Novena: The Prayer of the People

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Lex orandi, lex credendi
The law of praying is the law of believing.
(- An ancient saying of the Church.)[1]

The praying and singing together of the novena by the thousands of devotees at the shrine conveys a special appeal drawing devotees and non-devotees alike. A thanksgiving letter written in January 3, 1951, barely two years after the introduction of the novena, narrates how a non-devotee was drawn to the shrine for the first time because of the novena,

[O]ne day, while I was travelling in a bus which was coming from Cavite City, it was caught in the traffic in the vicinity of Baclaran Church. The crowd of people pushed me along the pathway to the Church until I found myself inside the Church’s patio. I entered the Church and while inside, I heard those beautiful hymns that forced me to forget my loneliness. Then I found out that the people were making a novena in honor of you.

Novena is key to the explosion of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. Novena transformed the small wooden chapel in 1948 into a popular shrine and pilgrimage center. Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula asserts this in his dissertation:

The introduction of the Perpetual Novena devotion in 1948 was the single most significant development in the transformation of the shrine from a local chapel to a pilgrimage site of national proportions.[2]

Thousands of devotees came in droves after the novena was introduced in 1948.  Soon the small chapel couldn’t accommodate the crowd anymore.  This paved the way to building a bigger shrine twice, first in 1949 and second in 1954.

The novena prayed in the shrine is not just an ordinary novena; it is called a perpetual novena. A novena is a series of prayers recited over nine days or nine weeks consecutively, usually in preparation for a major feast or to ask for a special favor. The ordinary novena stops after the nine occasions until resumed the next time around, often the following year when connected with feasts, or whenever a devotee decides to resume it privately. A perpetual novena, on the other hand, is a series of nine occasions of prayer but repeated continuously. When one series is finished, it begins again. In practice, it becomes an unending series of weekly sessions, usually associated with a particular day of the week, not necessarily Wednesday.[3]  Some stop after nine consecutive Wednesdays of novena but most devotees pray the perpetual novena. We can call them perpetual devotees or devotees for life.

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A frequent question about the novena is: Why Wednesday? Hechanova explains that there was no definitive historical answer about the choice of Wednesday (Hechanova 1998). The choice of Wednesday seemed to be a practical choice. Wednesday was the only day vacant in a week where each day was devoted to a particular devotion or saint. For example, Tuesday is for San Antonio de Padua, Thursday is for St. Jude, Friday is Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Lourdes on Saturdays and so on.

As we have mentioned before, there were already various versions of the novena published even before the novena explosion in 1948. The first one was in 1926 and the second one was in 1936. Why did the 1948 novena become an instant hit whereas 1926 and 1936 did not? What was the difference of the 1948 novena from the 1926 and 1936 novena? To answer these questions, we need to examine each version of the novena.

Pre 1948 Novena

The novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was first introduced by the Redemptorists to the country immediately after they settled at Opon, Cebu. The first reported recitation of the novena in the country was in the church of Opon in 1907.  Novena were also recited during the hundreds of missions that the Redemptorist gave to the barrios in the Visayas and Luzon. We do not have a copy of the text and format of the novena used in Opon and in the barrio missions. These texts, however, most certainly have spread throughout the country.

The novena in 1926, is titled Maikling Pagsisiyam sa Mahal na Virgen sa Tawag na Ina ng Laging Saklolo (Short Novena to the Blessed Virgin under the Title of Mother of Perpetual Help), with an imprimi potest granted by Fr. O’Callaghan, C.Ss.R. and imprimatur given by Fr. Jose Bustamante. It was published by UST Press. Interestingly, this novena was published even before the Redemptorist settled in Baclaran in 1932. We do not know, how many of this novena were printed, but it certainly help in the propagation of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Luzon.

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The novena contained several interesting features. An introductory part contains the narration of the origins of the icon and a brief explanation of the icon. For the nine days novena, each day begins with a meditation focusing on a specific part of the icon and its meaning, then the common prayer for each day and a pagsasanay (exercise) which recommends some forms of call to action. The common prayer is very theocentric and centered on surrendering to the will of God. Clearly the format and text of the novena is intended for individual devotion.

The novena is written in rich and old Tagalog.  The daily prayer (PANALANGIN SA ARAO ARAO) of the novena exemplifies this,

Kabanalbanalang Virgen, saklolo sa twi­twina ng mga kaluluwang napaaampon sa iyong makainang pagibig: Marapatin mong idalangin ako sa iyong mahal na Anak at Panginoon naming Jesucristo upang kalugdan Niya ang lahat kong panimdim, wika at gawa sa araw na ito at habang ako’y nabu­buhay.

Tangapin mo oh! mahal kong Ina ang munting handog ko sa iyo sa pagcisiyam na ito, at ipagkaloob mo sa akin ang biyayang hinihingi ko kung nauukol sa lalong ikalulualhati Niya sa kapurihan mo at ikagagaling ng kaluluwa ko.  Siya Nawa.

The 1936 version of the novena is written in English titled Novena in Honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The Imprimatur was by Francis I. Cosgrave, CSsR. and nihil obstat by William E. Finnemann, Episcopus Auxiliaris. The publisher is not indicated. The format of the novena contains the history of the icon, explanation of the meaning of the parts of the icon, meditation and prayers for each day of the nine days novena

There is an added general remark in the instructions:

  1. The person making the novena should go to confession and Holy Communion at least once during the nine days.
  2. The prayers of the novena should be recited in a church in which the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is publicly exposed or in your own home before the same picture.
  3. The novena is made by each day reading the set meditation and then reciting the prayers which follow each meditation.

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Common Elements between 1926 and 1936 Novena

Both the 1926 and 1936 novena had similar characteristics: Both consist of nine successive days and a meditation each day followed by a common prayer. The format of the novena clearly shows that they were meant for individual devotion not for collective prayer in the church. The theology of both 1926 and 1936 novena shows a high theology of Mary where Mary is shown closer, almost equal, to Jesus. Mary is apart from us bestowed with the highest honor in heaven.

The meditation on the different parts of the icon and its meaning was a strong point of the 1926 and 1936 novena over 1948. This remarkable part disappeared in the 1948, 1951 and 1973 versions of the novena. The most recent 2016 jubilee version of the novena brought back this essential feature.

1948 Novena: Perpetual Novena

The origins of the 1948 Our Mother of Perpetual Help novena in Baclaran can be traced to the United States. A novena in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was began in St. Alphonsus “Rock” Liguori Church, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in July 11, 1922. In 1924, in the same church, Father Henry Sutton began novenas in which people participated through singing, praying with the priest, rather than remaining silent while the priests prayed. This devotional style which was collective in nature spread throughout the congregation.

In 1928, the novena began by Father Henry Sutton grew to eleven services every Tuesday to accommodate 15,000 people. In 1928, the name “Perpetual Novena” for this new form of devotion was suggested: a Perpetual Novena was to be performed for nine consecutive days (hence novena), but the nine-day cycle can be repeated continuously (hence perpetual). This form is the most impressive Our Mother of Perpetual Help devotional form today.[4] The Perpetual Novena flourished in Australia and United States as well as in India, the Philippines and Singapore. It suffered, however, a gradual decline in Australia, Europe and United States beginning in the 1970s.

The perpetual novena in the country, however, did not begin in Baclaran but in Iloilo.[5] Hechanova recounts that in the year 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War, American troops, some from the famous Battle of Guadalcanal, found themselves stationed in Iloilo. Among them were Irish-American Catholics from Boston who were delighted to find that St. Clement’s Church in La Paz, Iloilo City, was run by Irish Redemptorists. They were disappointed, however, that the Perpetual Novena then flourishing in the popular Mission Church of the Redemptorists in Boston was not part of church services. Thus, they requested the Redemptorist to start a novena in Ilo-ilo patterned after the novena in Boston.

The novena in Ilo-ilo was followed by Lipa in 1946 and Cebu in 1947. Both were well-attended novena. But they were not as phenomenal as Baclaran.

Iloilo-Novena-1

The first novena in Baclaran was presided by Father Leo English on June, 23, 1948. There were only seventy people present. The following week the number doubled to one hundred and fifty. Before the year ended, more novena sessions had to be added since the original chapel was good for only three hundred people. By the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the novena, and many others were following it from the parking area. The rest is history.

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Sapitula noted that the text of the 1948 Perpetual Novena, contrary to expectations, did not begin as a fixed text but assumed its final form only after months of experimentation. A “core format” of the novena text was established around three months after it was begun, which in turn became the basis of the 1950, 1951 and 1953 editions of the novena booklet (Gornez 2003).

Even as the 1948 novena was public and collective, it’s theological and spiritual orientation bears much resemblance with the individually oriented 1926 and 1936 novena. Both novena emphasized life after death and salvation of the soul. The goal of life in this world is personal sanctification so as to be ready to enter into eternal life after death. Both novena also reflected the high Mariology of pre-Vatican II which promoted a maximalist theological view on Mary that saw Mary as an altogether special creature whose privileges paralleled those of Christ. By putting Mary on a pedestal with all her titles and glories, she becomes distant from the ordinary devotee and the whole church.

Baclaran-1951-(Tagalog)-Novena-1Two years after the inauguration of the Perpetual Novena in Baclaran, the prayers were already recited in parishes in Quezon City, Quiapo and Sampaloc in Manila, Taguig, and Marilao, Obando and Barasoain in Bulacan province (entry dated 1-7 April 1950; cited in Gornez 2003). This shows the rapid adoption of the novena by the different parishes in Manila and nearby provinces.

A Prayer for Peace was added to the Novena Prayers each Wednesday in 1951 at the request of Ramon Magsaysay who was then the Minister for defense.

1973 Revised Novena

Nothing changed in the official text of the Perpetual Novena for twenty-five years until Redemptorists and some devotees felt the need for reform. The need for revision emerged in the light of the reforms inspired by Vatican II and the social upheavals in the country and in the world. Hechanova recalls,

In the early 1970s, the Redemptorists of the Manila and Cebu Vice-Provinces set up a common Commission to study how the novena itself could be renewed along the Vatican II principles on liturgy and devotion.[6]

The call for renewal of popular devotion, particularly the renewal of the Novena structure and prayers, was also echoed by Ang Mahal na Birhen:[7] “Novenas will then be renewed by making them more scriptural, avoiding a verbosity present in some of them and a sentimentality less in consonance with today’s religious attitudes.”[8]

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One of the strongest points of the 1973 novena is the emphasis on the social dimension of the Christian faith. A closer reading of the 1973 Perpetual Novena reveals that social justice and peace dimensions are given more attention, perhaps as a corrective to the perceived overemphasis on personal needs in the 1948 Perpetual Novena text (Gornez 2003; Hechanova 1998). Ramon Echica claims that it is in the aspect of social justice that the 1973 novena stands out from other popular Marian devotions.[9] Echica contrasted the prayers in the novena of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, for example, with that of the Santo Niňo devotion in Cebu City. Echica considers the Santo Niňo devotion as having an “apolitical nature” extremely lacking in social dimension. He adds that there is hardly any prayer that the Sto. Niňo would disturb and afflict the consciences of people whenever they have been unjust to their fellow men and women as these prayers “do not spell out the broader social and political context of one’s concern” for others.[10] Moreover, prayers in this novena are “most explicitly other-worldly” (2010, 44-45).

On the other hand, Echica cites the prayers of the 1973 Our Mother of Perpetual Help novena as calling devotees to serve the community. Sins against justice, like usury, bribery, and perjury are also virtually condemned when devotees pray that they or others may never involve in them.  There are also prayers for workers to take pride in their work and be given just compensation. Echica affirms that these prayers help the devotees to include questions of social justice in their examination of conscience.[11] Echica also underscored the enumerations of petitions of a this-worldly character as one of the distinctive appeal of the 1973 novena:

There is no flight from the world spirituality in this devotion. Furthermore, there is no reference to some apparitions or some extraordinary celestial phenomena, or miracles which may be outside the realm of human causality. It is distinctive at least in terms of quantity of concrete occasion mentioned in the perpetual novena. There are prayers for scenarios that may occur in one’s daily life; worries about finances, misunderstanding with loved ones, choice of recreation, avoidance of prohibited drugs, and temptation to take revenge.[12]

Indeed, concrete needs in concrete situations spur the faithful to their devotions, particularly to the Blessed Virgin.[13] [M]any petitions are not actually for the individual self but for society at large or one’s country in particular.[14]

2016 Jubilee Edition of the Novena

Despite the strong integration of social reality and devotion in 1973 novena, there were other areas that will need reform and improvement in the years to come. As early as the 90s, calls to revise the novena once again began to surface. Among the reasons for the proposed updating was the need to reflect ‘new’ signs of the times in the novena, for example, gender sensitivity, ecological awareness, migrants’ concerns and a more sound theology on Mary. The aims of the revised 2016 novena reflected these issues:

  • To help in the renewal towards an authentic devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
  • To adopt the novena to the signs of the times particularly the new issues and challenges that our world is confronted today.
  • To express a more healthy and meaningful understanding and practice of devotion to our Blessed Mother.
  • To incorporate an inclusive language into the novena.

The Prayer for the Sick was also seen as needing some major revision. The 1973 novena seemed to romanticize sickness by projecting an image of the sick who have nothing else they can do about their sickness except to embrace it. God’s compassion and strong desire for the healing of the sick is not much evident. A more redemptive healing not only for that person, but for the whole family was desired.

Here’s a comparison between the 1973 and 2016 Prayer for the Sick:

1973 Novena

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience. * Graciously hear our prayers for the sick. * Grant that those who are weighed down * with pain and other afflictions of illness * may realize that they are among the chosen ones * whom you called blessed. * Help them to understand * that they are united with You in Your sufferings * for the salvation of the world. Amen.

2016 Novena

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience; * graciously hear our prayer for the sick especially (pause and remember your sick loved ones). Grant that they who are weighed down * with pain and other affliction of illness * may experience God’s healing power and comfort*. Restore them to health* in body and soul* so that they can continue to serve you* and their brothers and sisters. Amen.

There was also the desire to reflect in the novena a more healthy theology about Mary. There was a strong desire to show that the real source of “saklolo” (help) is not Mary but Jesus. A major expression of this in the new novena is changing the response for every petition to Our Mother of Perpetual Help from Loving Mother, HELP US to Loving Mother, PRAY FOR US.

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There were also suggestions to make the language of the novena direct the people more to Jesus and to the celebration of the Eucharist. There was also the longing to change the seeming economy outlook to a more healthy outlook of the novena. Other points suggested to include into the revision of the novena were:

  • a greater appreciation of the lay and avoiding clericalization,
  • inclusive language,
  • a more healthy expression of solidarity with the poor,
  • clearer and consistent wording,
  • better wording about religious vocation,
  • omitting some repetitive petitions (particularly on death).

There were three new petitions to reflect the new signs of the times particularly on ecology, sanctity of life and peace in the world:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

That we may defend the human dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world, LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

An interesting feature of the 2016 novena is the return of the contemplation of the meaning and spirituality of the icon and its parts as an essential part of praying the novena. As the 2016 revised novena states in its introduction,

The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help but to let Mary bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It would be a great means, therefore, that in praying the novena for nine days, we contemplate on the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. The whole purpose of this contemplation is to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary— following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.

The Redemptorist community of Baclaran saw the 150th Jubilee of the icon in 2016 as an opportune time to implement the revision. In the spirit of the 150th Jubilee of the Icon, a new version of the novena was published.

Novena: Prayer of the Communion of the Saints

One of the primary reasons for the explosion of the novena in 1948 was the fact that it was written for public and communal prayer. Whereas the 1926 and 1936 novena were meant to be prayed privately by individual devotees, the 1948 novena brought individual devotees together to pray to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and intercede with one another. The intercessory character of the novena is not just asking the intercession of Mary but of fellow devotees as well. Thus, communal devotion rather than individual devotion catapulted the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to national prominence.

The intercessory prayer of the novena instilled a new consciousness upon the devotees. It inculcated the experience that prayer is not just personal but also a prayer for the other and with each other. Indeed, when each devotee goes to the novena, she/he brings her/his own petition but when he/she joins the thousand others who has his/her own individual petitions, each one is transformed that he/she not only pray for his/her own but for and with the others. The Novena helped transform the “I” to “We” consciousness. From a personalist and individualistic attitude, the devotees are not meant to pray only for their own needs but are meant to pray as members of a fellowship, in agreement, remembering that life and the world are not arranged for them as individuals but for the fellowship as a whole.[15] As Karl Rahner states:

A congregation praying, singing, and listening to word of God, is not only an assembly of lonely, solitary people, not only a number of isolated individuals, who impelled by concern for their eternal salvation, gather here for merely practical convenience, in order to try to work out their own private salvation… We are a holy community praising God by praising the glory of the blessed Virgin precisely because in our very salvation we are dependent on this virgin mother of God.[16]

Moreover, the novena experience brings out the essential fact of faith that as church we are a community of both living and dead, interceding for each other. Death does not sever the bonds of the body of Christ. Those who intercede for me are not just my living fellow devotee but even those who have died and are already with God–Mary and all the saints. In this way, the novena truly becomes an experience of the communion of saints. We have no direct route to God only through a relationship mediated and interceded with the communion of the saints, living here on earth and triumphant in heaven. Like Mary, devotees at the shrine are invited to be intercessors not just for one another but for the whole church and the world. As Francia Competente said in July 4, 2016, “I like going to Baclaran Church because I am with the people who are really in need of Mama Mary’s intercession and can feel God’s love thru Mama Mary.”

novena2.pngThe novena experience and consciousness recalls for the devotees their indigenous heritage of veneration of the dead. Before Christianity arrived in the country, indigenous Filipinos venerated their deceased ancestors because they are considered still a part of the family and their spirits can have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living. The novena experience has tapped into this primordial worldview of the Filipinos and devotees appropriated it into their warm devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Mary is the role model of intercessory prayer through her intercessory role for us in heaven. We do not pray to Mary, Mary pray with us. Once again, Rahner reiterates,

[N]o doctrine concerning Mary could have importance and significance for us, if it were not true that each of us is responsible for the salvation of his brethren, and can and must intercede for them with prayer and sacrifice and aid.  That is why Mary is not only the mother of our Lord, but our mother too.[17]

While novena is central to the devotional experience in the shrine, it is not all there is to the devotion. The experience of devotion is not only the praying of the novena but also the embarking of a faith journey. Devotion as a faith journey is quintessentially conveyed through pilgrimage to Baclaran. We will discuss the notion of devotion as a pilgrimage in the next chapter.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)

 


 

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1124.

[2] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 84.

[3] Luis Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[4] Campos, 250.

[5] Hechanova, The Baclaran Story

[6] Hechanova, Baclaran Story.

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #83.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #84.

[9] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 4.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ramon D. Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 2.

[13] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 3.

[14] Echica, Novena Prayers to One Like Us, 4.

[15] Novena Prayers, http://www.baclaranchurch.org/prayers.html

[16] Karl Rahner, Mary, Mother of the Lord: Theological Meditations (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963), 30-31.

[17] Rahner, 31.

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Pueblo Amante de Maria: A People in Love with Our Mother of Perpetual Help

 [T]he church of the Philippines, as pueblo amante de Maria, “a people in love with Mary,” will always continue to seek her intercession and learn from her way of life what we need to be as a community of disciples. She is truly what her oldest image in the Philippines call her: Nuestra Senora de Guia, Our Lady who guides our way.[2]                  

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The wonderful phenomenon in Baclaran could not have happened without the warm affection of Filipino devotees to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Baclaran is the quintessential expression of the phrase, pueblo amante de Maria, “bayang sumisinta kay Maria,” a people in love with Mary. This is shown by the fact that more than a hundred thousand devotees flock to Baclaran every Wednesday. Numbers alone, however, could not fully define the devotion to Mary of Baclaran. As Fr. Sam Boland affirms,

“Numbers have long since ceased to have much significance in Baclaran. The church belongs to the people, and they are there to be seen and to provide inspiration by a piety that is so visible and so obviously genuine.”[3]

In my almost ten years of ministry at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran I have been privileged to witness the outpouring of affection of the Filipinos to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On any given Wednesday at Baclaran I am always amazed at the sheer faith and resilient hope of the thousands of devotees who flock to the Shrine. Enduring the heat and rain, the traffic, the pollution, the vendors, they make their way to the shrine to pray the novena and celebrate the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation.

Filipinos have taken Our Mother of Perpetual Help into their homes and communities. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help has become an important part of the heritage of the nation and identity of the people. It has shaped the Filipino identity and the Filipino culture has shaped devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. A slogan popularized by the shrine captures this special devotion: “Filipino ako, Deboto ng Ina ng Laging Saklolo” (I am a Filipino, Devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help). Filipinos are proud to profess it wherever they go, whether here or abroad. It’s almost like being a devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help comes with being a Filipino.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help is no longer a Redemptorist franchise. Our Mother of Perpetual Help has become an essential aspect of the ecclesial life of the Philippine church. Almost every parish in the whole country, pray the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday. Many religious and clergy are devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Indeed, the Philippines is a Marian country.

Philippines: A Marian Country

 The pastoral letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in 1975, Ang Mahal na Birhen, declares the very special place of the Mother of Christ in the life of the Filipino people.[4] The letter particularly notes the deeply rooted veneration to Mary in the socio-religious structure of the Filipino Christian family: “A familiar sight in many homes, even of modest income, is what can be called the ‘family altar.’  In most families the image venerated is the image of the Virgin Mary under one of her familiar invocations.”[5] Mary’s special place amongst the Filipinos is also expressed in the patronage of Mary in many local churches all over the country:

“[A] very large number of parishes are dedicated to the Mother of God under one of her many invocations.  Four hundred sixty-three, or over one-fourth of all parishes, have the Virgin Mary as their titular patron without counting innumerable barrio chapels, religious oratories or private shrines dedicated to her.”[6]

Over 100 of the parishes honor the Immaculate Conception, over 60 are dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, while others carry various titles like the Assumption, Our Lady of Carmel, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, etc.[7]  The various manifestations of popular piety towards the Mother of God appear not only in the number of churches, chapels, or shrines consecrated to her, but in many other forms, ranging from the liturgical celebration of her feasts throughout the year to religious calendars with the holy picture of Mary — not always of the most artistic nature, it must be acknowledged — in the most humble nipa huts or in the slums of the cities, to her picture in public vehicles, buses or jeepneys.  Grottoes dedicated to the Immaculate Conception under the invocation of Lourdes are found in private gardens or in various public places, along the roads or in corners of modest dwellings.[8] The endless symphony of Marian names in the baptismal records of our parishes … It may be safely said that of the names of saintly women imposed in Baptism, none is more frequently found than the name of Mary either expressly or in one of her many titles.[9]

But what is behind the Filipinos as “pueblo amante de Maria”?  What is behind the Filipino people’s exuberant zeal for Mary?

Drinking from their Own Well: Wellspring of Filipinos’ Love for Mary 

Religiosity is deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche.  Filipinos are deeply spiritual and religious people even before the Spanish Friars came to transplant Christianity to the country. According to V.G. Enriquez, Filipinos had their own native religion before Islam and Christianity came to their land. This was a monotheistic religion based on the belief on a Supreme Being.[10] While Z. Salazar states that the faith of the early Filipinos was based on the belief in anito which is considered as pure soul, pure spirit and God.[11] Likewise, J.C. Sevilla asserts that the native Filipinos have many religious rituals like devotion before the Spanish missionaries came.[12]  The subterranean religiosity and animistic belief did not disappear even after 400 years of Christianity as Leonado Mercado declares, “The Filipinos are animists in their heart despite the 400 years of Roman Catholicism.” [13]

The rich pre-Spanish religiosity of the Filipinos presents a very important premise. As with every culture and people, the indigenous Filipinos were not tabula rasa in terms of worldview and belief before the Spanish colonizers and missionaries came. Filipinos received Catholicism in the milieu of their indigenous religion and culture which they never relinquished even up to now.  Ironically, the indigenous religion of the natives, the very stamp which the Spanish missionaries have fought so hard to eradicate, became the source of hospitality for the natives in receiving the new faith. Hospitality of the Filipinos, therefore, was not just the welcoming of the foreign but also making the foreign religion their own in the context of their indigenous beliefs and religiosity.

The Christian proselytization of the Philippines was therefore not based on an unequal negotiation where only one has the goods while the other has nothing to offer. This belies the notion that the Spanish missionaries brought Christianity to a waiting Filipino natives who had nothing to offer to the missionaries in return.  In other words, it was not merely a giver-receiver relationship. Native Filipinos had their native religion and culture while Spanish missionaries had their Spanish culture and Catholic religion. Christianity as represented by the Spanish missionaries and indigenous religion as represented by the Filipino natives benefited from a process of mutual conversion during the beginnings of Spanish colonial era in the Philippines.  Thus, the Christian evangelization in the Philippines was a two way process.  The Spanish colonizers brought Christianity to the islands to transform the indigenous religion of the natives but in the process the indigenous religion also transformed Christianity. This mutual conversion became the unique stamp of Christianity of the Philippines today.

The above premise is essential in understanding the early Filipinos’ embrace of Mary. The Filipino natives attributed to Mary some of their ancient beliefs and rituals. Karl Gaspar, for example, contends that the Filipinos’ penchant for Mary can be rooted to indigenous Filipinos’ worship of indigenous goddesses. The matriarchal belief system that arose since the beginning of cultures privileged not just the notion of a female deity but a most highly revered Mother Goddess.[14] Gaspar argues that this expression of the “feminine principle” is integral to the pre-conquest ancestors’ indigenous belief system.  Like many other traditional societies, the feminine principle within indigenous Filipino’s belief system is manifested in the matriarchal elements in their culture.  Manuel Victor Sapitula also argues that the “feminine principle” strongly resonates with the devotion to the Virgin Mary.[15] Comparing among religious traditions, the figure of the Virgin Mary is analogous to a number of female divine figures and deities.[16]

The feminine principle of Filipino indigenous spirituality is further manifested through the work of indigenous priestesses called babaylans. Babaylan is a Visayan term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community “miracle-worker” (or a combination of any of those).[17] The Northern Tagalog Region equivalent of babaylan is katalonan. The word “katalo” means “in good terms with.” The babaylan were predominantly female. Gaspar claims that there are males who appropriated this role but they had to speak, dress up and gesticulate like women.[18]

Spanish Times: Marianization of Filipino Religiosity or Filipinization of Marian Spirituality?

When the Spanish missionaries came in the 16th century, the Filipino’s embrace of Mary was one of the key factors to the widespread and surprisingly peaceful Christianization of the islands. This position is the main thesis of Pedro Vasquez Zafe’s dissertation on the role of Marian devotion during the Spanish evangelization of the Philippines:

“The early missionaries who came to the Philippines from Spain from the very beginning found that the devotion to the Blessed Mother was so readily received by the natives, that they increasingly made it a significant part of their evangelizing work.”[19]

The Filipino Catholic faith would not be like as it is today if not for the Filipino’s warm devotion to Mary, Zafe argues.

“[T]he Philippines would not be what it is now-the only Catholic nation in the Orient-were it not, as history testifies, [due] to the many interventions of Mary in answer to the tender and filial devotion which the Filipino people professed towards her.”[20]

Zafe describes further how the Spanish missionaries were so pleased about the natives’ very eager reception to the devotion to the Mother of God everywhere in the islands.  Filipinos were taught and with great readiness adopted practices of Marian devotion: prayed the Rosary specially, joined Marian associations the missionaries organized, venerated Marian images, and those who had acquired reading and writing skills, read devotional treatises and other books on the Blessed Virgin Mary.[21] Marian shrines were built and multiplied rapidly throughout the islands. Marian images were venerated from the earliest period of evangelization; each image “had its own story to tell”: stories of faith and its rewards, stories of devotion and love and its blessings, stories of prayers offered and wonders wrought-miracles duly recorded, investigated and given credence by church authorities, all received through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, revered in so many of her images, invoked under her different names.[22]

Catalino Arevalo also commented about how visitors from Europe going through the city of Manila, and through many other towns in the evenings during the Spanish times, were amazed upon hearing the rosary recited in every house they passed. On barges and in boats bringing people from place to place, travelers would sing hymns to Our Lady, and pray the Hail Mary’s of the rosary through much of the journey.[23] At daybreak, the town’s leaders and its students would gather at the church for the Angelus and rosary, and on given days, the Mass. In the afternoons, as the day was ending, once again, the Angelus and the rosary, with practically everyone among the townsfolk participating. Before the families slept at their homes for the night, before the church doors shut for the day, there would be devotions once again, ending (as the canonical hours do) with hymns to the Mother of God, the Salve Regina above all.[24]

Ang Mahal na Birhen also affirms the early Filipinos’ warm reception to Mary.  The Filipinos’ warm reception to Mary during the Spanish times was shown through the establishment of many religious and lay orders and sodalities dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mid-eighteenth century:

“[T]he first Filipino congregation for religious women, dedicated from its beginning to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Philippines, popularly known as Religious of the Virgin Mary … the Barangay Sang Birhen, the Sodality of Our Lady, the Legion of Mary, the Association of the Children of Mary Immaculate, are [all] fruits of the same devotion and have contributed in their own way to the development of Christian life in the Archipelago.”[25]

While Zafe and Arevalo positively described Filipino’s warm reception to Mary during the Spanish times, however, they never linked it with the Filipino’s inchoate religiosity and archetypal worship of mother goddess. Could it be that the feminine principle of Filipino indigenous spirituality prepared them for the warm acceptance of Mary during the Spanish evangelization? Zafe and Arevalo are silent about this.

Gaspar, on the other hand, asserts that the native’s indigenous worship of a Mother Goddess transferred to a Marian devotion during the Spanish times, like the case of Nuestra Seňora de Peňafrancia, known as Ina throughout the Bicol region.[26]  Sapitula concurs with Gaspar by asserting that the story of the devotion of Bicolanos to Nuestra Seňora de Peňafrancia shows how the local population re-appropriated conventional Marian symbols within their own cultural notions, despite attempts by Spanish missionaries to “domesticate” her according to their own categories of passivity (see Brewer 2001).[27]

Sapitula further expounds that the veneration of images of Christ, Mary and the saints became the replacement for the pre-conquest practice of worshipping larawans (animist images). The predisposition toward iconic representations of divine power enabled the local population to identify with Christian images as replacements of their pre-conquest divinities, as these were absorbed into their existing indigenous sacral iconography (Mojares 2002).[28] Similarly, the Spanish missionaries found great potential in the work of babaylans in propagating devotion to Mary. The missionaries effectively attributed the work of Babaylan the meaning of Marian beliefs. They substituted pagan practices done by babaylans with devotion to the Virgin May but serving the same function.  An example of this is recounted by the Jesuit missionary chronicler Pedro Chirino:

A plague of locusts had been doing great damage in the island for two years.  In order to obtain from God a remedy for this evil, they chose the most holy Virgin Mary as their intercessor, and made a vow to celebrate the feast of her most pure Conception, and to give on that occasion liberal alms as aid for the marriages of the poor and the orphans.  They fulfilled their promises, and our Lord received their humble service, showing them that He was well pleased by turning aside the locusts from their crops, and giving them that year very abundant harvests.  All the people of the village have now directed to the Church that recourse and dependence which they formerly had on the ministers of the devil.[29]

When the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help arrived in the Philippines in 1906, profound affection to Mary was already deeply ingrained in the Filipino consciousness. Filipino’s affection to Mary during the Spanish times rooted in their inchoate religiosity and archetypal worship of mother goddess made easier for the formation of devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Despite that Our Mother of Perpetual Help is different from the images and statues of Mary they venerated during the Spanish times, Filipinos embraced the icon as it appealed to them as the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Filipinos’ devotion to Mary has contributed greatly to sustaining the Catholic faith in the Philippines. Ang Mahal na Birhen recognizes this important reality. Mary has been, and remains, a central inspiring force among the masses of our people in “the preservation of our Catholic Faith, and the principle of deeper and fuller evangelization”[30]

I have personally witnessed this many times when I gave missions to the people living in far flung areas. Attending mass was practically impossible for them. The only means that sustain their spiritual hunger is their devotion to Mary through the rosary, processions and the novena. Even where religious instruction among Catholics is inadequate, the Filipino always holds on to the devotion to Mary as a source of inspiration and an aid to salvation.  This devotion, even in an imperfect form is a positive asset that we pray will always be ours.[31]

Conclusion

There is a profound source for the warm affection of the Filipinos to Mary. The wellspring of Filipinos’ affection for Mary is rooted from their indigenous culture and religiosity.  God has planted in the hearts of the Filipino the love and affection for Mary even before the Redemptorist arrived in the Philippines in 1906; even before the icon was brought to their homes and even before the novena was prayed in the churches of Redemptorist and all the churches in the Philippines.

Today devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the most popular Marian devotion in the Philippines.

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[1] The expression, “Pueblo amante de Maria” were originally words found in a Eucharistic hymn (written in 1937) often sung in the Philippines when Spanish was more understood than it is at present: “a people devoted to Mary, a people who love Mary.” See Catalino G. Arevalo, S.J., Mary in Philippine Catholic Life, Landas 14 (2000): 106-116, 106.

[2] PCP-II, #153.

[3] Fr. Sam Boland, CSsR, Redemptorist in Luzon

[4] Ang Mahal na Birhen: Mary in Philippine Life Today, A Pastoral Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary,

Manila: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 1975, #3.

[5] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #13

[6] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #6

[7] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #7.

[8] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #14

[9] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #15

[10] Enriquez, V.G.  (1994).  Indigenous psychology and culture.  Nasa:  Pagbabagong dangal :  Indigenous

psychology and cultural movement.  Quezon City :  Akademya ng kultura at sikolohiyang Pilipino.

[11] Yabut, “Apung Mamacalulu,” 2-3.

[12] Sevilla, J.C. (1982). Filipino religious psychology: A commentary. Nasa R. Pe-Pua (pat.), Sikolohiyang

Pilipino: Teorya, Metodo at Gamit. [pp. 306-314]. Lungsod Quezon: University of the Philippines

Press.

[13] Mercado, L. (1977) Retrospect:  Some comments on Filipino religious psychology.    Nasa L. Mercado (pat).  Filipino Religious Psychology:  Kumprensyang Rehiyonal sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino (pp180-188).  Tacloban City:  Divine Word University Publications.

[14] Karl Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion: The Specific Place of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon-Novena in the Philippines’ Varied Marian Devotions,6.

[15] Sapitula, 97.

[16] Sapitula, 98.

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babaylan

[18] Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 11.

[19] Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines, 150.

[20] Pedro Vasquez Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines [Dissertation presented to the Faculty of Sacred Theology]. Rome: Pontifical University of Saint Thomas, 1968, 154.

[21] Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines, 105-17.

[22] Zafe, Marian Devotion: Its Role in the Evangelization of the Philippines, 105-17.

[23] Arevalo, S.J., “Mary in Philippine Catholic Life,” 110.

[24] Arevalo, S.J., “Mary in Philippine Catholic Life,” 109.

[25] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #21

[26] Gaspar, Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion, 14.

[27] Sapitula, 110.

[28] Sapitula, 103-104.

[29] Pedro Chirino, SJ., Relaciόn de las Islas Filipinas y de lo que en ellas han trabajado los Padres de la Compaňia de Jesŭs (2nd ed.; Manila, 1890), 74 – 78.  Taken from John Shumacher, SJ., Readings in Philippine History, Quezon: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979, 76, #43

[30] Ang Mahal na Birhen, 72-73.

[31] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #63.

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)

 

How to Pray the Novena at Home

family_novena2

Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is usually prayed in the shrine at Baclaran or in your local parish every Wednesday. Novena is a communal devotion not a private or individual devotion, thus, this is a prayer done with fellow devotees.

If there is a serious reason that you are not able to attend the novena at the shrine or in your local parish, like you are sick or some very important circumstances prevented you from attending the novena, then you can pray the novena at home.

Here are some important directions to praying the novena at home:

  1. Place an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon at the altar of your home. Adorn it with candles and some flowers.
  2. Prepare the novena booklets. You can download a copy of the new Revised 2016 novena @ http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf
  3. Invite your whole family or mates at home in praying the novena.
  4. Appoint a prayer leader to lead the prayers and hymns of the novena.
  5. Give some time for silence to contemplate or gaze at the icon during the novena.
  6. If you have not yet done so, consecrate the whole family to Our Mother of Perpetual Help before the novena or at a different time. You can download a copy of the Consecration @ http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/pagtatalaga-ng-pamilya-sa-omph.pdf
  7. You can omit in the novena the Benediction prayers and hymns since you are doing the novena at home but you can pray the prayer for the sick. Then conclude the novena with the hymn, Hail Mary …

family_novena

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

How to Pray the Novena at the Shrine

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Novena is the traditional and popular prayer that the thousands of devotees recite and sing together every Wednesday at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. Although, the Novena is the main attraction for the thousands of devotees, it is essentially linked to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation. Thus, attending Eucharist and receiving communion and making a good confession is an essential part of praying the novena. Writing letters of petitions and thanksgiving is also an essential part of the novena.

Here are the instructions for praying the novena in the shrine:

  1. Attend the Perpetual Novena devotions to our Mother of Perpetual Help for nine consecutive Wednesdays. Check out the schedule of the Novena and Masses every Wednesday at the shrine @ http://www.baclaranchurch.org/home.html
  2. Bring your novena booklet with you and join in the prayers and hymns.
  3. Before or after the Novena make a good confession.
  4. Write your petition to our Blessed Mother and place it in the box marked, “Petitions.”
  5. Do not leave after the novena. At the conclusion of the Novena there may be Benediction or Holy Mass.  
  6. Attend the Eucharist and receive Holy Communion as often as possible.
  7. When your petition has been answered, write a letter of thanksgiving to our Blessed Mother and place it in the box marked, “Thanksgiving Letters”, so that others also may be inspired to experience God’s perpetual help through the prayers of our Blessed Mother.

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(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)