9-day ‘Simbang Gabi’ starts; it’s worship, faithful reminded
AS THE nine-day “Simbang Gabi” (dawn Mass) starts today to start the Christmas season in the Philippines, the Catholic faithful, especially the youth, are reminded that the traditional novena is for worship—not courtship.
This year’s Simbang Gabi will focus on the Year of the Eucharist and the Family as spiritual preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Cebu next month, according to Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
The Jaro (Iloilo) Cathedral Parish, in its newsletter, noted that many young people sometimes tend to playfully congregate with their peers or their “special someone” outside the churches instead of actively participating in the Simbang Gabi, according to a post in the CBCP News.
But couples who attend the dawn Masses must be supported, Villegas said.
“(Those) boyfriends-girlfriends who go together for Simbang Gabi must be encouraged. It means they put God as the setting of their friendship,” Villegas said.
Praying for a wish
Many people believe the completion of the nine-day dawn Masses would mean the granting of a wish. Thus, some Filipinos have made it a personal mission not to miss the dawn Masses so that the petitions and wishes they are praying for would be granted.
But Villegas said that while personal wishes may be prayed for during Simbang Gabi, the Catholic faithful must primarily thank God for being Catholics—and for being Filipinos.
“Love of God and love of country go together,” he said.
Preserving the faith
“Simbang Gabi is a tradition of Filipino Catholicism to thank God that the Philippines is a Catholic country. In addition, thanksgiving is a petition to God to preserve the Catholic faith in the country,” Villegas said.
And while many Filipinos equate the tradition with festivities and the eating of native delicacies, like “puto bumbong” and “bibingka,” Villegas believes it has not lost its religious meaning, despite its being too commercialized.
Puto bumbong (a sticky rice delicacy steamed in wooden tubes) and bibingka (rice cake) are popular native fare usually sold by vendors outside the churches after the dawn Mass.
“Simbang Gabi was and is and will be a cherished Catholic tradition among Filipinos,” Villegas said. “Filipino piety will outlive all commercialism and secularism. Not even the martial law curfew hours or World War II could stop it,” Villegas stressed.
Reminder to Catholics
The Jaro Cathedral Parish also reminded the faithful that Simbang Gabi is not just a tradition widely celebrated because it has become fashionable.
“It is a significant moment not only because it strengthens relationships among family members or among friends but also because it is the time when our faith is intensified,” it said.
Simbang Gabi traditionally begins on Dec. 16 and ends on Christmas Eve with the “Misa de Aguinaldo.”
The Masses are usually held at 4 a.m., thus the name “Misa de Gallo,” or Mass of the Rooster, since the rooster crows at the break of dawn. Since the Mass is held while it is still dark, it is also called Simbang Gabi, or night Mass.
But for many years now, the novena Mass has no longer been strictly held before dawn. The Catholic Church has adjusted to modern urban schedules and agreed, as a “pastoral accommodation,” to hold Simbang Gabi the night before.
One of only two Christian nations in Asia, the Philippines has the longest Christmas celebration in the world.
Christmas officially begins in the Philippines with the start of Simbang Gabi and ends on the first Sunday of January, or the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Three Kings to the Infant Jesus.
In other countries, Christmas starts on Dec. 25 and ends on the Epiphany.
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