Salubong (a.k.a., Encuentro)

The Tagalog word Salúbong refers to the act of meeting, receiving or welcoming someone arriving. In the context of the Holy Week celebration in the Philippines, the Salúbong refers to that popular[1] religious celebration reenacting the meeting between Jesus and Mary, his mother.[2] It is part of the Filipino Christian tradition that goes back to the Spanish colonial period, and is still alive today. It takes the form of a drama and belongs to the constellation of religious dramas and dramatizations which mark the liturgical year as observed in the Philippines.

Classification of Religious Drama

Religious drama may be classified according to length, type and affinity to the liturgy.[3] According to the degree of affinity to the official liturgy, religious drama may be described as “rooted or called for in the liturgy.”[4] Falling under this classification are popular rites that have been integrated into the liturgical celebrations, which initially gave birth to them in view of bringing the liturgy closer to the life of the people. Religious drama may also be described as “derived from the liturgy though not really called for.”[5] Belonging to this group are popular rites that are not really called for in the liturgy and, thus, can be taken independently from the liturgical celebrations which first inspired them. Finally, religious drama may be classified as “not related at all to the liturgy.”[6] Included in this group are expressions of popular religiosity that developed around the feasts listed in the liturgical calendar but which, in the strict sense, are non-liturgical celebrations.[7]

Salúbong as a Religious Drama

Based on the above classification, the Salúbong falls under the category of the “liturgically derived but not called for” popular religious celebration. It takes the form of popular religious drama reenacting the two moments of the encounter between Jesus and Mary, held within the context of Holy Week celebration of Christ’s passion-death-resurrection. As a Semana Santa popular religious drama that is “not really called for in the liturgy,” the Salúbong has acquired a life of its own outside the official liturgy. Being “liturgically derived,” however, it may be integrated into the liturgy in order to make the official liturgy more alive and relevant through the popular.[8]

For many contemporary Filipinos, the word Salúbong simply refers to the popular religious celebration of the glorious encounter between the Risen Christ and Mary at the crack of Easter dawn.  But in the backdrop of the whole Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Semana Santa tradition in the Philippines, this jubilant meeting at Easter dawn is prefaced by another dramatic Salúbong, the portrayal of that emotionally charged meeting between the suffering Jesus and his weeping mother on the road to Calvary. This Pre-Easter Salúbong, which is celebrated within the context of a penitential procession like that of the Way of the Cross, is less common today compared to Easter Salúbong.[9]

[a] Pre-Easter Salúbong

[b] Easter Salúbong

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[1] Francisco Demetrio speaks of the pasyon (verse narrative of Christ’s passion which involves communal chanting) and sinakulo (passion play) as paraliturgical services. By “paraliturgical services” Demetrio means the “indigenous extensions of the Liturgy into the life of the people outside the walls of the church.” Francisco R. Demetrio, “Filipino Folk Memory and the Pasyon,” Asian Pacific Quarterly of Cultural and Social Affairs 4, no. 4 (Spring 1973): 54.

[2] There are two types of Salúbong: the Easter Salúbong, which reenacts the glorious meeting of the Risen Christ and Mary on Easter morn, and the Pre-Easter Salúbong, which dramatizes the sorrowful encounter of Christ carrying the cross and his grieving mother.

[3] Doreen G. Fernández, Palabas: Essays on Philippine Theater History (Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996), 10-11.

[4] The dramatization of the “washing of the feet” within the Lord’s Supper liturgy of Holy Thursday would be a case in point.

[5] Panúnulúyan, i.e., the re-enactment of the events surrounding Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem in search for lodging on the eve of the birth of Jesus would be a case in point.

[6] Santrakrusan, i.e., a festivity held in May commemorating St. Helena’s finding of the cross, which developed around the feast of the finding of the Holy Cross once celebrated on the 3rd of May is a case in point.

[7] On the classification of the religious dramatizations, see Fernández, Palabas, 168-69; Nicanor G. Tiongson, Kasaysayan at Estetika ng Sinakulo at Ibang Dulang Pangrelihiyon sa Malolos [History and Aesthetics of the “Sinakulo” and Other Religious Drama in Malolos] (Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1975), 28-50.

[8] The Jesuit Communications Foundation gives some suggestions on how to incorporate the Pabasa and Pasyon into the liturgy. It also proposes an Easter Vigil celebration that incorporates the Salúbong and the Sayaw sa Cirio Pascual (Paschal Candle dance). See Jesuit Communications Foundation, Inc., Krus at Muling Pagkabuhay: Gabay sa Katutubong Pagdiriwang ng Liturhiya ng mga Mahal na Araw [Cross and Resurrection: A Guide to the Indigenous Celebration of the Holy Week Liturgy] (Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University, 2003).

[9] In fact, the Easter Salúbong has become even more popular today, while the Pre-Easter one remains only in few Tagalog towns like Malolos (Bulacan) and Paete (Laguna).

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