Midnight Mass on the Eve of Easter marked the first time since the horrific War in the Pacific had ended in 1946, that an Easter Mass was being celebrated publicly in the evening,
The Japanese had taken particular delight in the mistreatment and maltreatment of Filipinos during the war. Manila was the Pearl of the Orient, the capital of the American Empire. Under MANIFEST DESTINY, Presidents McKinley and his successor Theodore Roosevelt had set their sights on the Philippines, then a colony of a ruined and self-destructive Spain.
The principal reason was to thwart Japan’s expansionism and hegemony in the Pacific. America badly needed a colony in a strategic area of the Pacific. The Philippines was perfect. A population of twenty million souls with a high rate of literacy, higher than their South. Its position in the Malacca Straits meant that its dominion of the Straits constituted an important first step towards the American Empire. Being clever men, the American Rulers did not fail to see the vast natural resources. Sugar, gold, hemp, tobacco, cotton, pearls and copper. Then there was the most precious of all resources – the Filipinos themselves. All this and it was a Christian country too!!
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan had witnessed first hand the horror of several hundred thousand corpses burnt and fried by radiation in a matter of seconds. The Japanese forces in the Philippines not only continued to fight on, they turned as brutal as they could towards the brave-hearted Filipinos who battled on in the swamps, mountains, rain forests and boondocks (boondocks) The Japanese executed 400 Filipinos for every Japanese killed by the Guerillas, They grieved but continued their struggle.
The liberation of Manila was a mass slaughter. The American forces had to take it room by room, forget house to house. Manila bore the brunt of the ugliness and inevitable Death of War.
Monsignor Enio Alberti and the Catholic Church in the Philippines as well as its most enlightened political, business and cultural leaders decided that the Celebration of Holy Saturday would be a genuine act of moving forward and looking ahead rather than turning constantly back to their irreplaceable loved ones and unspeakable anguish.
"As Manila goes so will the rest of the archipelago,” declared the Monsignor in his apostolic letter to the Bishops in the Philippine Dioceses.
In an unspoken but eloquent gesture, the people of Manila had accepted the challenge and their attendance at this High Mass in Latin was the proof.
Dona Esperanza slowly walked down the central nave if the Church of San Beda (Saint Bede) Her son and daughter-in law and then her daughters with their husbands in tow came closely behind. The Hakka Amahs held the hands of their respective "children".
Dona Esperanza had given them the choice of staying at home in their cozy beds and enjoying their well deserved sleep or coming with her, in other words no choice at all.
“Thank you, my Dona. I speak for us all. Even if we are a bit tired. We not miss this event for our Hakka people suffer and die too in Manila,” Ah Wei had replied.
“I have never seen so many people, there must be thousands inside and outside San Beda, marveled Dona Esperanza.
The thousands stretched from E. Mendiola Street where the Benedictine monks to honor Saint Bede, the learned and erudite monk, all the way to Aviles Street, had built San Beda Church in the early 17th century. The people stood before the locked gates of the Presidential Palace – Malacanang. It had been the official residence of most of the Spanish Governor- Generals who had ruled the 3,700 plus islands in the name of the King. The American military Governors had picked the splendidly white marbled Malacanang as their residence as well. They governed in the name of the President, Theodore Roosevelt, an imperial and illuminated political leader.
Giant loudspeakers placed atop trucks laden with heavily armed soldiers to enable the masses of faithful on the streets to follow the Mass inside San Beda. The leaders of the Philippine communities and its religious leaders led by the Nuncio feared terrorist attacks by the Marxist guerillas. Hence the soldiers armed to the teeth.
It was a joint military exercise. American soldiers could be spotted armed with rifles and telescopic sights standing on armored tanks.
“We are at peace? I would like to know from what and from whom. The war never ended. This is just called by another name – the Cold War. I think it is even more deadly than the one we have just survived. Helpless and Innocent people are being murdered in this War with the ugly name - Cold War. God help us,” prayed Esperanza.
“San Beda looks intimidating,” whispered Lucrezia.
“It’s scary,” agreed Zita.
Few candles were lit inside the church. The Faithful used flashlights to find their seats.
“It’s like scenes from the movies,” remarked several voices.
“Ssh. Quiet. “ Unseen voices murmured.
“I think they may be right. This is a form of spectacle,” said Esperanza softly.
“It’s a sacred spectacle Mamma,” affirmed Matthias, eldest son of Esperanza.
‘The waiting is the worst part,” stated Allegra, her youngest daughter, mother of Zita and Freckie.
‘Why did we come so early? “ Asked a perplexed Freckie.
"Cuz…Monsignor Alberti decided not to allow reserved seats for any of the VIPs."
“That would be our family and others like us,” pointed out Dolly.
“It’s first come, first served,” explained Heinzie.
Lucrezia turned her head slowly. Her pupils had by now adjusted themselves to the blackness, but she had difficulty making out the outlines of the altar of gold facing her. The gold glistened.
“Ahhh, that will guide me,” observed Lucrezia.
The Blessed Sacrament – the golden chalice holding the sacred host, which symbolically was both the body and blood of Jesus, was not exposed. There was a larger and more opulent chalice on the altar, but it was empty. The fragments of light striking it from the dome reminded the faithful it must be so.”
Multitudes terrorized her. “Since the ambush in the blue and green hills of Montalban, floods of people make me feel faint. It seems as if elephants are sitting on my chest. If I keep on thinking about it, I shall surely pass out. I must not and I won’t,” resolved Lucrezia.
She turned towards Ah Wei and clutched her hand. “Terrible and sad visions are appearing before my eyes. Why don’t we recite the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary? (It dealt with the Passion and agony of Christ.)
“Child, you always forget. I pray in Hakka,”Ah Wei reminds her softly. “Bad memories must never crush you. You are never alone.”
Lucrezia sighed deeply. The darkness, the tumult, the roar of the masses of faithful praying sends icicles through her arms, chest and legs.
“Dear Jesus. Dear Guardian Angel Mahasiah who forms part of the chorus of the Seraphim – the Archangel Metatron, help me please. Remove my fears “
She closed her eyes and repeated over and over until she no longer felt her heart beating in her chest and her breath was slow and faint. She let the calmness descend over her.
A symphony of small bells suddenly began ringing. Dozens of altar boys in white carried them and rang them as they walked down the three aisles of the Church towards the Altar. A lone acolyte carrying a candle preceded them and lit the way for Monsignor Alberti. He wore dazzling orange vestments and he was carrying the sacred Chalice containing the body and blood of Christ to bring it back to its rightful place. On Holy Thursday and Good Friday it is removed from the altar.
The High Mass in Latin was about to initiate.
“Porca Miseria, dirty filthy Misery,” swore the Monsignor. He had tripped over a handbag, which had been thoughtlessly left in the aisle. No one took a breath. Even those who did not understand Italian could tell from the tone of his voice that he had tripped. He recovered his composure quickly and proceeded ramrod straight to the central altar.
“Introibi ad altare Dei,” I will go into the altar of God,” he intoned in his fine baritone voice.
“Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam,” replied the faithful.
“It means To God who is the joy of my youth,” Matt translated in a loud whisper for the benefit of is nephews and nieces.
“I know, thank you Uncle Matthias,” Lucrezia whispered back.
“Show off,” said Freckie standing with his parents Allegra and Armand in the pew in front of her.
“Silence,” ordered Dona Esperanza.
The High Mass was being sung entirely in Latin, except for the sermon or homily, which Monsignor always kept short, sweet and to the point. The choir was composed of some of the country’s finest sopranos and tenors.
“It’s electrifying. I have been transported somewhere else. As long as I live, I will never forget this moment,” mused Lucrezia as tears of joy and sadness rained down her face.
Freckie continued to fidget.” He is like those children in the Middle Ages who had been bitten by the tarantula spider. Their nervous systems induced them to move jerkily. In Spain and in Italy it was known as Saint Vitus’s dance,” said Camilla, Lucrezia’s mother.
Aunt Allegra swatted him lightly with her gilded fan. Freckie went on.
“Let us all ignore him,” suggested Dona Esperanza gruffly.
“Frightful Freckie has finally done it. We are embarrassed and mortified. Gran’s right. We must pay no attention,” reasoned Lucrezia.
“Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” Glory to God in the Highest.” proclaimed Monsignor.
And then there was Light once again the Universe. San Beda’s massive chandeliers blinded the faithful with light. They lit the candles which they had all brought with them and sang with the choir,” And on earth peace to men of good will.”
The reason why Saturday of Glory or Holy Saturday was so portentous to the early Christian converts as well as to the Roman, Catholic, Apostolic and Universal Church was because Jesus’ spirit and soul on that night between midnight and dawn of Easter descended into Hell. Some call it the blackness, the Satanic Hole and the dwelling of the Luciferian forces.
Jesus’ death had released many of the condemned. They could accompany him back into the forces of Light if they had once been human. They could once again join the Legions of Angels, if they had once been cast down into the bowels of the earth.
To enjoy eternal life they had to do two things.
“Forgive me Lord for my sin of pride. I believe in you as my Savior.”
The lights suddenly appeared in Aviles and e. Mendiola Street. The huge spotlights on the trucks turned midnight into daylight. The thousands shut their eyes for a few seconds.
“The Gospel on Easter Sunday is the longest ever. It takes about twenty minutes, because it recounts the passion and the agony of Christ as well as his Resurrection. Let us steel ourselves. The faithful realize they have now entered the first few minutes of Easter Sunday,” mused Dona Esperanza.
Monsignor Alberti did not ascend the steep steps into the pulpit to read the long Gospel. He steps down from the altar, and walks among the faithful. This is the first time the people have ever witnessed this.
The long wires of the microphones are smoothed out for him, as technicians try to follow him unobtrusively. All three national radio and television networks are broadcasting this important Easter mass.
“There’s our own DZRH,” pointed out Matt proudly.
Monsignor Alberti adjusted the height of the microphones and begun reading from the longest Gospel in the Easter Mass taken from John the Apostle.
They listened so quietly even the nervous coughing and clearing of throats ceased as if by divine intervention. When he had finished, he closed the golden missal of the New Testament. He gazed at all the faces around him.
"Happy Easter, Maligayang Pasko, and Felices Pascuas,” he boomed in English, Filipino and Spanish.
His greetings had stunned the people. For a few seconds they did not know hot to react.
“Well? Are you not going to wish me a Happy Easter too?”
“Happy Easter,” replied the thousands gaily.
“Louder please. His Holiness would like to hear a special and affectionate greeting from the only Catholic country in Asia. Ready? One, Two, Three. Go!”
Wave after wave of thunderous roars swept the church and the streets. “Happy Easter Monsignor. Happy Easter Holy Father!”
He waited serenely for another 15 minutes until the thunder abated. Then he went on. “Listen to me. You all know after all the years I have spent with you in the Philippines that I am not one for long and wordy sermons. I don’t like to preach to the faithful. The Resurrection of Jesus is about renewal. It is also about change. Jesus means eternal Life, Hope and Love. Many of you here present or watching us on television or listening on the radio must remember the Easter Sunday of 1946. There was Death, Devastation and some of you felt Despair. The stench of death never left our nostrils. Until June, masses of corpses kept being recovered from the ruins and the rubble. You allowed Jesus to take hold of your hearts and souls. Suddenly you felt joy even as you sobbed in grief. Despair had fled. You pulled up your shirtsleeves and began to remove piece by piece the signs of destruction. Manila was struck so horribly; many ruins are still among us.
“The Resurrection of Jesus gave you there-assurance that you would someday be reunited withal your dead. Jesus reminds us constantly that we should always look ahead, to our future and to our children and the future of our children’s children and so on…ad infinitum. This is timeless. I am talking about a future for all, rich, middleclass and poor. Those of you who think the poor want handouts and charity are wrong. Then, I must say that you don’t really know the poor. They want to work. They want jobs where they can give value for value. I pray that you will leave this celebration of Life and Light with the Love of Jesus, therefore with the love of your fellow men in your thoughts and deeds. This is not easy to do. Not for those listening neither to me, nor for me as I speak these words. Those of you, who can kneel, please do so now. The rest of you, please remain standing. I promise you the Lord understands. I am about to bestow His Holiness, Pope Pius Xll’s papal blessing on the Philippines.”
Iit was a very moving scene. Filipinos made room for each other so that many of them could kneel on the pavement and on the streets for the blessing. The soldiers laid down their rifles. Those standing on tanks descended and knelt on the ground.
Monsignor raised his hands and then made the Sign of the Cross. “In the name of the Father, the Son ad the Holy Spirit. Amen." He raised his arms once again.
“May Jesus bless each and every one of those present at this celebration of Easter; all of you who are devoutly listening by your radios wherever you are in the Archipelago, all who are patiently watching on television. The men and women in the prisons and in the jails. The beloved lepers in our own colony of Culion, a thousand miles from Manila. May Jesus bless those suffering from tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever and meningitis and polio. Dear Jesus, bless the urchins peddling gum and cigarettes who have dropped out of school to help out their poor parents. May Jesus bless Tondo (a notorious slum) Remember Chinatown, where many pious Chinese work and live according to your tenets. May Jesus enlighten the misguided and duped terrorist Marxist and Communist guerillas that are devastating our country-side.
“Our own Manila has risen from the ashes, like a Holy Phoenix. The Pearl of the Orient no longer exists. But let us not forget that Manila is blessed with an incomparable moon shaped bay. The city has a potential to bea turquoise or even a sapphire. We beg Jesus to bless all the Philippine islands. May she bloom, thrive and grow. Thank you and Salamat." (the Filipino word taken from the Arab Salaam for thank you).
In a strong and beautiful voice Monsignor chanted, ”Ite Missa est.” The Mass is ended. Go in peace.