Nick Joaquin’s defense of the Quiapo ‘panata’
Too much nonsense has been said about Catholics being passive in worship. In the West, maybe; but not here in the Philippines, where our style of worship, on the contrary, approaches the extravagant. We chant or sob our prayers out loud; we walk on our knees; we dance in church; we carry holy images on our shoulders in howling procession; we flog ourselves on Good Friday. Outsiders to our culture find our style of worship distasteful and conclude that we don’t “understand” Christianity or true religion. Do they? Can Christianity, can religion, really be reduced to pure and simple ethics—to living by God’s word, to doing and being good? That was the Puritan ideal—and we know how sick the Puritans ended up. Their mistake was in thinking, being no friends of exuberance, that they could reduce religion to its most common denominator and could take the thu out of enthusiasm, being too austere to care for a word that unites divinity and frenzy, though it perfectly expresses the religious impulse in man. What they denied was that part of human nature which, in worship, craves the extravagant. Like David’s wife, they despised King David prancing naked before the Ark. We are distressed by the religious illiteracy of the Quiapo panata: he howls in frenzied adoration before the image of the Suffering Christ, then goes and sins some more. Well, what about King David? He pranced in frenzy before the Lord, then went and committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife. Or was David, the chosen of the Lord, a religious illiterate, too? What we have to face is that there’s something irrational about the religious impulse, that it’s not all just being goody-goody, that it’s a force which belongs to the dark side of man. Or else we’ll have to conclude that St. Francis licking the leper’s sores is just a most extravagant pervert.
Yet Christ Himself had an “extravagant” taste in worship—that precious perfume poured on his feet, while the puritans clucked over the waste; the screams and howls of the palm wavers, which the puritans wanted hushed; and the unspeakable rite of the Last Supper, which the puritans have toned down. But, as Christ laid it down, the central sacrament of the Faith is so “extravagant” it continues to scandalize outsiders; in Roman times, the pagans abhorred the Christians because of it, having heard that Christians ate the body of their Lord and drank His blood. What folk ritual, indeed, however wild, can hope to equal the Eucharist in extravagance?
—Nick Joaquin, 1976 National Artist for Literature, from his book “Culture and History” (1988); reprinted with permission from Anvil Publishing and Ma. Rosario J. Villegas, administrator of the Nick Joaquin Estate
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