The Catholic Church made a remarkable comeback in the Philippines in the twentieth century, primarily because the Vatican agreed to divest itself of massive church estates and to encourage Filipinos to join in the clergy. This resurgence was so successful that Protestant mission efforts, led by large numbers of American missionaries during the period of American colonial rule, made little headway. In the early 1990s, the clergy were predominantly Filipino, all of the diocesan hierarchy were Filipino, and the church was supported by an extensive network of parochial schools.
Catholicism, as practiced in the Philippines in the 1990s, blended official doctrine with folk observance. In an intensely personal way, God the Father was worshiped as a father figure and Jesus as the loving son who died for the sins of each individual, and the Virgin was venerated as a compassionate mother. In the words of scholar David J. Steinberg, "This framework established a cosmic compadrazgo, and an utang na loob to Christ, for his sacrifice transcended any possible repayment . . . . To the devout Filipino, Christ died to save him; there could be no limit to an individual's thanksgiving." As in other Catholic countries, Filipinos attended official church services (men usually not as regularly as women) such as Masses, novenas, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. They supplemented these official services with a number of folk-religious ceremonies basic to the community's social and religious calendar and involving just about everyone in the community.
Perhaps the single event most conducive to community solidarity each year is the fiesta. Celebrated on the special day of the patron saint of a town or barangay, the fiesta is a time for general feasting. Houses are opened to guests, and food is served in abundance. The fiesta always includes a Mass, but its purpose is unabashedly social. The biggest events include a parade, dance, basketball tournament, cockfights, and other contests, and perhaps a carnival, in addition to much visiting and feasting.
Christmas is celebrated in a manner that blends Catholic, Chinese, Philippine, and American customs. For nine days, people attend misas de gallo (early morning Christmas Mass). They hang elaborate lanterns (originally patterned after the Chinese lanterns) and other decorations in their homes and join with friends in caroling. On Christmas Eve, everyone attends midnight Mass, the climax of the misas de gallo and the year's high point of church attendance. After the service, it is traditional to return home for a grand family meal. The remaining days of the Christmas season are spent visiting kin, especially on New Year's Day and Epiphany, January 6. The Christmas season is a time of visiting and receiving guests. It is also a time for reunion with all types of kin--blood, affinal, and ceremonial. Children especially are urged to visit godparents.
During the Lenten season, most communities do a reading of the Passion narrative and a performance of a popular Passion play. The custom of reading or chanting of the Passion could be an adaptation of a pre-Spanish practice of chanting lengthy epics, but its continuing importance in Philippine life probably reflects the popular conception of personal indebtedness to Christ for His supreme sacrifice. At least one observer has suggested that Filipinos have, through the Passion, experienced a feeling of redemption that has been the basis for both millennial dreams and historical revolutionary movements for independence.
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