In order to experience the real spirit of Christmas, one must prepare. One way of preparing spiritually for Christmas is to attend the Simbang Gabi, a nine-day novena Mass called Misa Aguinaldo.
The nine-day tradition where we manifest our filial love to Mother Mary is part of the Filipino religious culture, supposedly influenced by Advent customs coming from Mexico.
The Spanish name is Misa de Gallo because it is celebrated at dawn when cocks (gallo) crow.
This well-loved pre-Christmas novena is surely a sacrifice of love for those who rise so early and drag themselves to work afterwards.
The sacrifice is more felt for countrymen and expatriates living in cold countries like the USA and Canada where the Misa de Gallo is religiously and tenaciously observed. In the Philippines, the observance of this custom has been relaxed.
Churches and communities now celebrate Simbang Gabi at night, preferably 7 or 8 p.m. According to the knowledgeable liturgist of the archdiocese of Manila and author of the Ordo which contains the year-long church calendar, the reason why Simbang Gabi is also held in the evening is to give a chance to those working during the day to attend it.
The liturgical accommodation makes it more convenient for the busy faithful. Regretfully, some people go to the Simbang Gabi after a night out, drunk and noisy, dragged off to church by the barkada only to end up snoring in the pews, in which case it’s Simbang Tulog.
If the purpose is not to pray but doze off in church, it’s better if you just go straight home and sleep.
Some Simbang Gabi goers do it as a panata (personal vow) to complete the whole nine days to pray for a personal intention, like pass a board exam, obtain healing from a serious sickness, or get a visa to work abroad. Some confided to me their petitions were granted.
Whatever the personal intentions may be, the Simbang Gabi is certainly a meaningful opportunity to pray and thank the Lord for blessings received including failures and misfortunes which taught us hard and painful lessons we learned.
Fr. Bel R. San Luis, SVD
Touch the silver star which marks the place where Jesus was born. Experience Christmas any day of the year on a visit to Bethlehem. You are invited to join us on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.