Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno
Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biagkensiak/857870853/
Contrary to popular understanding, many practices during the Feast of the Black Nazarene actually violate teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Unknown to many, the Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC) contains the church’s official teaching on idolatry, the most debated issue surrounding the feast.
In this article, we will put the CFC and the Feast of the Black Nazarene side by side to see how the tradition actually breaks Roman Catholic teachings.
1. The Black Nazarene or Poong Itim na Nazareno is taking God’s place and the worship He alone deserves
Paragraph 887 of the Catechism for Filipino Catholics reads,
“The First Commandment forbids any other god than the Lord . . . that any created thing should take the place of God and receive the worship due to Him alone. It thus rules out all forms of idolatry which is the ‘substitution of someone or something else for God.’”
The CFC teaches that an idol or a false god is anyone or anything taking God’s place in one’s life, and receiving worship in the form of prayer, devotion or praise that belongs to God alone.
We need only to observe the millions who join the feast, how they risk their health and lives just to touch the statue during the Translacion, and no sooner realize that the icon has already taken God’s place not just in the event, but in their hearts as well.
We need only to hear the fervent prayers uttered to the poon and see the throng of people waiting to kiss it to see that the statue is already receiving worship that belongs to God alone.
One devotee was interviewed in a news program in 2014 and his words are very telling. “Kahit na sinabi nating lilok lang ng isang tao yan at ay gawa ng isang tao ang isang kahoy na santo, pero para sa pakiramdam namin bilang mga tapat na Katoliko eh may buhay siya kahit na siya’y kahoy (Even if we say that it was only sculpted by a person, that a saint’s wooden icon is made by a man, for us as loyal Catholics, we feel that he has life even if he’s wood).”
2. The Statue of Jesus is pretending to be the perfect image of God
Paragraph 889 of the CFC states,
“No Carved Images. God reserves for Himself alone the right to express and produce images of Himself… But the perfect image of God is seen in the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ, ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), on whose face ‘the glory of God shines’ (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). It is Jesus alone who could answer Philip’s request, ‘show us the Father,’ with ‘whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:8-9).”
The Catholic Church’s official stand is that “the perfect image of God is seen in the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ.” Notice that it is the very life and very suffering of the Lord that perfectly embodies God—His attributes, power and love.
The emphasis is not on the physical characteristics, not on the length of His hair or the color of His skin, or His physique or His facial features. This is so because Jesus’ main concern on earth is not to give an idea how God looked like, but to allow people to experience how God was like.
That He is a God of grace and mercy who forgives those who repent and believe. And at the same time, a God of justice who judges sinners for their rebellion.
These truths cannot be captured by one sculpture, but they can be seen and relived and experienced in the pages of the Bible. So instead of looking at the poon, why not get to know Jesus by reading God’s Word?
And even if some argue that the poon is a replica of the physical Jesus, its faithfulness to how Christ really looked like is in question.
I once asked a staunch believer in statues how he could be sure that the Black Nazarene is the true face of Jesus. His answer was not convincing, “Yan ang ipinasa sa atin ng mga ninuno natin. Siguro naman alam nila ang itsura ni Hesus (That’s what’s passed on by our ancestors. I think they would know how Jesus looked like).”
3. Many devotees have fallen to the temptation of making the Black Nazarene a substitute to the reality of God
Paragraph 891 of the CFC is perhaps the most telling. Here we read,
The Catholic Church realized the Filipino’s attraction to the physical, thus condoning the use of images and statues for the sole purpose of aiding devotion and attention for the religious (CFC 890).
“Yet we must recognize the ever present temptation: from merely reminding us of God, the material image tends to gradually ‘become’ a god, an idol. In such fashion the bronze serpent made by Moses on the command of the Lord to cure those bitten by serpents (cf. Nm 21:6-9) was smashed by Hezekiah because ‘the Israelites were burning incense to it’ (2 Kgs 18:4). An image can either bring the reality it represents to mind, to aid devotion and attention, or it can become a substitute for the reality itself, and thus be an object of idolatry. Thus the First Commandment forcefully reminds us that God, the Creator, is infinitely beyond any of His creatures; no image or mental concept can ever ‘capture’ Him. Deus semper major-- God is always greater.”
However, it also realized the temptation that easily comes with these religious icons—they can gradually overshadow the God they are supposed to represent. That is, these icons, over time, can become false gods themselves, causing the faithful to worship them, rather than God.
When we look at the Feast of the Black Nazarene, it is easy to spot how the supposed representation has now become the center of attraction. If it were not, why then do devotees put so much emphasis on being able to touch, kiss or caress the material representation?
The God that the poon represents is omnipresent. That is, Jesus is not bound in a single place for His followers to jostle and trample on one another just to be where He is.
In fact, we can even read His very words in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is with us always, wherever we are. Whether we are in the privacy of our rooms or in our offices or on the streets, He is with us.
So we don’t actually need to be near the poon or even inside a church to pray to Him if it is really Him we want to commune with. But if we insist on being close to the icon of the Nazareno, being able to wipe it with our handkerchiefs and kiss it with our lips, perhaps it’s the representation we’re after, not the God who’s supposed to be represented.
4. Many devotees believe that the Poong Nazareno has powers to grant their prayers
Lastly in paragraph 892 of the CFC,
“Catholic Filipinos are attracted very much to images and statues of Christ, Mary and patron Saints… the Church firmly insists on the valuable help such images can offer for authentic Christian prayer. Nevertheless, the Church is equally insistent on the proper use of such images, avoiding any and all appearances of making the images into idols, or treating them as endowed with some magical powers (cf. CCC 2132). This need for caution is confirmed by today’s ‘image industry’ which graphically illustrates how manipulative and deceitful human images can become, even holy images.”
Again we read that the Catholic Church allowed the use of images to aid the religious in their prayer. But it insists that there is a proper use for these images. They should not be transformed into gods, and devotees should not ascribe power to them.
But we have discussed throughout the article how the Black Nazarene has already become a false god in the life and heart of its followers. And in addition, they also treat it as if it has “magical powers” to grant them their requests.
Many of those who volunteer as namamasan (devotees who pull the Nazareno carriage through two long ropes) do so for various personal petitions. They believe that by their sacrifice, the poon will grant them their wishes, like the healing of a sick loved one or the deliverance from poverty.
Other devotees attempt to go near the andas (carriage) to climb it and personally wipe the statue with their handkerchiefs. They, then, believe that the cloth acquires miraculous or holy powers, transforming into a potent talisman.
These practices even caught the attention of retired Catholic Bishop Deogracia Iniguez who shared his concerns in an interview with ABS-CBN way back in 2009. He said, “They attribute some powers to the statue itself which is fanaticism, which is superstition. So something needs to be purified.”
In acknowledging that the poon has these powers, its followers unwittingly ascribe omnipotence to the statue, which is an attribute that rightfully belongs to God alone. Unlike the devotees, Job was correct when he ascribed power to God saying, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
We have spent a lot of words expounding the CFC to show where the Feast of the Black Nazarene goes against Catholic teachings. But in the final analysis, a greater authority leaves us with powerful words against idolatry. This is what we read from God’s Word in Jeremiah 10:1-7
1Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. 2This is what the Lord says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
6No one is like you, Lord;
you are great,
and your name is mighty in power.
7Who should not fear you,
King of the nations?
This is your due.
Among all the wise leaders of the nations
and in all their kingdoms,
there is no one like you.