16 December 2008

Novena of pre-dawn Masses in the Philippines

Parols, Christmas lanterns, on sale in the Philippines. These are used as decorations outside and inside buildings.

This morning I had Mass at five, the first day of the Misa de Gallo, or Aguinaldo Masses, also called Simbang Gabi in Tagalog. A letter from Bishop Vicente M. Navarra of Bacolod, where I live, explains what these Masses are:

The celebration of the Aguinaldo Masses is a special indult given by Rome to the Church in the Philippines for the perseverance of the nation in the Catholic Faith. Hence the sacrifice of a very early morning Mass, It has to be celebrated only in the early morning (4am) from December 16-24, and not in the late afternoon or everning. The Mass formulary is one one for the whole duration - the Mass of the Blessed Virgin. The vestments are with with the recitation of the Gloria and Credo.

Misa de Gallo is Spanish for 'Mass at cockcrow'. (I have a recording by the Tallis Singers of Missa in Gallicantu, A Mass in Sarum chant, the usage in the Diocese of Salisbury, England, before, that used to be sung after midnight on Christmas Eve - I'm not sure if that means early on the 24th or 25th). Aguinaldo is a Spanish word meaning Christmas or New Year's gift. Simbang Gabi could be translated as 'going to church at night'.

The emphasis is on thanking God, with our Blessed Mother, for the gift of faith. There are now nine special Mass formularies that may be used, with the readings of the current Advent day. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent the Mass of that day is used, with white vestements and the Gloria.

The custom began maybe three centuries or so ago, in Spanish times, when farm workers wanted to have Mass very early before they'd go to work.

In the village where I live the Mass has always been at 5, maybe because when there was no priest here before, the parish priest came after his 4am Mass in the parish church. However, for the rest of the novena we'll start at 4:45 so that dawn won't be breaking until Mass is ending. I take the bishop's '4am' to be a guideline and it's the norm in parish churchese.

Churches all over the Philippines are full these mornings, especially with young people. I noticed a young woman in the chapel this morning with her infant and reminded the people that that's one of the ways we pass on the faith.

The only thing comparable to the Misa de Gallo in my own experience before coming to the Philippines was Lenten weekdays in Dublin in the 1950s when the churches would be full of workers and students at the earlier Masses, the older people and housewives - yes there were still very many of them! - going to the later Masses.

Each year people are spending less and less in the run up to Christmas in the Philippines, which in one way is a good thing, though it's also a sign of people having less money for things that aren't essential.

Filipinos have brought the custom of the Misa de Gallo to many other countries and have adapted them to the local situation. I'ts not usually a Misa de Gallo in the literal sense since it's usually held in the evening, for example, in London, when the roosters, if there are any there, have all gone to sleep. Very often a Mass is celebrated on the nine evenings in a different church each time. I know that in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington, Archbishop Alexander Joseph Brunett has encouraged everyone to get involved, not just Filipinos. It may be one way of renewing the faith in Europe and North America, not to mention other places.

I'll remember my readers at Mass these mornings.

1 comment:

adelle said...

Thank you for this post. We don't have Aguinaldo Mass in Toronto. Only few churches have, but far from me. It's not a practice here maybe because Christmas is Winter time.

This is a very rich religious experience which is very significant for my faith. For seven years already I don't celebrate Aguinaldo Mass. This is first time in my life since I've reached the age of reason.

I am still in the process of reclaiming/rebuilding my faith here as what I had back home.
Happy Advent Fr. Sean!