This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, which commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. During Palm Sunday Mass, parishioners carry palms in a ritual procession into the church. Many parishes have integrated various creative elements and contextualizations into this procession. Baclaran shrine is no exception. One memorable, albeit hilarious, incident of this kind of “creative contextualization” happened during the Palm Sunday celebrations in the shrine in 1974. This is narrated to us by the late Fr. John Maguire, CSsR.
On a Palm Sunday in 1974, April 7th a large crowd witnessed an event that left them spellbound and with a real feeling of what Palm Sunday was all about.
The actors in the event were a zealous and creative priest, a man who made his living selling “fireworks” and a white horse. The priest was Fr. Vincent Warren who was then the Prefect of the Baclaran Church. He was a man of great ideas and lots of creativity. He had planned for many weeks for the Holy Week ceremonies and had decided that he should try to imitate the real events of the first Palm Sunday.
It was not easy to find a colt, (a young horse) or a young donkey but someone told him that there was a big white horse in Tondo which had featured in many movies, was unbelievably tame, and could be depended on to remain calm in any type of situation.
The man selling “fireworks” was just an ordinary vendor of “fireworks” who, for a reasonable fee, would guarantee to produce the right effect at the right time.
And so on the 7th April 1974, Palm Sunday, they all came together for the big event. The horse arrived early and showed all the qualities for which it was renowned. It was completely unfazed by the crowds of people and even let little children touch it. It was slightly surprised when the tall six-foot priest appeared in a huge red Cope (liturgical cape) wearing a crown like a king, however, it remembered its breeding and pretended not to notice.
The priest tried to mount the horse and for a while the horse resisted but eventually it agreed and at last Fr.Warren was seated in glory on the white horse in cape and crown ready to head for Jerusalem (or at least the church door). Everybody was thrilled and full of excitement.
The “fireworks” vendor remembered that he was supposed to let off the fireworks at the appropriate time. This was surely the appropriate time. He got a Kuwitis (sky rocket) and lit it. Unfortunately, he was situated about two meters behind the horse. Swoo-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh boom!!!!!
The horse rose on his back legs and started to urinate. The priest “gracefully” slid down the horses back over his tail and was caught by a few kind people standing by. Everybody laughed until their ribs hurt.
Sometime later the priest and the horse were seen heading for the church door side by side. Everyone said that it was the most memorable Palm Sunday since the first.
John Maguire, CSsR