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The Torture of Holy Week

If you were a kid growing up in my generation here in the probinsiya, then the last thing you would have looked forward to was Holy Week. In particular, the last three days prior to Easter: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday.

So, alright. The churches got cloaked in purple just to get everyone in the somber mood so totally expected during the holiest of days.

And it was; somber, that is. As soon as one woke up the morning of Maundy Thursday, one was immediately told not to make noise. Mom’s explanation was simple: “Patay ang Diyos!”

Even as a young kid, my mind was inquisitive; albeit, if I was wont to ask something insolent as di-ba-bukas-pa, then I got quickly put in my place by something succinct as, “Ganu’n na rin ‘yun!”

What was unnerving, particularly for a young kid who always needed something to do, was exactly the opposite of that. There was nothing. Walang magawâ sa bahay. To such a complaint as walang magawâ, Mom’s standard retort was, “Magbusisî!”

But it was Maundy Thursday; even she dared not.

For a start, the whole neighborhood was deathly quiet. “Bawal magpatugtog ng radyo,” Mom would admonish everyone. That was fine. All the radio stations were off, anyway.

“Bawal ding magbukas ng TV,” Mom would also admonish everyone. That was also fine. Whatever few VHF stations were there in the old days likewise took breaks from broadcasting.

Mom – if I knew her at all – was probably just trying to milk the occasion in her aremuhunan way to shave a few kilowatt hours off the monthly electric bill. Of course, her generation was so much more old school than mine was.

And so the silence was only pierced by the ghostly chants of some nanay who sang in her raspy voice into a crude microphone in the traditional pabasa… Of course, the pabasa went on through the day and on through the night. Why the chanting had to be broadcast over the whole neighbourhood by way of an equally crude pakakak, I never did fathom.

Even as a kid, I used to wonder at the odd behaviour the holiest days of the year drew from people. Not just performing the Stations of the Cross – which I have not done for ages – or going to church to listen to the Seven Last Words – which used to put me to sleep; those were standard Catholic activities to help pass the otherwise barren days.

Rather, during the late night Good Friday church service, I would wonder why the nanays would wail at the pronouncement that Jesus the Lord had died on the cross. They killed Him the previous year, did they not? And the year before last…

Then there was this annual procession that my uncle used to tell us about that happened in his hometown of Nasugbu of half-naked masked men who whipped their backs till they bled profusely. The procession ended at the beach where the half-naked men would – bloodied and all – dip themselves into the salty waters of the sea to wash away their sins.

Penitensiya, was what my uncle called this act of self-flagellation.

These men – or so my uncle said – would return each year to whip their backs as they did the previous year. I figured the men were flagellating themselves so they could sin all over again!

We also heard it whispered by older kids that there were even men who went beyond self-flagellation and actually had themselves nailed to crosses. When we asked if these men also died and arose from the grave on the third day, the older kids could only doubtfully answer, “Malamang…”

To each his own, I rather supposed. At least these men chose to torture themselves; to us kids, it was imposed upon us.

No music; no TV. It was a good thing that, even as a young kid, I would read anything I could get my hands on. Yes, even those antiquated Mars Ravelo komiks that one could rent from the sari-sarî store for something like five centavos each time.

There was also a time when Mom forbade taking baths on Good Fridays. Some silly pamahiin, I guess. Considering that this was before weather went haywire – as it is these days – then Holy Week was always during some of the hottest days of each summer.

If not being able to take a bath was not torture, then I certainly do not know what is. Of course, I did eventually grow old enough to be able to tell Mom how silly her superstitions were.

There were hardly any vehicles on the road – unlike these days, when traffic is insignificantly diminished from normal days. Therefore, galâ – except by foot – was not really among the options to ease the boredom.

Easter was, naturally, very much anticipated. Being right proper Catholics, of course it was because of the risen Christ. But it was also because the television and the radio could be turned back on and the return of the jeepneys plying their routes made galâ possible once again after what seemed like an eternity…

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