APRIL 6, 2019



Filipinos Carry on the Catholic Tradition of Lent



"Lent is the time of the year when I feel closest to God,” said Marline Corpuz, who grew up in the Roman Catholic faith and attends church regularly at Our Lady of Perpetual Help near her home in Ewa.

When feeling nostalgic of the church her family attended in her youth, Corpuz drives miles into town to Saint John the Baptist in Kalihi for mass services. She says that nostalgia comes most often during the Lenten season and Holy Week because she is reminded of her deceased parents who taught her the value of going to that church where she learned many of the Lent traditions.

This year Lent started on March 6

and concludes on April 18, just before Easter on April 21.

For non-Catholics unfamiliar with what Lent is, it’s a time when Christians commemorate and reflect on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It lasts 40 days, beginning with Ash Wednesday and concludes on Holy Week on Maundy Thursday. It ends just before Easter Sunday because the 40 days period is said to be a time of prayer, fasting, and preparation before the celebrated resurrection of Christ on Easter.

“I have so many fond memories of Lent that my family practiced,” said Corpuz. “In the mornings, my mom would light a long-stemmed candle that would burn down by midday. The next morning, she’d light another one. Just after dinner, we would have a moment of silent prayer as a family.

“My mother would retire in the evenings saying the rosary before an altar in the corner of her room where she’d have more candles, a crucifix, and a framed picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

“During Holy Week, she would have fresh flowers on the altar.”

Holy Week is comprised of Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Special masses are available every day during Holy Week. To Catholics, Easter is the bookend to Christmas; and equal in importance. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ; Easter celebrates His resurrection.


Fasting or eating less (or withholding from eating meats on Fridays) is the most common practice in observance of Lent. Some Catholics expand the concept of fasting of food to giving up a vice of something pleasurable. Catholics believe the idea is to give up something for 40 days that would cause a degree of suffering to remind the faithful how Christ had willingly suffered for humanity’s deliverance.

Rossi Peralta Patton, a Catholic from Ewa Beach, said she fasts the entire Holy Week and season of Lent, unlike some who only fast every Friday during the 40 days.

“I also attend mass during Holy Week, engage in personal and private conversations with God. I participate in the Station of the Cross, attend Ash Wednesday mass, and take part in the blessing of the Eucharist,” she said.

I was raised to practice, follow and obey the rules of the Catholic Church. My country, the Philippines, is predominantly Catholic and we are expected to follow these practices and values of our religion. In our schools, religion is a required subject, from grade school to college.”

She says, “During the Lenten season the rules of our household were strict growing up. We could not make loud noises, no partying, and no music especially on Good Friday. We could not shower after 3 p.m. There was less activity. We could only engage in activities related to the Church and Lenten season.”

Catholics believe the reason behind inactivity and silence is to quiet the mind and feel God’s presence.

Pabasa ng Pasyon

Corpuz said: “During Lent there was always soft, sacred music playing at our home of beautiful Latin Gregorian chants or the Pabasa ng Pasyon, which is a chant, done in the style of an epic poem narrating the passion of Christ. My mom had a special cassette that featured the Pabasa na Pasyon chants in Ilokano.

“We all knew it was the Lenten season when she’d bring out that cassette,” she said.

The Pabasa ng Pasyon in the Philippines is often done live in groups. People would take turns reading. On occasion, it is chanted, acapella, in a very solemn, mournful way. Usually, the person with the best voice would sing the part of the narrator.

The entire narration is a serious reenactment of Christ’s last days on Earth done with simple musical artistry.

Senakulo and Siete Palabras

In the Philippines, there are several other reenactments of Jesus’ death and resurrection: the Senakulo is a stage or street play that takes place in many barrios organized by local governments and sponsors; and the Siete Palabras (the reading of Christ’s last words) is broadcasted over radio and television during Holy Week.

Holy Week is a big event in the Philippines. The older boomer generation who grew up there say it was typical for Catholics to take the entire week off from work. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are still national holidays in the Philippines.

Good Friday is not a national holiday in the U.S.; but it is a holiday in some states, including Hawaii.


By far the most intense and dramatic practice during Lent is the penitensya or penance. In the Philippines it often involves self-mortification of the flesh such as hitting oneself on the back with leather straps or crawling, lying down, or walking barefooted on the hot pavement or concrete where these devotional practices take place.

Penitents undertake these severe acts as a way to ask for forgiveness for their sins or to express gratitude. The ultimate act of penitensya is the actual crucifixion of three chosen penitents.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines discourages physical penance and views these physical self-harming acts as superstitious expressions of folk Catholicism.

The most popular Penitensya reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion takes place every Good Friday in the Barangay San Pedro in San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines. It’s an event known worldwide because of its extreme devotion.

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