Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Traditional Filipino Sung Rosary

What is the Rosary? A Catholic knowledgeable of his faith and history would probably answer: the psalter of Mary. He might then add that the 150 Hail, Marys equal the number of psalms in Sacred Scriptures. Now, let us skip the analysis and propose that the Rosary was, at some point in history, to layfolk who did not possess a Book of the Hours, a way to sanctify certain hours of the day, pretty much in the same way that the canonical hours set aside hours for prayer. This sounds rather extenuated, but let us overlook that at the moment.

La Virgen del Rosario entre Santo Domingo y San Pedro Mártir
Anónimo, primer tercio del siglo XVI
Museo del Prado

The Divine Office can be recited alone, in common, or chanted in choir. So, therefore, is the Rosary. When missionaries came to the Philippines, ignoring the small pockets of rebellion motivated by religious discontent, they found a people practicing a primitive form of animism. The people were pliant, and soon after were converted. It has been suggested in the field of anthropology that the ease of conversion is due to the fact that the people found parallels between their erstwhile animism and Spanish Catholicism, and that the ceremonies and rituals, buttressed by a preoccupation to to elaborate appurtenances, exerted an extra gravitational pull that facilitated the conversion, and, more importantly, kept the converts in the faith.

Recognising the innate inkling of the inhabitants of the archipelago to chant, the missionaries harnessed their musical skills and taught them votive hymns and canticles. Our ancestors embosomed their new hymns to a point where, at one time, the Synod of Calasiao actually forbade the toleration of the afternoon processions held in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and the singing of the Salve therein, because the Synod Father felt it was bordering on idolatry. Another example would be the zealous application of the rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Rites by the archbishop of Manila, Fray Felipe Pardo, banning altogether the misas de aguinaldo only because the congregants sang carols during the Masses.

We can imagine our forebears in those days. If they were not tilling their fields or finishing household chores, they would be kneeling before the family altar, praying. Grandmothers would gather their grandchildren at the pealing of the Angelus bell, and shoo them into the altar chamber to endure an hour of prayer before supper. Mistresses would chide their maids for failing to procure new candles for the numerous saints encased in solid glass, and to put out new tablecloths for the altars.


It is probably within this backdrop of piety that the Filipino Sung Rosary developed. Locally, it is known as rosario cantado. Because we sometimes confuse grammatical gender in Spanish, the term rosario cantada now also has quite a following. A typical rosario cantado is a five-decade rosary, recited in the vernacular, elaborated with additional Spanish or vernacular prayers and invocations, with some of them sung. There is usually a sung meditation before the mysteries, a sung ejaculation after each decade, another sung meditation after the mysteries, and the final combo of the Salve, Regina and the Litany of Loreto.

The post-decade ejaculation is universally known in the Hispanic world as the Virgen, divino sagrario. Below is the text:

Virgen, divino sagrario,
vuestras glorias cantaremos,
y en ellas contemplaremos
los misterios del rosario.

In its original context, the text is altered depending on the set of mysteries being meditated. If it was Monday and Thursday, vuestras glorias and ellas would be changed to vuestros gozos and ellos. If it was Tuesday and Friday, either glorias would be changed to penas, or vuestras glorias cantaremos and ellas would be changed to vuestros dolores diremos and ellos. Nowadays, however, these changes are no longer observed. The text is now frozen. On any day of the week, only glorias is used.

Singing the Virgen, divino sagrario after one decade

The Salve, Regina and the Litany of Loreto are the two last sung parts of the Sung Rosary. The Salve, Regina is rarely sung according to any of the established Gregorian tunes. Rather, it sung according to the received tune of the community. Below is an example:


Singing the Salve, Regina after the five decades

Afterwards, the litanies are sung. When sung, the invocations of the Litany of Loreto are grouped in twos or threes, depending on the metre of the melody, and the response is sung after each group. Below is an example with the invocations in twos.


Singing the Litaniæ Lauretanæ with grouped invocations

The Manuale Philippinense tolerates this form, but it clarifies that no indulgence is gained in using it.

Notice from the above example that the singing of the invocation Regina Sacratissimi Rosarii is somehow different from the rest of the grouped invocation. Then, call to mind the renowned Ynvocación a la Reina del Santísimo Rosario sung to the La Naval. The addition of Regina pacis is suspicious because it is the next invocation in the litanies. Probably, in ages past, the full litany was sung at old Santo Domingo, and when it was time to sing Regina Sacratissimi Rosarii, this version was used;


Unfortunately, the rosario cantado is dead in urban areas and nearing the end of its lifetime in their satellite communities. Only snippets of its former splendour arrest the token attention of passers-by, and the preoccupation of the occasional ethnomusicologist. The preparation that it demands, the number of singers marshalling the singing, the number of musicians on the instruments, among other things, when considered against the current emphasis on alternative forms of spirituality, make it impossible for the average parish or chapel to hold a rosario cantado, even if it can literally summon the manpower and the money.

The present generation only hears it during religious exhibits, or from recordings uploaded into social media platforms. It is practically already a museum piece in many places. Let us therefore pray that it continue to survive in those other places where, until now, the rosario cantado is the only way people pray the rosary during novenas for their patronal feasts.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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