OUR parish at 5 a.m. today observed the old Easter Sunday tradition of Salubong. It began with the procession of our grieving Mother Mary’s image in black (starting from the gate of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary’s orphanage and day care center called Little Mary’s Home), which is just next door to our house. The counterpart procession, led by the image of \our Risen Lord, began from the gate of the Quismorio residence many opposite blocks away.
The two processions follow the hundred-years-old traditional play celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord and His meeting with—before anyone else—Our Mother Mary.
The two processions of faithful praying and singing hymns, meet at point not far from our parish church—the front gate of the Reparatrix Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Women are in the procession that has the image of Blessed Mother Mary dressed and veiled in black. Males are in the procession of the image of the Risen Christ.
When the two processions meet, a girl dressed as angel descends as if from the sky to lift the black veil covering the image of Holy Mother Mary.
As the veil is lifted, the participants in the processions erupt into songs of joy.
With the two processions melded, and the reunion between Our Lord and Our Blessed Virgin Mother Mary accomplished, there is folk dancing in the streets. Today, the dance here in Merville is called the Bati (Greeting) dance. It the joyful spirit that now pervades the Roman Catholic Church’s Easter Season upon the end of the painfully sorrowful days of Holy Week.
Then, once the procession has entered OLBL church, our young and hardworking parish priest, Fr. Leonard Dollentas, celebrates the first of the regular Masses according to the usual schedule that will be followed throughout the rest of the year.
Blessings for poverty-hobbled Philippines
The beautiful images on these pages show the Salubong held at the San Agustin Church last year. They show that we Filipino Catholics and our country are blessed with so many things (despite the extreme poverty and hard life of more than half our country’s population) that remind us that, like Jesus, True Man as he is True God, we will also surmount our sufferings as individual Filipino human beings and as a collective nation.
But only if we keep being as faithful to Almighty God as Jesus who had emptied himself of his powers and strengths as God the Son when He assumed total and genuine human-beingness.
The Salubong tradition is one of these blessings.
It is not only a spiritual boon to us.
It is even a cultural treasure, a part of our national heritage. Traditions, like the Salubong, which, thank God, are happily kept in many—maybe most—of our parish churches throughout the country, help make us Filipinos a distinct people.
In many parts of the world where there are large communities of Filipinos, migrants and OFWs celebrate the Salubong on Easter Sundays, and invigorate the diminishing parishes they belong to!
The tradition even helps the Philippine economy somewhat—for it attracts tourists.
A mild debate
What the Salubong traditional play depicts is something that some people, those who love arguments more than the joy of higher truths and analyses, put down for being absent from the Holy Bible.
The Salubong joyously commemorates the Resurrected Jesus Christ’s act of doing what a good son does—go and see first of all, and before anyone else, his grieving mother and console her and tell her that there is no reason for sorrow anymore—for her faith in his promise to conquer death has come true.
Indeed, the Holy Bible says in Mark 16:9: “But he rising early the first day of the week, appeared first to Mary Magdalen.” And the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to agree that the Resurrected Christ met Mary Magdalene first.
Therefore, is our Salubong tradition based on falsehood?
Not if we listen to great fathers of the Church, including St. Pope John Paul 2nd.
Now I will let a greater mind and truer spirit do the talking, Father Ryan Erlenbush of the New Theological Movement, who wrote on May 2, 2011, the admirably balanced article “Did Jesus appear first to his Mother after the Resurrection?” (Copyright 2011 The New Theological Movement).
But I will violate Fr. Ryan’s truly authoritative, just effort to be balanced. You have to go his website to read the full article. Here, I will only quote the parts that favor the answer “Yes” to the question posed by his article’s title.
Authority in favor of a prior apparition to our Lady From Father Erlenbush:
The Gospels relate that our Lord appeared first of all to St. Mary Magdalene (cf. Mark 16:9), but there is a tradition among many saints and theologians that prior to this apparition, the good Jesus had appeared to his Mother Mary.
Many Catholic writers will point to St. Ambrose (d. 397) as the first authority who affirms this prior apparition to our Lady—indeed, it seems that none before the Bishop of Milan had explicitly affirmed this belief. However, in fact, it is not likely that St. Ambrose truly affirmed it either. The passage most often cited in favor of a prior apparition to our Lady (taken from De virginitate, 3) is not speaking of Mary the Mother of God, but of Mary Magdalene. This can be made clear by another passage from St. Ambrose in which he claims the Magdalene to be the first witness of the Resurrection: “The woman was the first to taste the food of death; she is destined to be the first witness to the Resurrection. By proclaiming this mystery, she will atone for her fault; therefore is it that she, who heretofore had announced sin to man, was sent by the Lord to announce the tidings of salvation to men, and to make known to them his grace” (De Spiritu Sancto, 12; found in Dom Gueranger’s The Liturgical Year on “Thursday in Easter Week: Mass,” pg 247 of volume 7). The woman who is “the first witness to the Resurrection” is she who “was sent by the Lord to announce the tidings of salvation to men,” i.e. St. Mary Magdalene whom the Lord sent to speak to his apostles (cf. Luke 26). Thus, it is not at all clear that St. Ambrose may be invoked as an authority in favor of the tradition of a prior apparition to our Lady. [We do not claim that the holy Bishop explicitly rejected the tradition, but only that it is not clear that he was even aware of any such tradition – and it is worth noting that, in his own defense of the tradition, Blessed John Paul II does not invoke St. Ambrose as a witness]
Thus, the first clear witness to the tradition of a prior apparition comes from the 5th century poet Sedulius, about whom very little is known. The tradition is hardly apostolic, and does not seem to have been held with any great clarity or zeal until the early medieval period. However, from the medieval period forward, the saints and theologians are nearly unanimous in affirming a prior apparition to our Lady. Dom Prosper Gueranger cites numerous liturgical prayers and hymns (especially of the East), which affirm the tradition.
An impressive number of saints hold the tradition: Including Sts. Anselm, Albert the Great, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and Blessed John Paul II. There is a nearly unanimous consensus among that faithful that Christ our Lord appeared first of all to his Mother and then to Mary Magdalene. But this wide acceptance does not seem to be much more ancient than St. Anselm (d. 1109).
It seems that, once the tradition of a prior apparition to the Mother of God was proposed to the faithful, it was completely and universally accepted (or nearly so). While it is true that the tradition was not widely known or held in the early Church (or, at least, it does not seem that it was widely held); once the question was considered, nearly every member of the Church (from the popes to the lay faithful) thought it to be obvious that our Lord would have appeared first of all to Mary his Mother.
We may conclude with the words of Blessed John Paul II, delivered on 21 May 1997: “From this silence [i.e. from the fact that the Gospels do not relate an apparition to the Blessed Virgin], one must not deduce that Christ, after his Resurrection, did not appear to Mary. […] On the contrary, it is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared.” Still, the venerable pontiff has only stated that the tradition of an earlier apparition is possible, not that it must be believed by the faithful.
Theological arguments in favor of a prior apparition to our Lady
Again from Father Erlenbush:
Here we present the compelling argument of Dom Gueranger (which is similar or identical with that of nearly all the saints and theologians, including Blessed John Paul II):
“Meanwhile, our Risen Jesus has been seen by no mortal eye; He has sped to His most Holy Mother. He is the Son of God; He is the vanquisher of Death; but He is, likewise, the Son of Mary. She stood near him to the last, uniting the sacrifice of her mother’s heart with that He made upon the Cross: it is just, therefore, that she should be the first to partake of the joy of His Resurrection.
“The Gospel does not relate the apparition thus made by Jesus to his Mother, whereas all the others are fully described. It is not difficult to assign the reason. The other apparitions were intended as proofs of the Resurrection; this to Mary was dictated by the tender love borne to her by her Son. Both nature and grace required that His first visit should be to such a Mother, and Christian hearts dwell with delight on the meditation of the mystery.
There was no need of its being mentioned in the Gospel; the Tradition of the Holy Fathers, beginning with St. Ambrose, bears sufficient testimony to it; and even had they been silent, our hearts would have told it us.
“And why was it that our Savior rose from the Tomb so early on the Day He had fixed for His Resurrection? It was, because His filial love was impatient to satisfy the vehement longings of his dearest and most afflicted Mother. Such is the teaching of many pious and learned Writers; and who that knows aught of Jesus and Mary could refuse to accept it?” (from The Liturgical Year, vol. 7, “Easter Sunday: Morning”)
Blessed John Paul II adds, “The unique and special nature of the presence of the Virgin at Calvary and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross, seem to postulate a very particular participation on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection. [The Mother of God] was probably also a privileged witness to the Resurrection of Christ, in this way completing her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery.
Embracing the risen Jesus, Mary is, in addition, a sign and anticipation of humanity, which hopes to reach its fulfillment in the resurrection of the dead.” (audience 21 May 1997)
Indeed, when we consider that Christ did not immediately appear to the Magdalene, but that he left her to weep for some time outside the tomb, one might reasonably ask: Where was the Lord during this time? The answer could well be, He was with his Mother.
Likewise, it seems difficult to account for the fact that the Virgin Mary was not with the other women when they came to the tomb that Easter morning. Perhaps she did not join them because there had already been a prior apparition. “Could not the absence of Mary from the group of women who approached the tomb at dawn constitute an indication that she had already met Jesus?” (John Paul II, 21 May 1997)
Ultimately, the intimate union between Mother and Son would incline us to think that our Lord would appear first of all to the Blessed Virgin. What else would a good son do, except visit and console his mother?
So, how does Fr. Ryan end his article?
He calls the whole issue a “sensitive matter” and says: “First, we must assert that either opinion is possible: A Catholic is free to hold either that Jesus did appear to his Mother first after the Resurrection or that he did not do so. Second, it would be extremely rash for any to claim (as many Protestants do) that the general tradition of the saints and theologians in favor of a prior apparition to the Mother of God is contrary to the Scriptures or that it is a mere product of human fancy. The near unanimity with which the tradition was accepted (once proposed) lends extremely strong support to the claim. Indeed, spiritual people have generally accepted the tradition—this has to count for as much as any theological argument.”