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'Simbang Gabi': A cherished Christmas tradition

Friday, December 16, 2011

Church bells will ring at dawn starting Friday until Christmas Day, calling the Catholic faithful to the “Simbang Gabi,” the nine-day dawn masses held in honor of the Virgin Mary.
The pealing of the bells is said to symbolize a message of hope in God and of hope for peace on earth.
The votive masses are held not only in the Philippines but in other countries where there are Filipino communities.
For years now, some parishes have also been holding anticipated “Simbang Gabi” masses at around 8 or 9 in the evening before the dawn masses to accommodate the needs of the faithful on different work schedules.
The masses end on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, with the “Misa de Gallo” (rooster’s mass) at midnight.
According to Fr. Noel V. Osial, SDB, rector of the Don Bosco Provincial House in Makati City, Filipinos particularly cherish the “Simbang Gabi” tradition. “We find it not only on Philippine soil but everywhere in the world where there are Filipino Catholics who anticipate every year the nine days of preparation for the Birth of Jesus Christ,” Osial said.
For the members of the clergy, “Simbang Gabi” is always an opportunity for catechizing the faithful, Osial said.
“But whether the masses are celebrated early in the morning or at night, whether in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world, the reason for celebrating remains the same – we prepare for the Birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
In attending the “Misa de Aguinaldo” (gift mass), churchgoers offer the gift of sacrifice of waking up before the break of dawn for nine consecutive days to attend the dawn masses in thanksgiving, as a form of worship, or for a standing petition, said a Church official.
Not a few believe that completing the nine-day masses would mean the granting of a particular favor.
The Filipinos’ Simbang Gabi dates back to 1565, when Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi celebrated the first Feast 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 Pope to hold Christmas masses for the farmers who wake up very early to work.
During the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V decreed that the dawn masses be held in the Philippines every 16th of December.
After the mass, there is another old custom: the partaking of native delicacies sold in stalls outside the church like rice cakes (bibingka), puto bungbong, and suman taken with ginger tea (salabat), coffee or hot chocolate.
To preserve the solemnity of Simbang Gabi, the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) released a circular last October 12 signed by Archbishop Emeritus Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, reiterating the implementation within the archdiocese of the guidelines issued the previous year.


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