Thursday, 13 April 2017

Oración: The Painting and The Prayer

I remember when I was a kid, when the church bells rang three times before dusk and after the afternoon Mass, everyone who was a Catholic would stand still when caught on the sidewalk and faced towards the direction of the parish church. If you were home, you'd stand up, turn towards the church, and murmur the prayer.

The bells called on the Catholics to pray the Angelus, or the oración, the reciting of three versicles from Bible verses. This practice, originated by monks in the 13th century, is recited three times during the day: morning, noon, and evening.

I remember when we recited the Angelus at school properly and loudly, and without haste and any bell ringing, it would probably take about three minutes to recite.

But I wondered. Why was it that when the bells of the parish church rang three times, the interval between the first ring, which signified the start of the prayer, and the last ring, was probably only 60 seconds?  Surely, with 237 words (yes, I used Microsoft Word to count the words) in the English version of the Angelus, one would have to really spill the prayer out quick, so as to finish the whole thing within a minute.

Was the person ringing the bell in a hurry to go home? Or, he probably thought those caught in the sidewalk were hurrying home. At least he was thoughtful.

And after the Angelus at home, we would make 'mano' (Spanish word for hand), or hold the hand of our matriarch, Tita Luz, and bring it to touch our forehead as a sign of reverence and respect to our elders.

These days, the Angelus is now broadcast from the church steeple in a recording by a male voice at around six in the evening. But wouldn't it be more inviting if it were a female voice which would lead the prayer? Perhaps, some lady with an angelic voice because, as the first versicle proclaims, "the angel of the Lord declared unto Mary", I would expect an angel's voice to be calm, relaxing, and, well, female. But I was taught that angels actually don't have any gender, but based on the paintings I saw of angels, they all look feminine.  

Oh, well. 
            (A family faces towards the direction 
              of the church to pray the oración)

But in this painting by the legendary Fernando Amorsolo, the family stays still, is facing the setting sun, and praying the oracíon. This rural setting amidst the rural and natural landscape is Amorsolo's signature, and here, in his play of light, his other signature, he shows us a Filipino family's moment of prayer and gratitude at the end of a day's work, bathing the scenery in greens, shadows, and calmness. Even the carabao seems to join in prayer as well. 

I grew up in the countryside with some days spent in the hacienda amidst fruit orchards and sugarcane fields. And this painting, when I saw it during my visit at the National Museum of the Philippines, brought back childhood memories of those days in Hacienda Dapdap when my grandmother brought me with her. Yes, there were a lot of carabaos, too.

And while the painting would probably even lead you to join the family in prayer, it's Amorsolo's interpretation and mastery of the art that enable you to connect with his portrayal of life and faith.

                            *   *   *   *   *

        (This painting by Philippine National Artist 
                for Painting, Fernando Amorsolo,  
                  done in 1959, was on display at 
          the National Museum of the Philippines)

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