Ecce Homo: Feast before Lent

ecce homo

Ecce Homo is a latin word which means “Behold the Man.” The term was uttered by Pontius Pilate when he presented Jesus to the crowd including the Pharisees who were present at that time, condemning Jesus to death. When Pontius Pilate shouted Ecce Homo, he was representing Jesus, and the people – the Scribes and Pharisees- were responding Crucify Him! Crucify Him!


Brief history

On August 20, 1572, the image of the Ecce Homo was discovered. Some places here in Cebu, in contrary to the story of the historical records, testified that the image was found in a certain place where Juan de Castilla made a foundation for his house. An accidental finding of a tomb or coffin was the lead game for the foundation of the house. The burial tomb was identified as that of Rajah Carli by an Augustinian historian.  

In 1965, the image was borrowed by the Spanish Augustinians in Intramuros, Manila. However, it was relegated to forgetfulness. In 2011, the Augustinian friars assigned in the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu (BMSN) in cooperation with the Augustinians in Intramuros brought back the image of Ecce Homo to Cebu. It was the historical return of the image and the most important person who wanted for the return of the image was the late Cardinal Ricardo Vidal.

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In the Medieval age, there were developments on the devotion to Jesus Christ who was sentenced to death. It was affected or influenced by the development of the discovery of the Holy Shroud – as they say, it was the linen that covered the body of Jesus with impressions of His face and body (front and back). This shroud is now called the Shroud of Turin in Turin, Italy. Because of this, many people have developed their devotion to the Shroud of Turin wherein the Holy Face of Jesus and His sacred body with blood stains and discolorations formed into His face can be seen.

Due to the devotedness of the Europeans most especially the people who were endeared with the devotion of the suffering of Jesus, they made some copies of the Holy Face or the impressions of the suffering Jesus. Some labeled these forms of art material as the Man of Sorrows.

In the 15thcentury, there were developments on the representation of Jesus as the Ecce Homo as it also represents the suffering of Jesus sentenced to death. In the Basilica, the representation of the Ecce Homo is the Jesus who was already beaten and crowned with thorns. In the gospel of John, Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate presenting Him to the people by saying Ecce Homo.

Because this devotion appeals to the contrition or to the feeling of repentance from sins focusing more on the expression of Jesus’ face, it was made into a bust or a kind of sculpture which is representing the head, the shoulders down to the area before the abdomen.

Feast / Celebration

Originally, the Basilica celebrates the feast of Ecce Homo on the 20thday of August due to the historical finding or discovery of the image and because of the image’s historical instances.

However, at present, the feast of Ecce Homo in the Basilica is already aligned to the liturgical feast of an established church tradition – the feast of the Holy Face of Jesus – Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Moreover, the feast of Ecce Homo will be separated from the novena of the feast of Saint Augustine which is also in August.

In addition to that, the reason of having the celebration moved to Tuesday before the start of the lent season is to make it more consistent with the theme of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus which is always connected with the season of lent. This is also to encourage people of having a more consistent devotion and to better prepare for the celebration of Lent season. /excerpts from Rev. Fr. Ric Anthony Reyes, OSA

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