By Philippines News Agency
DUMAGUETE CITY – Widespread tradition of pre-Hispanic practices during the yearly observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are still being observed by many Filipinos even until today.
Although the Catholic Church may not encourage these customs and traditions of remembering the dead, majority of Filipinos still continue to perform some of these rituals to honor their dearly departed.
These practices, sometimes called “Folk Catholicism” by outside observers, can be traced to the pre-Hispanic era where ancient Filipinos engaged in ethnic expressions of respect and remembrance of the dead.
The “anito,” a collective noun for the deceased ancestors, nature-spirits, household deities and similarly-defined creatures, is traced back to the pre-Hispanic era.
This explains the usual “Fright Night” parties during Halloween where people and even children dress up in horror costumes such as zombies, vampires, skeletons and the like.
Many traditional rituals also date back to ancient Filipino culture, with some of them now being incorporated or mixed into modern customary practices.
For instance, the “halad” or offering is a common scenario in a Filipino setting, not just by Catholics but by some other religions as well.
The “halad,” as described in olden times, is believed to attract their dearly departed to come and partake of the menu offered before them, either at an altar at home or at the tomb in the cemetery.
Many would still cook specialty dishes like “biko” (glutinous rice cake) and other foods that they offer on the eve of All Souls’ Day or Nov. 2 at the altar.
The offerings would also include, apart from favorite foods of their departed family members, wine, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, cigarettes and other items the deceased had enjoyed when he or she was still alive.
Cecille, 56, and a mother of two, recalls that their late uncle would prepare Filipino delicacies during Halloween and would set them on a mat on the floor.
Cecille continues that as a child, she and her cousins would gather around in a circle while the grandmother would perform some kind of ritual and offer prayers in a “strange” language (perhaps Latin, she says), while calling out to the departed.
Once the ritual is over, Cecille recounts that she and her cousins would “pounce” on the food and beverages and partake of them.
No one in her family in modern times has continued such tradition, she said, although what is being practiced by many family members is the offering of food at the altar.
Another customary practice here that is also very much present, especially at the cemeteries, is the “palina” or a ritual fumigation.
People who leave the cemeteries after visiting the tombs of their deceased relatives pass by the “palina” area, usually a burning mound of leaves from kamangyan, incense and “tawas” or alum.
It is widely believed that one who leaves the cemetery need to go through the ritual of “palina” to relieve himself of “bad spirits” or the “germs” that one might have gotten from the “dirty tombs” and graves.
But for Catholic priests Msgr. Julius Perpetuo Heruela and Fr. Archie Toroy, the Church puts premium on the offering of masses for the departed souls.
Msgr. Heruela, the parish priest of Bacong, Negros Oriental, explains that many people still do not understand the real meaning of the observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Fr. Toroy, assistant parish priest of Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental, also explains about Halloween, which many are still confused as to its meaning to this day.
Halloween, according to Fr. Toroy, is observed by many in the evening of Oct. 31, or on the eve of All Saints’ Day.
Halloween is derived from the root word “hallow” or meaning “holy,” therefore, what is more appropriate when celebrating this is to “dress up” instead like the saints or angels, he added.
All Saints’ Day is to commemorate the saints and all the holy faithful who have already reached heaven, he said.
According to Msgr. Heruela, people are asked to pray alongside with the saints on All Saints’ Day as well, for those that are still suffering in purgatory, awaiting release from there so that they may enter heaven.
By offering masses and prayers for the dead, people are doing “penance” for the poor souls in purgatory “to lessen their stay there” because they can no longer do penitence themselves, Msgr. Heruela added.
The priests are also emphasizing the need for the people to visit the cemeteries and pay respects to their departed loved ones.
While many are critical in that they say it is only the body of the dead that is in the tomb as the soul has already departed, Msgr. Heruela explains that the cemetery is a “sacred place” because it is where the bodies of the dead are buried, awaiting for their resurrection.
People must remember that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore respect must be shown, even when a person has already passed on to another life, Heruela said.
The Catholic Church is explicit along this line, in fact, it has recently issued a directive regarding cremation, the monsignor pointed out.
The ashes of a cremated body must be intact and entombed in a cemetery, he said.
The ashes must not be separated, placed in an urn and set on an altar in the home, or spread out at sea, Heruela added.
As to the common practice of lighting candles at the cemeteries or even at home on the eve of All Souls’ Day, the Catholic Church’s interpretation of that is that the candles symbolize light.
The suffering souls in Purgatory need light as they continue to await passage from there, said Fr. Toroy.
Lighting of candles would also mean to help the dead summon the true light, which is Christ, the light that never dies out and shines eternal, according to Msgr. Heruela.
Finally, for Catholics who observe the Days of the Dead, plenary indulgences will be given to those who visit the cemeteries and offer masses for the deceased souls.
The first eight days of November are intended for the poor souls who are expiating their sins in purgatory and for the communion of saints.
For those who cannot visit their dearly departed at the cemeteries for various reasons, they are encouraged to pray one Our Father and one Nicene’s or Apostle’s Creed for the Dead, and prayer intentions for the Holy Father, Pope Francis, which would include one Our Father, three Hail Mary’s and one Glory Be, said Msgr. Heruela.