Father Dámaso begins the sermon in Latin before transitioning to Spanish, lightly demeaning the ensign and the Civil Guard. At one point, he pauses, but not because he wants to infuse the moment with solemn silence—he kicks the sexton feeding him lines from beneath the pulpit, and the small man reminds the priest what he’s supposed to say by giving him a prompt. Even his most pious listeners begin to yawn, and one person even leaves, causing a scene that Dámaso notices. In the second part of the sermon, the friar switches to Tagalog, but his knowledge of the language is so poor that even the native speakers can’t understand. Despite this, throughout the service Dámaso asserts the importance of respecting the church, reiterating that “indios” must revere priests. He also underhandedly insults Ibarra, though nobody but Ibarra himself understands the sermon well enough to discern this.
The obscurity of Father Dámaso’s sermon—owing both to his highfalutin speech and his poor command of Tagalog—mirrors Tasio’s practice of writing in hieroglyphs. In both cases, the men use language for non-communicative purposes. The difference, though, is that Tasio’s non-interactive use of language is a way of isolating himself while Dámaso’s inscrutable sermon is a way of asserting his authority. Indeed, the community allows him to get away with this, as evidenced by the nuns’ earlier assertion that Dámaso is very “profound” precisely because they can’t understand him. As such, he benefits from speaking over his listeners’ heads.
While the church sings religious incantations, Elías approaches Ibarra and whispers, “During the benediction ceremony, don’t get too far from the priest, don’t go down into the trench, and don’t go near the cornerstone, and you’ll go on living.”
When Elías warns Ibarra of this vague but imminent danger, Ibarra reaps the benefit of having a sly criminal in his debt—though potentially harmful to his reputation, this covert affiliation is indeed a form of power that enables Ibarra to avoid danger.