Flores de Mayo

    CATHECHETICAL INSTRUCTIONS started right after Labor Day. The first lessons: the sign of the cross and its meaning, the mystery of the One True God in Three Persons.

    (Always the caveat: The Holy Trinity is a mystery of faith one cannot question. Not even the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, unraveled it. Once Augustine was by the seashore wracking his brains over the mystery. He chanced upon a child cupping water with his hands and pouring it on a hole on the beach. What are you doing? Augustine asked. Transferring the water of the sea to this hole, the child replied. That’s impossible, Augustine was supposed to have remarked. More impossible is to find human explanation to what you are thinking about, the child retorted.)

    Three weeks after – through the Our Father- Hail Mary-Glory Be, the Apostles’ Creed and the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, Salve Regina and the Angelus, the Mass, the Ten Commandments, sins – cardinal, mortal, and venial, and the Act of Contrition – came one’s first trip to the curtained box by the entrance of the church to pass the penitential rite.

    The day that followed – always a Sunday – in immaculate white, down to the shoes, one skipped breakfast in order to prepare one’s body for the entry of the mystical Body of Christ on his first holy communion.

    But not before one, along with all the other first communicants, lined up, flower in hand, singing Indung Alang Musing (Immaculate Mother) to take his turn at offering the blooms – of yellow zinnias and red gumamelas, fragrant white camia and pink roses, suntans in assorted hues and even the violet flowers of banaba – by the foot of an image of the Virgin Mary. (As indeed the catechism lessons always concluded with the same fl oral off erings, but on a lesser scale.)

    That was the Flores de Mayo I have known since youth. That is not the Flores de Mayo I see now.

    Mixed with the other Maytime festivity that is the Santacruzan – a dramatization via procession of the search by the Empress Helena of the Cross with her son Constantine in tow – the Flores de Mayo has now evolved with its own sagalas — rightfully called May queens in some cultures – in their finest evening and formal gowns based on the Filipino baro’t saya, parading through the streets under gaily decorated arkos.

    From a religious ceremony in veneration of the Virgin Mary, the Flores de Mayo has been reduced, okay,secularized, to a competition of fashion and a contest of beauty. Indeed, de-Virginized!

    At one media conference for a Flores de Mayo event in a mall, I asked the participants what Flores de Mayo meant to them.

    The answers were invariable: a religious tradition they, as Catholics, would be proud to be part of; a piece of our cultural heritage that has to be celebrated so as not to be forgotten by the next generations; a celebration of Capampangan beauty.

    So I queried, where’s the image of the Virgin Mary here? Everyone was clueless, giving me the glare that said: What Virgin Mary? This is Flores de Mayo, dummy!

    I got the tiger look from one of the organizers, imparting: It’s for a good cause too, can’t you see? Its staging is for the benefit of hospital charity patients and poor, poor university scholars. Ain’t that enough for a religious reason?

    I have not been invited to the annual staging of the event ever since.

    On hindsight now, they were right: Flores de Mayo is a religious rite that is part of a cultural heritage that celebrated beauty. Not of our Catholic and Spanish heritage though, but way earlier in the march of time.

    The way it is celebrated today, Flores de Mayo goes back to the pre-Christian era, way, way back to mythical Olympus itself and the worship of its pantheon of gods, in this wise, Bacchus and Aphrodite. Our sagalas taking after the vestal virgins, their couturiers after the eunuchs at the temples and palaces.

    And as if these were not enough a desecration of the religious essence of the ceremony, there now are Flores de Mayo celebrations by, for, and of the gay community. One even sported the very funny and punned Flawless de Mayo.

    Which tortured the Philippine Catholic hierarchy no end.

    Neither homophobe nor homophile am I, but a line’s got to be drawn between the unrestrained expression of rights and the disparagement of faith.

    Or maybe, I am just a medieval monk lost in contemporary times. Call Grand Inquisitor Torquemada! Save Mother Church! Burn all heretics at the stake!

    Good God, what has become of us.

    (Reprinted from Zona/May 22, 2008)


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