Thursday, 23 June 2016

Traditional Filipino novena

The traditional Filipino novena is a direct descendant of the traditional Spanish novena. While it has been largely supplanted in urban places by the shorter set of prayers characteristic of the novena that the American Catholics brought with them, the traditional form is still observed in many rural places in the Philippines, largely untouched even by the slew of reforms that came after Vatican II. We will now attempt here to map its structure and provide a general description of its composition.

Fray Juan Bautista Maíno, 1612–1614
Museo del Prado

When we speak of novena, what first comes to mind is a set of prayers arduously recited for a period of nine days. The practice of praying a novena itself is founded on Sacred Scriptures. When the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin, with other Christians, enclosed themselves in a room after the Ascension of the Lord, for a period of nine days, until the Paraclete came, they made the first-ever novena.

We associate novenas immediately to a fiesta. This is, of course, correct. When we celebrate the feast day of the patron saints of our sitio, our barangays, our towns, we always gather with the entire community in the village chapel to recite the prayers for nine days.

Frontispice of the Spanish novena
in honour of the La Naval

Typically, old men and women, with a smattering of middle-aged spinsters who have no other things to do besides chiding roughhousing children, and a one or two accompanists on a guitar, if the village brass band has long dissolved into thin air, would lead the prayers at a time close to the evening Angelus.

The prayers begin with the singing of the Rosary. This is what we call the rosario cantadoafter which, we enter into the novena proper. The structure of traditional Filipino novena closely resembles the structure of the canonical hour of vespers. Typically, vespers has a number of psalms, followed by the little chapter, the hymn, and the versicle, giving way to the canticle of the Blessed Virgin, and finally to the collect of the day. Sandwiching these are the introductory and concluding prayers.

The traditional Filipino novena begins with the persignation and is followed by the act of contrition. This corresponds to the introductory prayers and versicles of the canonical hour.

Act of contrition in the Bicol novena
in honour of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

Taking the place of the psalms, and, to some extent, the little chapter, is the following tetrad: a principal introductory prayer that is never replaced throughout the nine days; a meditation for the each day of the novena; a prayer also for each day of the novena; and a principal concluding prayer that is likewise static. Normally, there are standard prayers inserted between these part, in varying numbers. The positioning of these parts, likewise may vary.

Second introductory prayer
from the Ilocano novena
in honour of Saint John of God

Prayer for the first day
from the Hiligaynon novena
in honour of Saint Vincent of Paola

Meditation after the prayer on the first day
from the Hiligaynon novena
in honour of Saint Vincent of Paola

Concluding prayer
from the Cebuano novena
in honour of the Holy Cross

After the concluding prayer comes the most awaited part of the novena: the singing of the gozos. This takes the place of hymn. The gozos is a musical and literary form which recounts the life, virtues, miracles, etc., of the saint, Mystery, or Divine Person, in whose honour the novena is prayed. Depending on the length of the text and the tempo of the singing, it can take from around 7 minutes to around 30 minutes to finish.

Gozos from the Spanish novena
in honour of the Holy Child of Cebu

While the versicle precedes the canticle in the normal order of the Divine Office, in the novena, they switch places. Moreover, the canticle itself is not recited, but only its antiphon. After the versicle, the collect is then said. This arrangement replicates the provision for commemorations in the Office. Usually, the versicle is not taken from vespers; it is instead taken from lauds.

Antiphon (fragment), versicle, and collect
from the Cebuano novena
in honour of Saint John the Baptist

Additional prayers are sure to be recited after the collect, depending on the temperament of the old maid or the confirmed bachelor leading the prayers. But as the gozos is the climax of the novena, so everything moves in a slow coast, until at last the joyful Ave, María Purísima, sin pecado concebida is announced, heralding the official end of the prayers.

Thus ends the traditional Filipino novena.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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