Religion and expressing our faith is a deeply personal act. However, in the Philippines, our devotion is shown through a completely communal act – worshipping in person. Prayer can be done at home, or alone, but one can argue that our preferred way of praying is that of praying together.
It’s almost the same experience for all of us, regardless of our religion. For the Catholics, it’s the Sunday mass. You dress up in your best clothes and go to church. It’s a non-negotiable, if you come from a very religious family. The entire family is expected to go – sometimes, you even meet your extended family there.
Going to church is a fundamental expression of our faith. It’s a location that brings us together as one community, to express and celebrate our faith, and to be one with each other and our God.
It’s not just the act of going to church. We have novenas, bible studies, and religious processions. During Holy Week, Catholics have the Visita Iglesia and Stations of the Cross. We have prayer groups and charismatic communities and all sorts of religious organizations. All of these entail gatherings and being face-to-face with each other.
The community aspect of religion is something that is ingrained in our psyche as Filipinos. It’s just part of our culture to worship this way. Our communal expression of our religion is an inextricable part of being Filipino, from baptism, all the way to the funeral mass at the end of one’s life.
A switch to worshipping online
When the pandemic hit and everyone was forced indoors, we were also forced to change the way we worship. Churches had to adjust just like everyone else – by turning online to reach people in their homes.
Livestreaming masses have become the norm. Now, instead of gathering in churches and meeting rooms, households instead gather in front of the TV or computer to hear mass through a screen. Bible studies and prayer meetings are done through video calls, as long as people can help it.
Churches are still open for those wanting a quick refuge and silent time for reflection. However, they are subject to all the trappings of social distancing, like temperature checks and contact tracing forms.
And perhaps the greatest blow to our culture of worshipping in person is the fact that we are now entering our second Holy Week in a row in quarantine. Religious gatherings are again heavily restricted, in order to stem the tide of COVID-19 cases in the country.
The Church is not a physical structure
Times may be tough, but Filipinos are known for their unwavering faith and devotion.
It’s true that we must follow quarantine measures and again refrain from unnecessarily leaving our homes. But we can do that and still express our faith and devotion. As Catholics know, the Church is not the building, nor the physical location, nor statues and holy images. The Church is the people – the Church is every single Filipino who remains true to their faith.
Worshipping in person may not be a reality for us now. However, worshipping together, even when apart, is a stronger expression of our faith.
We are #LookingForward to the day that we can worship together in person again. But for now, let’s continue to pray for a #BetterPhilippines, and for the strength to continue the battle and beat this pandemic.
#LookingForward is a series by Flying Ketchup, where we talk about things that we miss about the “Old Normal”. It’s both reminding us of the past, and getting us excited about the future. What are you #LookingForward to doing again? Let us know, and you might get featured in the next article!