Holy Thursday
April 5, 2012

The best of Pinoy popular religiosity, along with its worst, shines out beginning today, first day of the Paschal Triduum. Even as I sit down to write these reflections, hordes are now making their way up Mount Banahaw, or trekking in the concrete jungles of Metro Manila to go to Antipolo, or “carrying their little or big crosses” everywhere in Central Luzon, particularly in Pampanga, to do their own version of “washing and watching.”

Elsewhere, throughout the Tagalog region, particularly in Batangas and Cavite, the singing of the Pasiong Mahal of the unsung poet Mariano Pilapil, could be heard or espied taking place in just about every prominent family’s house, or in humble abodes everywhere else. In Poblacion, Makati, the old Sampiro, dozens of what is called “kalbaryos” house the family-owned statues depicting the various events related to the passion of the Lord, where endless singing of the same pasiong mahal is done, replete with food and drinks for everyone to share.

But there is more than just poetry in the Paschal Triduum. There, too, is pageantry – a whole lot of it, along with a lot of passion and emotional intensity, coming to a climax on Good Friday, when quiet, solemn, and dour processions of the Santo Entierro will take place. In Sampiro, Makati, hundreds of veiled and barefoot devotees will silently wend their way through Poblacion’s now car-ridden roads, to register their sharing in the passion of the Lord.

A common feature in the poetry and pageantry of it all is the idea of getting a “washing.” In Banahaw, the ritual of bathing in the portion of the river where the famous “yapak ni Jesus” is found will take place. Those who do the treks up Banahaw or to Antipolo will be bathed in sweat, whilst those who do the “penitencia” of getting flagellated and flogged as they traverse the thoroughfares of Pampanga and the rest of Northern Luzon, will be bathed in their own blood, sweat, and tears.

As a priest, even as I try to lead the flock towards a more theologically, pastorally, and liturgically sound devotional practice, I voice no condemnation to the many times ignorant and unschooled popular religiosity that abounds all over the country. Presumably, my readers would know better than to think that such popular religious acts encapsulate the fullness and the richness of the Catholic liturgy during the Paschal Triduum.

I write, primarily, for them – for you who get to read this now.

But truth to tell, there, too, is some kind of washing in today’s liturgy – the washing of the feet. But while the idea of getting washed in the Pinoy popular mind has to do with personal washing, the type that has to do with getting cleansed from one’s sins, and being worthy of trudging along with the Lord towards the glory of Easter, in the Catholic Maundy Thursday liturgy, that ritual washing of the feet does not primarily have to do with personal cleansing. The washing of the feet has to do, not with the person washed, but with the one who does the washing!

That washing is done by no less than the Lord Himself – the very same one who in a few short hours will show to the hilt what it means to embody what Isaiah prophesied about the suffering servant of Yahweh, the gentle lamb led to the slaughter with nary a whimper and a complaint.

Today is my day, as it is a day of all my brother priests, ordained for ministry of service. Today, we are in the limelight and the foreground, not because of us as persons, but because of Him who called us and sent us, to do as He did – to serve and not to be served.

Though most times, it is hard for Pinoys right now to see the service behind the garb we wear … although, priesthood, at least in the Philippines is associated with being in power, being esteemed, and being pampered even by the very people we claim to serve, I would like to impress upon my readers that it was never meant to be that way. I beg apologies to the lay people if I, or we all, have given the impression that we are more to be served, than to be treated as servants.

I have sinned. I am a sinner. We all share in humanity’s sinful nature. And it is here where the idea of washing comes in. The Lord washed his disciples’ feet. That includes me and my fellow ordained ministers. He died for me, for you, for each and everyone of us. His blood washed away our sins, and rendered us worthy to do so much as follow Him, albeit so feebly, most times.

The Church, in her ministers, still does this washing. Now, it is not water that touches our feet. Now that washing takes the form of bashing. The Church and her ministers at times, are hated, derided, looked down on. Some of them even died and shed their blood on account of this hatred. Not that some of us are not worthy of such. Indeed, some of us have done dastardly acts as not to merit being trusted anymore to wash other people’s feet.

But this washing that we do is precisely the same washing that we all need. We all, lay and clergy alike, need to go through our own Red Sea, our own Passover. But that journey through the sea, of passing over from slavery to freedom, that “washing” sort of, has to translate at some point, to watching.

In the first reading, households were told to offer an unblemished lamb for sacrifice. They were asked to eat it in haste, as if preparing to go for a long journey, with loins girt and sandals on their feet, and staff in hand. They were told to be watchful and ready.

In the New Testament, that Passover meal was what took place in the Upper Room, where Jesus led his disciples to the ritual of washing, followed by watching. After eating the Passover meal, and showing the example that the disciples were to follow … after instituting the twin Sacraments of the Priesthood and the Eucharist, he retired to Gethsemani, where he told his disciples to “watch and pray with Him.”

This is a night that is full, not just of poetry and pageantry. It is full of theology and mystery. The Master reversed roles and became servant. He washed his disciples’ feet. But the same Lord offered Himself as sacrifice, so that that act of washing can become a feature not just for that night, but for all time.

We have been washed and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. Now, reconciled to the Father and to one another, we do what is most logical … watch with Him at Gethsemani. Worship Him who is the Eucharistic Lord, the bread come down from heaven, blessed, broken, and shared that we might live. Forever. Washing and watching … this is what we all essentially do, in Church tonight, in all Kalbaryos in Sampiro, Makati … in all pabasas everywhere else in the country! Let us rise and walk with Him, and die and rise with Him!