By Christina Hermoso and Leslie Ann Aquino
Thousands will troop to churches around the country before dawn today for the first of the nine-day “Simbang Gabi” Masses, in observance of one of the oldest Christmas traditions in the Philippines.
The Masses begin at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. today and in the following eight days with the final Mass, the Misa de Gallo on Christmas Eve, traditionally beginning before midnight.
To accommodate the needs of the faithful who need to follow different work schedules, anticipated “Simbang Gabi” masses were held starting last night at around 8 p.m. in many parishes as well as in chapels in shopping centers.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos, chairman of the CatholicBishops’ Conference of the Philippines-EpiscopalCommission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and ItinerantPeople (CBCP-ECMI), saideven overseas Filipino workers(OFW) observe the “Simbang Gabi” in the countries where they now work.
“Our OFWs celebrate ‘Simbang Gabi’ usually at around 6 or7 p.m., a tiring day and cold spells of winter notwithstanding.The churches are always full and after the mass, there is always sharing of food. It is, as they say, from ‘misa to mesa,’ where they bring food and share it with one another as a manifestation of their solidarity and charity,” Santos said.
“Simbang Gabi” is well observed inFilipino Catholic chaplaincies in Rome, Milan, Bergamo, andPadova in Italy; as well as in Nice and Paris in France; Brusselsin Belgium; Vienna in Austria; Frankfurt, Berlin, and Colognein Germany; as well as in four Catholic churches in Kuwait,Oman, Bahrain, in the United Arab Emirates; and in Amman, Jordan.
Ozamis Archbishop Martin Jumoad reminds the faithful not to lose track of the true meaning of Christmas,which is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Let us bring back the true meaning of Christmas and that is,Christ giving Himself to save us. Christmas is about love,forgiveness, and reconciliation,” Archbishop Jumoad said.
“This season is also the opportune time to reconcile, to forgive, and to renew ourselves. Let us give and share and not just receive. When it is already in excess, it means it does not belong to you anymore. It has to be shared with others,” he said.
The “Simbang Gabi” is also known as “Misa de Aguinaldo” (gift mass), with church goers offering the gift of sacrifice in waking up before the break of dawn for nine consecutive days to attend the dawn masses forvarious intentions– in thanksgiving, as a form of worship, orfor a petition. Others, in traditional Filipino belief, attend to obtain special graces upon completing the nine-day masses.
The “Simbang Gabi” is an old tradition with deep roots in the country’s religious culture, dating back to 1565 when Spanish“conquistador” Miguel Lopez de Legazpi celebrated the firstFeast of the Nativity.
The practice originated in Mexico when in 1587, Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the Convent of San Agustin Acolman, asked permission from the Holy Father in Rome to hold pre-dawn Christmas Masses for the farmers who had to work early in their fields.
In the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V decreed that the dawn masses should also be held in the Philippines starting the 16th of December.
Also pray for the country
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP Public Affairs Committee, on Friday urged those who will observe the traditional “Simbang Gabi” to include the country in their prayers.
“Let us include the nation in our prayers. While we encourage people to pray for their personal intentions, at the same time, let us also not forget our country because our country also needs our prayers, especially today. We are at a crossroads,” he said.
He said the faithful should particularly pray for peace, unity, and reconciliation in the country.
“There are many warring factions in our society. Politicians are bickering. Church and state are at odds, especially with the way policies are being formulated and implemented. So, we pray for reconciliation,” he said.
“Without pointing fingers at anyone, we see that our society is somewhat chaotic. Killings are happening everywhere, political bickering, issues are being hurled at each other. What we need right now is a semblance of peace,” he added.
It has become the tradition for some Catholics to make a wish or pray for something during the dawn masses, he said. Since the message of Advent is about hope, Fr. Secillano said, everyone should continue to hope that something better will happen in the country, especially if people will work together.