MANILA - Since the pandemic struck, church attendance in the Philippines has been restricted to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Instead of going physically to places of worship, people are forced to follow most liturgies, including the holy mass, through online platforms.
But for Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator and auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Manila, online masses are poor substitute for physically attending the mass in churches.
"Dahil sa pandemya, nanonood na lang kayo sa mga misa, pero dapat sa puso natin, nandiyan iyong desire, iyong pananabik to participate physically in the mass," Pabillo said in his homily for the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Manila Cathedral.
[Because of the pandemic, we only watch the mass, but in our heart, we must keep the desire, the longing to participate physically in the mass.]
The mass commemorates Christ's institution of the Holy Eucharist and is the beginning of the Paschal Triduum — the summit of the Church's liturgical year, recalling the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Catholics believe that Christ is truly made present through the bread and wine which becomes His body and blood.
"Our online mass is a poor substitute of the real physical participation in the mass. At the moment we are constrained to watch the online masses, but please do not lose the fire, the desire to be physically present when it is possible, and to really receive the body of Christ into our body," Pabillo added.
Before the holy week, the government imposed its strictest quarantine measure in what it calls the "NCR Plus", which includes Metro Manila and 4 nearby provinces. Because of an alarming surge in new COVID-19 cases, several establishments were ordered closed once again, including churches.
But Pabillo pushed for a 10 percent attendance in churches within the Archdiocese of Manila, insisting that it hardly counts as mass gathering.
Eventually, the inter-agency task force leading the country's COVID-19 pandemic response allowed a once-a-day religious gatherings with 10 percent venue capacity in churches from April 1 to April 4, which covers Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
However, the church ceremonies are held earlier than usual because of the curfew, which starts at 6 p.m. Per tradition, the Mass of the Lord's Supper is usually held at dusk, which is followed by prayers before the Altar of Repose until midnight. But the Manila Cathedral and other churches in the region started the liturgy at 3 p.m.
"Sana po kasama kayo, kahit na online lang, sa tatlong araw na ito na ngayong taon ay gagawin natin ng alas-3 ng hapon. Special arrangement ito because of the special times... Pero may curfew na kino-consider tayo kaya inagahan natin. So please remember: 3 o’clock for 3 days: today, tomorrow and on Saturday." Pabillo said.
[I hope you could join us, even through online, in these 3 days which this year will be held every 3 p.m. This is a special arrangement because of the special times... We are following the curfew so we have to be early. So please remember: 3 o’clock for 3 days: today, tomorrow and on Saturday.]
In line with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, Pabillo washed the feet of 4 individuals who represent the Filipinos' roles as missionaries of the faith.
First is Fr. Geoffrey Eborda Jr., an Augustinian friar representing the first religious congregation that arrived in the country and is responsible for the early spread of Catholicism. Next is Ruzzel Ramos, a full time catechist and Romain Garry Lazaro, social media staff at the cathedral.
Also included is Sr. Venus Marie Pegar, who is a member of a religious congregation established by Bishop Alexandre Cardot of Yangon in Myanmar. This is in solidarity with the said country that is now under a military junta after its civilian leaders were arrested.
"Ang paghuhugas ng paa ay ang gawain ng pinakamababang alipin. Kapag may dumadating na bisita, sinasalubong siya ng alipin at hinuhugasan ang kanyang paa bilang tanda ng hospitality," Pabillo explained.
"Kaya pagkatapos ng paghuhugas, maliwanag na kanyang sinabi na ang ginawa niya ay dapat nilang gawin sa isa’t isa. Ito ay isang halimbawa na dapat nilang sundin. Maghugasan sila ng paa. Mag-serve sila sa bawat isa."
[The washing of the feet was done by the lowest of servants. Every time a guest would arrive, a servant would come to hi, and wash his feet as a sign of hospitality.]
[That's why after washing his apostles' feet, he clearly said that they should do it to one another. It was an example that they had to follow. That they should wash each others' feet. That they should serve one another.]