Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The "Parol ng Halina", a Filipino twist on the Advent wreath

The "Parol ng Halina" ("Lantern of Invitation") refers to the use of parols (star-shaped lanterns) to mark the progress of Advent from its first to fourth Sundays, with the parols for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Sundays colored purple or violet while the parol for the 3rd Sunday is rose or pink, that Sunday being Gaudete Sunday, when the liturgy of the Church assumes a restrained joy in anticipation of the exalted night of the Nativity. The four parols are hung from the roof of the church, directly above the main aisle, with the newer parols being hung nearer to the altar (or to the place prepared for the creche). These could also be hung from different corners of the church. 

How is the series of parols concluded? In one variation, the fifth and final parol, which is white, is hung on Christmas Eve above the creche. In another variation, the white parol is made to slide from one end to the church, stopping right above the Nativity scene, before or during the Mass of Christmas Eve. 

I don't know when the current five-parol custom started. It is basically a Filipino adaptation of the symbolism of the Advent wreath, and since the latter began to be popular in Catholic churches only in the 1950's and 1960's then the five-lantern combination couldn't be older than that. However, it was already observed in Sta. Teresita Parish (the headquarters of the Capuchin Franciscans in the Philippines) at Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City when I was a parishioner there in the 1990's. Then and now, only a small minority of parishes observe this; the Advent wreath continues to be the dominant way of marking Advent inside Filipino churches.

Furthermore, many if not most Filipino parishes tend to use parols as mere Christmas decorations, without any discernible attempt to relate these to the liturgical cycles of Advent, the Simbang Gabi, and Christmas.

However, already prior to Vatican II, during the Mass of Christmas Eve, many Filipino parishes observed the custom of having a white parol slide from one end of the church down towards the creche, stopping right above it, thus symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Magi to the Christ Child. (A related custom observed in some Filipino parishes or communities is that of having an altar server bear a large white or multi-colored parol at the head of the entrance procession for the Mass of Christmas Eve. I have no idea how old this custom is, either; alas, there is so little information on the history behind so many Filipino customs and traditions!)

At the beginning of this month, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan gave a boost to the custom of "Parol ng Halina" by strongly endorsing it as an alternative to the Advent Wreath. His letter on this matter can be found on the website of his Archdiocese (Circular 2011/35: Alternative to the Advent Wreath) and he has provided a ritual for the blessing of the "Parol ng Halina" as well (Order for the Blessing of Parol ng Halina). 

As usual, some Philippine secular media outlets misreported the Archbishop's directive as a denunciation of the Advent Wreath as "Protestant", and as advocating that parish churches hang parols instead. The fact of the matter is that Filipino parishes need no prompting to hang parols, as these are ubiquitous in the Philippines in the days just before and after Christmas, and no parish ever goes without these. Furthermore, the Advent Wreath is truly Protestant in origin (German Lutheran to be exact). German-speaking Catholics began to adopt it only in the years before World War II and it began to spread to Catholics outside of German-speaking communities only in the post-World War II era. The Archbishop merely alluded to this origin, and explicitly stated that he had no intention or desire to ban the Advent Wreath from the parishes within his jurisdiction.

It should be noted, though, that the "Parol ng Halina", while an "alternative" to the Advent Wreath, is basically a variation upon the latter's usual American form (three purple candles and one rose or pink candle forming a circle with a white candle in the middle), and would be unintelligible to most Filipinos without the Advent Wreath as a point of reference. 

(Photo source: link)

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