By: Msgr. Jose Clemente F. Ignacio
Editor’s Note: This article is from a talk given by the author during the National Liturgical Congress held on April 12, 2012 at San Carlos Seminary, Guadalupe, Makati City.
Before I begin this talk, I wish to express in all honesty, that I am not qualified to give this talk. The best speaker to give this would be a devotee himself. Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, DD said: “To understand the devotee, you have to be a devotee. Only a devotee could best understand a devotee.” However, Father Genaro Diwa requested me to share something. He saw the importance of discussing this devotion, especially its spirituality, because of the faith experience of many of our countrymen.
I remember Father Catalino Arévalo, SJ saying, “Looking at how deeply devoted the people are to the Black Nazarene, we can really say, it is real and the people’s devotion is an authentic faith experience!” It is because of this I am compelled to share the little that I have gathered about this devotion.
Many people have been asking me: “Why are there so many people becoming a part of this devotion? Why is this devotion growing?” Please allow me to respond to these questions on two levels. First, I will provide some insights from a socio-anthropological and pastoral level. Second, I will give some reflections from a theological and spiritual level. But, before we expound on these, please allow me to surface views in the past regarding popular religiosity and its effect on our understanding of this devotion.
Popular religiosity in the past was considered “outside” of the normally acceptable and universally approved Church practices. It was not “encouragingly given” its place in the approved cultic celebrations of our Church. These have affected our interest and understanding of the devotion as well as our search for a spirituality associated with the devotion.
Father Arévalo has been encouraging a research on the spirituality of the Black Nazarene devotion. There is a lack of studies regarding this. He observed that popular religiosity today is one of the most powerful occasions where people are able to connect with their faith. Through popular religiosity, many families encounter God and are enlivened in their faith.
Grace abounds in popular religious devotions as testified through the reported healings, miracles, answered prayers, and conversions. “If we do not ‘catch’ this,” according to Father Arévalo, “grace might pass by our Church. We might lose the opportunity for evangelization and waste the gifts God is offering to us.”
Towards a Socio-Anthropological and Pastoral Understanding
The Traslacion is the high point of the devotion. On January 9, most of the devotees come to Quiapo Church to join the long procession from Luneta. The Traslacion of the Black Nazarene can be viewed as a “pilgrimage experience.” Two sociologists, Victor and Edith Turner, could help us understand this experience. They saw pilgrimages as following a basic framework known as the “rite of passage.” They borrowed this from Arnold Van Gennep. Early tribal societies would undergo rites of passage where young men are taken from their families and communities, undergo an experience of initiation and circumcision, and then return as different persons, as no longer children but young men, young adults. Van Gennep further saw that “rites of passage” includes three phases: first, separation phase; second, the liminal phase; and third, the aggregation phase.
This is a paradigm we can use for our socio-pastoral understanding of the Traslacion. The key is the point of “liminality.” This is the point where the pilgrims experience distance and release from mundane structures and institutions where they are placed with their assigned roles and statuses in society. During the “limen,” they reach the threshold in and out of time. It is here that they receive “liberation,” undergoing a direct experience of the sacred, either in the material aspect of miraculous healing or in the immaterial aspect of inward transformation of spirit and personality.
In the history of Christianity, the Turners observed that as monasticism assumed much of the liminal experience, ordinary lay peasants and citizens generated their own liminality which was the pilgrimage experience. All the sites they went to have one thing in common—they were believed to be holy places where miracles happen and where prayers were heard.
This is the reason pilgrims keep coming back. The cleansing, the bonding, the liberation, the experienced closeness with the divine, the “touching of heaven”—this is a kind of a personal “transfiguration.” The paradigm underlying all Christian pilgrimages is really the Via Crucis. With all its purgatorial elements, which serve as the form of penance and prayer, it initiates us into the Paschal mystery of Christ.
While the monastics made interior salvific journeys, the lay people, who were in the world, exteriorized theirs in pilgrimages. It was their great quasi-liminal experience, an exteriorized mysticism according to the Turners. The secret about Christian pilgrimages is the inward movement of the heart, an intensifying experience of one’s faith and religion. It is a voluntary acceptance to undergo the paschal mystery of Christ.
At the liminal stage in the pilgrimage, heaven starts to open up; symbols become meaningful. Awe, reverence, and silence manifest one’s disposition to receive the imprint of the sacred in his/her life. “Bonding, cleansing, healing, and joy are the fruits of coming home to the life of the Trinity.”
A Glimpse into the Spirituality Underneath the Devotion
We have not yet encountered in-depth studies on the spirituality of the Black Nazarene devotion. The growing popularity of this devotion directs us to a “goldmine” of theological wealth beneath what we are experiencing. The people already sense this. Literally speaking, “What the theologians cannot yet see with the eyes of reason can already be seen in the poor people’s eyes of faith.” Maybe, we could first begin by asking: “What kind of spirituality can help us understand this faith?”
To understand more about the spirituality of the devotee, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales proposes to try to look at Mary who could best help us look at Jesus. Mary was from Nazareth. Is there such a thing as a “Nazarean spirituality”?
Mary’s poverty, simplicity, humility, patience, prayerfulness, compassion, love for children, her longing to be with Christ especially on the cross—these traits are evident among the devotees of the Black Nazarene.
The best way to know the Son is through the eyes of the Mother! Please allow me to share some random thoughts and observations about possible contents of this “Marian or Nazarean” spirituality.
There is still a lot to be learned. The priests in Quiapo, after several years of ministering to the people, realize that we are just beginning to understand the devotees. We are asking, “What kind of spirituality do Filipino devotees have? Have we understood them well enough and guided them properly? Have we communicated to the devotees properly?”
We understand the apprehensions of our brothers in the ministry, because we ourselves have not fully understood the depths of this devotion. And admittedly, when emotions run too high without reason, fanaticism sets in. There are elements in the practice of the devotion that still need to be purified. But we appeal to our brothers in the ministry to work hand in hand in guiding these groups of devotees in their parishes. Bring them into the care of their parish communities and catechize them.
However, we first need to learn about and understand this devotion. We can learn more about it if we are willing to take off our shoes and kneel, to be touched and to bow. Only then will we see the beauty of the faith we have received from Christ in the wonderful eyes of the Filipino anawim.
***Monsignor Jose Clemente F. Ignacio graduated from San Jose Seminary in 1991 and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Manila in the same year. He has served the Church of Manila as parish priest, chancellor, and oeconomus. He also became a part-time professor and formator in Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro City. He used to be the past rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila and now serves as Vicar General and Moderator Curia of the Archdiocese of Manila.***