In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person’s forehead, says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (Catholicism.about.com).
Ash Wednesday is formally named as Mierkoles de Sinisa in Bicol’s Catholic liturgical occasions.
In Bulusan’s Saint James the Greater Parish, an old paroqia of around 385 years, it is simply referred to by the locals as the ‘Pakruros’. This is one occasion that even the least regular churchgoer makes it a point to attend the mass celebrating the event. This year the date falls a day before Valentine’s Day–February 13.
The parishioners and the faithfuls of the parish saw to it that the church was all ready set for the start of the Lent that day. The altar was bedecked with the color of purple, the traditional color of Lent and adorned with special bouquet of flowers.
At the mass, the school pupils were all too busy and talking at the same time as if in constant giddiness, prompting the priest to stop several times mid-way of the mass to remind the children to keep still and be quiet while the mass was still going on. At this point, I noticed that the children’s ambient noise sounded like the hum of cicada’s collective singing. Only louder. But surprisingly not annoying. Cicadas’ (duli-duli to us) distinct noises are associated in Bulusan with ‘Kamahalan’ (Holy Week in Bulusan dialect) because its appearance and singing herald the season of Lent.
Ash Wednesday is ideally observed with the prescribed fasting and abstinence as articulated by the priest during the mass. The significance of this celebration is already embedded in the minds of Bulusan folks for hundreds of years of Catholicism.
While receiving the sign of the cross in my forehead, I can’t help but admire the deep philosophical relevance of the ritual reminding me of my own mortality as the mumble of the words : “Repent… (inaudible words followed) but I was sure it is a variation of “…thou art dust, and to dust shalt return” repeatedly said by the priest to each one while placing the sign of the cross on the forehead went on and on as if in a chant. But the children’s mind were far from that. They were just as excited as always for an opportunity to play at the churchyard as playground after the ritual rather than dwell on the deep meaning of life. Children will be children. They have a playful inclination of their own whatever is the occasion which is so contagious. Philosophical contemplation are better left to us more matured members of the parishioners. In the photos, the children were caught in their playful mood in contrast to the solemnity of the occasion.
About Ash Wednesday or the Bicol’s Mierkoles de Sinisa
“In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter. Since Easter falls on a different date each year, Ash Wednesday does, too” (Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church by Scott P. Richert).
Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines