On traditions and Tradition

Drumbeats. Hands raised in the air. Feet stomping. Warm bodies dancing. Lively crowd of believers.

This is the usual sight and sound one will see and hear just outside the main portal of the church, at the patio, in the town where I temporarily live. The Catholic community of the town is eagerly participating in the novena in preparation for and in celebration of the Feast of Sto. Niño, the feast honoring the Holy Child, certainly one of the more famous feasts in the Catholic liturgical calendar in the Philippines. In fact, cultural festivals are held to celebrate this religious feast. And some friends I have known here enthused that there would be more dancing and glees come the day of the feast itself. Should I look forward to it? I reckon I should, if only to witness how people find joy in their faith, hopefully.

And this brings me to recall some of the best lessons and discussions we had when I was still doing my Tradition and Magisterium class at the Loyola School of Theology, under Fr. Danny Huang, a very intelligent and friendly Jesuit. No, I will not be theologising highly in this article. There may be another time and space for it. But I will focus more on how the feast affects people’s lives, and faith, as I see it through an outsider’s lens. The songs, especially the gozos, and the concluding hymn of the Eucharistic celebration speak of the people’s faith and undying belief in the protective and providing presence of God manifested in the little child.

Too much emphasis on the externals of the celebration may mislead people. Displaying fervent and ardent faith in those dances while raising the Sto. Niño replicas is not bad in itself. But it is only part of the whole story. In many of our lectures under Fr. Danny, we used to distinguish (a very basic one, I assume) between traditions and Tradition. The former (with small letter T) includes the rituals, celebrations, ceremonies that accompany the expressions of the faith and the feast handed down to us, from our forebears that we continue to perform. The latter (with capital letter T) is the salvific act of God’s Son in redeeming mankind and His eternal presence in the church as expressed by the sensus fidei and in the sensus fidelium. Put simply, traditions must express the real Tradition. What has been handed down to us as a Church, a community of faith, an ecclesia in via, are not external rituals, not even set of external laws, but an abiding presence, told in a very lovely story of redemption, an eternal plan of salvation that must be celebrated in faith, expressed in hope, and lived in love.

To all my friends in Midsayap, Cotabato; in Surabay, R.T. Lim, Zamboanga Sibugay; in Sto. Niño, Baliwasan, Zamboanga City; and in Metro Cebu; and elsewhere who celebrate the Feast of Sto. Niño, may you continue to be enriched by your rich tradition, so that you may continue to proclaim in your life the one, and singular Tradition- that is God’s loving plan of salvation.

Viva el Señor!


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