Priests share international Holy Week, Easter traditions

"He has risen, just as He said! Thanks be to God!"


“We have seen the Lord! He is risen!”

The infectious joy of the resurrection continues to spill over and resonate across languages and cultures.

“The greeting, ‘Christos Voskres!’ — ‘Christ is Risen!’ — would ring out in church and in the streets, with the response being, ‘Voisstinu Voskres!’ — ‘Truly He is Risen!’”

Father David A. Means, administrator of Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Chamois and Assumption parish in Morrison, served for 13 years at a mission in Russia serving a tiny community of Catholics, mostly former political exiles.

“People told stories of that Easter greeting being used throughout the Soviet times, even when they didn’t know what it meant,” he recalled.

He noted that in Russia, the Lenten fast is very strict.

“So as Easter approached, the ladies all looked forward to the baking of the Easter ‘Kulich’ — a sweet Easter bread with raisins and other fruits,” he said.

People in his parish put together premeasured ingredient packages so every family would be able to make their bread, with a large batch also being made in the parish kitchen.

“Then this bread was, of course, added to their Easter baskets,” he said.

Russian Easter baskets weren’t just candy for the kids.

“They included a sample of all the food for the Easter table — bread, eggs and sausage particularly,” said Fr. Means.

On Holy Saturday, they to set up many large tables to hold all of the Easter baskets, which would be brought to the Easter Vigil that evening.

The baskets would be blessed at the end of Mass so that the blessed food could be taken home for their Easter meal.

“Of course, we started the Easter feast immediately, with sharing some of the treats together in the church hall,” said Fr. Means.

Keep watch with Christ

Father César Anicama is a priest of the Jefferson City diocese and native of Peru. This is his first Holy Week since he returned to his homeleand to minister as a Missionary of St. James the Apostle.

Since Peru is predominantly Catholic, people throughout the country celebrate Holy Week by attending liturgical services and religious events.

“On Palm Sunday, we recreate the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem with a statue of Jesus arriving at the main plaza on a mule, greeted by thousands of Catholics waving blessed palm leaves,” said Fr. Anicama.

Peruvians demonstrate their devotion to Christ by praying the Stations of the Cross on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Holy Thursday brings Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament into the night, “where we pray with the whole world, just as the disciples stayed with Jesus during His agony on the Mount of Olives.”

“On Good Friday, we mourn for Christ’s death,” said Fr. Anicama. “The streets are filled with people who mourn the death of Christ crucified.”

The streets are illuminated that night by a candlelight procession of the crucified Christ.

“On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a procession with statues of St. John, the Virgin Mary and Christ Resurrected being carried through the streets,” he said.


Get right with God

Father Donardo “Dandi” Bermejo served in the Jefferson City diocese for 10 years before returning to Occidental Negros in the Philippines to minister to the poor sugar-plantation workers there.

Having grown up in that predominantly Catholic country, awash in public displays of piety and devotion, he noted that Holy Week takes on an especially penitential tone.

“Even Filipinos who tend not to be observant liturgically the rest of the year see this time as a very important moment to participate in the Church liturgies and popular devotions to atone for personal sins, for reflection, and get right with God,” said Fr. Bermejo.

These liturgical celebrations alongside popular devotions allow Catholics and non-Catholics to observe, follow and reflect the events of the Passion of Jesus and celebrate Jesus’ glorious Resurrection.

“Though Palm Sunday has a festive element because it recalls Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem — the celebration in the Philippines, as it is true elsewhere — takes place with the awareness of the suffering that Jesus will have to undergo a few days afterward,” he said.

Throughout Holy Week, many parishes offer evenings of recollection, communal reconciliation services, retreats, Bible-sharing, family devotions, and priest-led meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ.

“Likewise in parishes, private homes, and even in business offices, community centers and prisons, people gather over the course of 24 hours for the ‘Pabasa Ng Pasyoyon’ — the chanting of the Passion of Christ, in verse or poetry, which is done in front of a statue representing Jesus’s Passion,” said Fr. Bermejo.

Many parishes and communities also offer a ‘Senakulo,’ an elaborate stage or street play dramatizing the Passion in full costume.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays in the Philippines. Stores are closed on Good Friday. Many Filipinos take the entire week off work and only watch religious programming on TV.

“Holy Saturday or ‘Black Saturday’ as it is typically called in the Philippines, is a non-working holiday,” Fr. Bermejo noted. “Easter Sunday is not an official holiday, but it is fully observed.”

After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, the Most Blessed Sacrament in each church is moved to an altar of repose. Many of the faithful visit seven churches over the course of Good Friday and Holy Saturday while reflecting on Jesus’s suffering and death.

On Good Friday, many parishes set up stations in the town for believers to walk the Way of the Cross and contemplate the Seven Last Words of Christ on the cross.

After the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion concludes in the evening, a devotion known as Pahalik, kissing an image of the dead body of Jesus, continues until midnight.

“In some churches, after the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, the silent procession of ‘Santo Entierro,’ the Holy Burial, takes place” — including a main carriage containing an elaborate casket.

“Lots of people join this silent procession as a sign of mourning of the death of the Lord and to continue their reflection and meditation on the Passion and Death of Jesus for man’s salvation,” said Fr. Bermejo.

Sorrow to joy

Practices such as the sacrament of reconciliation, Stations of the Cross and visiting churches continue through Holy Saturday.

A few hours before midnight, people flock to church for the Easter Vigil, beginning with the blessing of the outdoor fire and the new Paschal Candle.

After Mass, people head home for an Easter celebration.

“Many Filipinos rise by 3 or 4 a.m. for a ritual procession called ‘Salubong’ — a pre-dawn meeting of two processed images, one of the Risen Christ, and the other of a still-mourning Mary,” said Fr. Bermejo.

It is a traditional Filipino devotion that reenacts the encounter of the Risen Christ with the Blessed Virgin Mary, His mother.

“Lots of Filipinos believe, although this is not recorded in the Scriptures, that Jesus appeared to the Blessed Virgin in a very special way right after His resurrection — for after all, she is His mother and likewise His most faithful disciple,” Fr. Bermejo explained.

Women carry the image of the mourning Blessed Mother along with statues of the saints who had been with Jesus in the days before and after His death. Men carry the statue of the Risen Christ along a different route.

“Crowds of people join both processions,” said Fr. Bermejo. “They arrive at a designated place, usually in front of an outdoor stage near the church, decorated for the occasion.”

People dressed as angels on the stage sing “Regina Coeli Laetare! Alleluia!” an ancient Easter hymn that includes, “Queen of Heaven, rejoice!”

One of the children removes the mourning veil from the statue of Mary. People applaud and celebrate before heading to church for a pre-dawn Easter Sunday Mass.

“After the Mass, people usually have a little celebration at home,” said Fr. Bermejo. “In our place here in Manapla, since it is very near the sea, many families would flock to the beach to have a swim and a little party.

“And many times, I would join them.”