What is the earliest Mass time you have attended? Catholics here in the United States who are not familiar with Filipino culture and traditions may find it unusual to hear that Catholics in the Philippines celebrate Mass as early as 5:00 am in the morning. It is “that time” in the morning when you practically do not want to get out of your bed. How about waking up for a 4:00 am Mass? Meaning you should be out of bed an hour before? Yes, on the second week of Advent, Filipinos back home wake up at 3:00 am for 4:00 am Novena Masses in preparation for Christmas. We call this Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo.
Simbang Gabi literally means “evening Mass.” It is a Filipino Christmas tradition. Simbang Gabi is a chain of nine evening Masses from December 16-24 in preparation for Christmas Day. This custom was initiated by the Spanish friars when the country was colonized by Spain. The early Mass was to accommodate and allow farmers to attend Mass before working in the fields in the morning. Simbang Gabi Masses were celebrated around 4:00 am — when roosters crowed to announce dawn, thus the other term, Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass).
The churches are decorated with colorful lights and beautiful lanterns called parol to welcome the churchgoers. A creche is displayed in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day. Filipinos joyfully anticipate the birthday of the Savior with the singing of some Christmas carols during the Misa de Gallo. This adds more attraction to the Mass as it disposes the people to feel the Christmastide.
Right after the misa (Mass) is the mesa (table), meaning food celebration. Churchgoers indulge themselves in traditional delicacies like puto (rice cakes), arrozcaldo (rice porridge), pandesal (breakfast rolls) and many other Filipino breakfast foods to start the day.
The Simbang Gabi tradition continues, not only in the Philippines, but also in many Filipino communities across the globe. It is not just a tradition to be observed but more importantly, a way to worship and praise God. It is a spiritual preparation for honoring the birth of Jesus Christ. Filipinos believe that if one completes nine dawn Masses, their wishes will be granted.
Filipino communities in the United States, and in other countries, have made changes in the time Simbang Gabi is celebrated. In the US, most churches celebrate at 6:00 am or 7:00 pm, instead of 4:00 am in order to accommodate the schedules of the members of the community. The place, language, and time may differ, but the very crux of the celebration is a sign of deep Filipino faith.
In line with this, on behalf of the Filipino families in our parish, I would like to invite everyone to see and feel the spirit of Simbang Gabi on December 23 at 6:30 pm in St. Nicholas Church.
Please stay after the Mass for some authentic Filipino delicacies.
Happy Advent and Maligayang Pasko in advance to all!
— Fr. Michael Gazzingan