15 December 2009

Misa de Gallo: Pre-dawn Novena of Masses in the Philippines

I haven't posted for a few days, partly because of the heaviness I feel in the aftermath of the Dublin (Murphy) Report on the abuse of children by priests in my native Archdiocese of Dublin and the cover-up by bishops.

Tomorrow here in the Philippines we begin the annual novena of pre-dawn Masses in preparation for Christmas. They are known variously as Aguinaldo Masses, 'aguinaldo' being a Spanish word for 'gift', Misas de Gallo, a Spanish term which could be translated as 'Masses at cockcrow', or the Tagalog Simbang-gabi, which I understand to mean literally as 'worship at night.

The Supplement to the Roman Sacramentary for the Philippines describes the Masses as:

Misa de Aguinaldo (also Misa de Gallo or Simbang-gabi) is a form of solemn votive Masses held at dawn for nine consecutive days before Christmas in honor of the Blessed Vrigin Mary. At these Masses the Gloria is sung on the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent, white vestments are used, the church and sancuary are festively decorated, and approved musical instrument are played. If any of these days fall on Sunday, the Mass formularies and readings are those of Sunday.

The readings are the Advent readings for the day, though on the 16th, the first day, the readings prescribed are those for Friday of the Third Week of Advent.
The gift meant by 'Aguinaldo' is the gift of the faith.

There is a festive spirit at these Masses side by side with a sense of sacrifice. In many places Mass begins at 4am. In the village where I live we have had it at 5am since I came in 2002 but this year we have moved it to 4:30, which is more in the spirit of the sacrifice that Bishop Vicente M. Navarra of Bacolod, where I live, emphasises.

Usually churches and chapels are filled on the first morning but numbers drop day by day until there is a surge as the end of the novena approaches. The only similar experience I have had in Ireland is during Lent when I was young and our church was always full for weekday Masses.

Filipinos have adapted the Misa de Gallo and introduced it in many countries, though usually gathering at night. In some cities they will have the novena spread out over nine different churches.

My own special prayer this year is that the people of Ireland will experience a renewal of faith at this time of deep crisis and that the leaders of the Church there will get back to the basics.

May I ask your prayers for that intention too.

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