Hundreds of Filipino villagers donning capes of banana leaves covered themselves in mud Friday in a ritual to thank their patron saint, John the Baptist, who they believe saved residents from killings by Japanese invaders in World War II.
CHR Comment: A fascinating memorial for an event in World War II. This festival might be studied as an example of how unusual religious rituals develop from actual events and convey meaning to the community of believers. Additionally, what will happen with this festival over time? How might it develop and grow to express new interests and concerns of the church in the Philippines?
For example, we know that the Lord’s Supper or Mass started out as a family memorial meal for Passover, which ancient Israelites regarded as historical and miraculous. Jesus transformed the Passover meal in His Passover prayers of thanksgiving, telling His disciples that the bread and the wine were His body and blood, and distributing them for the forgiveness of their sins. The disciples made this private family meal into a semi-public church meal, which became known as the agape feast. Members of the churches would bring food for a fellowship meal that included the rite of the Lord’s Supper. The Passover was transformed from an annual event into a weekly event at the center of the Christians’ worship. Additions were made to the rite, such as a cup of milk and honey that symbolized the blessings and abundance in Christ and the Promised Land (heaven). As the churches grew, church leaders likely found it difficult for congregations to host an entire meal for large crowds of people. So they stripped the meal of practices that they regarded as nonessential. The focus of the meal now rested fully on the consecrated bread and cup and the prayers that surrounded the consecration. These transformations of the rite took place over a few hundred years, inspired church musicians, visual artists, and church fathers to explain theologically what was taking place in the ritual.