Every Good Friday, the congregation of the Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher (locally known as Apung Mamacalulu or the dead Christ) in Lourdes Sur, Angeles City mourn the death of Christ right after the Catholic Church-endorsed ritual of the Veneration of the Cross.
At 3 p.m., the Veneration of the Cross commences and is headed by the Shrine rector (at the time of fieldwork, it was Rev. Fr. Rolando Lopez). In the veneration ritual, the presider (the priest) leads the congregation in approaching a cross and then offers a gesture of respect to all that the cross represents. This gesture includes kneeling and bowing before the cross and then kissing it.
Normally, a limbon (procession) is held right after the Catholic Church veneration ritual. It is a depiction or reenactment of Jesus’s passion and death through tableaux or life-size figures. While the limbon is common in many Catholic churches in Angeles City or elsewhere in the Philippines, at the Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher, the congregation participates in a mourning ritual as the image of Apung Mamacalulu is brought down from its altar and is paraded around the vicinity of the church or the shrine. The image is also accompanied by a life-size image of Mater Dolorosa (The Sorrowful Mother) privately owned by a community member. The ritual is organized by the Apu Volunteer Group composed of the Shrine’s different lay organizations.
For about 30 minutes, the in-house limbon is led by the Shrine’s ministry of liturgy head (at the time of fieldwork, Ms. Bernadette Enriquez was head). Behind the image of the Apung Mamacalulu are black-veiled women volunteers carrying vigil candles. They mourn histrionically as if mourning a family member. Right after the women are the Shrine’s active organizations like the Knights of the Blessed Sacrament and Apu Youth Ministry, followed by the image of the Mater Dolorosa standing in a beautifully decorated karo (procession wagon). Behind the image are lay members (some volunteers and some invited by the rector) dressed as apostles. The last to follow is the rest of the congregation.
After the procession, Apung Mamacalulu is brought in front of the altar. The crying veiled-women continue their histrionic mourning and cry for about 20 minutes while delivering a prayer in the Pampango language. The delivery is almost chant-like similar to the Kapampangan pasyon reading at the kubol. Right after the mourning, the women offer their vigil candles around the image. The women afterwards leave the church to give way for the rest of the congregation to pay respect to Apung Mamacalulu. The image of the Mater Dolorosa is also brought out of the church. Church ushers and usherettes lead the devotees to the image.
The devotion (or the kissing of Apung Mamacalulu) normally ends at midnight, but at the time of fieldwork, the organizer ended the devotion at 10 pm. One of the apostles (assuming the role of Peter) faces the devotees and announces that Apung Mamacalulu is about to be buried.
The apostles then bring the image out of the church and transfer it to the Dayrit ancestral house, which is adjacent to the shrine. The transfer is a symbolic gesture of burying the dead Christ. The ancestral house is a strategic site of transfer because it is the same site where the image of Apung Mamacalulu was kept prior to the transfer of the shrine to the Archdiocese of Pampanga in early 2000s.
The apostles lay the image in one of the ancestral house rooms. There, Apung Mamacalulu is symbolically undressed while lying in bed. The head apostle enters and brings with him a new set of clothes. Apung Mamacalulu is then dressed with this new set of clothes. Afterwards, the image is delicately covered by a white blanket. Everyone in the room delivers a prayer before the image, after which Apung Mamacalulu is left inside the room prior to its return to the shrine on Easter Sunday.
Words by Sir Anril P. Tiatco
Photos by Loyd Jayril Tiatco