Culture & Heritage

Catholic Traditions During Holy Week in the Philippines

Written by Patrick

Home to more than 80 million Catholic people, the Philippines has several traditions practiced during Holy Week.

The Philippines is one of the biggest Catholic countries in the world.  More than 80 million Filipinos out of 113 million population identified themselves as Catholics.  As such, major Catholic events and celebrations are a big deal in the country.

One of the biggest religious events observed by Filipinos is the Lenten Season which highlights the Holy Week, also known as Mahal na Araw (in Filipino) and Semana Santa.  The event is the commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Catholic devotees in the Philippines adhere to several traditions in observance of the Holy Week.

Ash Wednesday

Ash applied to the forehead of the child during Ash Wednesday.

Caption: Ash applied to the forehead of the child during Ash Wednesday. | Image Source

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  It is a day of prayer, fasting, and abstinence from meat.  Catholic devotees attend the holy mass and receive the cross ash placed by the priest on the head.  The act is accompanied by the line “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” which symbolizes mortality.

Palm Sunday

Devotees during Palm Sunday.

Caption: Devotees during Palm Sunday. | Image Source

Linggo ng Palaspás in Filipino, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy Week.  Devotees go to church carrying palm fronds or palaspás to be blessed before or after the holy mass.  The blessing of the palms is often held in the church or in the town plaza if it is near the church.  Most churches hold a short procession and along the route are spots where children dressed as angels sing and strew flowers.  The blessed palms are then made into crosses or woven into other designs to be brought at home and placed on altars, doors, and windows believing that these items can ward off evil and protect the house from fire, lightning, and other danger.

Palm Sunday reenacts the arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem and being welcomed by people waving palm branches.  For Catholic devotees, the event symbolizes the acceptance of Jesus Christ.

Holy Monday to Holy Wednesday

Devotees participating in the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week.

Caption: Devotees participating in the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week. | Image Source

While Holy Monday to Holy Wednesday remain to be regular working days, devotees gather for a procession of the Stations of the Cross.  The starting point of the procession is usually the church and there are designated spots in the streets for the 14 stations.  The procession usually takes place early in the morning at sunrise.

The procession of the Stations of the Cross is done until Good Friday.  These are also the days when Catholics are encouraged to attend retreats, confess, and join other Lent-related activities organized by the church and its religious groups.

Government and some private companies sometimes declare the afternoon of Holy Wednesday as a special non-working holiday to allow employees to travel to their hometowns or wherever they want to be for the remaining days of the Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday

A priest re-enacting the Washing of the Feet during Maundy Thursday.

Caption: A priest re-enacting the Washing of the Feet during Maundy Thursday. | Image Source

The highlight of the day is the mass of the Lord’s Supper, popularly known as the Last Supper.  In most churches, the Washing of the Feet of the Twelve Apostles is reenacted.  The mass ends with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament which people can venerate until midnight.

This is also the day the priests renew their priestly vows.

Almost every office and businesses are closed starting this day until Friday.

Good Friday

Men cover their face, walk barefoot and whip their backs during Good Friday.

Caption: Men cover their face, walk barefoot and whip their backs during Good Friday.

Considered the most solemn day of the year, Good Friday highlights the evening street procession of the Stations of the Cross.  Statues and scenes portraying the life of Jesus Christ are placed into beautifully-decorated carriages and brought to the procession.  Holy Mass is not celebrated on this day but people are encouraged to meditate, pray, and listen to the Seven Last Words (Siete Palabras) often broadcasted both on national tv and local radio networks.

During this day, some places stage Senákulo (Passion Play) and hold pabasa (continuous chanting of the Pasyón) while some devotees self-flagellate or have themselves nailed to the cross as forms of penance.  People are also encouraged to spend the day praying and avoid merrymaking and making excessive as well as to fast and abstinence from meat.

At night, women join the short procession with Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows).  This symbolizes the female disciples of Christ accompanying the Virgin Mary in the sorrowful event of her life.

Black Saturday

Easter Vigil during Black Saturday.

Caption: Easter Vigil during Black Saturday. | Image Source

The mourning of the death of Jesus Christ continues until Black Saturday, or Sabado de Gloria.  In the evening, there is an Easter Vigil that highlights the return of Gloria Excelsis Deo hymn which was absent throughout the Lent except on solemnities and Maundy Thursday.

This is also the night when religious images, statues, and vehicles are blessed.

Easter Sunday

The traditional Salubong (meeting) of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary after the Resurrection.

Caption: The traditional Salubong (meeting) of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary after the Resurrection. | Image Source

Easter Sunday is a joyous celebration among Catholics.  The first rite, called Salubong, starts before sunrise.  Salubong reenacts the meeting of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary after the Resurrection.  Statues of both come from two different places, with males joining the statue of Jesus Christ while the females joining the statue of Virgin Mary still in Mater Dolorosa that is draped in black depicting her mourning.  A girl dressed as angel then chants the Regina Coeli and later on removes the black drape from Virgin Mary.  The act signifies the end to grieving and Virgin Mary transforms into Nuestra Señora de Alegria (Our Lady of Joy).  Easter Sunday celebration starts by the angels throwing flowers, bells pealing, bands playing, and fireworks.

During this day, Filipino Catholic families celebrate by preparing foods for family members to enjoy.  Many malls, villages, and other big businesses also organize Easter egg hunting activities for children.

Visita Iglesia

Devotees during the Visita Iglesia.

Caption: Devotees during the Visita Iglesia. | Image Source

Visita Iglesia, also known as the Seven Churches Visitation, is a Catholic tradition wherein devotees visit seven or more churches during Maundy Thursday to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and pray the Stations of the Cross.  Some people do Visita Iglesia in the morning of Good Friday.


The traditional Senakulo performed by locals in Bulacan.

Caption: The traditional Senakulo performed by locals in Bulacan. | Image Source

Senákulo is a passion play using traditional scripts. Films featuring Senákulo are played on national tv during the week but many live versions are done in many parts of the country, including at the Cultural Center of the Philippines which is often sponsored by the Department of Tourism.

Ang Pagtaltal, which takes place in Jordan, Guimaras, is a popular Senákulo attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Moriones Festival

Moriones Festival in Marinduque.

Caption: Moriones Festival in Marinduque.

In the island of Marinduque, Moriones Festival is a Lenten festival celebrated annually.  One of the highlights is the Via Crucis which is the re-enactment of the last moments of Jesus Christ on his way to Golgotha where he was crucified. The participants wear colorful costumes and masks with morion helmets. This is to replicate the attire of Roman soldiers in the Passion of the Christ.

These Catholic Holy Week traditions in the Philippines are not mandatory, of course.  Although encouraged, believers of the Catholic faith are free to practice any of these traditions.

READ MORE: Must-Visit Churches in the Philippines

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About the Author


Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

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