'First Mass' in Limasawa: Fact or opinion? 1

'First Mass' in Limasawa: Fact or opinion?

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Aug 24 2019 06:58 AM

(Last of two parts)

That “First Mass” celebrated on Philippine soil was neither in Agusan nor in Southern Leyte!

Is Mass on Easter Sunday ever celebrated without first observing Palm Sunday, a week before?

I am establishing a chronology in order to resolve an argument over geography! Homonhon came before Limasawa. Let’s go.

We ended last week’s first part with the National Historical Institute’s (NHI) conclusion stating that “the first-ever Christian mass on Philippine soil on March 31, 1521 was celebrated in the island of Limasawa.” It is a conclusion the NHI reached after a “rigorous evaluative analysis and appraisal of primary sources” -- none other than “the most complete and reliable account of the Magellan expedition” the chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta.

Without being disrespectful much less smart alecky, I am afraid the National Historical Institute panel may never have read Pigafetta in its entirety or whatever they may have read, they dismally misinterpreted! I have combed through Pigafetta in its couple of English translations. There is absolutely no doubt that mass was celebrated in Limasawa on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday because Pigafetta did say so. But nowhere in the entire Pigafetta manuscript did he ever state or even hint that it was “the first ever!”

In fact, the National Historical Institute repeated a much earlier Congressional error. You see, in June 19, 1960, Republic Act 2733 lapsed into law, “without Executive approval.” President Macapagal did not sign it. That legislation declared Limasawa a National Shrine because it was there that “the First Mass in the Philippines was held.”

Here is the verbatim quote (English translation from Blair & Robertson) of what Pigafetta wrote: “Early on the morning of Sunday, the last of March and Easterday, the captain general sent the priest with some men to prepare the place where mass was to be said.” Indeed, it was the first mention of mass being celebrated since arriving in the islands they had just named “the archipelago of San Lazaro.” Inescapably and irrefutably, however, Pigafetta never claimed that that Limasawa Easter Mass was the “first ever, ” as we were taught in our elementary school Philippine History.
As a matter of observation, a few noted historians are now no longer referring to the Limasawa mass as the “first.” Earlier, there has been a shift -- referring to the Limasawa event as the “first recorded mass.” Unavoidably, the stark implication, without officially admitting it, was that there was a first “unrecorded mass.” Quite recently, the 500th Anniversary of that March 31 event (to be celebrated in 2021) was referred to more factually as simply the “Easter Sunday Mass” at Limasawa. Claims of being the “first” seem to be vanishing!

How the original error (opinion, not fact!) came to be and who might have caused and perpetuated it for so long, do not seem to be of any import at all anymore. Having unveiled and aired the error, correction by the concerned authorities is simply in order. It would, however, be an academic challenge to pursue the subject as, say a masteral thesis, on a historical “whodunnit!”

The voyage of Magellan, from San Lucar de Barrameda to “the archipelago of San Lazaro” spanned a period of one year, six months and a couple of weeks. It would be preposterous to conclude that no other masses were said, before Limasawa, even claiming such to be “the first,” simply because of its unmention or perhaps because Pigafetta imply failed to record a religious rite which after all, occurs with regularity every Sunday? The uneventful remains unworthy of recordation, right?

During the time span of Magellan’s voyage up to their arrival in Zubu (Cebu), I have found only five instances when Pigafetta recorded such religious rites being observed. Truly incredulous that no other masses were said throughout the voyage simply because Pigafetta did not mention them! With the Magellan crew, by the way, were three priests.
While along the coast of Verzin (Brazil): “mass was said twice on shore, during which those people (natives) remained on their knees.” In the Patagonian port of San Julian: “April 1 (1520) Palm Sunday, Magallanes summoned all his captains, officers and pilots to go ashore to hear mass…..” The fourth instance was when they were already in Limasawa. The fifth was when they had reached Zubu.

But Magellan anchored and stayed in Humunu (Homonhon) for a full eight days, Sunday to Sunday, departing on the 9th day, March 25 which was a Monday in 1521. After months of floating over the Pacific seas in hopeful desolation, having at last finally landed, and on a Sunday, too! would not a Te Deum in the very least have been called for? Pigafetta was silent. He was also silent about their second Sunday in Homonhon, which was in fact Palm Sunday!

I am mindful and should you be. While in the port of San Julian, Pigafetta recorded mass on Palm Sunday (which fell on April 1, 1520 - a year earlier), but he fails to mention mass on Easter Sunday. Pigafetta mentioned Easter Sunday mass in Limasawa but was silent about Palm Sunday on their last full day in Homonhon.
Is Easter Mass ever celebrated without observing Palm Sunday? Or, is Palm Sunday observed without being followed by mass on Easter Sunday?

Here is the chronology. Again, lifted verbatim from Pigafetta’s memoirs:

“At dawn on Saturday, March 16, 1521, (feast of St. Lazarus, my insertion) we came upon a highland at a distance…..an island named Zamal (Samar)…..the following day (March 17, Sunday) the captain general desired to land on another island (Humunu) ….uninhabited…..in order to be more secure and to get water and have some rest. He had two tents set up on shore for the sick.”

“On Monday, March 18, we saw a boat coming towards us with nine men in it.” (This marks our first human contact with Europeans)…..”giving signs of joy because of our arrival.” “At noon on Friday, March 22, those men came as they had promised.”

“And we lay eight days in that place, where the captain every day visited the sick men who he had put ashore on the island to recover.”

The instances recorded by Pigafetta of masses being said had two things in common. They were all observed on shore; and with natives being present.

It is quite evident that because of failure in historiographic interpretation, Homonhon (a barangay of the Municipality of Guiuan in Eastern Samar) has been excluded and neglected as the true venue of the celebration of the very first Sunday mass in the Philippines, whether it was March 17, 1521 or on Palm Sunday, March 24, 1521.

Homonhon is in dire need of a champion that will rectify its abandonment as the rightful, indispensable element in the 500th anniversary celebration of the seminal event that began to define us to the world.

I believe that task belongs firstly and collectively to the provincial government of Eastern Samar and the Municipality of Guiuan, alongside the Catholic Church represented by the Diocese of Borongan, under whose sacerdotal responsibility Homonhon must occupy the greatest of historical honors.

They sit on their heritage, they lose it. It would be a travesty of history, if they fail to claim their rightful place in Philippine History.

(Disclosure: I am not an academically credentialed historian but a mere avid history buff with a knack for story-telling. I enjoy sharing my readings and interpretations from which I draw fact-based opinions. Always, I am subject to human fallibility and would welcome critique. Thank you.)



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.