SIMBANG GABI, a Filipino Christmas tradition, is one of the longest and most popular among the traditions in the Philippines. Originally it was called Misa de Gallo, the mass at the crack of dawn. It is when Roman Catholic churches across the nation open their doors shortly before the break of dawn to welcome the faithful to mass which became popularly known in the vernacular (or in Tagalog) as Simbang Gabi.
Misa de Gallo or Mass at Dawn is a nine-day novena in honor of the Blessed Mother. The novena begins December 16 as early as 4 in the morning and culminates with the mass on Christmas Eve to welcome the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. “In north America, the Filipino communities have adopted some changes, celebrating the novena in the evenings, starting from December 15.
Origin: Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi “traces its roots in Mexico when, in 1587, the Pope granted the petition of Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the convent of San Agustin Acolman, to hold Christmas mass outdoors because the Church could not accommodate the huge number of people attending the evening mass.”
In the olden days, “the pre-dawn mass is announced by the ringing of the church bells. In some rural areas, an hour before the start of Simbang Gabi, a brass band plays Christmas music all over the town. It is also believed that parish priests would go far knocking on doors to wake and gather the faithful to attend the Misa de Gallo. Farmers as well as fishermen wake up early to hear the Gospel before going to their work and ask for the grace of good harvest.”
Significance: Simbang Gabi, one of the most popular traditions, “is a significant moment not only because it strengthens relationships among family members but also because it is the time where our faith is intensified. This is the time where we mostly feel the presence of the Lord because it is the spiritual preparation for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. It does not matter if one has the stamina to complete the novena or not, what really matters is what is inside the heart. The blessing does not depend on the number of masses attended, but what is important is the disposition of the person who receives the Lord’s blessing.”
And here, at Corpus Christi, we have been blessed since we opened in 2016 that we have celebrated the religious tradition now more known as the Christmas Novena Masses, renewing our devotion to the Blessed Mother and keeping “Christ in Christmas.”
Note: Prepared by Rev. Deacon Gem Mella with extracts taken from the RC Archdiocese of Manila, Philippines.