Acknowledging the Virgin Mary during Holy Week
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
Below is the Regina Caeli hymn translated to English from Latin:
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray.
O God, who through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
gave rejoicing to the world,
grant, we pray, that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,
we may obtain the joy of everlasting life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Easter will come very early this year. In fact, it will be at the end of this month. As we anticipate the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, perhaps one of the memories we may have about Easter Sunday in the Philippines would be the custom of the “Salubong” procession. This is a custom observed in many parts of the Philippines with some variations. It is a festive and joyful way of announcing the Good News that Jesus has conquered the power of sin and evil by rising from the dead.
For those unfamiliar with the custom, the word “Salubong” comes from the Tagalog meaning “welcome,” or even “encounter” or “meeting.” Depending on what part of the Philippines it is celebrated, the custom is observed sometime between the end of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night and before dawn on Easter Sunday morning. It is a dual outdoor procession that enacts the moment when the Risen Jesus first appears to the Virgin Mary who is full of sorrow at the death of her son. She is first dressed in a black veil symbolizing her state of mourning. Two separate processions wind the streets of town and meet in a designated place. The men follow the statue of the Risen Jesus while the women follow behind the Sorrowful Mother. At the moment when mother and son meet, the black veil is removed from the Virgin Mary by a young child dressed as an angel and is replaced with her customary blue veil announcing her joy that her son has truly risen. At this, the ancient hymn known as the Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven) is sung as the Virgin Mary is the first to witness the resurrection of the Savior.
Of course, this encounter is recorded in no part of Sacred Scripture. The origins of the custom can be vague at best but there are connections with the custom of the “Pasyon”—the long narrative that is chanted during Holy Week which contains many stories that have developed from the devotion of the faithful. According to the gospels, Mary Magdalene was the first to witness the empty tomb and be greeted by the Risen Jesus. How is it that Filipinos would celebrate a supposed encounter between Jesus and his mother before he appeared to anyone else? It is said that this custom is based strongly on the Filipino affinity for one’s mother. Namely, in our Filipino value system, whenever we have any good news to announce, the first one we share it with is our mother. For this reason, the custom of the Salubong depicts Jesus’ announcement of his resurrection to his mother based more on Filipino devotion than on Sacred Scripture.
Yet, even though it is not based in Sacred Scripture, the custom of the “Salubong” still celebrates one of the strong beliefs of Catholicism regarding the Virgin Mary. She to whom was granted the privilege of being the Mother of the Savior is the first to rejoice in the resurrection. She is first not necessarily in a numerical sense but because she is the prime example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus—one who listens to the Word of God and acts on it as well as someone who follows Jesus to the cross. The Virgin Mary exemplifies both. She received the message of the angel and with complete trust in God responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” She also pondered the mysteries of her life in her own heart. Furthermore, in John’s gospel, the mother of Jesus is among the few people who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross while all the other disciples ran away. For this reason, even though she may or may not have been the very first to see the Risen Jesus, the Virgin Mary still is the first to rejoice in the Resurrection of the Savior by which she and all humankind have been redeemed.
For those of us who are Christians, as we approach the great feast of our Salvation, may we rejoice in the news of our Risen Savior with the same faith and joy as did our ancestors in the faith.