My Holy Week this year, like the ones since I got married 15 years ago, is divided between Sta. Mesa in Manila and San Agustin, Iriga City in the province of Camarines Sur.
Holy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday are spent with the family of my wife who resides in West Vigan, Sta. Mesa. The San Jose clan, of which my mother-in-law is a part of, have this pabasa tradition which dates back for their family to the 1940s. The pabasa is a traditional religious practice in the Philippines and people gather around the reader of the pasyon to listen and reflect. It is seen by many of its practitioners as a vow or panata.
The whole clan from grandparents to grandchildren, even great grandchildren, read the “Pasiong Mahal ni Jesus Nazareno” which is a book prepared in the 19th century by a Filipino priest named Mariano Pilapil. The Pilapil book in turn is a compilation of the texts, minus the perceived heresies, from an earlier work of the Tagalog pasyon by Gaspar de Leon in the 18th century. The book focuses on the passion of Christ but really starts from the Genesis times of Adam and Eve up to the New Testament and even to the quest of Empress Elena, mother of Constantine the Great, for the Holy Cross. It is written in Tagalog and the verses are structured in five-line stanzas, with each line containing eight syllables.
The pabasa of the family of my mother-in-law starts at 12 midnight Wednesday and meanders on to the late afternoon hours of Thursday. More than 12 hours, easily 16 hours of group chanting and praying . An ultramarathon of prayers, so to speak. But the readers, both young and old, have no complaints and seem to get more strength as the prayers near the end page of page 213.
The Pabasa, in fact, becomes a bonding activity of the family and clan, more attended even when compared to Christmas. Rightly so, at least to my mind, as the pabasa has not been tainted yet by commercialization. Looking at the young faces of the nieces, nephews, grandnephews and grandnieces of my wife, eagerly reading the pasyon with gusto, we can be confident that this devotion will last to the next generations.