Pre-Easter Salubong

As there is no resurrection without Christ’s passion and death, by the same token, the Easter Salúbong must be seen in relation to another Salúbong. Not as widely known today as the Easter encounter, the Pre-Easter Salúbong reenacts the moving encounter between Jesus carrying the cross on the road to Calvary and his weeping mother. How is this Salúbong celebrated?

Nicanor G. Tiongson gives a description of how the Pre-Easter Salúbong was celebrated before the mid-70’s in two important towns of the Tagalog province of Bulacan: Malolos and Barasoain (see Appendix 2: Pre-Easter Salúbong). At that time, it was held in the context of the Holy Tuesday procession.[1] Before I present Tiongson’s description, however, let me say something about the origin of this celebration.

Origin of the Pre-Easter Salúbong

Alzina’s manuscript, made available to us by Javellana, mentions several Lenten penitential processions already existing by the mid-17th century. There was the “Friday procession” where the mysteries of Christ’s passion were pondered upon, the decades of the Rosary prayed and the doctrina cristiana recited by schoolchildren. This procession usually carried the image of Christ on the cross and, in some instances, an image depicting a scene from Christ’s passion. There was also the silent procession held on Holy Thursday, after sunset, known as the “procession of blood.” It featured floats with scenes from the passion which preceded the floats of the crucifix and our Lady of Sorrows. These were accompanied by flagellants and men carrying a cross on their shoulders. There was also the Good Friday procession of the Santo Entierro. This was introduced by a lengthy sermon, usually lasting three hours, followed by the ritual of the descent from the cross (Christ’s body is brought down from the cross) and the preparation for the Santo Entierro procession.[2] From the Alzina manuscript, there seems to be no indication that the Pre-Easter Salúbong already existed at that time. Certainly, Alzina gives us a picture of rituals, liturgical celebrations and festivities carried out in the Visayas in the mid-17th century. This picture probably reflects the general Lenten practices all over the Philippines at that time. Still, the possibility that the Pre-Easter Salúbong might have existed, at least in its germinal form, outside the Visayas is undeniable. Could it be that a variant of the penitential procession actually began in other regions, a variant which later developed into the Pre-Easter Salúbong? I leave this question for historians to address.

Meanwhile, I make the assumption that the Pre-Easter Salúbong most probably developed from the Lenten penitential processions of the Spanish colonial time, and more particularly that it derived from the exercise of the Via Crucis.[3] This latter exercise, which most probably originated in the 14th century with the Franciscans who were in charge of the “holy places” in Jerusalem, further developed and spread into Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries so that by the 18th century it became a popular devotion in the Catholic Christian world.[4] I suggest that the Pre-Easter Salúbong belongs to the penitential procession tradition, and is in fact a special Way of the Cross.[5] It is a spin-off from the Via Crucis which, in 1731, was definitely fixed at fourteen stations. Derived from this devotion, the Pre-Easter Salúbong highlights the stations which represent Christ’s meetings with his sorrowful mother and with Veronica. It is interesting to note that already in the 14th century, even before the Way of the Cross as we know it today was established, certain “holy places” in Jerusalem were referred to as stations to which indulgences were attached. These were believed to be particular places traversed by Jesus as he journeyed, carrying his cross, towards Mount Calvary. Pilgrims to the Holy Land, intent on retracing the footsteps of Jesus in his sorrowful journey, would stop at these stations in order to gain the indulgences attached to them. Among these “holy places” with indulgences attached was the place where Jesus met his blessed mother.[6] So it would not be really surprising for the Pre-Easter Salúbong to have evolved from the Via Crucis.

Malolos Salúbong in the 70’s and Today

Let me now present Tiongson’s description of the Salúbong celebrated on Holy Tuesday in Malolos and Barasoain. This Salúbong, according to Tiongson, would begin at dusk. The image of the maroon-clad Christ carrying the cross, popularly known as the Nazareno, would be carried in procession around the town, borne on the andas (float carried manually) or carroza (float on wheels). Along its route, fourteen altars or estasyones (stations), corresponding to the stations of the traditional Via Crucis, would mark the spots where the procession would stop. The procession would thus move from one altar to another, stopping only when the Nazareno would reach a spot directly before the altar. After a short pause for prayer and reflection on the paso (scene from the Passion which the altar represented), the procession would resume. As the people processed from one altar to the next, the perdon (pardon) would be chanted. The Salúbong would take place at the fourth station which commemorated the meeting of Jesus and his mother. The image of the Virgin Mary, Mater Dolorosa, accompanied by St. John, the tres Marias, and St. Peter, would precede the Nazareno at the fourth station. As the Nazareno approached the fourth altar, his “weeping” mother would meet him. At this moment of sorrowful encounter, a dalit (mournful religious hymn) would be sung to the Virgin Mary.[7] After that, the procession would move on to the next estasyon with Mary and the other images accompanying Jesus, the Nazareno.

This Holy Tuesday Salúbong, however, according to Tiongson, had disappeared in Malolos and Barasoian by 1975.[8] Fortunately it was revived, at least in Malolos, after more than 10 years of abeyance, thanks to the efforts of the new generation of clergy.[9] Today, this revived Pre-Easter Salúbong, which includes several pasos (passion scenes) borne on carrozas owned by different families, is celebrated every Holy Wednesday.[10] Adorned and embellished for the Semana Santa celebration, these pasos are brought just before sunset to the plaza of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. At seven o’clock in the evening, immediately after mass, the procession starts out from the plaza, winds its way around the town and back to the church. Unlike the earlier Salúbong, there are no altars or estasyones set along the streets as stopping-places. Instead, this revived Salúbong highlights two encounters which practically take the place of the fourteen stations. The first encounter takes place at a small bridge just near the chapel of San Vicente, where the image of the Mater Dolorosa precedes and waits for the Nazareno. As the Nazareno approaches the place of encounter and meets the Mater Dolorosa, the whole procession pauses for prayer and reflection. At this moment, cantors chant an excerpt from the Pasyon (verse narrative of Christ’s Passion) in the traditional tagulaylay (lamentation) tune. This excerpt reenacts the moving dialogue that ensued when Jesus met his mother on the road to Calvary (see Appendix 3: Casaysayan, 1766-1828). The second encounter takes place in front of the Sto. Niño chapel along Sto. Niño St. In the middle of the street just outside the chapel, Veronica aboard her carroza awaits the procession to pass. As the procession reaches the place of encounter, the Nazareno approaches Veronica and the two meet. Everyone then stops while the cantors chant an excerpt from the Pasyon reenacting the meeting and dialogue between Jesus and Veronica just before the crucifixion (see Appendix 4: Casaysayan, 1854-66).

Paete Salúbong: The Diapraxis of Deeds

A unique and certainly the most dramatic and spectacular Pre-Easter Salúbong in the Philippines is found in Paete, Laguna.[11] There are actually two separate Pre-Easter Salúbong in Paete. The first is done by the Catholics every Holy Wednesday, while the second is celebrated every Holy Thursday by the Aglipayans.[12] The Paete Salúbong is made dramatic by the use of dialogues chanted in lugubrious and doleful wailing tune, and by the use of life-like statues, popularly known as santos, with movable joints at the neck and arms to allow them to emote along with the impassioned chanting of their dialogues. Indeed these santos are called “moving saints.” Paete’s procession features the town’s 46 pasos or scenes in Christ’s ministry and passion, which include two of the most popular “moving saints” in Paete: the Mater Dolorosa and Veronica. This procession goes through the town’s narrow streets en route to the church. Thrice it stops to give way to three encounters. There are no other stops besides these three encounters, and there are no temporary altars or estayones erected along the sides of the procession’s path.

The first encounter takes place at the church plaza between the Aglipayan Church and the Catholic Church of Santiago. It depicts the meeting of Jesus the Nazareno and Mary Mater Dolorosa. During this encounter, the statue of Mary is removed from its float and brought near Jesus. The touching meeting between the mother and son is brought to life by cantors eerily chanting the Salúbong narration and dialogue based on the Pasyon, while the “moving saints” act out their roles. Mary’s hands, manipulated from inside and under her, reach out to the Nazareno as she argues with her son to let her take the cross for him.

The second encounter takes place at Plaza Edezan which lies in front of the Ermita chapel at the town center. It represents the meeting of Jesus and Veronica, and the climactic wiping of the face of Jesus by Veronica. In this encounter, the image of Veronica is carried from inside a house and borne to approach Jesus on the street. The dialogue between them, based on the Pasyon, is chanted in an impassioned way. This dramatic meeting reaches its peak when the “moving” Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Filled with compassion upon seeing the cross-laden Jesus, Veronica reaches out to Jesus and wipes his bloodied face with her white cloth or kerchief folded thrice. As this gesture of compassion takes place, a female singer chants Veronica’s lines.

The third and final encounter of the Paete Salúbong takes place at the town plaza just in front of the Municipio (Municipal Hall), not far from both the Aglipayan and the Catholic churches. It depicts the meeting between Mary and Veronica. In this encounter, both “moving saints” remain on their carrozas while the narration and their dialogue are chanted by male and female cantors. At a certain point, while their dialogue is being chanted, Veronica moves her arms to unfold the white cloth she used to wipe Jesus’ bloodied face. As the cloth unfolds, it reveals the three imprints of the face of Christ. Mary, recognizing her son’s face on Veronica’s cloth, moves her hands as if blessing Veronica, while a female cantor chants Mary’s line in Tagalog.[13]

Paete Salúbong: The Dialogue of Words

Up to now, I have described in a detailed fashion the diapraxis of deeds among the “moving saints” but have not really dealt with the dialogue of words. Let me then describe the chanted dialogues dubbed into the diapraxis of deeds by the group of cantors in the Paete Salúbong.

A loud music played by the band signals the beginning of the first meeting between Jesus and Mary. Four characters chant the dialogue of the first encounter: Jesus, Mary, the Rector (narrator), and the Pregunero (warden):[14]

Pregunero… heralds the execution of Jesus of Nazareth who is sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be crucified for the crime of fraud and insurrection. He affirms that this Jesus, by pretending to be the King of the Jews and by claiming himself to be the Son of God, is an impostor and a threat to Ceasar and to Rome, thus deserving to die: “Patayin! Patayin!” (Kill him! Kill him!)

Jesus… bemoans that fact that no one seems to have shown him clemency and compassion. Even his chosen and beloved Apostles have abandoned him. He wonders then if even his mother, who had nursed and nurtured him, has also abandoned him. “Nasaan ka ngayon, sa oras na ito? Marinig mo nawa ang tinaghoy-taghoy niyaring iyong anak na naghahatid nang buhay.” (Where are you [mother] at this very hour? May you hear this mournful lament of your son who is the bearer of life.)

Rector… describes how the sorrowful Virgin, upon hearing the berdugo’s (executioner’s) dreadful shout and her beloved son’s lament, pushes herself through the chaotic and unruly crowd, refusing to be curbed, until she is next to her beloved son. [While Rector chants his lines, the “moving” Mary is lifted from her carroza and brought next to Jesus.]

Mary… reaches out to her son and embraces him, assuring him that she will never ever abandon him. Seeing how excessively maltreated he is, she desperately begs her son to let her carry the cross and die for him instead: “lalo ko pang ibig na ako ang maghirap magpasan niyang krus at mamatay, ikaw lamang Jesus ko ang maligtas sumapayapa at mabuhay” (I would rather wish that I suffer, carry the cross and die, so that you, my Jesus, may be safe and live). For what is the use of an orphaned mother, Mary asks, when her only son dies.

Jesus… graciously refuses his mother’s offer, insisting that he has to fulfill his Father’s will for the salvation of all. Then, likening Mary to the dove in Noah’s Ark, he asks her to stay away for his ordeal is far from over yet, and her tears only burden his afflictions further.  [At this moment, the “moving” Mary is moved slowly away from Jesus, as Rector resumes his narration.]

Rector… comments that though Mary finally understands that she cannot take her son’s place, still the severe anguish in her heart only intensifies further, thus fulfilling Simeon’s prophecy. He then exhorts Christians to ponder on the great sufferings that both Jesus and Mary had to undergo to gain for us our salvation.

The procession then resumes and heads towards the Plaza Edezan where the second meeting between Jesus and Veronica takes place. As in the first, the second encounter is introduced by loud music. Here, three characters chant the dialogue: Jesus, Veronica and the Rector.

Rector… recounts how the chaotic sound of confusion perturbs and troubles Veronica. As she looks out of her window, she sees Jesus being severely punished by cruel executioners. Seeing the soiled, covered with spittle, and bloodied face of Jesus, Veronica is moved with compassion. Grabbing a clean kerchief, she hurries down towards Jesus. [The “moving” Veronica is brought down from the house and taken next to Jesus.]

Veronica…is filled with compassion upon seeing Jesus’ pitiful face. Bursting into tears, she asks him if he has still a mother or friends to share in his suffering. Unable to hold her compassion back, she asks him to let her wipe his bloodied and dirtied face. [Here, the “moving” Veronica wipes the face of Jesus with her kerchief folded thrice.]

Jesus… commends Veronica, “O babaeng maawain, masaklolo sa nagdaralita… ” (Oh compassionate woman, helpful to those who are in distress…) and promises her the reward of heaven. He acclaims her for her compassion and for having the image of Jesus dwelling in her. Such image can heal the loneliness of the mother of Jesus.

Rector… holds that anyone who shows compassion to the oppressed is truly blessed. [Veronica exits.] Then he exhorts Christians to ponder on Veronica’s example, for clear conscience and compassion will bring peace in this life and in eternity.

The procession then moves to the last meeting between Mary and Veronica which takes place at the town plaza. Three characters – Mary, Veronica and the Rector – chant the dialogue of this final encounter, a dialogue which happens to be the longest among the three.

Rector… recounts how Veronica, after wiping Jesus’ pitiful face, witnesses three imprints of the gentle Lamb’s holy face which have miraculously appeared on her thrice-folded kerchief. He then relates how Veronica meets Jesus’ sorrowful mother on the road. [The “moving saints” are brought next to each other.]

Mary… graciously greets Veronica and inquires if she has ever seen her beloved son. She uses the metaphor of the spring to describe her son: “balong ng aking kaligayahang walang kapantay” (spring of joy beyond compare), and the sensation of extreme sorrow to describe her situation without her son: “Ang kaluluwa ko’y nakadama ng kapighatian… higit pang mapait kaysa kamatayan” (My soul experiences a sense of severe sorrow more extreme than death itself).

Veronica… regretfully makes her apology for not being able to help the grieving mother, for she has no way of recognizing her son.

Mary… introduces her son as a Galilean whose name is Jesus from Nazareth, and describes him brighter than the sun, the moon and stars, and praised by all creatures of the universe. Yet Mary realizes that such portrait of Jesus will not help her find him, for now he has been beaten up and punished far worse than a beast.

Veronica… admits that such glorious portrait of Mary’s son does not help, but the mention of one horrendously punished brings to her memory a previous experience truly beyond the ordinary. She then describes the horrible sight she witnessed: three men sentenced to die beaten up by extremely cruel and fierce executioners, yet one of them, in the middle and suffering the most, bears everything like a gentle lamb.

Rector… describes Veronica as further moved with compassion, as the horrific sight of the previous encounter comes alive in her recollection.

Mary… begs her to say more about her previous encounter, intuiting that one of the three being executed could possibly be her son, and that Veronica could possibly lead her to find Jesus.

Veronica… recalls the chaos and commotion which occurred in front of her house earlier, the intensity of which she has never experienced before: Three men were punished and persecuted, suffering from extreme violence, insults, and scornful derisions. The one in the middle, like a gentle lamb, was the most despised and maltreated. His body was excessively beaten all over and his soiled and bloodied face was indignantly spat on. She then suggests that Mary look for drops of fresh blood on her path. These drops are surely from her son’s wounds.

Mary… recognizes that the one Veronica refers to is her son. She asks her how she showed him her compassion.

Veronica… relates how she burst into tears, moved with utter compassion upon seeing Jesus, and how she took her kerchief and rushed towards him. She admits she was afraid upon seeing the executioners, but because of her profound mercy and compassion, she took the risk and forced her way to Jesus and gently wiped his pitiful face. She then reveals the miraculous imprints of the face of Jesus on her kerchief. [“Moving” Veronica spreads her kerchief revealing the three imprints of Jesus’ face, while “moving” Mary raises her hand to give her blessing.]

Rector… wonders if Mary could bear to look at those dreadful imprints of Jesus’ face. He wonders whether this is the same image contemplated by the heavens, angels and saints, and emulated by believers.

Veronica… exhorts all humans to realize that Jesus and Mary suffered so that all may be healed, and thus all should follow their way and share in their sufferings.

Rector… encourages us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary, offering them our deepest love and devotion, our repentance and resolve to sin no more,  that we too may see “kanilang Mahal na Mukha” (literally: their Holy Face).


[1] According to Tiongson, the Holy Tuesday procession with Salúbong is no longer held in the towns of Malolos and Barasoain by the mid-70’s. See Tiongson, Kasaysayan at Estetika, 44-45.

[2] Javellana, “Celebration,” 18-23.

[3] Javellana comments on how Alzina marvels at the zeal and piety of the Filipinos. These neophytes in the faith, according to Alzina, were more than willing to perform different forms of penitential rite (such as penitential procession, flagellation, wearing of sharp and thorny palms) on their own. Ibid., 22. I believe that such propensity to anything penitential, as expression of zeal and piety, made these neophytes open to new forms of penitential practice such as the Way of the Cross or the Pre-Easter Salúbong.

[4] By the end of the 17th century, the Way of the Cross was becoming popular due to the indulgences attached to it. These indulgences were originally attached to the holy places in Jerusalem. But since relatively few people were able to gain these indulgences through personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the possibility of gaining them was gradually extended to all churches where Stations were erected. Indulgences were attached to these erected Stations representing scenes of Christ’s passion. Thus, by the late 18th century, the indulgences granted to the faithful for having visited the holy places could then be gained by making the Way of the Cross in any church where the Stations have been erected following the Instructions of the Sacred Congregation. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967 ed., s.v. “Way of the Cross.”

[5] CCP Encyclopedia, s.v. “Via Crucis.”

[6] New Catholic Encyclopedia, “Way of the Cross.”

[7] In Filipino literature, dalit refers to a popular and indigenous poem with stanzas having four octosyllabic rhymed lines. During the Spanish colonial period, the dalit generally refers to mournful religious hymns. UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, s.v. “dalit.”

[8] Tiongson, Kasaysayan at Estetika, 44.

[9] Benjamin Bautista, native of Malolos, director of experimental treatments of traditional Filipino drama and of documentaries on Philippine culture, director-designer of award-winning Philippine floats at the Pasadena Rose Parade (1997, 1998) and overall director-designer of the 1998 Philippine Centennial Parade floats, attests that the Salúbong procession stopped temporarily for an interval of more than 10 years, and it took the younger generation of priests to revive it. Benjamin Bautista, interview by Joey Velasco, Malolos, Bulacan, March 13, 2007.

[10] According to Ate Gloria Reganan of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception, Malolos, and who from the very beginning has been in charge of the Salúbong on Holy Wednesday, there was only one encounter reenacted in the 1990 Salúbong in Malolos: that of the Nazareno and Veronica. Ate Gloria also adds that it was only in 2000 that the encounter between the Nazareno and the Mater Dolorosa was included. Gloria Reganan, interview by Joey Velasco, Malolos, Bulacan, April 3, 2007.

On April 12 (Holy Wednesday) 2006, I was personally present and took part in the celebration of the (Pre-Easter) Salúbong in Malolos, Bulacan. This Salúbong, celebrated on the eve of Holy Wednesday, highlights the meeting of Jesus with his mother, and his meeting with Veronica.

[11] Paete, the “Carving Capital of the Philippines,” is a 4th class urban municipality of the province of Laguna. Founded in 1580 by the Spanish Franciscan friars Juan Placencia and Diego de Oropesa, it now has a registered population of around 24,000. It is made famous by Paeteño craftsmen and woodcarvers whose masterpieces are found all over the world (ex. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and Mission Dolorosa in San Francisco). Paete’s official town hero is a woodcarver, Mariano Madriña, who won a prestigious award from the King of Spain in 1882 for his life-like Mater Dolorosa.

[12] “Aglipayans” are the members of the Philippine Independent Church, also known as Aglipayan Church, founded by the former Catholic priest, Gregorio Labayan Aglipay, in 1902.

[13] For more on Paete Salúbong, see CCP Encyclopedia, “Salubong”; Paete Lenten Images, DVD, 60 min., (Pakil, Laguna: Pakil Cable International Co., 2006); and also Santong Araw sa Paete: Lilok at Panata [Holy Day in Paete: Sculpture and Vow] (Paete, Laguna: Catholic Lenten Images Owners Association of Paete, 2000).

[14] The Parish of San Santiago Apostol of Paete, Laguna, was kind enough to provide me a copy of their “orihinal” (manuscript) of the Salúbong held by the Catholics on Holy Wednesday in Paete. Although I am given the privilege and permission to use this “orihinal” for my study, I am nevertheless not allowed to publish the Paete Salúbong manuscript in any way. Thus, instead of reproducing the text of the dialogue, I have simply summarized its content for the reader.