THE MAY days of yesteryears used to be filled with the smell of fragrant flowers, fervent prayers, and solemn singing for the Blessed Virgin. The religious procession called Santacruzan, meanwhile, was done simply and quietly—minus the fashion show.

But as Catholic tradition is passed on from one generation to another, fewer people are flocking to the month-long Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May), while the Santacruzan has all but lost its meaning.

Amid the preference for the pageantry, Thomasian priests still hope that Filipinos would go back to the reason for all the bloom and beauty.

‘Novena procession’

According to Fr. Franklin Beltran, O.P., Santisimo Rosario Parish priest, Flores de Mayo “is a form of great devotion to our Blessed Mother.”

“[This is] where the children are taught how to pray and sing in honor of Mother Mary,” he said. “This is a good thing to be instilled in their minds while they are still young.”

The practice, which dates back from the Spanish colonization, is a way of venerating the Holy Mother by offering flowers, prayers, and songs through the 31 days of the month of May.

The culminating activity that is the Santacruzan, meanwhile, is a “novena procession” commemorating Queen Helena of Rome’s journey to find the Holy Cross.

Legend has it that Constantine the Great, who was in battle with Roman Emperor Maxentius, turned “to the new Christian God for help” and “saw in the night sky a glowing sign of the cross with the words ‘In hoc signia vincit’ (“By this sign thou shalt conquer”).” Using the Cross as his battle symbol, he emerged victorious, claimed Rome, and pledged his faith in Christianity.

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Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, was said to have trekked Mount Calvary 300 years after Christ’s crucifixion to find the cross, which was brought back to Rome.

Aside from the Queen, or Reyna Elena as the title is known locally, the Santacruzan also features other “character roles” such as Reyna Esperanza (for the virtue of hope), Reyna Caridad (charity), and Reyna Sentenciada (for innocents who have been convicted). Little girls also participate as the eight “angels” representing “Ave Maria” and Mary’s heavenly titles like Rosa Mystica (Mystical Rose), Reyna de las Propetas (Queen of Prophets), and Reyna Paz (Queen of Peace). All girls carrying titles for the procession hold symbols, like a cross for Reyna Elena.

According to the Northern Illinois University Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Flores de Mayo may have started in the Philippines in the mid-1800s, when Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma through his encyclical, Ineffabilis Deus.

In 1867, a translation of the devotional text Flores de Maria or Mariquit na Bulaclac na sa Pagninilaynilay sa Buong Buan nang May ay Inihahandog nang manga Devoto cay Maria Santisima was published. The text by Mariano Sevilla contained the rituals and prayers for the month-long tradition.

The portrayal of Reyna Elena has become a privilege reserved for the most beautiful girl in a village. Other titles have been blurred, with focus given to faces, popularity, and gowns.

In more recent years, cities and towns have staged their own versions of Santacruzan, with movie and television celebrities “imported” as main attractions and carriers of the titles. In other parts of the country, the gay community also holds its own version of the procession, with homosexuals donning the gowns.

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Back to ‘sacredness’

Beltran said the Santacruzan nowadays “is becoming more and more commercialized,” like a big theater production complete with music and gimmicks to attract attention.

“Because of these changes, people tend to forget that this is for their devotion to the Holy Mother,” he said.

Echoing the sentiment is Fr. Edd Lleva, a former Varsitarian editor who now serves as parish priest in National City, California.

Catholics must “prohibit fashion shows, third sex pageantries, and all kinds of immoralities” in the procession, he said.

“Today, it is the pageantry that tends to lessen our respect for the sacredness of our Christian faith,” he said.

Beltran called on parish priests to “teach the parishioners the right manner on how to conduct this tradition.”

“It must always be simple so that its sacredness is preserved,” he told the Varsitarian. “We must not go outside the old ritual for this is a celebration dedicated to the Holy Mother.”

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