Holy Week

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Holy Week (Filipino: Semana Santa) in Christianity is a week-long commemoration of Christ's passion and resurrection starting from Palm Sunday to Black Saturday, leading to the much celebrated Easter Sunday.



The annual observation of Holy Week traces back in the latter half 3rd century to 4th century Jerusalem. During those times, Christians took pilgrimages to the Holy Land. According to the diary of the Pilgrimage to Etheria (also known as Pilgrimage to Egeria), the early church conducted rites and worship pertaining to the events of the last days of Christ. Writings on the Apostolical Constitutions say that abstinence from flesh and absolute fasting (particularly on Fridays and Saturdays) should be practiced during the Lenten season. Eventually, these early customs and traditions marked the annual commemoration of Jesus Christ's life to this day.

Holy Week in the Philippines

Filipinos are known for their solemn observance of Holy Week. It is their way of renewing their relationship with God and is commonly regarded as the season of repentance and mending of immoral living.

  • Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It commemorates the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Filipino Catholics bring their palaspas or decorated palm fronds to church to be blessed by the priest.
  • The first three days of Holy Week (Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday) prepare us for the passion of Christ. The church services follow very closely the gospel themes preceding the passion, including the days spent by Jesus and his apostles in the city and Judas's preparation to betray Jesus.
  • Maundy Thursday is the day when the washing of the feet is celebrated. Catholics consider Christ's washing of his apostles's feet as the most striking example of his humility.
  • On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes their gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption.
  • Holy Saturday (in Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum) is the 'day of the entombed Christ,' is the Lord's day of rest, for on that day Christ's body lay in his tomb. It is the day for the preparation for the night vigil of Easter.
  • The Easter Vigil signifies Christ's passage from the dead to the living by the the liturgy which begins in darkness (sin, death) and is enlightened by the fire and the candle representing the light of Christ as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the community of believers, is led from spiritual darkness to the light of his truth. The Easter Vigil includes a blessing of water. Water blessed during the Easter Vigil is used for baptisms and other blessings. The paschal candle represents Christ, as the light of the world. It is lighted each day during Mass throughout the paschal season until Ascension Thursday.
  • Easter Sunday is the day when Christ's resurrection is celebrated.

Sacrificial acts

  • Fasting (limiting one's food intake to one full meal a day)
  • Abstinence (avoidance of eating meat from warm-blooded animals)
  • Alms-giving
  • Prayer

Holy Week activities

The Pasyon is the chanting or recitation of the bible verses describing the passion of Christ. It involves a group of devotees singing in chorus of the passion and death of Christ to the tune of an old or modern song.

The Senakulo is the reenactment of the passion of Christ. Many Filipino celebrations like the Moriones Festival portray this theme.

Public flagellations are the reenactment of the torture and death of Christ. It is done by Catholics who have made a vow or panata. It is also their way of expressing gratitude for the prayers granted. Tondo district is known for its Holy Week ceremonial acts. Flagellants wearing only trousers, with their faces covered and heads crowned with thorns, beat their bodies with whips or twigs with nails in them.

Good Friday marks the death of Christ. Most towns have a grand procession with all the religious images wearing black veils on top of the carrozas. It is a Filipino belief that children should not play around during this day because one who gets wounded while Christ is dead will take a long time to heal.

On the dawn of Easter Sunday at exactly 4:00 a.m. there is a salubong ceremony where the image of the Virgin Mary meet the image of the resurrected Christ in the middle of the church's compound.

It is during this season that Filipino Christians are reminded of their cultural heritage and it is the best time to reflect on their lives.


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