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Death and Food Offering: The Ilocano “Atang” Ritual from a Contextual Theology


Abstract and Figures

Atang (food offering) is an indigenous ritual for the dead in the Northern Philippines. The atang ritual is thought to be a part of the cultural and religious contexts of the Ilocano people. This research argued that the Ilocanos’ practice of atang ritual is compatible with the Catholic Doctrine on the Communion of Saints. This study utilized descriptive and contextual approaches in doing inculturation. It used the purposive sampling technique to Ilocano participants and discussed the development of doing a local theology of atang ritual in the faith of Ilocano Catholics. Results of the study revealed that the atang ritual has significant implications in the faith of the Ilocano Catholics in terms of the importance of remembering the dead as way to elaborate the doctrine of the communion of Saints. Thus, the concept of the communion of saints can be understood in the context of food offering for the dead.
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Death and Food Oering: The Ilocano Atang Ritual
from a Contextual Theology
Jeff Clyde G. Corpuz
De La Salle University
Atang (food oering) is an indigenous ritual for the dead in the Northern Philippines.
The atang ritual is thought to be a part of the cultural and religious contexts of the Ilocano
people. This research argued that the Ilocanos’ practice of atang ritual is compatible with
the Catholic Doctrine on the Communion of Saints. This study utilized descriptive and
contextual approaches in doing inculturation. It used the purposive sampling technique
to Ilocano participants and discussed the development of doing a local theology of atang
ritual in the faith of Ilocano Catholics. Results of the study revealed that the atang ritual has
signicant implications in the faith of the Ilocano Catholics in terms of the importance of
remembering the dead as way to elaborate the doctrine of the communion of Saints. Thus,
the concept of the communion of saints can be understood in the context of food oering for
the dead.
Keywords: Ilocano atang, Communion of Saints, a food oering, dead/departed
1.0 Introduction
The article attempts to describe and
explain the Ilocano practice of atang ritual in the
Philippines by doing a local theology through the
Catholic doctrine on the communion of saints. The
ritual practices, sacred beliefs, and relationships
intertwine in ways both material and immaterial.
Such crosses cultural and religious lines of both
our beloved dead and our membership within
the communion of saints. In general, the atang
is known as a food oering that is intended for
the dead and other spirits. It plays an important
role in the Ilocano culture, as Ilocanos generally
believe that there are spirits who live among them,
either of the dead or of other worlds who need
to be appeased whenever they are disturbed or
Anthropologically speaking, atang oers an
interesting similarity between Dia de los Muertos
(Day of the Dead) celebrated in Mexico and in
other Latin American countries and the veneration
of ancestors celebrated in China, Japan, Thailand,
Vietnam, and other Asian countries. The essence
of atang is the claim that there is communication
between the living and the dead. Steadman,
Palmer & Tilley (1996) claimed the “universality” of
ancestor worship. Sociologically speaking, atang
provides a deeper and continuous bond between
the living and the dead. The hybridity of such
beliefs allows them to be transposed, incorporated,
and materialized into dierent rituals, practices and
socialization (Beck, Bolender, Brown & Earle, 2007;
Bourdieu, 1977; Sewell, 1992). Researches revealed
that rituals for the dead have been an extensive
practice in Asia, Africa, Korea, and Japan referring
to the specic actions performed during the rites
relating to the appeasement of deceased relatives
and/or “ministration to their needs” (Bae, 2007).
Addison (1924) mentioned the ancestor worship
in Africa that “among the former every house
has its shrine and its household worship, which
includes the worship of ancestors. The ancestors
are represented sometimes by long wooden staves
carved with decorations, sometimes by heads of
wood or bronze. Annual celebrations take place,
usually on the anniversary of the death.” (p.158)
Note that even in China, ancestor-worship in
the published books and reports of missionaries
condemn the rites as “idolatrous” (Addison, 1925).
In other words, rituals illustrate the belief that
the departed continue living in the other world.
Comparative or cross-cultural studies are limited
in death studies (Walter, 2005). Although the
Philippines is the only Catholic country in Asia, there
are numerous ritual practices for the dead. Food
oering is a common practice in the Philippines
where the majority of its inhabitants are Roman
Catholics. According to the recent census, 80.9
percent of Filipinos describe themselves as Roman
Catholics (Philippines Demographics Prole 2018).
The total population of the Philippines as of 2018 is
over 100 million. The Philippines boasts to be the
only “Catholic/Christian country in Asia.” According
to a recent survey, 77 percent of Filipino Catholic
adults consider religion to be “very important in
their lives (Social Weather Stations 2017).
From politics to rituals to estas, Catholicism
remains a dominant religion in the Philippine
society. This is because the Spanish rule left a legac y
of Catholic tradition to the Filipinos. The Spanish
Catholic missionaries relied on imaginative and
theatrical presentations of stories of the Bible to
help Filipinos understand the central messages of
Catholicism. This colonial legacy lives on as Filipino
Catholics perform rituals by making oerings
which are believed to bring monetary blessings
to the descendants. Nowadays, these rituals are
prevalent. During Undas or All Saints’ Day, families
ock to the cemeteries. They oer food for their
dearly departed, clean their tombs, and light
candles. The most common ritual practice among
Filipinos is in the form of atang (food oering)
such as the following: a) before, during and after
the wake of the departed; b) death anniversary;
c) illness acquired through unknown phenomena
and; d) through one’s dream—referred to a bad
omen (Corpuz, 2014). However, these rituals for
the dead and religion are mostly gone unstudied
in the Philippines (Aure, 2004).
Specically, food oering for the dead has
not received much attention among researchers in
the past decades. Borgstrom & Ellis (2017) reported
that there is little literature or research about death.
Macdonald (2004) pointed out that “the Spanish
missionaries did not tolerate any open expression
of ‘pagan’ faith and all forms of pre-Catholic rituals
were suppressed.” Roman Catholicism became the
dominant religion in the Philippines and animistic
beliefs and practices were labeled as syncretic,
heretic or superstitious. As such, rituals for the
dead, including atang were labeled as pagan
or even heretic. Phelan (1959) noted that such
Recoletos Multidisciplinary Research Journal
practices “betray the view that Christianity was
for them, utterly new and in no way continuous
with the pagan religion. Similarities were viewed
not only as coincidental but also as the result of
“diabolical mimicry” (Phelan, 1959). As such, the
missionaries exert every eort to stamp out traces
of the old religions that contradict Christianity.
These included ritual drinking, ritual healings,
and food oerings. However, Filipino Christians,
especially those who are in the grassroots level,
continue to practice up to the present time food
oering as a form of ritual for the dead or departed
loved ones. The three biggest Philippine languages
have their terms for food oering - alay in Tagalog,
halad in Cebuano, and atang in Ilocano. During
wakes, one can usually nd a plate with food for
the dead. The food oering can also be found on
the family altars with sacred pictures, images, and
statues of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, St. Joseph,
and the like. On such days, it is customary in the
Filipino culture to gather as a family to oer prayers
in remembrance of the dead or to prepare a picnic
meal that is shared by the family members during
and even after the death of a loved one.
A study relevant to the atang ritual provided
a philosophical explanation on the phenomena
(Nantes, 2012). Atang is an Ilocano’s ritual
practice that gives meaning in remembering the
departed loved ones. It is an intangible cultural
heritage of the Ilocano people (Peralta, 2012).
Atang is a ritual practice of food oering for the
dead among Filipinos. Thus, the gap that exists
between the Filipino practice of food oering for
the dead and the Catholic faith has been rarely
investigated in the Philippines.
Theoretical Approach
Atang is performed during death anniversaries
or any celebration in the family. There is no historical
proof how atang started in the Philippines. There
is no concrete ceremony when one is doing the
atang. The ritual involves leaving a plate of food
as an oering for the dead or the spirits. Atang is
similar to Pitik (oering the rst taste of alcohol) to
the dead relatives before anyone else drinks the
wine or alcohol. Pitik is done by either pouring a
drink into a separate glass and leaving it out or
pouring a little of the “taste” onto the ground (Leo,
2011). Pobre-Ynigo (1969) published his seminal
work on atang entitled Mourning Customs in Paoay,
Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Pobre-Ynigo mentioned
that “if the mourner is a mother, she recites, often
in verses, the past doings of her child and his
virtues—now and the addressing him and giving
him her passing words, and then again addressing
the Almighty, asking His intercession for his soul
and praying that He may give her strength to bear
her loss. (p.91) The traditional practice of atang
fosters the relationship between the living and
the dead, which inuences the life of the family.
It is remarkable that the words ow from the
mourner’s lips extemporaneously, and as freely as
reading from a book of verse. Riguera (1968) also
mentioned a related folk ritual in Ilocos called
sumang. For Riguera, sumang is a form of healing
ritual which is “believed to have the power to cure
a patient of frequent sickness and/or insanity; or
to avert the occurrence of the same either to him
or to his parents, who are liable to suer instead
of their child bearing the omens. (p.69). Sumang
holds some signicance in that its practice, even
sporadic, manifests residues of superstitions beliefs
that run contrary to Catholicism.
McCullough (1995) suggested that
psychological, physiological, and spiritual areas
in prayer life mediate the eects of prayer. From a
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psychological perspective, he claimed that prayer
may activate health-promotive psychological
mechanisms such as structure, meaning, and
hope. From a physiological perspective, he insisted
that prayer may involve neuroimmunological,
cardiovascular, and electrical brain changes. He
also asserted that prayer promotes health through
the induction of relaxation, decreased heart rate,
lessened muscle tension, and slowed breathing.
He stated that prayer may change the way in which
the individual appraises stressful events. He further
pointed out that faith in the ecacy of prayer
may stimulate spiritual discipline and a positive
outcome. Henning (1981) specied that the most
eective prayer behavior for a desired outcomes
are: (1) the belief that the desired prayer outcome
is forthcoming, (2) thanksgiving in advance, (3)
personal prayer rather than public, (4) condence
that the person is praying in accordance with the
will of God, and (5) promising some service to God.
He said that many of life’s important decisions
may warrant the ve approaches to prayer.
Similarly, atang which is a form of thanksgiving
and a personal communion provides a sense of
condence in the will of God and gives Him service.
Through participant observation, interview
and theological reection, the researcher gathered
a number of clues to understand better the
phenomenon of atang ritual in the northern part
of the Philippines. Some are related to Catholicism
that came to the Philippines from Spain and others
are rooted in the pre-colonial religiosity of the
people. Gerry Pierse (1991) mentioned the pre-
colonial religiosity of the Philippines as animistic.
There was a great consciousness of
spirits being in things. But whereas
in Hindu and Buddhist mainland Asia
there was a great sense of harmony and
peace with nature, in insular South-East
Asia it is dierent. Many of the spirits, the
Dili ingon nato, 'those not like us', were
malign and to be feared. If nature, the
domain of the spirits was transgressed,
the spirits had to be placated by the
rites of the Babaylan. Any disturbance
of nature had to be preceded by a
placating ritual. These practices still
go on and Catholic sacraments or
blessing are often perceived by the
people as being the same sort of thing
as the animistic rituals. When a priest
is called to bless a house he will often
notice that a chicken had been ritually
slaughtered before his arrival. Against
this background it is not surprising that
many people should have a great fear
of the dark, of trees, mountains, rivers,
all places where malign spirits might be
lurking. Out of this comes a great fear of
being alone. It is quite logical too that
there should be a fear of the inner self
which one invariably meets in silence.
Hence a gregarious type of prayer is
preferred to meditation or just ‘being’ in
silence. (Pierse, 1991, p. 235)
Here is a mutual interaction of culture and
the Gospel where the doctrine of the communion
of saints can be understood.
2.0 Methodology
To achieve the objectives and address the
questions raised by this study, the Transcendental
Methods of Doing Theology by Bernard Lonergan
Recoletos Multidisciplinary Research Journal
(1971) was used. The four basic patterns of
operations are: empirical, intellectual, rational
and responsible based on the participants’
demographics, emergent themes in their survey
answers and enlighten theological doctrine on
the communion of saints and development of
local theology for society and the whole church.
The identied emergent themes are the ones
described, analyzed, and contextualized. It is very
important to note the signicant roles of emergent
elements in doing a local theology. This study also
employed a phenomenon in gaining lessons and
insight for its pastoral and practical import for the
Church. Lonergan sees religious conversion as a
mode of self-transcendence (Hepburn, 1973).
Lonergan’s Transcendental Method consists of
four basic patterns of operations, namely: (1) The
Empirical, where the theologian senses, perceives,
imagines, feels, speaks, and moves, whether
externally or internally. Thus, he asks the question
“What is it?” to gather data; (2) the Intellectual,
where the theologian asks the questions what,
why, how and what for. Thus, he asks the question
“Why is It?” to establish its intelligibility; (3) the
Rational, where the theologian reects, presents
pieces of evidence, passes judgment on the truth
or falsity, certainty or probability of his statements
while attempting to resolve the issue. Thus, he asks
the question “Is it so?” to establish the truth; and,
(4) the Responsible, where the theologian focuses
on himself, his own operations and his in goals
in order to decide what course of action should
be undertaken (Lonergan, 1971). Lonergan’s
Transcendental Method in doing local theology is
the appropriate instrument used by the researcher
in this study. Thus, Lonergan asks the question “Is it
valuable?” to arrive at what is good.
In the light of the aforementioned, this
research study critically investigated the
phenomenon of the ritual of atang in the Ilocos
Norte Region as a “locus” of descriptive and
contextual approaches and doing local theology
utilizing the method of Bernard Lonergan. Using
a purposive sampling technique, this endeavor
further employed critical discourse analysis
on the implications of the Ilocanos’ practice
of atang. Various instruments like self-made
questionnaire, in-depth individual interviews, and
audio recordings were used to gather data. This
article aimed to address the query: What is the
meaning of the Ilocano's practice of atang ritual?
Specically, this attempted to answer: 1)What are
the demographics of the participants? 2) How do
Ilocanos describe the practice of atang? 3) How
does the practice of atang ritual signicantly enrich
their Catholic Christian faith of the Ilocanos as they
do local theology? The self-made questionnaire
consisting of 10 items on the Ilocano practice of
atang ritual was administered to 100 Ilocanos.
The researcher summarized the results of the
participants’ survey answers and translated them
from the Ilocano language to the English language.
Thus, the researcher derived 11 key statements on
the atang ritual (see table 2).
3.0 Results and Discussion
The succeeding presentations show
the following results: (1) empirical results -
Demographics (see Table 2) and participants’
survey answers (see Table 3); (2) intellectual
results –the importance of Atang among Ilocano
participants; (3) Rational - enlightenment of
theological perspective on (a) Atang as Anamnesis
or remembrance for the dead, and (b) atang
and the communion of saints; (4) Responsible -
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Table 1. Descriptive Results: Demographics (N=100)
Variables Categories N %
Age Below 18 year-
40 40.0
Over 18 year-
60 60.0
Sex Male 55 55.0
Female 45 45.0
Civil Status Married 49 49.0
Single 40 40.0
Religious/Priest 11 11.0
Religion Catholic 75 75.0
Christian 15 15.0
Protestant 7 7.0
Other 3 3.0
Do you
Yes 100 100.0
No 0
Table 2 shows that there are 100 respondents
of which 40 (40.0%) are 18-year old; 60 (60.0%)
are over 18–year-old. In terms of sex, 55 (55.0%)
are Males and 45 (45.0%) are Females. In terms of
civil status, 49 (49.0%) are Married; 40 (40.0%) are
Single and 11 (11.0%)Religious/Priests. In terms
of religion, 75 (75.0%) are Catholics, 15 (15.0%)
are Christians, 7 (7.0%) Protestants and 3 (3.0%)
belong to other religious denominations. All the
respondents practiced the atang ritual.
The Key-Words-In-Context revealed the
results on meaning of atang ritual for the Ilocano
Table 2. Key-Words-In-Context
Remembering the
86% 46%
62% 32%
60% 29%
Comforting the
loved ones
55% 21%
Sense of personal
52% 20%
Showing respect 48% 18%
Honoring the dead 32% 15%
Asking for favors 30% 15%
Curing sickness 30%
Apologizing 5%
respondents which were translated into English
by the researcher. The respondents answered the
main research question using their local language
which is Ilocano. The researcher translated the
important elements as well as the most important
elements of doing the atang ritual using the
dynamic equivalence.
Using Lonergan’s Transcendental Methods of
Doing Theology, the researcher found out that the
participants remember the dead as an important
element why the Ilocanos do the atang (86%) and
regarded such ritual as the most important element
(46%).They claimed that atang maintains a tradition
of remembering the dead; it is an expression of
gratitude; it provides comfort to the loved ones; it
Recoletos Multidisciplinary Research Journal
development of Ilocano Atang local theology in
relation to inculturation, norms, traditions, beliefs,
attitude or behaviors, socio-economic status and
Catholic faith.
1. Empirical: Demographics and Survey Answers
provides a sense of personal satisfaction; it shows
respect to the dead by providing food; and it
honors the dead. Some respondents also asserted
that they do the atang to ask for favors. A peculiar
element also revealed that doing atang can cure
one’s sickness in the family such as kurad (itch) and
lagnat (fever). The respondents also reported that
doing atang fullls their responsibility. Although,
some respondents reported that they do the ritual
to apologize to the dead. The participants do the
atang every day, during special occasions, during
All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. They also do the
atang to cure their sickness. They also believe that
atang is compatible with Catholic tradition.
Most of the respondents were strongly
bound to “superstitious beliefs” and “fatalistic view
of life.” Abad (1995) believed that “the persistence
of animism and fatalism, both traditional religious
attitudes, in post-Vatican II Philippines reects the
continuing encounter between ocial and folk
practices that have characterized Filipino religious
behavior since the days of Spanish.” (p.211)
2. Intellectual: Importance of Atang
The ritual attempts to capture the image of
the sacred and the profane. The atang provided
a material and immaterial process of interaction
between tangible people and intangible soul.
In Chinese culture, ancestor worship is “a way of
continuing bonds with ancestors” (Hsu, O’Connor
& Lee, 2009). The importance of food can be seen in
the Ilocano practice of atang. Food is a symbol that
takes esh in human relationships and solidarity.
For the Ilocanos, the atang is a symbol of oering
for the dead. Bridging the Ilocano culture and the
Catholic faith was a process the Church called
inculturation and it involved the incorporation
of the cultural and religious elements of the
Ilocano atang into Catholic belief and practices.
Inculturation is to “make the concern and the
process for making the Gospel meaningful and
challenging within a specic cultural context” (De
Mesa, 1987). During the celebration of the wake
and remembering the dead, food and drinks are
shared with visitors. Atang plays an important role
in Ilocano culture, as Ilocanos generally believe that
there are spirits who live among us, either of the
dead or of other worlds who need to be appeased
whenever they are disturbed or oended (Dunuan,
2016). Atang is also synonymous with umras.
However, some interpret umras as the ritual and
atang being the food being oered per se during
the ritual.
In the old Ilocano households especially
those in the rural areas, the belief that that the
souls of the dead come back nine days after
leaving the world of the living persists today. So
the Ilokano families prepare food for their dead
as a welcome gesture for their brief return to their
respective ancestral homes (Coloma, 2015). Atang
is practiced during numerous occasions such as: a)
before, during and after the wake of the departed;
b) death anniversary; c) illness acquired through
unknown phenomena and; d) through one’s
dream—referred to a bad omen (Corpuz, 2014).
The Ilocano people would oer something to the
departed because they believe that their spirit still
lingers around. In this sense, death is not the end
of life but a continuum in space and time. So death
may be the rst of last things, but it is not the end—
it is a continuation of life in another dimension. It is
about the “whole creation groaning” towards what
the Book Revelation calls the “new heavens and the
new earth” (New American Bible, 2010, Rev. 20:1; Is.
Whenever Filipinos talks about food, it would
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be unthinkable to them without mentioning rice
(De Mesa, 2005). Rice on occasions such as wake
and remembrance of the dead would be common.
Kanin (Rice) is a staple and thus a very rich cultural
symbol for Filipinos especially when they consider
the dierent ways rice is prepared. The importance
of food is seen in Catechism for Filipino Catholics:
“Filipinos are meal-oriented (salu-salo, kainan).
Because Filipinos consider almost everyone as part
of their family (parang pamilya), we are known for
being “gracious hosts and grateful guests. Serving
our guests with the best we have is an inborn value
to Filipinos, rich and poor alike” (Catechism for
Filipino Catholics, 2005).
Results of the in-depth individual interviews
with the respondents revealed that there are
dierent components of the atang which are: the
dudul, pilais, suman, baduya (snacks of sticky rice
cake), busi (popped rice), balisongsong or patopat,
linapet, linga (rice with black sesame seeds), bagas
(uncooked rice) set on a crucixion form with
itlog (fresh egg placed on its top), and lugaw (rice
porridge). All these are served after the ritual.
After the prayers for the dead, the prayer leader
takes home the rice. Aside from dierent oerings
related to rice, they would also oer other items
such as gawed and apog (betel nut and powder),
basi (native wine), tabako (tobacco), and other food
or things that the deceased used to eat when he/
she was still alive.
3. Rational: Theological Perspective of Atang
a) Atang as Anamnesis or Remembrance for the
Results showed that atang is a form of
anamnesis or remembrance for the dead before
(atong), during the wake, and after the wake (on
the grave, gulgol, death anniversaries, undas)
and after dreaming about the dead relatives of
the Ilocano respondents. It is thought that the
dead can benet the living with extra-worldly
wisdom, whereas the living benets the dead
through prayers, sacrices, and commemoration
such as atang. This remembering of the dead can
be seen in the Ilocano culture and in many Asian
cultures as well. The respondents visit the graves
of their relatives and oer food and drinks while
they say their prayers for the repose of the souls
of the dead. This practice honors their ancestors
who are believed to partake and eat food with
them. Although ancestor veneration is a common
practice in Asia, the Ilocano atang is an example
of an inculturated practice to explain the mutual
interaction of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the
human experiences. Communion of saints can be
seen as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition while
atang can be seen as part of the human experience
of the Ilocano in venerating their ancestors. This
explains why the Ilocanos would always remember
their departed through atang—food oering
coupled with Catholic lualo (prayers and hymns).
This is done to express the communion that the
family shared with the deceased and to give thanks
for their life.
Veneration of the saints has been a practice
of the Catholic culture worldwide, but there was
a concern too much Catholic preoccupation with
saints opened the way for the “encroachment
of superstitious practices” (McBrien, 1981).
However, any “abuses, excesses or defects” that
may have developed in the ritual sacrice must be
removed or corrected. Blair and Robertson (1903)
enumerated some of the early forms of religious
life in the Philippine islands in their work Relation
of the Conquest of the Island of Luzon such as a
few details of a ritual feast (manganito) dedicated
Recoletos Multidisciplinary Research Journal
to Bathala and Diwata, communal meal, oerings
of food and “wine” to an idol, prayers, and the
presence of a babaylan. These are some of the early
practices associated with the atang ritual and it is
dierent from what the Catholic Church teaches
about the Veneration of Saints.
However, atang as anamnesis is an
inculturated form of liturgy among Ilocano
Catholics to remember their dead loved ones in
belief that they are in communion with the saints
and Jesus Christ as the Savior. In fact, the lualo
(prayer) itself is anamnesis or remembering of
Jesus Christ. Chupungco (1992) posited the Paschal
Mystery (i.e. Passion, Death, and Resurrection)
of Jesus Christ and the theology of liturgical
inculturation as an anamnesis (Chupungco, 1992).
Thus, the importance of atang as anamnesis is
manifested in Christ’s anamnesis as an integral
component of the Sacred Eucharist. For the people,
atang shows how the Ilocanos instinctively recall
the memory of their loved ones by praying and
giving food and drinks. It poses great challenge to
theologians and liturgists to be more sensitive to
the needs of the people.
b) Atang and the Communion of Saints
The departed ancestors are thought of as
being part of the life of every human on earth.
Atang is tied up with the notion of memorializing
the dead and providing for their continued
comfort after death. Steadman, Palmer & Tilley
(1996) noted that “though the worship of ancestors
is not universal, a belief in the immortality of the
dead occurs in all cultures” (p.72) This universality
of ancestor worship calls for inculturation in the
light of the Christian understanding of death
(eschatology). The theological meaning of atang
as a form of communion with the whole Mystical
Body of Jesus Christ is to honor “with great
respect the memory of the dead; and because
it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for
the dead that they may be loosed from their sins'
she oers her surages for them” (Catechism of
the Catholic Church, 1997). According to Jocano
(1966) “Saints, in many rural areas, are conceived
by the farmers not as Church personalities who
have been canonized because of their good work
and virtuous living but as supernatural beings with
powers similar to those of environmental spirits
or the "engkanto. Moreover, the Ilocano practice
of the atang ritual is a form of prayer for the dead
whom they believe are capable not only of helping
the departed, but also of making their intercession
very eective. In other words, the faithful believe
that the saints intercede for the living and for those
in purgatory. The faithful perform many rituals in
venerating and invoking the saints. The Catholic
Church asserts that the bond between the living
and the dead can be found in the ancient creed: “I
believe in …the communion of saints.” Steadman,
Palmer & Tilley (1996) provides explanation for the
interaction between the living and the dead: To
explain why claims of communication between
the living and the dead appear to occur universally,
we suggest that it is necessary to understand that
the spirits of the dead are those of ancestors. This
suggests that religions are closely linked to kinship
relations in indigenous society because "[i]n such
societies, it might not be an exaggeration to say
that kinship relations are tantamount” (p. 73).
The Church as a communion of saints means
“the unity of believers, who form one body in
Christ, is both represented and brought about”
(Flannery, 1982). The communion of saints can refer
to the communion of Christ’s holy people, those
on pilgrimage, those being puried, and those
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already in glory as manifested concretely in Filipino
Catholics’ celebration of November 1-2; or in holy
things: like the Church’s teaching, communal life,
sacraments and charity (Cunningham, n.d.). Saints
are honored in Catholic Christianity because the
faithful recognize their supernatural excellence
based on the belief that they are in heaven.
The Second Vatican Council teaches, “that all
Christians in any state or walk of life are called to
the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection
of love” (Flannery, 1982). This ecclesiological vision
of Vatican II focuses on the unity of community,
ordinary life of every believer and in communion
with the Saints, that the departed loved ones
(family, friends, those named in the ocial liturgical
calendar as Blessed or Saints) and those known only
by God, are called the community of love. Thus,
atang is a clear manifestation of the communion
of saints practiced in local culture. Gathje (2016)
reected upon the theological statements made
across centuries about the communion of saints as
shown that the connection between the living and
the dead.
4. Responsibility: Developing in the Local
Theology of Ilocanos’ practice of Atang in the
The practice of Ilocano atang ritual in
the Philippines provides an alternative way of
understanding the development of the local
theology of (1) atang as anamnesis, and (2)
atang and the communion with saints that is
geared towards enrichment and appreciation
of the Ilocanos’ Catholic Faith as a form of an
inculturated practice of the local Church. Results
of this study showed that there must be an
emphasis on trust and learning, on participation,
dialogue, co-responsibility and on the Church
as a communication. This process of elaborating
together the vision of the Gospel, to communicate
it within and outside the community, and, more
importantly, striving to realize it in concert with
others in the development of people in a most
profound and real sense.
For the Ilocano Catholics, they pay homage
to their ancestors during umras (honoring the
dead). The central idea to ancestor worship is the
belief in the continuing existence of the dead and
in close relation between the living and the dead
(who continue to inuence the aairs of the living)
which this research claimed as eschatological.
Pictures of the deceased parents can be found in
many Ilocano, Chinese, and Filipino homes even
long after they are dead where they also oer the
atang. For Ilocanos, November 1 is a real family
picnic at the cemetery. Some cultures think of this
as bizarre for owers, candles, and food are brought
to the graves. The family prays the rosary in honor
of the dead. Laughter can be heard as friends and
relatives drop by the grave to bring some owers
or say their personal prayer, too. Religious hymns
blend with karaoke songs in a nearby grave. A
blessing of holy water is followed by a big banquet
on top of tombs with food and drinks for all—for
the dead included.
Results of the study revealed that the local
Church has a signicant responsibility to honor the
dead loved ones through the Ilocanos’ practice of
the atang ritual. Thus, this study established the
inherent connection of atang to the Communion
of Saints as three distinct but related states in
ecclesiology as a way of life and responsibility of
the local Church. From the early church history,
Christians in Rome did a similar practice of food
oering for the dead.
Such loving times in the recall of
Recoletos Multidisciplinary Research Journal
the dead went on for as long as the
celebrants’ mood and their wine might
last, even as an “all-nighter,” a vigilia.
The dead themselves participated.
They needed such remembrances
for their tranquil existence in the
Beyond. They were to be oered
whatever food was at hand and, most
especially, a toast in wine to be tipped
onto their sarcophagus or into a pipe
leading down to the head-end where
they rested, athirst and happy. A party
mood was essential. Participants, if
they were challenged to defend the
bad behavior that might attend too
much eating and drinking, answered
indignantly that loving thoughts,
respect, and the recollection of eshly
pleasures oered to ancestors whose
favor was certainly of more eect
than any mere humans?—all this was
not just picnicking. This was religion.
(Macmullen, 2010, p. 603)
In summary, a relationship between atang
and communion of saints as a way to deal with
the continuing relationship of the living and the
dead exists. The Second Vatican Council (Vatican
II) described communion of saints as three distinct
but related states in ecclesiology: the Church
triumphant, the Church suering and the Church
militant. The destiny of the Church is the full
realization of this communion in the Kingdom of
God. We are pilgrims, because “joined with Christ
in the Church and signed with the Holy Spirit ‘who
is the pledge of our inheritance’, we have not yet
appeared with Christ in the state of glory in which
we shall be like God since we shall see Him as He
is” (Flannery, 1982). Pope Francis reminds us that
“In the Christian understanding of the world, the
destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery
of Christ, present from the beginning: ‘All things
have been created though him and for him’ (New
American Bible, 2010). In other words, at the end of
time, Jesus Christ will deliver all things to God, the
Father, so that God may be everything to everyone
as Pope Francis emphasized. In these terms, then,
the central character of atang as remembering the
dead must be recognized as communion of the
living and the dead.
4.0 Conclusion
In conclusion, the Ilocano practice of
atang ritual is a form of remembering the dead
and can serve as model of the doctrine of the
communion of saints. This concept contributes
to the understanding of the religious and cultural
signicance of food oering for the dead in terms
of empirical, intellectual, rational and responsible
aspects. Remembering the dead through atang
provides a positive outcome. There is inculturation
of faith in relation to the Ilocano indigenous
practices in doing a local theology. This study
unearthed the true meaning and goal of the
communion of saints as seen in the Ilocano atang
ritual, which is not simply an indigenous belief but
also a form of religious inculturation. Atang is tied
up with the notion of memorializing the dead and
providing for their continued comfort after death.
This model calls for a renewed understanding of
atang in the light of the Christian understanding
of death related to eschatology. Moreover, atang
which is a form of prayer for the dead is capable
not only of helping the departed, but also of
interceding for them. In short, the faithful believe
2020 Corpuz
that the saints intercede for the living and those in
purgatory. Atang can be understood alternatively
in the light of developing a local theology based
on Bernard Lonergan’s Transcendental Methods
of Doing Theology. It is suggested then that other
Filipino indigenous practices, norms, beliefs,
culture, and traditions be explored to strengthen
local theology in the country. Henceforth, it is
recommended that atang be not categorized as
‘Split-level Christianity’ nor as Syncretism because
the belief in the communion of the living, the
dead or departed, and the communion of saints,
is signicant and inherent to the faith of Filipino
The author would like to thank the University
Research Coordination Oce of De La Salle
University for funding this project.
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Full-text available
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