Simbang Gabi: A Filipino Tradition

Written by: Chiqui Sanchez

Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), Misa de Aguinaldo (Mass of the Gift) are a couple of terms commonly used to literally interpret SIMBANG GABI (Night Mass). These interpretations stem from the fact that these Masses are traditionally held at dawn in the Philippines to give farmers and fishermen, who either began or ended their days at dawn, the chance to participate in the celebrations, and dawn is the time when the roosters crow to signal and welcome the beginning of each day.  It is also known that the Pope in the latter part of the 1500’s granted a request from an Augustinian Prior to hold these Masses outdoors to accommodate all the people who attended the services at dawn. Simbang Gabi typically starts on December 16th and culminates with the celebration of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Typical Filipino fare, shared by families, inevitably follows each Simbang Gabi Mass during this Novena.

Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Tradition in which Advent Novena Mass - 12232014 30

Simbang Gabi has become one of the most popular traditions in the Philippines; a tradition that strengthens relationships within families and one that intensifies the faith of the Filipinos during the Advent season to prepare for the birth of our Lord. Filipino/Americans all over the United States have clung to this tradition and the Filipino/American communities in the Arlington Diocese claim no exception. Simbang Gabi is celebrated in numerous parishes in the Diocese, with one or more parishes taking turns celebrating one evening at a time to complete the novena of Advent Masses. The majority of our diocesan parishes hold the Masses in the evening, deviating from the practice to celebrate at dawn. The parish of St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington, which in December 2016 will be holding its 20th year of celebrating Simbang Gabi at 5:00 in the morning for nine consecutive days, is an exception.

At Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) parish in Vienna, Virginia, the tradition has been going on for the past several years.  The parish-based Fil/Am Community Ministry sponsors the Simbang Gabi on the Saturday that falls within the  Simbang Gabi novena in the Diocese of Arlington. As tradition has it, Simbang Gabi at OLGC is followed by a reception in the church hall. A distinct feature of our Simbang Gabi at OLGC is the Panunuluyan, a short skit depicting Joseph’s and Mary’s Search for an Inn, played and/or sung before Mass begins, by a cast of Filipino/American children in the parish. This play has taken a form that varies from traditional to contemporary throughout the years, with Luke, dressed in a tunic, rolling down a scroll to tell the story or clad in shirt and blue jeans thumbing the story on an iPad.  Our Ministry is also blessed to have its own choir known as Serenata – Fil/Am Community Music Ministry, which provides the liturgical music for our Simbang Gabi at OLGC. The Musical Director also scripts and directs the Panunuluyan and leads the children in song in collaboration with Serenata either during the Mass or at the reception.

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The Fil/Am Community Ministry at OLGC sincerely acknowledges the support of our Pastor and his staff and the Offices of Multicultural Ministries in the Arlington Diocese, without which our endeavor to carry on a most beloved tradition would be in vain.

*Photos taken by Phyllis L. Johnson of the Black Catholic Ministry and various members of the Filipino-American Catholic Ministry.

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