Have you been part of the Lenten activities of the PCJ Parish this March and April 2017?
In truth, for those who participated, this article could be a review for you, a look back into what you experienced then, and now seeing them more clearly with renewed eyes of faith. For those who were not able to participate in the activities, this could be an invitation and indeed a plunge into a journey of communion with Jesus in his own journey of suffering, death and Resurrection – the Paschal Mystery as center of our Catholic faith – experienced more deeply and concretely in the life of the PCJ community. These are all the significant events before and during the Holy Week celebrations. Let us with joy and thanksgiving look back at these celebrations.
Burning of the Palms
During the last Mass of February 26 2017, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Fr. Eric Salazar presided over the liturgy of the burning of old palms. This liturgy started the usual 8:00 PM Mass as mass goers have been instructed beforehand to bring their old palms from last year’s Palm Sunday. All gathered in front of the church where the palms were burned into ashes that will be blessed and used for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season.
In our Catholic teaching, the burning of palms symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit, who at the beginning of the Lenten journey, invites everyone to heed the Father’s call to a change of heart, which is an inner conversion throughout the holy season of Lent. Another significant moment in the liturgy of this burning of palms is the moment of silence as all observe the fire for a brief period. As one looks at the burning of palms, the invitation is also to be led by the fire of the Holy Spirit who melts one’s hardened heart and transforms it into that of Lord Jesus’ gentle and merciful heart.
The celebration of Ash Wednesday last March 1, 2017 ushered in the Season of Lent. Compared to the three Masses on a weekday, five Masses were scheduled for that day in PCJ: two in the morning and evening, and one at noon. This adjusted schedule gave the faithful an opportunity to attend one Mass during this holy day of obligation in the Church. Many flocked the PCJ Parish and all lined up solemnly for the imposition of ashes on their forehead. The ashes on one’s forehead marked with a Cross points to the salvation which Jesus offered by dying on the Cross.
Ash Wednesday begins the Season of Lent and during the day, abstinence and fasting are to be observed. On this day, every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat), while those at the age of 18 up to 59 must fast. It is truly a day of recognizing one’s littleness before God and being converted back into His loving and merciful embrace. This is evident with the words of the priest as he puts ashes on the person’s forehead: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
The PCJ community celebrated Palm Sunday last April 9, 2017, which started with the blessing of palms at the entrance of the church. Many people gathered in front of the church where the priest on each Mass began the liturgy. After reading the Gospel at the start of the celebration, the palms waved by the people were blessed by the priest with holy water.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem while he was on a donkey. In the passion narratives of the Gospel, Jesus comes from the Mount of Olives and the crowds lay their clothes on the ground to welcome him into Jerusalem. For the Church, Palm Sunday also marks the beginning of Holy Week, which culminates on Easter Sunday. People also remember on this day the Lord’s sacrificial death on the Cross as it is called Passion Sunday.
Our Lord’s Supper and Washing of the 12 Apostles’ Feet
April 13, 2017 was Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Paschal Triduum. The Mass of the Lord’s Last supper was celebrated at five in the afternoon with Fr. Eric Salazar as presider and Fr. Ernie Sican as homilist. Concelebrating were Fr. Rodel Paulino and Fr. Greg Ramos with Rev. Bon Navarro assisting as deacon. The highlight of the Mass was truly the washing of the feet of 12 selected parishioners who are members of enclaves and BECs. All four priests had a hand in washing the selected twelve’s feet which was a commemoration of Jesus’ own washing of the feet of his twelve apostles. At the end of the Mass was the procession of the Blessed Sacrament inside the church where on its side was the Altar of Repose. It is in there that the Sacred Host would be kept for the vigil and prayer of people until midnight.
Maundy Thursday is the official start of the Paschal or Easter Triduum, which comprises Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday. Indeed, this day is called Maundy (meaning command or mandato) because it makes present and alive the mandate of Jesus to his disciples to wash each other’s feet. In his homily, Fr. Ernie mentioned that Jesus teaches each one the example of love by washing other people’s feet as continual service to brethren especially to the lowly ones.
Vigil at the Altar of Repose
The essential part of the observance of the traditional Visita Iglesia is the vigil before the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar of Repose. This happened on April 13, 2017, Holy Thursday, after the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and Washing of the Feet at the PCJ Parish church. People from both nearby and distant places came together to pray and to have silence in front of the beautifully decorated Altar of Repose inside the PCJ church. The ministries and commissions of the parish took turns hourly for the vigil which started at around 7:00 PM. After many people, mostly families, gathered as one before Jesus in prayer, worship and silence, Fr. Eric Salazar solemnly removed the Blessed Sacrament from the Altar of Repose at 12 midnight.
Dawn Way of the Cross
Good Friday, April 14, 2017, started with the parish way of the Cross at 4:30 in the morning. The first stations were around the parish while the last station was held in the PCJ church, which was filled by the many attendees that morning. It was indeed a sacrifice for everyone as they all had to rise early in the morning and to walk quite long distances during the procession. The Way of the Cross complete with prayers, reflections, and the Word of God was one way to join in the journey of Jesus in his suffering and death on the Cross. Fr. Rodel Paulino, parish priest, gave the last words and final blessing to the people at the end of the celebration.
Veneration of the Cross and Santo Entierro Procession
In the afternoon of Good Friday, April 14, 2017, Fr. Ernie Sican led the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and Veneration of the Cross at three in the afternoon at the PCJ church. The liturgy had three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion. Fr. Eric Salazar was the homilist. In his homily, Fr. Eric emphasized the essence of Jesus’ sacrifice and love for all on the Cross, which could be described into one word – beautiful! Indeed, God’s love and mercy for every Christian had been tremendously beautiful for God sent his only Son in order for humanity to be saved and not be condemned (See John 3:16). This is the core message of Good Friday and the very purpose why people go to church and line up to venerate or kiss the Cross of Jesus on this sacred day for the Church.
After the Good Friday services in the church, people formed groups for procession before the Santo Entierro, which the image of the dead body of Jesus Christ when he was taken down from the Cross. Aside from the Santo Entierro, other images present were that of the Sorrowful Mother, St. Peter the Apostle, St. Veronica and St. John the Beloved. The procession started from the PCJ church going to Lopez Gate, then back to the church that took almost an hour and a half. The groups of ministries and commissions prayed the Holy Rosary as the procession went on while also holding candles symbolizing the light of Jesus along the way. When the procession finished with its last stop at the church, veneration and silent prayer were continued by the many attendees who filled the whole church.
Last April 15, 2017, the PCJ parish observed Black Saturday in preparation for the Easter Vigil that would be held at 9 o’clock in the evening. As announced beforehand, churchgoers came with their immaculately white attires to signify the white cloth in Christ bestowed upon them in baptism. Fr. Rodel Paulino, PCJ parish priest, presided the Easter Vigil Mass with Fr. Ernie Sican, Fr. Eric Salazar, and Fr. Greg Ramos as concelebrants and Rev. Bon Navarro as deacon who led the singing of the Exultet. The celebration started in front of the church with the Liturgy of the Light, wherein the Paschal Candle was blessed and lighted. From the light of the Paschal Candle, people lighted their own candles symbolizing the Light of Christ passed on now in his Resurrection.
The Liturgy of the Word culminated with the first singing of Alleluia and the Gospel, then the homily. In his homily, Fr. Rodel continued on the theme of Good Friday’s “beautiful love of Jesus” in which he explained how much one’s life has been similar to Jesus’ experience of dying and rising into new life. After the homily, there was the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation of two adult converts. Then the renewal of baptismal promises followed with the sprinkling of holy water to the faithful. The procession of the traditional Salubong followed immediately after the Mass which happened at the PCJ parking area before 12 midnight. The occasion witnessed Easter songs and lively dance from the parishioners led by some ministries.
The following day, Easter Sunday, the parish organized an Easter Egg Hunt during each Mass of that day, April 16, 2017. The participants indeed experienced the spirit of Easter by sharing time and effort in this fun-filled activity finding Easter eggs, which is a symbol of new life that is the Resurrection of Jesus. Parishioners especially children enjoyed this encounter that was blessed with the presence and communion of each ministries, commissions, and even volunteers.
The whole celebration of the Lenten Season, especially Paschal Triduum of the Holy Week, was truly an experience of blessing and communion. It showed communion through the deep devotion of the faithful to God and communion among church people themselves with the success and learnings throughout the preparation until the duration of these events. Looking back with all these, one can say: “I have been part of the journey of communion in PCJ. We thank the Lord for this wonderful blessing!”
Truly, the journey of Jesus into new life is also in communion with each one’s story in life – a journey filled with hope and with His Resurrection despite the challenges and crosses one undergoes. With this gift of communion shared from God, PCJ parishioners can joyfully proclaim: We are an Easter people! And Alleluia is our song!
– Rev. Bon Andeo Navarro