to meditate on the Way of the Cross on Maundy Thursday. On Good Friday, the Seven Last Words and the Senakulo are done. The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ are commemorated through sincere street processions and in some towns, the Senakulo or the traditional passion play is done to portray the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ. In continuing the solemnity of Good Friday, Black Saturday is spent in preparation for the Easter Vigil wherein there is the depiction of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday marks the joyous celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and thus the Salubong or dawn ceremony occurs to show the reunion of Christ and his mother after His Resurrection.

Of all the prayer devotions, plays, and processions, there is one to be considered sacred and cherished, especially by the older generations. Composed of stanzas of five lines with eight syllables each, the Pasyon is a Philippine epic narrative of the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More often than not, the chanters of the Pasyon are those of the older generation. Heavy devotion towards this prayer is usually taken as a vow or panata in which the elder generations take part of.

Issues on Succession

Currently, most of the prayer devotions are still led and consistently encouraged by the older generations and only few have really been passed down. The Pasyon, among all other Holy Week prayers, remains to be predominantly led by the elderly. Like many of the cherished traditions in Philippine history and culture, the Pasyon struggles to make it through the next generation. This struggle can possibly be explained by layers of issues over succession, conservatism and maybe even authority over age.

The elderly have constantly felt the need to impose authority in presiding over the pabasa or the recitation of the Pasyon, because the requirements include knowledge over the reading and the fortitude to finish until the end as it is a continuous prayer devotion recited for a long span of time. This type of responsibility and wisdom is not easily passed down because of its delicate nature. This can probably explain why the older generations feel the need to hold on to these traditions for so long until the next generations have developed the proper interest and respect for them.

Another reason for the trouble of succession may be the conservative view of the older generation wherein most of them feel rigid towards practices. Any alterations or innovations applied to these traditions are strictly prohibited to preserve their sanctity and authenticity. Preservation to the elderly could possibly entail that the original state should stay the same throughout history and that integrating any type of change is deemed as a threat to its form.

The simplest of reasons may be of letting go. Age has given the elderly the right amount of authority to say whether its time to let go or if the youth is ready to take over. However saddening the implications of aging may bring, the matter of how ready the successor is may come into question.
In due time, the Pasyon and other prayer devotions considered as traditions will have to be trusted to the next generation and if so, the next perspective to speculate on is whether this fresher generation is either ready or capable of such as responsibility.

They’re just not into this

The other half of the struggle to preserve these Holy Week traditions lie within the hands of the younger generation wherein appreciation, acceptance and interest are brought to questioning. Reasons such as the lack of appreciation for both history and traditions or the idea that it could be too time consuming and difficult to learn are as common to any succession story that exists. A percentage of the youth find difficulty in learning and taking the time to comprehend the depth of knowledge and language embedded in the Pasyon. A number of these prayers have exsited since the Spanish era and the language used has become far of from the language spoken and written today and the difficulty can stem from this gap or simply the lack of determination in learning such.

The lack of appreciation and interest may be a result of some other reasons that surface in line with technology and the presence of other belief systems. Divided attention over the advancement of technology continues to provide the younger generation with almost an unlimited availability of other recreational and interesting activities that strongly compete with the aging existence of the Pasyon and other prayers. The current fame of social media and the joyous benefits that the Internet has provided unceasingly win over the attention of the youth as it offers much more common interest. Not to mention of course the known advantage of communication and social connection are deemed increasingly significant over what the devotion towards prayers and the Pasyon could possibly offer.

Nevertheless, a part of the youth has found a way to preserve traditions such as these through taking the opportunity brought by change and innovating for the sake of gaining attention and interest. Recent innovations in the Pasyon include incorporation of contemporary popular ballads, pop music, and hymns during the pabasa. In this way, the youth has come to participate in a way that they can relate and contribute a part of their own and still be able to carry the tradition in the hope of its survival for the generations to come.

Devotion over imposition

It is now a matter of perspective, acceptance and evolution. As inevitable change may be, traditions during the Holy Week are faced with the struggle of survival and both generations are now confronted by choices and responsibilities that may either preserve or damage a part of the Philippines’ history and culture.

Although these speculations and observations continue to exist, many should bear in mind that some traditions such as these prayer devotions, specifically the Pasyon are meant to be a voluntary venture and not an imposition to be forced upon the succeeding generation for the purpose of preserving a part of history.

April Anne Villena

By April Anne Villena

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