The Filipino Christian-Catholic devotion is a remarkable one. We keep traditions that have been passed through countless generations. This is most evident during the Holy Week which, perhaps, is the most sacred time in our year. During this period, Filipino faithfuls all over the country observe Spanish-influenced religious practices such as chanting the Pasyon, performing a Senakulo, and walking along the Via Crucis . This year, I was able to join my hometown’s Prusisyon ng Santo Bangkay.
During Good Friday, Filipino Catholics hold the Santo Entierro or Holy Interment (although we do not use these terms in our town). This is the procession of Christ’s remains in an ornate casket, together with key personalities present during His Passion. It is a way of commemorating the revelation of God’s greatest love to mankind – the ultimate sacrifice of His only begotten Son to ensure our salvation – through the different statues being wheeled around the town.
In the humble municipality of Santa Cruz, Zambales, the Good Friday procession line-up is composed of eight biblical and traditional figures, all garbed in black vestments to signify their mourning, followed by the Santo Bangkay and Mater Dolorosa. For years, I have wondered who many of them where, and why they were included in this Lenten ritual. It was also a mystery to me why each of them is carrying a certain object or two. Well, now, I did some research to answer my own inquiries, and here are my discoveries, coupled with some of my Catholic knowledge:
Peter, a.k.a. Simon and Cephas, was a fisherman who was called to be one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is recognized as the pioneer Roman Pontiff .
In the Santa Cruz Good Friday procession, Peter was in the front-most of the line, atop a unique carroza fitted with stained-glass art. He also had his hands clasped together, with a pair of golden keys dangling from them. The keys represent his authority as leader of the Twelve, and of the early Church . They were promised to him by Jesus, as told in the following passage:
“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19)
Because Peter holds the keys to heaven, his statue always leads the procession . He is also present in all Lenten processions throughout the country because he is considered as a pillar of the Church .
Aside from the keys, another symbol of Peter seen with him on his carroza was a white rooster perched upon a short column. This is in reference to his three-fold denial of Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard as detailed in all four Gospels . Prior to this event, Jesus had told Peter that:
“Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times” (Lk 22: 61c).
Alas, it came true, and when Peter realized this, he went out and wept bitterly.
Santa Marta & Maria de Bethania
The sisters Martha and Mary of Bethany were mentioned only in the Gospels of Luke and John. They, together with their brother, Lazarus, provided shelter for Jesus and His disciples whenever they were in Jerusalem. As such, the sisters were termed as “Apostle to the Apostles.” They admired Jesus , and He loved them back, as stated in Jn 11:5 .
In the Orthodox Church, both are among the holy myrrh-bearers who found Jesus’ tomb empty at the time of His Resurrection. This is probably why the statue of Martha held a pot of perfume or myrrh [to anoint Jesus]. However, it is to be understood that it was actually Mary who anointed Jesus in the Bible .
Meanwhile, it seems like the statue of Mary was holding a book. I assume that this was probably to signify that between the sisters, Mary was the thinker, whilst Martha was the doer.
Tres Marias – Santa Maria Magdalena, Maria Salome & Maria Jacobe.
The Three Marys refer to the women who accompanied Jesus’ mother during His Crucifixion, and the first people who went to His tomb early in the morning on the third day after His death, only to find it unsealed, and His body missing. As to who exactly comprised the Three Marys, each Gospel gives its own account. However, it is commonly known that the Three Marys are Saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Cleophas (Maria Jacobe) .
Mary Magdalene was among the women who accompanied Jesus and ministered to Him (Lk 8:2-3). She was initially a sinner who was plagued by seven demons. These were cast out by Jesus when He met her (Mk 16:9) .
Mary Salome was the daughter of Mary Cleophas . She was also the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of Saints James, the Great, and John, the Evangelist .
Maria Jacobe was the wife of Cleophas, and mother of Saints Mary Salome, James, the Less, and Joseph . She was a follower of Jesus as well .
In the Good Friday Procession, Mary Magdalene’s statue brought a phial of perfume while Mary Cleophas carried a thurible to anoint Jesus’ remains. Meanwhile, Mary Salome was the one holding a broomstick to sweep at Jesus’ sepulcher. These attributes were taken from the Pasyong Mahal  which states:
“Ang tatlo namang Maria
nang Dominggong madilim pa
at dadalawing talaga
si Hesus na Poong Ama.
Niyon ding madaling araw
ang taglay nila’y walis, insienso’t kamangyan
na isusuob sa bangkay.”
It was worth noting that the statue of Mary Salome was standing on another unique carroza that carried smoke and incense with it. It also appeared to be something like a boat. This is probably a reference to the fact that she, together with Saints Mary Cleophas, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and other companions, was put on a boat with no sails and oars. They were all pushed out to the sea during a persecution by the Jews in the year 47. Fortunately, they arrived safely in France .
The Three Marys are also among the holy myrrh-bearers of the Orthodox Church.
Veronica is never mentioned in the Bible, but is known by Catholic tradition to be the bystander who offered Jesus a cloth so He could wipe His face on His way to Calvary. After He did so, His face was imprinted on the cloth . Her name is a merger of the Latin word ‘vera’, meaning ‘truth’, and the Greek ‘icon’, meaning ‘image’, thus referring to the imprint of Jesus’ face on her veil .
San Juan, Evangelista
John is known as the “beloved disciple of Christ” in the Gospel. He was a Galilean, a son of Zebedee and Mary Salome, and brother of Saint James, the Great . During His Passion, Jesus committed the care of His mother unto John. He, together with Peter, were also the first to receive news from Mary Magdalene regarding Jesus’ Resurrection .
Jesus’ corpse is the penultimate figure in the Good Friday procession. Clothed in velvet, burial robes, His remains were placed in an elaborate wood-and-glass coffin, with gold furnishings. He was well-guarded by cherubs, who were found inside and on top of His casket.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of the Santo Bangkay. I used to think that the peaceful and calm face of the dead Jesus was a material for nightmares. Anyway, now that I’m older, I think that I like how His carroza was beautifully adorned.
The Good Friday procession line-up ends with the figure of Jesus’ Sorrowful Mother, Mary. Dressed elegantly in black, gold and crystal, the statue’s head was tilted upwards, as if looking at her Son suffering on the Cross. Her serene face was carved and painted with immaculate grief. She had her hands clasped upon her heart which was pierced by daggers. This, without a doubt, is my favorite figure in the Prusisyon.
After the procession, the Santo Bangkay remained inside the Saint Michael Parish Church for a few minutes. The Mater Dolorosa was placed opposite Him, as if she were overlooking Him. Then, all of the carrozas were brought out of the church again for the Libing (Burial) in which the figure of Jesus’ corpse was returned to its owner while the other statues followed.
The Prusisyon ng Santo Bangkay is not merely an act of penitence for the Lenten Season. It is a form of “moving catechesis”, thus the figures possess instructional value. Each statue is equipped with its respective attribute or symbol by which the personality it signifies can be effortlessly identified .
Through the different figures being paraded around the town, it is expected that the Filipino Catholics will learn more about the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, and the people who were witnesses to His Passion. With this, we will be able to reflect more on this greatest act of God’s love – His Son, Jesus Christ, dying for our sins so that we may enjoy eternal life.
More photos here: