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Salubong: An Easter morning Mother-and-Child reunion

Jes Aznar / AFP

Joanne McPortland - published on 04/15/17

Scripture may be silent about the first thing Jesus did after the resurrection, but Filipino Catholics know he went to see his Mom, of course!

The Scriptures are mostly silent about Mary during Jesus’ Passion and after his resurrection. Only John’s Gospel has her present at the crucifixion, when Jesus entrusts her to the care of the Beloved Disciple. The Acts of the Apostles mentions that Mary was with the apostles in the upper room after Jesus had returned to his Father.

Many familiar depictions of Mary’s last sorrowful journey with her son – her tearful meeting with him on the Via Dolorosa, as portrayed in the traditional Fourth Station of the Cross; her swoon of grief at his death, like a mockery of childbirth, as seen in Rogier van der Weyden’s “Descent from the Cross”; the tender and terrible embrace of the Pietá – come from religious imagination and our own human experience of a mother’s loss.

The same is true for what our hearts and souls insist must have been the reunion of Mother and Son on the morning of the third day. The Gospels provide us with the Risen Christ’s first appearances to his beloved friends and followers – Mary Magdalene, the apostles, the disciples bound for Emmaus. But perhaps no words could capture the meeting of Jesus with his mother, her heart pierced this time by the exquisite sword of joy.

Despite the lack of scriptural basis, the Risen Christ’s meeting with his Mother has become a vital part of Easter celebrations in the Philippines and among Filipino Catholics in the United States. The meeting is reenacted in an elaborate ceremony called Salubong (Tagalog for “welcome”) staged in the hours before dawn on Easter morning.

Two processions form in the streets around the parish church, coming from opposite directions. The men and boys carry a life-sized figure of the Risen Christ, bearing the banner of victory over death. The women and girls carry a life-sized figure of Mary, dressed in black and covered with the traditional lambong, a head-to-toe black lace mourning veil. (In some Filipino parishes, the Good Friday liturgy ends with a procession through the surrounding streets, bearing a cross and the figure of the crucified Jesus on a bier, followed closely by the image of his mournful Mother. The two figures are placed in the Chapel of Repose through Holy Saturday.)

The two Salubong processions wind through the streets, accompanied by prayers and singing, until they converge in front of the church. There, an “angel” (usually a young girl suspended from on high inside a large paper flower) lifts Mary’s mourning veil, and the two figures are brought together, their bearers running, to embrace. A children’s choir leads the “Hallelujah” chorus. Bands break into festive music, sometimes accompanied by fireworks, and the people cheer, laugh loudly, and make exaggerated funny faces to show that the power of death and grief has been defeated. After a time of celebration, all make their way into the church for Easter Mass at Dawn.

There is a similar custom in some Italian towns, acted as a solemn tableau rather than a procession. As for why Filipinos have so thoroughly embraced the notion of the joyful Salubong reunion, Ronald Subida, a local organizer in the Manila district of Makati, put it this way:

“It is actually initiated by the Church,” Subida said. He added that the Salubong is a manifestation of the value Filipinos place on family.“The Filipino psyche (kasi) has this tradition of the son being attached to his mother always. In the Philippines, the first person you run to is always your mother,” he explained.“The Salubong is based on that belief that the first thing Jesus did after he was resurrected was go to the Blessed Mother.”
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