Semana Santa in the New Normal

Published April 14, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Senator Francis Tolentino


Senator Francis N. Tolentino

The Philippines, referred to as Asia’s bastion of Christianity, celebrates semana santa this April 2022. This is the first Lenten season which allows in-person religious gatherings and the conduct of other religious traditional activities since the first sight of the Covid-19 virus.

For both 2020 and 2021, we recall the enforcement of strict community quarantine measures during the holy week to prevent any expected huge mass gatherings. The Philippines is predominantly a Catholic country after all.

For this year’s semana santa, acts of penitence, the Visita Iglesia, staging of the Senakulo, and the Easter Sunday salubong, among others, can finally be held across the country.
On April 7, 2022, the World Health Organization cautioned the Philippines on a possible rise in Covid-19 cases following the religious activities for Lent.

Notably, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Liturgy issued guidelines on the conduct of Lent and holy week activities this year considering existing Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines.

For our health and safety, churches would be sanitized after every liturgical celebration. Social distancing protocols and the wearing of face masks during church services would be strictly observed.
For processions, coordination with the local government is required and are limited to roads or streets that would allow greater social distancing.

For Palm Sunday, the blessing of the palm branches may be given through the scriptural reading and prayer of blessing for those joining the mass through online streaming. In this instance, the blessing of the palm branches with holy water may be dispensed with.

For the Maundy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a simplified form of the washing of the feet may be done. The number of persons whose feet are to be washed is not required to be 12. In addition, the alter of repose may be set outside of the church if the church is small and cannot accommodate many people for Visita Iglesia.

For the Good Friday Mass, only the presider can do the kissing in the veneration of the cross. The mass attendees would do the veneration of the cross by making a genuflection or making a profound bow.

For Easter Sunday, the Easter Vigil can only be celebrated in cathedrals and parish churches to ensure social distancing. In case of celebrations in chapels or oratories, a special permission would be required.
Aside from the foregoing, several other protocols were outlined on the conduct of religious activities in order to mitigate, if not eradicate, Covid-19 community transmission.

With institutionalized religious activities and church gatherings playing a vital role in Filipino culture, the move towards adjusting traditions to ensure the health and safety of devotees is the appropriate action. If anything, Christianity’s adaptability had ensured its continued existence for thousands of years. For now, this is semana santa in the new normal.