Solemnity – Nemy Que, SJ

Good Friday 2023

When Good Friday, all day-long, was prayer,
When the whole town sang their grief,
When everyone prayed to be embraced by the wounds of the suffering Jesus,
Enveloped by the pain, keeping vigil until resurrection dawned.

This was how Good Friday was observed generations ago in the old town of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Good Friday meant you won’t hear blaring radios, people talking rowdily, and since this was in the seventies, no booming, muffler-less motorbikes. You could, however, if you tried hard enough, hear light footsteps that led you to the only place that mattered that day – the church at the center of the town. On this day, all walking led to the church where the liturgy of Good Friday was held.

First, there was the “Siete Palabras” (Seven Last Words), a set of seven homilies seven different priests delivered on each of the seven last words of Jesus on the cross. Their booming and dramatic voices filled the church. For a child, all this added to the mystery of the celebrations. There was also this giant of a crucifix in front of the sanctuary that was adorned with branches, twigs and leaves, and which on cue – “It is finished!”- lowered its head in surrender. For a child, and I guess, for many members of the congregation too, this was what the Good Friday celebration was all about. At the end of the seven last words, there would be a mad rush for the leaves that touched the wood of the cross. Why? I never bothered to ask. To this day, I don’t know why. I must have imagined some of the awe of the celebration, I know, because I was too short to see what was actually going on. But the whole atmosphere got to me. And it felt to me like I was there at our Lord’s crucifixion and death.

By the time the Good Friday liturgy ended, darkness would be battling the light of day. The people of the town, led by the celebrant, would prepare for the procession – the stations of the cross – that snaked through the narrow streets of the town. “Carosas” of various sizes, lavishly bedecked with flowers and lights, would exit the church, first, led by the women who waited at the foot of the cross, then the different stations of the cross, until the “Santo Entierro,” the carosa carrying the dead body of Jesus brought up the rear of the procession. As a child, I marveled at the life-like image of the dead Jesus. I would wait until it left the church, then walk home to watch the procession pass by from there.

In their homes, every woman who was solemnly posted by window sills, would be wearing a veil and holding a rosary. Candles placed all over the place would be lit. It seemed that the whole town missed a heartbeat, more like its breath, while the procession wound through the town, fearful that the sound of breathing would ruin the solemnity of the event, an event that was wrapped in the mystery of the moment.

Then silence. All through the night, darkness and silence!

On the third day before the cock could crow three times
Feet shuffled hurriedly over to the place where they witnessed Jesus die,
To be with Mary the mother who, in quiet assurance, walked to meet her risen Son,
To be with Jesus the Son, promise-fulfilled, walked to comfort his Mother,
And embrace His people.

There’s not much of this today.
Not anymore. And that is understandable.
Times have changed. Memorial celebrations have evolved.
Even the days have gotten unbearably hotter than I could remember.
I do not wish for those times past to travel to the future.
I just wish and pray for one thing from those ages past –
SOLEMNITY, Solemn hearts embraced by the mystery of these three days.

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