Today is December 16, 2009 and for all Filipinos it’s time for Simbang Gabi (for some they start it at the evening of December 15 – anticipated mass for December 16 dawn Mass). Simbang Gabi is a novena to our Blessed Mother. It’s a 9 days mass that begins December 16 and culminates with the “Misa de Gallo” on Christmas Eve to welcome the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Simbang Gabi is already tradition that Filipinos can’t get away with their system. It’s been already stamped to us since our forefathers and passes to our next generation. The change of times does not break the preservation of celebrating Simbang Gabi although it is celebrated in new ways and with other objective. Still, the tradition of Simbang Gabi continues.
A little History about Simbang Gabi, It was in or about 1660, during the early years of Christianity in the Philippines that the “Simbang Gabi” or the “Misa de Gallo” became a Filipino religious tradition. During Advent, in preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, the missionary friars held nine days of Masses to usher in the event of Christ’s birth. These Masses were celebrated in the early morning hours, typically at about 4:00 AM when the roosters crow to announce the coming of a new day.
There was a practical reason behind the missionary father’s design to hold early Mass. The Filipinos are a farming people, and they typically greeted the dawn of a new day in the fields while working the land. The missionary fathers decided that they could implant in the hearts and minds of the theretofore heathen people the substance of the Catholic religion, preserve the Catholic faith and continue the propagation of the gospels by integrating a distinctly Filipino custom with the needs of Catholic worship
The agricultural roots of “Misa de Gallo” or “Simbang Gabi” are all but forgotten now. However, the fascination of going to church at dawn, in order to start the new day with worship, is as strong as ever among Filipinos. For the children, it announces that Christmas is just around the corner. For most, the practice has acquired its own smell and flavor, and spiritual significance distinct from any other time of the year.
But we should not forget the significance of Simbang Gabi to us. It is not just the tradition that is celebrated because we need to do so. It is significant not only 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 mass attended, or whether we completed the whole 9-day mass, but what is important is the disposition of the person who receives the Lord’s blessing.