MANILA, Philippines ? As the nine-day ?Simbang Gabi? starts Wednesday, Dec. 16, to officially start the Christmas season, a Catholic bishop reminded churchgoers that the series of novena Masses are supposed to help them prepare spiritually for Christmas Day.
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, who chairs the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs, stressed the significance of the ?very special? novena Masses that were originally held before dawn.
Since Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, ?we prepare for this through nine days of novena,? Iñiguez said.
?Since this is a spiritual event, the theme of our preparation should also be a spiritual one. We should prepare ourselves, we should know Christ, the truth of what he did for us and accept him in our lives as our Savior,? the bishop added.
The only Christian nation in Asia, the Philippines has the longest Christmas celebration in the world, as Christmas officially starts on Dec. 16 with the start of the ?Simbang Gabi? and ends up to the first Sunday of January or the Epiphany that celebrates the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus.
In other countries, Christmas starts on Dec. 25 itself and ends on Epiphany.
Iñiguez said the nine-day Simbang Gabi is unique to the Philippines, which adopted Christianity as its dominant religion after four centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
The novena Mass traditionally was held around 4 a.m., thus the name ?Misa de Gallo? or Mass of the rooster, since the animal crows at the break of dawn.
Since the Mass is held while it is still dark, it was called Simbang Gabi or night Mass.
But for some years now, the novena Mass has no longer been strictly held before dawn. The Catholic Church has adjusted to modern urban schedules and has agreed to hold ?anticipated? Simbang Gabi the night before.
?But originally the Mass can not be held after noon,? Iñiguez said.