In 1520, Palm Sunday fell on April 1.
A year after, it fell on March 24, 1521. We know that this particular Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the last Sunday immediately before Easter, by the construct of the Gregorian calendar. Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, and of course, when mass is said, celebrated and attended.
This year, we officially observe the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage, specifically his landing in what was to become Las Islas Filipinas, and more so in connection with the supposed birth and introduction of Christianity in the archipelago. Such introduction is commemorated with what has been the supposed first celebration of the Eucharist and the saying of the mass, the location of which has been the subject of long-term serial acrimony.
We note that the controversy is centered upon the geography, the indisputable location, of that supposed first Mass. The islet of Limawasa as against some nook in Butuan. The latter is being espoused by its local parochial interests. Limasawa has consistently been the decided venue, in fact, beginning with history textbooks in our elementary schools.
Over the years, however, scholars have been convoked in order to settle the issue of location, because of recriminations not unwinding. Truly, it is the celebratory bragging rights that is really the bone being contested. The honor of location, i.e. having hosted the very first Mass in Catholic Philippines. I recall there was one presided over by Justice Emilio Gancayco. Another one sat down with Benito Legarda, Jr. And still, the most recent one, preparatory to the 500th Anniversary, headed by National Artist for Literature Resil Mojares. This last high-caliber panel counted on eminent PhDs namely Dr. Danilo Gerona, Dr. Francis Navarro, Dr. Carlos Madrid Alvarez-Piner, Dr, Jose Victor Torres, and Fr. Antonio de Castro, SJ. This last convocation was under the auspices of no less than the joint National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the official government National Quincentennial Committee, precisely created for the 500th Anniversary.
Let me cut to the chase. The Mojares Committee recommended that “Limasawa Island, Leyte, be sustained as the site of the First Easter Sunday Mass of 1521.”
Would you believe that the Butuan proponent, a certain Dr. Potenciano R. Malvar, not only rejected the findings. Preposterous as it may seem, Dr. Malvar filed “criminal charges for falsification and libel”, seeking Ph20 Million Pesos from each member of the panel, because his position paper on behalf of Butuan was adjudged by the Mojares panel as “mere conjectures and fictional account.”
The incredulousness of this turn of events is not my cup of tea, at all. Instead, my beef has to do with Palm Sunday! Is not Easter Sunday celebrated, always following Palm Sunday? Or, Is Easter Sunday ever celebrated without first observing and celebrating Palm Sunday? That’s the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem! The most sacred week of our Church year!
I recall having argued that the matter of the site of the “First Mass” in Catholic Philippines ought be settled by chronology and not by geography.
Folks, I would like to call attention, and remind those old enough, to pertinent subtle changes that beg for definitive explanation.
Here it is: Philippine History textbooks still refer to March 31, 1521 in Limasawa as the site of “the first mass,” but many years after, some historians began to refer to the event as “the first recorded mass,” apparently without updating the textbooks. Does not that mean that in fact there was a first mass that went “unrecorded?” Historians tacitly admit but would not say so. Why?
Very smartly, the Mojares panel has labeled it “the First Easter Sunday Mass of 1521,” admittedly no longer “the First Mass.” This is truly unerring and seemingly unequivocal, but does not settle the irrefutable “First Mass” which could not have been celebrated in Limasawa!
Before Limasawa, there was Homonhon, where Magellan and party stayed for 8 days, sandwiched between two Sundays, their last day being Palm Sunday!
Now, about Palm Sunday 1520, and we know this from the journal entries of a young Venetian who chronicled the voyage of Magellan, Antonio de Pigafetta. It was Pigafetta, by the way, who recorded that a Mass was celebrated in Limasawa on March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday. He never said it was the “first.”
On the other hand, Pigafetta relates that while in Port San Julian (now Argentina) about a year earlier, the ‘captain-general’ (Magellan) ordered on that Palm Sunday mass be celebrated (April 1, 1520) with the crew all disembarking. Mass on terra firma, not onboard galleons. Pigafetta recorded nothing at all about observing mass the following Easter Sunday. Magellan’s flotilla of galleons sojourned in Port San Julian for a stretch of many weeks before finding their way through the straits and on to the Pacific. No other Eucharistic activity was ever noted in Pigafetta’s journal. Does that mean that Easter Sunday was not observed?
During the entire voyage, up to Homonhon, a period of one year, six months and some weeks, Pigafetta noted down no more than five instances of mass being celebrated. Unmentioned or unrecorded does not mean that no other masses were celebrated.
Folks, the only conclusion that can be drawn is quite simple. It is chronology not geography. Homonhon before Limasawa. Palm Sunday before Easter Sunday. The only “First Mass” was in Homonhon on Palm Sunday, March 24, 1521!
Let me end with a curiosity. Argentina does not celebrate Port San Julian/April 1, 1520 as the site of “the First Palm Sunday of 1520!” Yet, a native-born Argentinian, one Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is Pope Francis, the Pontiff of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican State.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.