Thursday, January 21, 2016


MIPMU KA KING GRACIA. The ivory image of the Virgin carrying the Child Jesus, is displayed on the feast day of the Purification, February 2. The image is made to hold a candle on this day. Photo:Jude Belnas.

Mabalacat, formerly my town—and now a city—will celebrate its annual fiesta from February 1-2. All the festivities will revolve around our parish church, Our Lady of Divine Grace, which had its beginnings in the year 1768, although a more realistic date is around early 1830s. The Estado General of 1879 reports that the parish was elevated to a vicariate status under the titular patronage of  Nuestra Snra. De Guia most probably in 1836 .

There is a slight confusion as to who the real town patroness is. February 2, the traditional date of the town fiesta (piestang balen), is actually the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady or Nuestra Señora de Candelaria (also the patroness of the towns of Silang in Cavite and Jaro, Iloilo, where an ancient stone image of the Candelaria is venerated by the residents). There is, in fact, an old ivory image of the Virgin in the Parish, which is made to look iconographically like the Virgen de Candelaria by having her hold a candle. Surprisingly, this image is not displayed on the main altar.

However, a bell in the church tower dated 1846, has an inscription indicating that the church is dedicated to “Nuestra Señora de Grasia”( as spelled).  The Augustinians have always had an early devotion to the Nuestra Señora de las Gracias (Our Lady of Graces) and it is sure that they propagated this devotion among  Mabalaqueño converts; they had first established an original shrine in Guadalupe, which also shares our city’s fiesta date.

To add to the confusion, the feast of our Lady of Grace is observed every June 9 (piestang patron) according to the Catholic calendar. As late as 1930s, church records show that processions to our Lady of Grace were still being held in June, the expenses shouldered by a devout woman from Dau, Dña. Cecilia Samson.

There now seems to be a practical explanation to this date change, as explained by oldtimers. In the olden days, they recount, it was very inconvenient for the townsfolk to negotiate the dirt roads just to attend church service during June—the onset of the rainy season. So, a mutual agreement was reached between the townsfolk and the parish priest to move the date to February, when the weather was drier and better.

February 2 marks the date of the Purification or the Feast of Candlemas, to mark the obedience of Mary to the Mosaic law and the meeting of Her Child Jesus with the old man Simeon. By this event, Mary is known under the title Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria and is depicted as cradling the Child Jesus while holding a candle. The day is observed with the blessing and distribution of candles to be carried lighted in procession, a symbolic representation of the truth proclaimed in the Canticle of Simon: Our Lord is the “Light for the revelation of the Gentiles”.

The image of Our Lady of Divine Grace enshrined in the main altar was adapted by Fr. Felipe Roque  from a similar image venerated in the Capuchin Church of San Giovanni Rotonda, Foggia, Italy (home of the famous stigmatist-saint Padre Pio) which he had previously visited. There is a twin image in Popayan, Mexico with the same title and representation. Traditional iconography shows the Blessed Mother seated on a throne with the Infant Jesus on her lap, arms raised in blessing.

The title “Our Lady of Grace” today  is interchangeably used with  Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, as seen  in a vision by St. Catherine Labouré in 1830. A pre-war photo of the church interior shows a standing statue Mary in the main altar, circumscribed by 12 stars and topped by a large “M”,  consistent with the iconography of “Virgen de la Medalla Milagrosa”.

No matter the many titles, devout Mabalaqueños will always refer to their beloved Mary as “Apung Gracia”, who, through all these years, has showered their homes and their families with blessings and graces, while under the mantle of her protection.

Masayang piyesta  kabalen!

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