“The faithful sought the blessing of priests by taking the priest’s hand and touching it to their forehead”
-Fr. Bernie Rosinski, SCJ
Fr. Bernie Rosinski is back in the Philippines, teaching ESL as he did two years ago. A veteran of general and provincial administration, he has also been tapped as a resource to the young region as it gets its own administration in order. The following is a reflection he wrote about Holy Saturday near Manila:
“Cast down fire from heaven!” This biblical image was realized before our eyes at San Lorenzo Ruiz parish church in Quezon City, one among the many towns which constitute the great metropolis of Manila in the Philippines. Several SCJs, including myself, were present for the Holy Saturday Vigil services in this parish. They began promptly at 8:00pm, long after dark which occurs promptly at 6:00pm in this equatorial region.
The local parish priest and we three SCJ priests assisting him proceeded to the place where the firewood for the “blessing of fire” had been prepared in a large public square about 200 feet from the entrance to the church. The church service attendants, about 400 in number, were gathered in the square and surrounded the fire pit.
At the precise hour, I heard a kind of explosion and witnessed a burning fire brand or fire pot rapidly descend laterally from a nearby roof and drop a vertical distance of about 50 feet and a horizontal distance of about 100 feet directly onto the firewood immediately causing it to begin burning (I think the wood had been soaked in kerosene). As the fire descended, I could see that it was confined to a device that had an eyehook and dropped along a wire leading from the rooftop to the fire pit. The arrangement was ingenious and evoked the mystery of fire as an Old Testament image of God. After this dramatic beginning, the ritual of blessing the fire and the Easter candle and procession into the parish church took its normal course. Each parishioner carried a small lit candle.
Inside the church, the pastor sang the Exultet (the hymn which celebrates the Risen Lord as the Light of the world) in Tagalog using modern music in place of the traditional Latin chant. After each portion the choir would sing a refrain. All was done in the dark; only the Easter candle itself was lit. Two flashlights were used to assist the pastor.
The same two led flashlights were then used for the Liturgy of the Word in the Tagalog language which followed. One parishioner vested in a white robe would read; the reading would be followed by a psalm sung by another vested parishioner until the five selected readings had been completed, each by different persons. The verses of each psalm were modern musical compositions and the individual parishioners chosen to sing all had marvelous voices. The refrain was enthusiastically sung by the parishioners, men and women alike.
As the last reading was taking place, I was warned by a whispering SCJ priest to get ready for some dramatic moments and to be prepared to move away from the chairs reserved for the celebrating clergy. After witnessing the descending fire pot, I wondered “What next?”
As we dutifully moved to the lateral walls of the sanctuary in time, the Glory to God was intoned in Tagalog. At that moment, all the church lights came on, a huge purple cloth covering the image of the crucified came fluttering down to the ground right over where the clergy would have been standing and two huge banners with the words “Aleluya” on them were unveiled and remained suspended on the wall behind the altar. A cluster of altar servers then helped furnish the altar with coverings, candles, and the articles need for the celebration of mass. But the dramatics were not over yet.
The New Testament reading was proclaimed, the Alleluias were sung, the gospel account of the women at the tomb not finding the body of Jesus was read. As the gospel was concluded, from a door that opened onto the sanctuary, two robust men, vested in white, rapidly and hurriedly, carried a statue of the Risen Savior to a display setting at the side of the main altar. Four pairs of girls quickly followed in procession directly behind. They closely resembled children who had just made their First Communion with white, flowered coronets on their heads. They carried baskets of rose petals and scattered them on the ground on which they walked and then upon the display of the Risen Savior. This statue will remain on display during the entire course of the Easter season for the veneration of the people.
The Easter liturgy at San Lorenzo Ruiz church continued in the normal manner: baptismal water was blessed and used to baptize an adult woman convert and her kindergarten-aged son; she was confirmed and later received the Holy Eucharist. The people made their profession of faith and later swarmed to receive the Holy Eucharist. Mass ended. The clergy had a hard time making their way out of church because the faithful sought the blessing of priests by taking the priest’s hand and touching it to their forehead.
This display of faith by the Filipino parishioners of the parish of San Lorenzo Ruiz, himself a Filipino martyr missionary, executed at Nagasaki, Japan in the 1600s, impressed me greatly during this “Year of Faith.” Theirs is a faith that is sustained by visual displays of the kind I witnessed. Filipino saints like Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod have, in turn, witnessed to their faith by enduring martyrdom. Perhaps disparagingly I call such visual displays “dramatic.” But, hey, whatever works; It certainly moved me.