MANILA, Philippines - Christendom observes the first day of the Holy Week today, Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, considered the world over as a Sunday of the highest rank.
In Catholic churches, priests in red vestments, the color of blood to symbolize the supreme redemptive sacrifices of Christ for mankind, will lead the principal religious ceremonies of the day: the procession; the blessing of palms; followed by the Holy Mass; and during the Mass, the singing of the Passion of Christ, which recalls the onset of the final week of Jesus' earthly journey.
In Manila, the faithful will be led by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle in the observance of Palm Sunday at the San Fernando de Dilao Parish Church in Paco.
The prelate will preside over the 7 a.m. Mass at Paco Church where the blessing of the palms and procession will be held.
To recall, it is usually at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila where the Holy Week activities of the Archdiocese of Manila is usually held.
But the archdiocese transferred the activities to Paco Church in view of the recent closure of their mother church (cathedral).
It was in February when Archbishop Tagle announced the closure of the cathedral as it will undergo major repairs.
The Archdiocese of Manila said Paco Church was chosen as its temporary official church because of its size, liturgical suitability, ample parking space and proximity to the cathedral.
Meanwhile, some parishes have announced the early morning blessing of palm fronds such as the Quiapo Church in Manila where the blessing of palms will be held at 4:30 a.m. at the Plaza Miranda.
Palm Sunday recalls the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem astride a donkey, where a huge jubilant crowd welcomed Him, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. Waving palm fronds and strewing His path with boughs cut from trees in an outpouring of joy and jubilation, Jesus' arrival in the city was met with excited cheers and shouts of "Hosanna! (Save us!) Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The branches of palms signify victory over death and the advent of spiritual victory through Christ. The death and Resurrection of Christ bring us closer to eternal life as man becomes one with God and God becomes one again with man."
The complete narrative of the Lord's Passion is traditionally read "as a reminder of the total obedience of Christ to the will of the Father which, through His Holy Cross, brought salvation to the world."
On church altars, branches of palms will be placed between the candlesticks instead of flowers. The blessing of palms follows a ritual similar to that of the mass.
Used as a sacramental by the faithful, the palm fronds are traditionally brought home and preserved in a prominent place in the belief that "the right hand of God will expel all adversities, bless, and protect those who dwell in them who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ." These are brought back to the church a year later to be burned for the Ash Wednesday service.
"The message of Palm Sunday is two-fold," said Balanga (Bataan) Bishop Ruperto C. Santos. "It is thanksgiving in times of triumph and success and acceptance in times of difficulty. Jesus fulfills the Father's will with no bitterness in His words, no resentment in His mind, and no hatred in His heart. He willingly accepts the cross and crucifixion for our salvation."
Today's catholic holiday may coincide with April Fools' Day, when people play all kinds of pranks, but but an official of the Catholic Church reminded the faithful not to treat the observance of Palm Sunday as a joke.
Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Media Office Director, said the faithful is making a "fool" of the observance with their superstitious beliefs.
He cited as an example the belief of some people that the "palaspas" or palm fronds have the power to ward off evil spirits.
"Instead of us concentrating on the Mass, on the Gospel about Christ's passion...we veer away from it by these superstitious and pagan practices," said Quitorio.
"You reduce something Christian into something pagan," he added.
Quitorio said the palaspas itself don't have meaning but definitely it's not to ward off evil.
"It is just meant to welcome Christ as He enters Jerusalem and into the will of God," he said.
But the CBCP official earlier admitted that the Church is partly to be blamed for this belief.
"Maybe they think that way because of the Church's failure to catechize the people. So, I think there is really a need for parish priests to teach the people for them to understand its real meaning," Quitorio said that time.
He said one way of addressing the problem is by incorporating it in their homilies.
Meanwhile, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), urged the faithful to make a donation to Alay Kapwa today Palm Sunday, which is also designated as Alay Kapwa Sunday.
Pabillo said the donation may be as little as the 50 centavos change from your P9 jeepney fare. The regular jeepney fare is P8.50 which was only implemented last week.
"They can donate that (change) or give it to Pondo ng Pinoy," he said.
Pondo ng Pinoy is the Catholic Church's pro-poor program which aims to gather 25 centavos from the faithful.
Earlier, Archbishop Tagle instructed parishes to hold a second collection during the six Sundays of Lent, which started February 26 and will end today April 1, for the Catholic Church's Lenten-evangelization program Alay Kapwa.
"The funds gathered for Alay Kapwa during these six Sundays will be used as emergency funds for crisis and calamities both from natural and human causes all over the country, as was done for the victims of typhoon Sendong recently," said Tagle in his pastoral letter.