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Holy Week

The usual normal life stopped, taking a hiatus in Christ

Holy Week

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 17/03/2022

By: Mário Souto Maior - Teacher, promoter, mayor

When Holy Week would arrive in a small town in the Northeast a few years ago, everything turned into faith, and its inhabitants began to live according to the Church and the ceremonies typical of the time. The usual normal life stopped, taking a hiatus in Christ.


As soon as on Palm Sunday, a mystical atmosphere involved the entire city, making the afternoons even longer and sadder. The old women in their long dresses and the daughters-of-Maria dressed in white, long sleeves, rounded collars, with their white beads, walked down the street and up the street, as if walking on clouds, so steeped in faith that they were. Even the old eight-bass accordion could no longer be heard, late into the night, on Rua dos Três Côcos, where Zefa de Oto, Maria Bôca de Ouro and Zezinha Sarará – who were also daughters of God – interrupted the trading of their bodies gnawed away by syphilis in honor of Our Lord who, symbolically, would be crucified once again to save sinful humanity. Perhaps even the memory of the two fellow thieves of Christ on Calvary made the merchants of the place weigh their merchandise more accurately, without stealing from the kilos of Norwegian cod and dried fish coming from who knows where in burlap sacks.


The cinema closed its doors, suspending the series by Tom Mix and Buck Jones (where are they?) shown on Wednesdays, with Antônio Lulu winding up the old and twangy turntable groaning old Viennese waltzes, starting again on Easter Sunday, with The Life, Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, when rude men and women from the countryside wept with pity for the Savior, wetting their enormous handkerchiefs, interrupting the waltzes with strong blows of the nose. In the Mother Church, the altars were covered with purple or black cloths and the flowers were taken from the silver vases. During the Palm Sunday mass, the priest, with his white head, blessed the fragments of coconut leaves to hand them out after the mass.


In the late afternoon, the procession of the meeting of the image of Jesus Christ with the cross on his back took place, led by the Apostolate of Prayer and the associations of Saint Joseph and the Holy Family, with the image of Our Lady of Soledade accompanied by the Pia Union of the Daughters of Mary... The meeting always took place at a crossroads in the city, when the people knelt down and Our Lord fell (the bier was lowered led by the Mayor, Judge of Law and other great ones of the place) three times, symbolizing the falls on the ascent of Calvary. Afterwards, the vicar did a practice, explaining to the people who filled the streets the Christian meaning of the encounter.


On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, confessions were made (a friar from Recife would always come to help the vicar) after the Via Crucis.


As of Wednesday, the bell, responsible for dividing the day into Mass time, lunchtime and bedtime, stopped ringing, being replaced by the rattle that Ademário made to ring, mournfully, on top of the Church tower.


At dawn from Wednesday to Thursday, young people gathered to saw old people, amid laughter, gunshots, police runs and bathing in urine and feces for those who could not stand the tradition of the game.


On Thursday, Easter Mass was celebrated and, at five in the afternoon, the ceremony of washing the feet took place. Mothers always insisted that their children be part of the ceremony. The boys had to take a good bath, put perfume on their feet, and whoever missed them ran the risk of dying before the following Lent. After the washing of feet, the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed throughout the night and into the following morning, guarded, in one-hour shifts, by the important people of the place, facing the hard narrow kneeling boards of the church benches.


On Friday, the pre-sanctified mass was said, in which the priest gave communion to the Host exposed the night before. At noon, the image of the Dead Lord was exposed to the veneration of the faithful. At three in the afternoon, the Via Crucis. Soon after, the procession of the Dead Lord took place, whose skiff was carried by the authorities, led by Colonel Otaviano da Mota Silveira, wearing his beautiful National Guard uniform, sword and all. After walking through all the streets of the city, the Dead Lord was on display in the Church, to be kissed by men, women and children, when they placed aromatic plants (rosemary, hollyhock, etc.) at his feet. After kissing the Dead Lord, each one left a certain amount of money, taking out a copper penny to keep, so that they would never lack the means of subsistence again. When it was midnight, the priest would order the church to be closed and, with the help of the sexton and family members, he would tell the story of the kissing, about which the most optimistic predictions were made.


At dawn from Friday to Saturday, there was the Burning of Judas, a puppet made with old clothes, containing bombs that exploded when burned. It was customary for people from another street to steal the Judas and, in order to prevent this from happening, the puppet’s guard was in charge of protecting it until the time came for it to be burned. In Judas’ will, the distribution of goods included physical defects, one’s wife and beautiful daughters, and politics, which dominates and separates the inhabitants of the countryside towns, also took part in the game. Sometimes there was fight and even death.


On Saturday, at eight o'clock, the Hallelujah Mass was celebrated. The people of the city and the farms filled the church in such a way that the breathing of those who were in its precinct became impossible. Some woman always suffered from vertigo. The people got worried. If the priest did not find three little drops of blood in his book – the Hallelujah, it was a sign that the world was going to end. Finally, when the priest prayed the Gloria, the daughters of Mary sang, the bells rang again, the images and altars were stripped of their purple cloths, and the people, with a certain relief, rejoiced. In the Church courtyard, the boys participated in the joy, shouting:


–“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Meat on the plate
And flour in the gourd!"


On Easter Sunday, at dawn, the Resurrection procession left, after which the Holy Mass was celebrated. In the evening, there was a dance at the Culture Center, the accordion began to play again on Rua dos Três Cocos, Seu Bernardino continued to steal from the weight of his merchandise, the cinema reopened its doors, and everything returned to the quiet and routine life of a small town in the northeastern countryside a few years ago.

In the past, meat was not eaten during Holy Week. Then, with the evolution of customs, the Church began to reduce not only the days of abstinence but also the days of fasting. It was when Seu Bernardino, who was much more of a merchant than a Catholic, ventured a guess with some reserve:


– I think that this business of not eating meat during Holy Week was a little invention of St. Peter, who was a fisherman...

In the farms’ reservoirs, fishing nets were organized that started at dawn. The caught fish were shared as follows: 1/3 for the fisherman and 2/3 for the owner of the reservoir.


In the wells of the river – das Moças and Cotovelo – fat muçus were caught, which, prepared with coconut sauce, are delicious.


Almost everyone observed the precepts of Holy Week, in relation to food. One could not eat candy or suck cane, because during the week Our Lord was drinking gall. It was a lack of charity, respect and everything.

The branches distributed by the vicar on Palm Sunday, after drying, were burned with the aim of mitigating the storms, lightning and thunder.


A number of things should not be done throughout Holy Week because they are considered sinful:

– Looking oneself in the mirror, wearing rouge, using lipstick and any perfume, as these are signs of vanity.

– Taking a bath.  By seeing one’s own body naked, one could remember other things and sin for thoughts.

– Dating, singing, dancing, whistling, because these are signs of joy and Our Lord spent the whole week suffering.

– Having sex during Holy Week was the greatest of all sins, especially on Good Friday. The man who did so, single or married, would be impotent for the rest of his life and the woman would be unable to bear children. And if on that day a son was begotten, he was born with the Curse and would be unhappy to the end of his days.
– Drinking, getting drunk, would make the person never come to his senses again.

how to quote this text

SOUTO MAIOR, Mário. Holy Week. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2022. Available at: Accessed on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6 2009.)